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Ontario Parents, Stop Waiting for a Policy to Help Your Kid With Math

By now you’ve probably read several articles about how the EQAO results for reading, writing and math have been released for Ontario students who wrote the standardized tests in June. Spoiler alert: It’s not good news in the math department, especially at the elementary level.

In what seems to be a Groundhog Day situation (at least since we started our company and started following these results), there was no improvement among the grade 6 students, where only 50% of the group met the provincial standard. Compare that to 79% meeting the standard in writing and 81% in reading. I think that’s the most concerning part. Many educators and policymakers are concerned that there hasn’t been an improvement in math – 50% last year met the standard and 57% just four years ago – but the fact that we’ve let math slip so far behind literacy is disappointing.

Back to the Groundhog Day comment. Exactly one year ago I posted this blog after similarly disappointing results, attempting to provide tangible tactics for stakeholders based on what we were seeing from the students and families we work with. Obviously it fell upon deaf ears or they were bad ideas.

This year, I’d like to take a completely different approach. Instead of suggesting change to the ministry or the curriculum or the teacher training, I’m calling on parents to take things into their own hands. Not to get all math-y but let’s think about potential impact for a second. From grade one until the end of grade six an Ontario student will spend 5,640 hours (6 years x 5 hours x 188 days) receiving classroom instruction. Compare that with the 52,560 total life hours (6 years x 24 hours x 365 days) they will experience during this time. That means that classroom instruction accounts for only 10.7% of their time. Moreover, math has been mandated by Ontario to be taught for at least 60 minutes per day (20% of the instruction) so only 1,128 “math hours” during these years, accounting for only 2.1% of their life.

Okay enough numbers. The bottom line is that during the elementary ages, school cannot and should not be the only place that math, or any other subject is learned, practiced and absorbed. Parents have, by far, the biggest impact on children during their early life so we need to take advantage.

Secondly, way too often we receive or read comments from parents with exclamations like: “My grade 3 son brought home his math homework and I couldn’t even understand what they were asking! It was completely different from how we learned it!” To which I respond: Would you, as a capable adult, be comfortable telling your boss you couldn’t figure out something that was built for an 8-year old? I hope not. Being a bit confused is fine, in fact, it’s awesome. Show your child that you’re a bit stuck, but you’ll dig in and figure this out together! The biggest advantage a child can gain during elementary school is effort. Make it okay to not immediately know the answer to a question in math. The most important part is to not let that first barrier lead to giving up.

Finally, get students comfortable around numbers. Numbers are not a big enough part of the school day, so it requires extra time at home. We’re programmed to read to our children every night, but how often do we count, add and subtract around the house? Play cards, count money, count cutlery, bake with fractions of cups and spoons, and have fun while numbers happen to be involved. “Math at home” doesn’t have to mean worksheets or flash cards.

Let’s take math improvement into our own hands. Obviously great teachers are amazing and can make an enormous difference, but policy change and educator training takes a long time to take effect. Estimating what makes up 3/8 of the pizza at the dinner table, however, is easy.

Thanks for reading.

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