Frustrated professors convince elementary schools to step back from ‘new math’ and go ‘back to basics’
University of Winnipeg math professor Anna Stokke and two of her colleagues knew there was “a huge problem,” when they started hearing about Manitoba grade school students not being taught how to do vertical addition, carry or borrow numbers, or knowing their times tables.
Then, two years ago, she and Robert Craigen, a fellow U of W professor, and Fernando Szechtman a math professor at the University of Regina, formed WISE Math — the Western Initiative for Strengthening Math Education. They set up a website with a blog, gave lots of media interviews and started meeting with government officials to push for changes in the way math was being taught.
“Then we started hearing from a lot of parents, from all across Canada,” said Ms. Stokke, whose group has collected nearly 1,000 signatures supporting its calls for reform. “It’s a lot of work and it’s a lot of trouble to advocate for things like this … but our kids are worth it, because in the end we really need our kids to learn math.”
The group is now seeing the fruit of its efforts this fall, as Manitoba rolls out a “back to basics,” revised curriculum for kindergarten to Grade 8, one explicitly requiring students to learn times tables; have automatic recall of answers to basic problems such as 30 – 5 = 25, known as math “facts”; and standard algorithms for key math operations — and perform them without using a calculator. (Mike Faille / NP Graphics)