Pilot program adds up to better math skills

Share Adjust Comment Print

Children play math games at The Prince Charles School in Napanee, one of six schools across Ontario participating in the Building Parent Engagement in Math program being spearheaded by a Queen’s University professor. (Supplied Photo) jpg, KI

A Queen’s University professor has developed a pilot program to make math more fun and accessible to elementary school children, with the help of their parents.

Lynda Colgan, a professor in the Queen’s Faculty of Education, started the Building Parent Engagement in Math project two years ago with funding from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development.

The project was launched to support Ontario’s Renewed Math Strategy, which was implemented in 2016.

Lynda Colgan is a professor in the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University. (Meghan Balogh/The Whig-Standard) jpg, KI

Colgan said the responsibility of helping kids find comfort and success in mathematics falls not only to teachers, but also to parents.

With the goal of bringing parents, teachers and students together to build math skills, Colgan set out two years ago with a mandate from the Ministry of Education to find a handful of schools with low math scores. Three of those schools are in the Kingston region in Selby, Verona and Napanee.

“My mission was to find six schools across the province of Ontario who were achieving poorly on the (Education Quality and Accountability Office) assessments on math but had started to show improvement and wanted to try to continue that improvement trajectory by extending their reach to include parents, by making parents part of the teaching equation,” Colgan said.

Colgan describes teaching as a triangle, the principle upon which her program is built.

“It involves children, teachers and parents,” she said. “Far too often, parents are not included in that triangle.”

The steady decline of math scores in provincial schools over the past eight years is undeniable, Colgan said.

“Not only are the math scores declining, we’re now at a point where less than 50 per cent at Grade 6 level are working at grade level. That has people concerned, particularly parents. They want to know why their children aren’t doing well and why our children provincially aren’t doing well.”

The declines have led to a number of “myths and misconceptions about what is happening in math class,” Colgan described.

“We’ve heard rumours that kids aren’t required to know basic facts anymore, children are only working on problems, always working in teams, always just doing fun experiments and playing with bricks and toys. (That) they’re not actually doing any serious math.”

Through Building Parent Engagement in Math, Colgan and the program’s facilitators are working to dispel myths by bringing parents into classrooms to see and understand what their kids are learning.

“One of the things that we do has been to provide some courses for parents to help them understand the math that their children are learning, instead of them just saying, ‘I remember what I was doing (when I was in school).’ They’re sitting at the same desks, with the same materials as the kids would use, and we’re giving them instruction the kids would get to let them see how math education has changed, and why it’s changed.”

Bringing teachers and parents together is giving parents a new sense of understanding around math teaching methods, but the project is also reaching out to grandparents, who are often part-time caregivers.

“In Verona they have run very successful two afternoons called Grandparents and Games afternoons, where we help grandparents learn to teach simple math games like Uno, Connect Four and other kinds of math counting games that actually are very important for supporting those mental math skills.”

In addition to bringing parents into the school to learn alongside their kids, the program is also provides at-home resources that parents and caregivers can use every day with kids to build math literacy.

“One of the things that we know is there’s not a parent on the planet that is reluctant to read books to their children or take children to the library or read bedtime stories,” Colgan said. “People understand fundamentally that reading is an important life skill. Because societally there is not a recognition that math is an important life skill — and when we do studies of the general population more than 50 per cent of people say they don’t use math, which is ridiculous — there’s a general negativity, a general reluctance to help children with math.”

The take-home resources bring math concepts into the kitchen, play spaces, nature and many areas of daily life.

“We are trying to show the fact that math is everywhere, and that it’s important for parents to talk math with their kids. We’re trying to help them to see that they have an important role to play, and it’s not an onerous role,” Colgan said.

Putting in a little time can go a long way, and positive results are already being seen at the schools where the project is running.

“We know that parents pay a lot of money to get math tutoring and all kinds of things outside of school, when the research shows that if they would just spend 15 minutes a day with their kids playing some of these math games, talking about math, asking their children to teach them the math they learned in school that day, they could actually see very real improvement in their children’s achievement scores,” Colgan said.

Because daily mental math problems like counting out money during purchase interactions or calculating tips at a restaurant have become obsolete thanks to technology, bringing math into daily life requires a conscious, but not too strenuous, effort.

“We’ve removed the need to do simple math on a daily basis in far too many ways,” Colgan said. “As a result, we have to start introducing it back into our daily lives in some simple ways so it becomes normal again.”

For more information, go online to www.bpeim.com.

mbalogh@postmedia.com