Skewed math

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The kids may be back in school, but something still isn't adding up. Across the country, children are still being cheated out of a decent education by the meddlesome policies of new-age learning.
The issues are manifold, from watered-down language instruction to no-fail marking schemes, but the one that continues to overstay its welcome is what's come to be known as discovery math.

The very term conjures up '60s-style liberalism: children discovering themselves without the soul-crushing interference of discipline and structure. In those days, experimental schools sprang up where children were free to play outdoors and climb trees until their natural instinct to learn kicked in. Naturally, most of the kids preferred to stay up in the trees.

Discovery math is perhaps the worst among the new-age curricula. In a subject where discipline and structure are most critical, children are instead expected to happen across answers to complex problems on their own. In a way, they are forced to reinvent the wheel. Heaven forbid they should learn a times table by rote.

Five years ago, an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report found math performance decreased in Manitoba, New Brunswick, P.E.I., Newfoundland, Alberta and British Columbia.

Nova Scotia math performance had stagnated and Ontario's Grade 3 and Grade 6 provincial test scores at the time had dipped for the fifth year in a row.

And yet, The Globe and Mail reported Thursday that most provinces still refuse to see the error of their ways.

Only Manitoba, spurred by a more intensive backlash from parents and academics, has taken solid steps towards reverting back to tried-and-true formulae.

Other provinces, including Newfoundland and Labrador, have taken a Band-Aid approach, assigning extra resources or reintroducing only a few older techniques.

Last October, a Paradise parent caused a flurry of dialogue with a letter to the editor in The Telegram. Trevor Sooley explained how his daughter was being forced into abstract thinking long before she really had the capacity for it.

In multiplying two numbers, for example, Grade 5 students are expected to devise a complicated two-dimensional chart showing rows and columns of boxes. The simple rubric of placing one number on top of the other and multiplying one digit at a time was not taught.

I believe it's more beneficial to first equip students with the basic skills to arrive at the correct solution. Then the more abstract portion can be introduced, Sooley wrote.

How many planes would be in the sky if pilots only had a conceptual understanding of flight without having the basic skills required to actually fly a plane?

The province vowed to start tackling the new math dilemma in 2008. But that won't help much unless they tackle the very foundation of discovery math itself.

Kids need to be taught basic math skills first. The abstract thinking will come more naturally later.

Organizations: Organization for Economic Co, OECD, Grade 3 Globe and Mail

Geographic location: Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick Alberta British Columbia Nova Scotia Ontario

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