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.