Thursday, November 4, 2010

Alberta's new math curriculum

Alberta Education recently released its new Math Curriculum, and I want to highlight how progressive this new curriculum really is.

I am relatively new at teaching math; however, my professional development in this area has led me to appreciate constructivism, so you can imagine how excited I was to see Alberta's new beliefs about students and mathematics learning:

Students learn by attaching meaning to what they do, and they need to construct their own meaning of mathematics. At all levels, students benefit from working with a variety of materials, tools and contexts when constructing meaning about new mathematical ideas.
The learning environment should value and respect the diversity of students’ experiences and ways of thinking, so that students are comfortable taking intellectual risks, asking questions and posing conjectures.
Students need to explore problem-solving situations in order to develop personal strategies and become mathematically literate. They must realize that it is acceptable to solve problems in a variety of ways and that a variety of solutions may be acceptable.

This video on math is also featured on Alberta Education's web site:

Keep in mind though that its one thing to say these are our beliefs about math and quite another to have teachers and students actually experience math this way. 

Walking the talk is the real challenge. 

Making the shift from teaching math as a behaviorist to a constructivist will prove very challenging. Many educators will be reluctant to give up their right answer and algorithms focus. Frankly, many students who have been convinced math is simply a game that requires them to follow the rules may too be reluctant to give up the behaviorism approach. However, if we want to save math from the depths of education hell, we have to fight this good fight, and I'm proud to see Alberta Education lead the way towards a better way of learning math. 

So what's next?

Teachers in Alberta are going to need a significant amount of professional development if this curriculum is to come to life, because I know far too many teachers who scoff at things like whole-language and constructivism while wearing behaviorism as a badge-of-honor.


  1. I'd be a bit wary of this. Behaviourism versus constructivism is a false and somewhat outdated dichotomy. These are not the only options. Google Jump Math, for instance, and the wonderfully progressive John Mighton (who has a doctorate in math and is also a playwright!); Mighton takes issue--from a left-wing perspective--with purely constructivist approaches to math instruction. Also, if you're open to a parent's perspective on the topic, please read my recent blog piece. I've thought long and hard about this issue, and while I'm someone who is firmly in favour of child-friendly, progressive methods of teaching, I'm not in favour of this approach to math. I explain why in my post: Parenting is Political: THIS MATH DEPRESSES ME

  2. I have to say that I think this way of teaching math may work really well for some students. In school, I always earned good grades in math. The only problem was that I only remembered how to do the problems long enough to take the test. It has proven difficult for me to remember how to do most math problems that I have been taught to do. I think students like me would appreciate learning math in a way that it relates to other things we know. If we understand why we need the math and how it applies to our daily life and things we do, we could appreciate it more and have a way to remember what it is that we are learning. I would most certainly be open to teaching math in this way, but I would also be open to the fact that other students may need to be taught in a different way as well.

  3. For me the question is why should kids learn math at all when most adults will never use it after they have graduated from both school or colleges. When math is made relevant and you see it everywhere , there is a good chance kids will begin to understand math and appreciate its relevance.

  4. I wonder what ever happened to the Western Canadian Protocol we had developed?

    "The Western Canadian Protocol for Collaboration in Basic Education Kindergarten to Grade 12 was signed in December 1993 by the Ministers of Education from Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan and Yukon Territory. In February 2000, following the addition of Nunavut, the protocol was renamed the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol (WNCP) for Collaboration in Basic Education (Kindergarten to Grade 12)."

  5. @northTOmom: are you familiar with Constance Kamii's work? Have you read these books by Kamii?

  6. As a parent of a child i Grade 4, I have serious concerns about this "new" math. They are not learning basic foundational skills, such as multiplication. Without consistent practise of these skills, how can a child go on to apply their knowledge to various forms, like this math insists? I am heading into parent teacher interviews to discuss why my previously math-loving child now hates math, and we find that we are doing the activities she LOVES (like math facts) at home because she isn't learning them at school...

  7. @anonymous: I have two thoughts.

    Firstly, what kind of math activities are you talking about? Do you mean flash cards and mad minutes? Do you mean activities where kids learn tricks and algorithms for computation?

    Secondly, what do you mean by "basic foundational skills"? I see you list multiplication as an example, but if kids are taught to construct their understanding with the artful guidance of the teacher, then this method of teaching/learning has been proven to be even better at understanding the basics than mindless math mimicry that is found in so many traditional math settings.

    There's nothing wrong with learning about algorithms and tricks for math as long as the kids do in fact understand what they are doing. However, it is my experience, that for the most part, these kids are convinced that doing the algorithm is a good substitute for knowing how and why they are doing it in the first place.

    I suggest you speak directly to your child's teacher and ask them to show you exactly how they teach the math concepts. I even suggest you ask if you can sit in and observe. I offer this to my parents all the time.

  8. This new Math is absolutely useless. And I hope that by now you have come to that same conclusion. My daughter in grade 6 has difficulty with bigger math problems like Order of operation for instance because she gets distracted by the fact she does not know what 6x7 is. You need skills as much as understanding of the concept. Just understanding a concept will NOT give you the skills. The so called tricks you are talking about are proven to work in all cases whether you work with small or large numbers and the skills acquired by memorizing times tables are invaluable later on in many different occasions, whether it is in work situations or daily life. This new method has NOT been proven better Joe. In fact, there is more independent research that PROVES this method is broken and widens the gap between what children are taught in school and the knowledge they need in post secondary or work situations. Manitoba is now retracting this 'new math method' and re implementing basic skills in their curriculum such as times tables. I am all for renewal and re evaluation of old methods but NOT if it is making things worse than they were. Understanding of Math concepts can be done together with teaching them skills (look at the Montessori method) but should NEVER replace them, which is what is being done now. It is sickening!!!

  9. I'm afraid I have to take the side of it's not working. Working on the understanding is important, but at the end of the day some things are memorization. My daughter is in grade two and I can no longer help her with math homework. AND I AM AN ENGINEER.
    It is very good to know that 6+7 is taking a group of 6 pennies and a group of 7 pennies and look when you put them together you have 13 pennies and one single group. That is understanding addition. But when I write 6+7= ? If there are no pennies in front of you, you just have to have the answer memorized.
    Look at most activities. It's great to have a theoretical understanding of tactics or biomechanics, but if you can't skate you're not gonna be much of a hockey player...


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