Policy makers across Canada are working diligently to tackle the nation-wide educational crisis of plummeting math scores, predominantly affecting English-speaking provinces. The prairie provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan as well as the maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland exhibited the lowest results in the country according to a Pan-Canadian assessment administered by the Council of Ministries of Education in 2013. Quebec’s ability to sustain comparatively strong results may be thanks to the requirements put on their teachers to have as many as 225 hours of university courses in mathematics education; other provinces don’t require a fifth of this amount.
In order to curb this nation-wide problem, it is important to ask what methods each individual school district can employ, both to help make mathematics more accessible to students, but also to aid teachers in formulating effective mathematics lesson plans when they lack the experience themselves. School districts in the prairie and maritime provinces should consider introducing more ongoing assessments, using important data collected in real time to create individualized and more efficient interventions.
One tool decision makers on the regional level can use to re-think district wide curricula is a simple app-based math assessment and activity program that allows teachers to track their students’ performance continually throughout the year. One such app is Knowledgehook — which was designed by experts in mathematics pedagogy and is more efficient at tracking student results than the results of tests and quizzes alone. This kind of technology encourages students to engage with math in a low-stress environment and focus on making this challenging subject something they look forward to. When students engage with the app, it records their experience for use by teachers (and others working for school boards) who can then evaluate student strengths, weaknesses, and common issues.
These technologies also give insight into how present-day students like to engage with material. Often when there are issues with performance across the board, the manner in which a subject is delivered can be causing more trouble than the subject itself. However, when math is taught through the context of a game, hunt, or competition it takes on a new life from a student’s perspective; they’re no longer answering questions for the sake of answering — they’re doing so with a larger purpose in mind. It is more beneficial to assess student performance when they’re using math as a tool for achieving a bigger picture goal, as that’s how they’ll apply these skills when out in the world.
School districts across the prairies and the maritime provinces can take advantage of district-wide plans for these programs, so when the next survey or assessment comes around, their students can be prepared, and teachers better aware of how to focus their efforts so struggling students can achieve results. In taking a more proactive approach to assessment, never again will educators be surprised by how their regions score. Instead, they will be better able to target areas that need improvement, and at the same time repair their students’ relationship with a difficult subject.
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