Following pushback, Alberta Education will change math curriculum

Above: After hearing from parents, Alberta Education is making a move to clear up confusing in the math curriculum. Tom Vernon explains.

EDMONTON – After months of pushback against Alberta’s math curriculum, a spokesperson inside the education minister’s office says the language that supports memorization will be put back into the curriculum.

“Right now there’s an understanding that maybe we’ve moved away from requiring those basic math facts to be known, and of course that was never the intent,” said Education Minister Jeff Johnson.

“We do want a system that’s got a lot of problem solving in it, and we want some of those softer, 21st Century skills to be embedded in the system, but we don’t want to sacrifice basic math facts to do that.”

“It’s about making sure that recall, memorization of time tables are still in there,” added Johnson. “It’s about making sure that we’re taking out language in the curriculum that some have pointed to that disparages methods like memorization and rote learning.”

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“We want to make it clear that we’re not dictating one method in the system,” he explained.

“We want teachers to be able to use flexibility and their professional judgment to know and try to reach each kid.”

“The clarification to the curriculum is very welcome,” said Mark Ramsankar, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association.

“There’s a lot of misinformation as to what’s in the curriculum. Suggesting that the math curriculum has changed, that’s not the foundational piece. Allowing teachers the flexibility to deliver the strategies that they can to meet all the needs to students, that is the critical piece and that is a very welcome clarification,” said Ramsankar.

“When we talk about differentiation of instruction and the opportunity for teachers to meet the needs of specific individuals, that’s exactly what we’re talking about. Teachers aspire to reach each student in their classrooms, and having this flexibility in the delivery of the math curriculum is exactly what we’re after.”

A petition, started by Calmar parent Nhung Tran-Davies, against the so-called “new math” has gathered nearly 17,000 signatures.

READ MORE: Math petition presented to Alberta Education officials 

Parents have been raising concerns about how their children were being taught math, believing that memorization techniques have been completely scrapped.

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So, the ministry will now put recall – or memorization – language back into the curriculum.

“The one thing we want to do is ensure parents we’re listening,” said Johnson.

“It’s astonishing to me that the Minister Johnson and his educrats took so long to listen to the concerns of thousands of Albertans and the Official Opposition on this file,” said Bruce McAllister, the Wildrose education critic. “Day after day, the Minister rose in the house and dismissed the concerns of Albertans, stating that everything was fine, and now suddenly, bowing to public pressure, he’s had a mea culpa and is doing the right thing for our kids.

“I welcome the news Education Minister Jeff Johnson is finally willing to do what Wildrose has been asking him to do for months, and re-establish a focus on teaching the basics of math, like the mastery and memorization of times tables, in our schools. While this is a step in the right direction, further changes are still needed,” added McAllister.

“The basics of math are core competencies which our children must have in order to be successful in the job market and post secondary education. In addition to times tables, our children must learn long division, and vertical addition and subtraction. It is still not mandatory to learn these standard algorithms, even with these changes.”

Johnson says the curriculum will also be made clearer on what outcomes are expected.

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“We’re clarifying some of the expectations more than anything, and those expectations have to do with – if you put it in basic terms – you know, memorization of times tables and some of the basic math facts that we expect kids to know, and have always expected them to know, but it seems, with some of the new programs of study, and the new curriculum, some of the language around recall and memorization has been eliminated and there’s an impression that those things are less important.

“So we want to make sure that we set those expectations that those understandings of the basic math facts are still meant to be achieved and we want to ensure parents that those things are going to happen.”

Students will need to be skilled in at least one problem-solving strategy. In the past, there was confusion around whether students needed to know several different strategies.

The changes do not mean that new methods of teaching will be eliminated.

However, the goal is to make it clear to parents, teachers and students that basic memorization of things like the multiplication table is required. How those skills will be taught will be left up to the teachers in the classrooms.

“I think we’ve found a good balance here between making sure we’re not abandoning some of the newer things we need to do that we’re seeing right across the globe and emphasizing problem solving and some of the 21 Century skills, but we’re also not abandoning the basic skills that every parent and employer and Albertans wants to make sure our kids have.”

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