The New Grade 9 Math Curriculum: An Error in Design or Dismantling Excellence?
The Ministry of Education in Ontario recently released a new Grade 9 Mathematics curriculum. The biggest change, by far, was a move to de-stream Grade 9 Math. Math will no longer be offered in an ‘Applied’ and ‘Academic’ stream – rather, all students will have the same mathematics experience.
After ensuring that our ‘reach ahead’ students were enrolled in the ‘Academic’ math curriculum immediately, I set out to see what had changed between the old curriculum and the new.
The Positive Changes
First, the new curriculum includes coding as a mandatory piece of learning. While we do not believe that every students will produce new ‘apps’, we do applaud teaching every student the foundations of coding.
Second, financial literacy has been included in the new curriculum. This has long been a backbone of Headwaters math education and it has never made sense that Ontario’s school system was graduating students who didn’t understand the difference between a debit and a credit.
The new math curriculum is, however, concerning in that some of the higher order thinking has been removed. Specifically, I note that students are no longer required to manipulate expressions in order to solve problems nor are they required to use the properties of linear equations in order to solve problems. Rather, these expectations have been reduced to the ‘representation’ and ‘comparison’ of linear expressions (presumably from given equations). At the same time the new curriculum purports to teach students “through problem solving” and that “mathematics can be subjective”.
Concern with the New Curriculum # 1 – An Error in Design
The concept that we will teach math ‘through problem solving’ and ‘authentic experience’ is laudable. However, while math is all around us everyday it is also extremely complex. Take, for example, this TED talk’s ski lift problem. To apply this understanding on, say, a field trip to Beaver Valley Ski Club, my students would need not only measurement, but also an understanding of trigonometry and slope (completely missing from the new curriculum, by the way). Thus, as per the TED talk above, we are left with sub-par mathematical experiences purporting to be ‘authentic’ but lacking in any challenge.
Concern with the New Curriculum #2 – Dismantling Excellence?
Secondly, to say that “mathematics is subjective” is to destroy the beauty of mathematics to start with. My students often cite math as a favourite subject precisely because the “rules don’t change”. To challenge the truths of mathematics that are, self-evident in mathematics itself, is self-defeating. The reasoning given for this was a need to
“challenge systems of power and privilege, both inside and outside the classroom, in order to eliminate systemic barriers and to serve students belonging to groups that have been historically disadvantaged and underserved in mathematics education.”
I agree that not every student in high school is going to need calculus or going to need to solve linear equations in their everyday lives. But to take the opportunity to do so away from our students’ is the definition of non-inclusivity. Hockey in Canada, for instance, has a system of levels for different players (as does cycling, baseball, soccer, and virtually every other sport). House leagues are approachable for all and the ‘AAA’ level is the top level for youth. I would never argue against a house league nor an elite path for those with the talent, desire, and strength to be there.
In the same vein we should never take away the path for excellence for our mathematics learners.