University of Alberta professor asks people to give new math a chance

A University of Alberta professor says “new math” should get a fair chance when school resumes in the fall.

Lynn McGarvey, a professor with the department of elementary education, said the inquiry-based math methods that have been heavily criticized by parents could yield positive long-term results.

“What the parents are seeing in their children’s homework activities, especially in Grades 1, 2 and 3, are really focusing on the understanding side,” she said. “So even though they might be problem solving in different ways, it’s trying to help children understand mathematics better. And if they understand it better, then that recall will come a lot easier in the long run.”

McGarvey pores through research on education and teaches other educators how to teach math to kids.

She said research shows that drilling facts with flash cards and recitation does not always work, and that many adults do not have efficient recall when it comes to multiplication and division. The inquiry-based method aims to help children solve problems in a variety of different ways in early grades to foster a deeper understanding that may lead to a greater appreciation for math later in life.

“For a hundred years we’ve known that just drilling facts is not very effective for a large number of children,” she said.

McGarvey said the fact that so many adults are not proficient in math is evidence that the old methods could be improved upon.

“A lot of adults say that they’re not very good at math, or they don’t like math, or they don’t have a math brain – all those sorts of things,” McGarvey said.

“I think the assumption is that just a memorized answer is the best, but we know that a lot of adults don’t have those things memorized.”

She said it’s important for educators to communicate better with parents, and said resources should be available to parents to clearly explain the principals of inquiry-based math.

“I think everybody wants the same things.”

In April, protesters at the Alberta Legislature blasted Alberta Education for moving away from traditional “basic” math instruction in favour of an inquiry-based system that was outlined by the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol and touted in Alberta’s 2009 Inspiring Education initiative.

Alberta Education is in the midst of a two-year curriculum redesign.

kevin.maimann@sunmedia.ca

@SunKevinM

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