Why Alex can’t add… Globe


December 15, 2011

Why Alex can’t add (or subtract, multiply or divide)

From Thursday’s Globe and Mail

‘Rote learning’ skills like times tables and long division are out, to the chagrin of many parents and teachers

A parent I know went to an information session about math at his kid’s school. After listening to the visiting curriculum expert explain how important it was for students to “understand” the concepts, he asked: “So, how important is it for them to learn the times tables?” The expert hemmed and hawed and wouldn’t give an answer.

Parents across Canada might be surprised to learn that the times tables are out. So are adding, subtracting and dividing. Remember when you learned to add a column of numbers by carrying a number over to the next column, or learned to subtract by borrowing, then practised your skills until you could add and subtract automatically? Forget it. Today, that’s known as “drill and kill,” or, even worse, “rote learning.” And we can’t have that.

“The designers of the new curriculum have decided it would be a really good idea not to teach these things,” says Robert Craigen, an associate professor of mathematics at the University of Manitoba. He sat on the province’s math curriculum committee for years. Unfortunately, nobody was interested in what he had to say. So today, he’s got calculus students who never learned long division. “The undergirding motive is: We want to teach understanding, and all this mechanical detail gets in the way of understanding.”

…..   ( Globe and Mail, Wente)


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