The Old and the New

There has been several news articles on a group of educators and parents fighting for the “old” ways of math, due to declining scores in mathematics for Canada.  Although I am an advocate of innovative ways to teach, I also believe that we don’t get deep into a lot of learning without having a basic understanding of numeracy and literacy.  One of the commenters on the Global News article had some interesting thoughts on the subject:

Here’s the opinion of a PhD in Astrophysics with 25 years of math expertise both personally and teaching at the university level. Both the old process of memorization, with a pencil in hand, learning long division, and multiplication tables is important *and* the new method of problem solving being the focus is important. An “either-or” advocacy for either the old or the new is lunacy. Most citizens in a society would benefit from straight up memorization. Doing your taxes, learning to budget, quickly calculating your grocery total, and not being victim to a financial scam requires basic math skills and very little problem solving. The vast majority of public education should start here. Learn the fundamentals first by whatever means possible – even if you are a parrot rehashing your masters voice. Problem solving should come second. Problem solving requires having already mastered the fundamentals. It is great to think that by presenting a problem students will go learn the basic skills as part of the problem solving. It has been my experience that such an approach only amplifies learning difficulty. The math skills and problem solving skills are separate cognitive functions and should be learned separately at first and then combined. At the university level I see students who struggle with the basic math and are great problem solvers and students who are great with math and can’t problem solve in the least. You need both, so teach both. Teach the old and the new. It does not have to be either-or.

Here is something that dawned on me as I read this comment.  Being in the position where I have spoken with media (on the subject of cursive handwriting), it is a lot more interesting to divide people up into separate “camps”, then it is to have them meet somewhere in the middle.  The lack of debate in the media would be boring to most.  You may not agree with everything in the comment above, but I believe in the idea of not being “either/or”, and I think most educators and parents would agree.  We need to work with students to develop the skills so that they can go deep into learning.

For example, I would prefer students would become fluent, as opposed to simply literate. To become fluent though, you would have to become literate.  There are some educators that would want to totally destroy the system and start from scratch, and there are some that would gladly hold onto the past.  I think there are a lot of great things that are already happening in schools, and we could build a solid foundation from there.

Maybe we have to see that the bar is not different, but higher.

Scroll to Top

Changing the Trajectories of Those We Serve​

Join over 40,000 Educators who already get the Newsletter