Alberta parents continue to fight for return of ‘traditional’ math

EDMONTON – Dozens of parents, students and politicians rallied on the steps of the legislature Saturday, calling for the return of “traditional math” in Alberta.

“We want the curriculum to be changed so that there’s a re-emphasis on the conventional strategies, the traditional strategies where they use the standard algorithms, times tables, for solving basic math questions,” said Nhung Tran-Davies.

Tran-Davies, who has three young children, is behind a province-wide petition urging the Alberta government to go back to basics when teaching math.

READ MORE: Alberta math petition gaining momentum

Tran-Davies and other concerned parents believe students are being taught math in a convoluted way, and they’re calling on Education Minister Jeff Johnson to reform the curriculum by the next school year.

“We feel very passionate about our sons’ education and we feel that our math in particular is very convoluted and difficult to explain,” said mother of two Natalie De Roij. “It really is illogical and frustrating and confusing and I don’t see how anyone could look at that way of teaching and say ‘Oh, that makes perfect sense.'”

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Under the new model of math, which rolled out in Alberta in 2008, children are required to learn multiple strategies for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

An example of a Grade 3 addition and subtraction lesson showing four different strategies to solve a simple equation.
An example of a Grade 3 addition and subtraction lesson showing four differentstrategies to solve a simple equation. Supplied, Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies


“Fundamentals matter, the basics matter. And yes, you can add multiple strategies later on,” argued Wildrose Education Critic Bruce McAllister. “But you can’t just throw the tried, tested and true methods of mathematics of all things, out the window. And that’s what they’ve done.”

However, Alberta’s Education Ministry maintains that simply isn’t true.

“The curriculum has always expected students to master the fundamentals — be able to recall multiplication tables and subtraction and addition. What we call basic math facts,” said Dan Powers, press secretary to Education Minister Jeff Johnson. “It’s always been taught, always will be taught.”

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But after hearing concerns from parents, Powers says in November 2013, Johnson instructed his executive committee to “have the provincial math curriculum explicitly state that students are expected to recall basic math facts.”

“That will be in the curriculum for September 2014,” added Powers.

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Powers says Alberta’s education system is the strongest in Canada and one of the strongest in the world. He says while the fundamentals are extremely important, so too is being able to apply those basic skills.

“To be able to take that knowledge and then apply it to real world situations and higher level mathematical concepts and use that knowledge in solving problems is critical,’ explained Powers. “What we know is that mirror memorization and rogue learning are no longer sufficient.”

Several other opposition members attended Saturday’s rally, including Liberal Leader Raj Sherman and NDP Education Critic Deron Bilous.

“We need a curriculum that meets the needs of our children,” said Sherman. “We feel that the government must listen to the teachers, the parents and the students — the real experts in education.”

“Students need to not only learn the basics, but they need to master the basics and get that foundation in all subjects, including math, before they can move on to application of concepts,” added Bilous.

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In late January Tran-Davies presented her petition to a number of education officials, including the deputy minister of education. However, she says she’s yet to hear from the education minister.

“We’re getting frustrated with Minister Johnson because we feel that he’s not listening fully to us. And we want to get his attention and we want to send him a strong message that he needs to sit down and discuss the curriculum with us.”

Powers says Johnson is “very, very well aware of her [Tran-Davies’] concerns.”

Tran-Davies’ petition has gained over 13,000 signatures.

With files from Shannon Greer, Global News. 



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