Mar 02
How Math Has Changed

Math in schools has changed quite a bit since I was a child. When I think of my youth in school learning math I think of worksheets. Page after page of worksheets. I think of homework where we practiced math computation skills with little or no context. And half of the time we spent in math class was dedicated to taking up the homework. But the most dreadful part was the math “word problem!”  Word problems like… 

“At 10:00 AM train A left the station and an hour later train B left the same station on a parallel track. If train A traveled at a constant speed of 60 miles per hour and train B at 80 miles per hour, then at what time did train B pass train A?”


“Al's father is 45. He is 15 years older than twice Al's age. How old is Al?” 

When we were young, we really didn’t care how old Al was or what time train A passed train B!!  And we would have many, many similar word problems that had no connection to any of us. To make matters worse, the teachers tried to confuse us with the language they used. They purposefully tried to trick us with words!

Today in schools, we teach math differently. Of course, the actual math is the same and the basics are the same. Teaching the foundations of math is still important, however we now use current brain research, current research on learning and we need to be aware that there are now computers in all schools and homes.  The way we teach math has evolved and students are being asked to think differently about mathematics. 

But this is all very confusing for parents who grew up in the age of ‘old math’. I often hear from parents who ask…

“I don’t understand the math they are doing in schools these days.” 

The job requirements in today’s world have changed dramatically over the years. Many of today’s jobs did not even exist when I was young. As such, the goals for our students in math have also changed. Instead of focusing mostly on computation, we are focusing on the understanding of math concepts and the ability to apply this understanding to real world situations. The Alberta Program of Studies states that the main goals for mathematical education are to prepare students to: 

  • use mathematics confidently to solve problems

  • communicate and reason mathematically

  • appreciate and value mathematics

  • make connections between mathematics and its applications

  • commit themselves to lifelong learning

  • become mathematically literate adults, using mathematics to contribute to society.

This is a very comprehensive list of goals. Not only do we teach the basics of math, but we also teach problem solving skills and communication skills, as well as help students to connect mathematical ideas to other concepts, use mental math, develop mathematical reasoning, and develop visualization skills. 

The biggest problem I hear from parents is that they don’t understand the different math strategies their children bring home from school.  Most parents were only taught one way to solve a math problem.  Many years ago, the teacher would teach the entire class only one way, but students are now learning many ways to solve the same problem. These aren’t different ‘tricks’ to solve a problem but different developmental strategies that fit the needs of each learner. 

Another question I hear from parents is…

“I don’t know how to help my child in Math.” 

We recognize that parents play an important role in shaping the way their children view learning. As a parent, you understand more than anyone else how your child learns and processes information. Instead of thinking about homework for your child in math, please consider:

  • Talk about math in a positive way. A positive attitude about math is infectious.

  • Encourage persistence. Some problems take time to solve.

  • Encourage your child to experiment with different approaches to mathematics. There is often more than one way to solve a math problem.

  • Encourage your child to talk about and show a math problem in a way that makes sense (i.e., draw a picture or use material like macaroni).

  • When your child is solving math problems ask questions such as: Why did you...?  What can you do next? Do you see any patterns?  Does the answer make sense? How do you know? This helps to encourage thinking about mathematics.

  • Connect math to everyday life and help your child understand how math influences them (i.e. shapes of traffic signs, walking distance to school, telling time).

  • Play family math games together that add excitement such as checkers, junior monopoly, math bingo and uno.

  • Computers + math = fun! There are great computer math games available on the internet that you can discover with your child.

  • Talk with your child’s teacher about difficulties he/she may be experiencing. When teachers and parents work together, children benefit

          Adapted from information provided by the Ontario Ministry of Education.

I would also encourage you to stay as informed as possible by reading our schools communication through our school/teacher blogs, twitter, newsletters and agendas. Also, please stay in constant communication with your child’s teacher to stay on top of what they are learning in Math. 

With regards to homework, the current research states that homework in elementary school does not improve academic achievement. That doesn’t mean that we need to get rid of homework completely, but we can improve it! According to research, five to ten minutes of homework has the same effect as one or two hours. We now realize that the worst thing you can do for homework is give students projects to do at home or have parents teach a new concept. Instead, the best homework is reinforcing something your child has already learned! ​


Scott Robinson, Principal

Colonel J. Fred Scott School



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