Improving Student Math Skills: Math Professor POV

math tools

Written by: Where Parents Talk Staff

Published: May 20, 2024

by Katherine Martinko

“I think we have too many students that are struggling in math, and not enough students that are reaching the highest levels in math.”  And for Dr. Anna Stokke, there is a formula for addressing this widening gap which has implications beyond grade school.

“There has been a shift in the way math has been taught over the last several years,” she says.

Stokke is a professor of mathematics at the University of Winnipeg, co-founder of Archimedes Math Schools, a podcast host, and mother of two. She spoke with Lianne Castelino, host of Where Parents Talk, about her deep concern that Canadian children are falling behind in math early on, which puts them at a disadvantage in their future academic and professional careers.

“We saw pretty big curriculum changes around 2006, but it’s not just the curriculum; it’s the methods that are being used in schools—not enough focus on making sure that kids develop really good basic math skills. Kids need a lot of practice to get good at math, and we’re not always seeing enough of that.”

Math is cumulative, Stokke points out. It’s easy for kids to fall behind if they’re not drilling the basics, like memorizing their times tables as young as grades 2 or 3, practicing fraction arithmetic, and learning algebra. And if they fall behind too quickly, it prevents them from pursuing future careers in fields like data science, economics, tech, and trades.

When asked about the common excuse that a person just “doesn’t have a math brain,” Stokke dismisses it as baseless. She points out that we assume anyone can learn to read, so why not the same with basic math?

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“I think it gives people an excuse not to worry about it as much. And as a result, kids don’t have adults advocating for them.” It might take two children different lengths of time to learn something, such as their times tables, but once memorized, they’re on equal footing.

Stokke would like to see Canadian schools implement far more rigorous practice when it comes to math.

“I can’t emphasize this enough. If there were one thing I would say to really focus on, [it would be] just make sure kids get a lot of practice. It doesn’t have to be boring; it doesn’t have to be awful. And I think kids don’t mind practice as much as we think they do.”

abacus

Her nonprofit, Archimedes Math Schools, was founded in response to her disillusionment with a shift in the province of Manitoba’s math curriculum, which she says fails to teach children standard algorithms: “What I mean by that is, addition with a carry, subtraction with a borrow, the regular multiplication and long division that you learned as a kid. In fact, they weren’t even allowed to use it at school… It was just bizarre.”

Archimedes’ lessons reinstate these foundational practices to kids in grades 4, 5, and 6, which Stokke sees as a critical stage for future mathematical understanding. She describes the nonprofit’s approach as traditional, concentrating on the basics, administering regular low-stakes tests, and eventually teaching math at a more advanced level than what the schools are doing.

For parents who feel their child may have fallen behind, it is important to seek out supplementary help in the form of workbooks, online courses, tutoring, or a local nonprofit. Stokke says it’s never too late, even for high schoolers, to go back to the point where their comprehension started to fail.

Related links:

annastokke.com

uwinnipeg.ca

archimedesmathschools.com

Related stories:

The Root Causes of Declining Math Scores and Proven Solutions

JUMP Math Feature – Rogers TV

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