Canadian students’ math skills have been on a decade-long decline because rote learning was replaced by discovery-based methods that promoted multiple strategies and estimations, according to a new report that calls for a return to tradition.Yes, yes, yes!
“You know what’s the worst kind of instruction? The kind of instruction that makes kids feel stupid.
And that’s what a lot of that discovery stuff does; their working memory gets overloaded, they’re confused. That’s bad instruction,” said Anna Stokke, an associate professor in the University of Winnipeg’s department of mathematics and statistics, who wrote the C.D. Howe Institute report.
The report draws on results from national and provincial tests as well as an OECD assessment performed every three years in more than 60 countries that measures how well 15-year-olds can apply skills in reading, math and science to real life situations.
Canada fell out of the top 10 countries for math in 2012...
The report puts a good deal of the blame on discovery or experimental learning approaches that encourage students to explore different ways to solve math problems instead of using a single standard algorithm and often promote concrete tools such as drawing pictures, or using blocks or tiles to represent math concepts. The idea is students will gain a deeper understanding of math and be better equipped to apply it to a variety of situations.
What really happens, though, says the report, is students’ working memories get overwhelmed if they don’t know their times tables and can’t quickly put a standard algorithm to work to solve a more complex problem, both features of what’s known as “direct instruction.” Key operations, such as addition and subtraction of fractions, are overly delayed until the middle school years, just as students need that facility to tackle algebra.
Such concepts should be introduced earlier, says the report. And while it stops short of throwing discovery learning out completely, it says the curriculum balance should be tilted in favour of direct instructional methods, recommending an 80/20 split as a rule of thumb.
Remember when so-called Whole Language was pushed in the 90's, and it was hyped as the latest and greatest thing out of New Zealand? Are we always a day late and a dollar short in education in this country?