Teachers need proficiency in math if teaching it

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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A Reader's View

Editor: Recent articles, online comments, and letters to the editor in this publication and other media have expressed concern and dismay over the state of math education on P.E.I. as suggested by the poor performance of 15-year-old students on the PISA assessment. A number of worthwhile and valuable suggestions have been made to help address this deficiency in our education system

There seems to be, however, a general view among the public that the basics are no longer being taught in math education and that students are somehow left on their own to discover mathematical concepts and ideas. Many parents and even some teachers see the elementary math curriculum as the root cause of children not knowing the tables; but is that accurate?

The Department of Education website contains the curriculum guides for every subject in every grade as well as other resources that support teaching and learning (www.gov.pe.ca/eecd). In elementary math, for example, there is a curriculum guide as well as a guide for teaching mental math in each grade level from 1-6. A quick perusal of the curriculum reveals that children are expected to have mastered the addition facts by the end of Grade 2 and the related subtraction facts by the end of Grade 3. By the end of Grade 4, most students will have mastered the multiplication facts (tables) and the division facts by the end of Grade 5. Mental math is also a major focus of the curriculum with new and increasingly complex thinking strategies being introduced every year. What could be more basic than that?

Of course, this is what teachers are striving to achieve with their students in each grade, but given the wide diversity of student abilities in any classroom the challenges are enormous. Many studies have shown that children vary widely in their mathematical knowledge by the time they enter preschool and that this variation predicts future levels of achievement in elementary school.

Parents’ attitudes toward mathematics have an impact on children’s attitudes. Children whose parents show an interest in and enthusiasm for mathematics around the home will be more likely to develop that enthusiasm themselves. For families that want to support math learning at home, it may be helpful to understand the guidelines and standards for math instruction and the outcomes in the provincial math curriculum. The Department of Education website is a good place to start.

We would all agree that we want our students to achieve math proficiency and become mathematically literate citizens. The results from the PISA assessment suggest that we have our challenges in this province. It will take time and careful planning to develop and implement a comprehensive and effective intervention that includes parental engagement, professional development for teachers and adaptive learning technology. There must also be a long-term plan for increasing teacher quality that includes a requirement that all teachers, those in the system now and those in university BEd programs, demonstrate proficiency in math if they are going to be asked to teach it.  

Bill McIntyre,

Charlottetown

Organizations: Department of Education

Geographic location: Charlottetown

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