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Michael C. Zwaagstra

Education Faculties Should Disappear

University of Manitoba president David Barnard thinks it’s time to reduce the total number of faculties at his institution. Under his plan, more than one-third of them could be gone within the next five years.If Barnard is serious about finding faculties that would benefit from amalgamation, he need look no further than the faculty of education. In fact, the same holds true for other universities. Greater exposure to experts from other fields is just the thing education professors need in order to break out from their insular world filled with faulty notions about teaching and learning.The professional chasm between mathematicians and math education professors is an example. While many people assume that these two groups work closely together in designing provincial curricula and writing approved textbooks, the reality is quite different. Despite vigorous protests from mathematicians, math education professors regularly promote teaching methods that make it harder for students to acquire the math skills they need.Instead of making sure students memorize their math facts and learn standard math algorithms, math education professors tell prospective teachers to let students invent their own ways of solving math problems. While math education professors claim they have research evidence to back up their position, an examination of this research finds that it suffers from fatal design flaws such as small sample sizes, lack of proper control groups, and flawed research methodologies.Mathematicians Anna Stokke and Robert Craigen grew so frustrated with the obvious lack of math skills among students graduating from high school that they decided to fight back. In 2011 they started the Western Initiative for Strengthening Education in Math and set up a website (wisemath.org) that thoroughly debunks the faulty research produced by math education professors. However, the self-imposed isolation of faculties of education from other university faculties makes it easy for math… Read More

Something is wrong with math education in Canada

A solid understanding of mathematics is an important component of a well-rounded education. The ability to perform basic mathematical computations is a requirement of many entry-level jobs. In addition, careers in fields such as engineering, medicine, finance, and all of the sciences require a sound foundation in higher-level university mathematics, including calculus, statistics and linear algebra.Because math is such an important skill, schools have an obligation to ensure students learn key math concepts. Unfortunately, schools are largely failing in this regard. First-year post-secondary students are less and less prepared for university-level mathematics, which has led to a proliferation of remedial math courses at universities across Canada.Many parents also choose to enroll their children in special tutoring sessions with organizations such as Kumon Math & Reading and Sylvan Learning Centre to fill in the gaps left by the public school system. Unfortunately, many parents cannot afford extra tutoring, creating a two-tiered system that unfairly penalizes children whose parents cannot afford to pay for extra math tutoring.Although there is solid evidence for traditional approaches to teaching math that involve mastering standard algorithms, practicing skills to mastery and introducing concepts in incremental steps, most provincial math curricula and textbooks employ a different approach. This new approach to teaching math is based on a philosophy known as constructivism, which encourages students to come up with their own understanding of the subject at hand. As a result, there is very little direct instruction of important math algorithms or memorizing of basic math facts in many school classrooms.This de-emphasis on drill and practice is reflected in the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol (WNCP) math curriculum document. WNCP establishes a common curriculum framework for the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba as well as the three territories. There are a lot of references in this… Read More