Manitoba Education officially released information to the general public about revisions to our K-8 mathematics curriculum document today. Their media release highlights that the “new, revised curriculum strikes the right balance between developing math skills, procedural thinking, conceptual understanding and problem solving to ensure students are getting a solid foundation in math” (quote from the release credited to Nancy Allan, Minister of Education).
Prior to this official media release, representatives from every division in the province were invited to attend a two-day session with the objectives of reviewing the revisions, developing a network of provincial numeracy leaders, and providing opportunity for divisions to plan for September when the revisions take effect.
What followed today’s media release were a flurry of online, print, and TV stories about “returning back to the basics” and “the importance of doing math in your head”. I listened to Minister Allan’s interview on CBC Radio 2 over the noon hour, where she stated that “we’re going back to the math we used many years ago”. As the interview progressed, she explained to listeners that the current revisions “didn’t have to do with a research study” but were based on feedback she received while campaigning for the election in 2011.
What has somehow gotten lost in the flurry of media coverage are a few important points:
1. “basics” have always been in the curriculum – that is, if we are defining “basics” as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. What most of the media response around this phrase of “back to basics” seems to be referring to is that the revision now specifically points to the expectation that students “know their facts” by the end of certain grade levels. Unfortunate that media outlets, reporters, and the WISE group have asserted that “knowing facts” was not part of the previous document or that it was not being taught.
2. “doing math in your head” has also always been in the curriculum – that is, if we are defining “head math” as mental mathematics without the use of technology (calculator or otherwise). Again, it is unfortunate that media outlets, reporters, and the WISE group have asserted that “doing math in your head” was not part of the previous document or that it was not being taught.
3. “we’re going back to the math we used many years ago” is most certainly not the case. In the past 20 years of curriculum revisions, mathematics expectations for students (in the form of outcomes written in curriculum documents) have been revised to include topics in high school mathematics that prior to 1990 were topics reserved for university level course work.
Anna Stokke, University of Winnipeg professor, states that “she believes students are capable of achieving more than the current curriculum asks of them” (Winnipeg Free Press article). What she and the WISE group have pressed Manitoba Education for, and the “more” that both she and WISE are referring to, is “the importance of practice, efficient computation and knowing math facts automatically” (Winnipeg Free Press article).
I deeply appreciate what is referred to as the “front matter” of Manitoba’s mathematics curriculum documents. In this front matter, there are seven math processes, described as “critical components that students must encounter in a mathematics program in order to achieve the goals of mathematics education and encourage lifelong learning in mathematics” (Conceptual Framework for K-9 Mathematics, p.11). These seven processes are communication (of mathematical ideas),connections (to and among topics), mental mathematics and estimation, problem solving, reasoning, using technology appropriately, and visualization. These processes are “intended to permeate teaching and learning”. Exactly.
I deeply appreciate that the “new, revised curriculum strikes the right balance between developing math skills, procedural thinking, conceptual understanding and problem solving to ensure students are getting a solid foundation in math” (quote from the MB Ed news release credited to Nancy Allan, Minister of Education).
I deeply appreciate the myriad of dedicated, knowledgeable, professional mathematics educators I have worked with over the past 20 years in Manitoba.
Unfortunate that with the Minister’s noon-hour interview, Professor Stokke, WISE, some members of the media, and some people in the general public just don’t know enough about the details of the previously incredibly well-written mathematics curriculum to fully appreciate its true potential. Unfortunate that this announcement, and how the media handled it, might cause another pendulum swing – something which the Minister, the Professor, and WISE have all stated they hoped to avoid.