New Math versus Old Math

A friend is a teacher in the school system and his biggest problem with the profession is the constant scrutiny it gets from the public, whether it is media publicity or constant critique from over zealous “helicopter parents”. But occasionally there is an issue where he has no choice but to side with the public. The recent uproar over how math is being taught is one of them.

Here is how I understand the difference between the new and old methods of teaching math. The old method involved learning or memorizing the multiplication table and formulas to arrive at an answer. The new method places less focus on memorization, and replaces it with text laden, descriptive problems designed to encourage students to discover the answer.

In short, the problem with old math is students had to accept that 2 x 2 = 4. The strength of the new math is that it encourages students to ask why is the answer 4. Proponents of new math argue that the old method is flawed as it is based on memorization and rote, and that the new method is better as it encourages critical thinking and allows the learner to determine the answer in a variety of ways.

Critics of new math argue that students cannot even begin the critical thinking process if they do not have a grasp of simple math concepts. Vocal parents complain that they cannot help their children with homework because the new math might as well be a new language.

Some parents have enrolled their children into specialized math courses like Kumon. Others have decided to teach their children the multiplication tables in spite of the school’s new methodology. In both cases, parents contend that their child’s marks improve dramatically once exposed to the old method.

So which method is better? Here is my take. I am a product of the old and I take exception to the characterization of the multiplication table as memorization. Years ago I was a literacy tutor and the orientation included a numerical literacy module which re-visited the multiplication table.

It was through this module that I discovered the multiplication table from 1 to 10 was not strict memorization. Rather it was a grid of patterns which were not difficult to learn (not memorize). An obvious pattern is the “5” times table, where all the answers end with the numbers 0 or 5.

There may be merit with the new math methodology, but the implementation by school boards has failed to gain acceptance by its primary audience – the students and the parents. I see parallels between this implementation and the Canadian government’s switch to the metric system in the 1970s, which I think was a good move.

While officially a metric nation, what has evolved over 40 years of conversion is Canada adopting a hybrid metric-imperial standard. We measure our distances in kilometres, yet all Canadian vehicles are still sold with speed gauges in miles and kilometres.  Temperature is measured in Celsius, but we still think of our weight in pounds and our height in feet.

So while officially metric, the Canadian government has never really discouraged or eliminated the imperial standard. This, I believe, is the path school boards should take.  New math is the official standard, yes. But do not throw away the old methods. Both can, and should, co-exist.


A Winter Lesson

I had originally signed up to write a blog about my winter travelling experience. I was looking forward to sharing everything I had learned while visiting a new country; its food, culture and language. The plane tickets had been purchased and accommodations finalized. I had my passport ready to go, but I was just waiting for my tourist visa to come. Long story short, my tourist visa was never processed and my trip was cancelled.

I was initially disappointed as I had been so excited about getting on a plane and experiencing something new. However, I learned that although I may plan and expect things to work out the way I want them to, it doesn’t always mean they will.

Looking back now, I know it wasn’t meant to be. Instead of travelling I was able to visit with relatives from out of town that I haven’t seen in months, and I had time to finish a few long-overdue projects at home. I learned the value in “letting go” and to appreciate all of the opportunities I have right here at home. I am so thankful I was able to visit with family that I don’t often see, and that my house is now put back together.

As life goes on, I know I will have plans that may or may not come to fruition. I hope I will continue learning and growing through each experience!

What life lessons have you learned this winter?


Unplugging on Family Day!

Every year I hear the term “unplug” for Family Day and every year I have great intentions to put away my phone and other devices and spend the day uninterrupted with my family.  Any guesses on how that went? One of my favourite excuses was “I wasn’t using technology but everyone else was, so I gave in”.

It can be scary to disconnect from all the technology we use every day. It has become the go-to for information on what is happening in the lives of family and friends. We have become disconnected with each other as we rely more and more on technology to connect us. I think technology has become so invasive in our everyday lives that it is sometimes hard to even think of games or activities to do together that do not involve some form of technology.

Last year, my fiancé and I decided that since we had never been able make it a whole day unplugged, we would instead choose a few activities to do together throughout the day. At these times, we would put away all devices and just focus on connecting with each other.

It worked great! We probably spent half the day without our devices. We played games for an hour or two, went for a walk with the dog, and went out for lunch. Afterwards we had our device time. We still felt like we were spending time together or with extended family because while we were connected to our devices we were talking to family or connecting with them on Facebook, playing games together on the Wii, or watching movies with each other. We did this throughout the day and had a really great time together.

We had so much fun unplugged that we have extended it beyond Family Day. At least a couple of nights a week, we pull out the cards or dice and play Crazy Eights Countdown or Yatzhee.

My goal this year is to try to increase the time we spend unplugged from our devices by even an hour or two. Eventually I would like to be able to complete the entire day device free. However, I know that whatever happens I will have spent at least some quality, unplugged time together with my family – and that is what really matters.

I would encourage everyone to unplug this long weekend for Family Day – you never know where it might take you. Have a great weekend and please share your Family Day activities with the Centre for Family Literacy.

If you’re looking for some fun, inexpensive activities to do this weekend in Edmonton, check out or http://www.fsccaa.or/.

Creating a Sense of Belonging: the Learner Club

One on one tutoring presents both opportunities and challenges to adult learners, who need flexibility of time and space for their learning. While one on one tutoring opens up access for adult learners, it can create a sense of isolation and fewer ties to other learners. The concept of a learner club at the Centre for Family Literacy was shaped out of the need to create a sense of community and belonging among these learners and connection to the Centre.

The main goal for the Learner Club is to create a forum that allows for interaction between learners, where they feel accepted, respected and supported.

At the learner club, learners:

  • meet and connect with other learners
  • learn while having fun
  • find out about resources in the community
  • and share a light supper.

So far, we have had four successful Learner Clubs, and we have discussed:

  • health Issues
  • municipal Issues
  • poetry writing
  • and tips for travel outside of Canada.

The Learner Clubs have been well received and participation has ranged from 8-14 learners. Learners have given positive feedback after each meeting and have indicated that they have enjoyed the Learner Club because they:

  • learn many interesting things
  • get to know one another
  • learn about other cultures
  • eat good food
  • have fun
  • get to spend time with their friends
  • feel safe and comfortable
  • do not feel judged
  • find the Staff at the Centre warm and welcoming
  • and can express themselves freely.

The last Learner Club, which took place on January 22, 2014, was unique in the sense that it was held on the eve of the Leading with Literacy Breakfast, where the Lois Hole Memorial Literacy Awards are presented. We took the opportunity to talk about the event and to recognize and congratulate the learner who was going to receive the 2014 award in the Adult Learner category the following morning. It was exciting to note that four out of the 14 participants at the Learner Club that evening were past recipients of the same award. With interest I observed as former recipients offered words of advice and encouragement to the 2014 recipient, who was stricken by the idea of making a speech in acceptance of the award.

The 2013 award winner advised her to write and rehearse the speech, the 2011 winner suggested that she avoid eye contact, and the 2008 recipient wished her luck and advised her to make it short and sweet. During the discussion, the former recipients reiterated that the award was a strong motivation for them to continue participation in the literacy activities at the Centre. “We see ourselves as champions”, said the 2011 recipient.

In the Learner Club, study is learner initiated. We encourage learners to share their views and experiences in a trusting and open environment. The learners themselves suggested all the topics of interest and discussion.

Some of the topics suggested for future discussion were:

  • citizenship and immigration issues
  • fraud
  • obtaining a drivers’ license
  • filling out forms
  • and job application and preparation for job interviews.

The Learner Club opens doors so that participants can actively learn new things. For example, in the last Learner Club, a learner who is a monk from Laos made a presentation he entitled “Lao, the Heart of East Asia,” in which he animatedly talked about the attractions in his home country.

This was followed by an interesting presentation on “tips for travel outside of Canada” by one of our tutors. I noted with interest the learners’ excitement when they asked questions and shared their views on the topic, while some shared funny and memorable travel experiences.

The evening ended on a high note with the group singing our popular piece:

The more we get together, together, together
The more we get together the happier we’ll be.
Then my friends are your friends
and your friends are my friends 
the more we get together the happier we’ll be…

We are excited about the Learner Clubs because we create a space where learners come together and mix naturally, get to know one another, grow in confidence, and truly know that they are not alone in their situations.

Our next Club will take place on February 26, 2014.

We welcome everyone.