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Education fad may have harmed a generation of Albertans

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  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jan 08, 2014 06:00 am

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When does 2 + 2 = 5? Possibly when you’re an elementary or junior high school student learning mathematics in Alberta.

An uproar has begun in Alberta after a letter was published a few days ago in the The Globe and Mail from concerned Calmar mom Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies, who has been petitioning Alberta Education to change the math curriculum from the “fuzzy math” model to a more traditional memorization model. If by fuzzy you think the government means “touchy, feely” you’d essentially be correct.

Alberta Education’s “Inspire Education” approach, begun about 10 years ago, shifted math instruction away from things like memorizing multiplication tables to, as Tran-Davies puts it, “allow the students to acquire a deeper understanding of how calculations work.”

As parents and educators across the country have discovered, the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results are in, and it’s not looking good for Canada, or for Alberta in particular. Once considered strong in math, Canada is now out of the top 10 and according to the 2012 results, Canada is now at 13th place. Math results in this nation fell steadily through the 2000s.

This coincided with the introduction of new group-therapy math instruction, where, apparently, less emphasis was placed on learning mathematical calculations and more on an alarming “self-taught, open-learning” model that’s in fashion in many parts of the world. Finding a definition of “fuzzy math” isn’t easy, but here’s one of the best from Dr. Robert Craigen, professor of mathematics at the University of Manitoba:

“...proponents call it ‘reform’ math education; others call it ‘fuzzy math:’ weakened or delayed content, methods and materials that defy conventional wisdom. Standard methods (e.g., long division) gone, replaced by redundant, cluttered ‘personal strategies;’ ‘indirect instruction’ – project-based, open-question ‘discovery learning;’ a motivating philosophy inimical to practice, memory or skill and regarding mechanical fluency as the enemy of the “understanding” – heralded as this system’s strength.”

The decline in math scores coincides directly with the introduction of fuzzy math philosophy in Alberta.

No wonder parents like Dr. Tran-Davies are alarmed; the fuzzy math debacle smacks of the “new math” fad brought in during the Cold War that dumbed down an entire generation in the 1960s.

The government needs to listen to parents, teachers and even students who are alarmed by fuzzy math, as described brilliantly by Dr. Tran-Davies:

“Right now, there is frustration and repulsion to math, for students intuitively know that the curriculum is entangled in overly-complicated and convoluted strategies. Every year that goes by with children lost to this new math curriculum is another graduating class with doors closed, choices limited, and dreams unfulfilled.”


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