Dhrampreet Singh is passionate about mathematics. He has a Masters Degree in Mathematics from Western University, and tutors undergraduate, high school and grade eight students.
“I think math is a basic thing. If you don’t understand math, it’ll be really hard to do research in different fields. It doesn’t matter if you are doing economics or psychology. You still need mathematics,” he says.
Singh says he notices that while some high school students are bright, some are struggling with math’s basic concepts. “I found that they don’t explain the concepts really well in the school, and some of the teachers, they are really not interested in teaching math,” he explains.
“Most of the time, they show the slides on the board, so they do everything from their laptop. But math needs a step by step explanation.”
The Ontario Government announced they will invest $60M in revising the provincial math strategy. Some of their plans include having three lead math teachers in elementary schools, and a daily hour of math every day. They hope to improve math scores of students.
Already part of the plan
EQAO results for the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) show that math scores have either stayed stable or slightly dropped in the past five years.
57% of grade three students meet the provincial standard between the 2013-2015 period, in comparison to 50% of grade six students. 41% of Grade nine applied math students are at the standard, while 82% of grade nine students at the academic level meet it.
Riley Culhane, a student achievement superintendent for the TVDSB, says improving students’ math skills is one of the strategic priorities. “Really to inspire students and staff to appreciate and be engaged mathematics, to develop and mentor math educators, develop math leadership capacities throughout our system.”
He adds that providing proper assistance to students all depends on their needs. “They may just need more time to complete some math tasks. They may require the use of a calculator to complete those tasks. We want to get to know the student’s need, as all students learn differently.”
Kaila Aguis, who represents the London region of the Kumon Learning Centre, is also pleased with the government’s plan. She says their approach is similar to instruction at Kumon.
“We emphasize that daily practice is extremely important, because it allows the students to build on previously learned skills,” she explains.
Aguis says that while it depends on the student and their own pace, they usually assign 30-45 minutes of practice a day.
“If they haven’t mastered what plus ones would be, there is no way they will be able to quickly compute a number of eight plus seven. You have to master previously learned subjects and content to be successful in the future.”
Is one hour a day enough?
Erin Ross is a grade 12 student who is receiving tutoring from Singh. She’s taking Data Management, because she needs a math so she can continue on in psychology in university. She says that she’s noticing improvement in her grades, and thinks that it’s great that Ontario’s investing in a renewed math strategy. However, she thinks there should be even more hours dedicated to teaching math.
“I don’t think an hour a day would be beneficial enough to get that much education,” she says.
Blair Ofner, a grade eight student, is also being tutored by Singh and has noticed improvement in his math skills. He also thinks the investment is a great one, and that there should be “more individual one on one help with the teacher” opportunities available for students.
Beyond the elementary and secondary levels: What Fanshawe is doing
Erin Cox, a math professor and General Arts and Sciences Coordinator at Fanshawe College, says they brought in a MATH Placement Assessment to combat the “very high failure and withdraw rate in our math courses.”
“By a high failure rate, I mean about 50% of our students either dropped or withdrew from the courses,” she explains. Cox adds that in just its first year alone, they are already seeing higher scores and confidence from their students.
Fanshawe is also working on a project that would help students fulfill math requirements needed for certain programs. They hope to offer an equivalency test that would replace a math credit.
Julian Jarosh, math coordinator and health sciences professor, says that math skills are essential for any job in the science field for measurement and research. He says the College Student Achievement Project (CSAP), collecting information from every college student in the province, found that high school students struggle with the following concepts that should be grasped in elementary schools:
- Fractions, per cents and decimals
- Basic Equation solving
- Order of Operations
- Ratios and Proportions
- Word Problems
However, Jarosh adds that the students were able to handle these types of questions once they were in college.
Both he and Cox discourage the use of calculators in their classes, so their students can solve basic problems mentally. “If you do simple skills quickly in your head, you spend less energy on the simple skills, and a lot more energy on the more complicated skills. So your learning is growing exponentially, no pun intended,” says Jarosh.
He adds that one thing to keep in mind is that there are many ways to boost a student’s math skills. “If any of us had the answer for everybody, all our problems would be solved. The really important thing is when the student decides that they want to learn math skills, they will.”