Day 177 (of 185) math old ways vs new ways vs……

Day 177 (of 185) math old ways vs new ways vs……


The struggle is real. Numerical literacy: is it better to just know that the algorithms we are familiar with ( + – x / ) work? Or is it better to know how and why they work?

I asked the following to my math-talented daughter: “We as educators often say, if a question can be googled, it may not be a very good/deep question – so is it fair to say that if a question is being asked that just needs some buttons on a calculator to be pressed to get the answer… it a good/deep question”?

I made her think – so that was a ‘win’ all by itself. But it led to a good discussion on our way to drop her off at work: she likes the math that makes her think….and synthesize…..not just compute. BUT, as we are trying to shift our (global education) of math, we face critics. One key challenge that I see is a simple question: how many primary teachers wanted to be teachers to do math? It’s a low number….I rarely see hands go up, and when I do it’s usually people like me – educators who found a love for numeracy later…..but most teachers (elementary focused bias) wanted to help kids read…and write…which are important, but too often “we” have relied on the ‘kindness of text books’ to get kids through the maths.

And when we start looking at old-approach tests, our kids math results may not be what they once were……

David Staples: Math results show we must end two decades of educational malpractice – Edmonton Journal

…..but I know that we have more students than ever (in our district) who are declaring that math is their favourite subject thanks to a focus on project-based-learning and explorational/experiential/etc approaches to math. In a way, we are taking the approaches we have used to see some of the best gains in reading and writing and applying them to numeracy:


  • less worksheets
  • more groups
  • more talking
  • focusing on understanding
  • thinking about the thinking
  • communicating by creating, not just consuming

because while fluency is important (a common statement used by people who want more time put into memorizing times tables) for me understanding and composition is a tad more relevant – reading and writing is not just being able to say and spell common sight words…..numeracy needs to be seen as more than just using the basic facts (knowing that these ‘basic facts’ are important foundational pieces, but we need more than just the foundation….)


And we get some great direction by some leading educators that are putting their numerical focus on ‘other approaches’ – @joboaler is a key example, and recently the equally fabulous @alicekeeler shared 8 Mathematical Standards that students should be doing (because tests, class/school/district/provincial/international are not what math is all about):

 and shared just as I posted this, @perfinker  had a share about creativity in math classes:

So I admit that I get nervous when I’m approached with a ‘need for a new textbook’. I am nervous when math classrooms are too quiet too often. I love it when there have been questions asked about what could be done….different. Because I don’t come across many parents who recall the fun and joy of math when they were in school…sure there are a few, but not nearly enough. One of my numerical role models (Trevor Calkins at ) said it nicely (something like): numbers are nice, but sometimes we study parts of math for the beauty.




Let’s make numerical literacy something learners want to do, not have to do.


About technolandy

Educator in BCs Sunny Shuswap Pushing 'technologization' in education: blending technology and curriculum seamlessly. Advocate for better understanding of Anxiety in Education (and use of self-regulation) Utilizing ePortfolios & Descriptive Feedback
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