What is the point of math?

On a recent jaunt to the outlet mall, I was shocked and saddened by a phone call from a family member who was in another store and wanted to know what 30% off of $70 was.  Now, when I asked what 10% of $70 was, she could tell me.  When I asked what percent she was paying for if 30% was being taken off, she could tell me.  When I asked how knowing 10% could aid in figuring this out, she was dumbfounded.  In addition to this, she had an iPhone with a calculator that she could have used, but wasn’t sure what to punch in.  This is an A student who knows all her basic facts and algorithms.

I beg the question, how do we ensure that students can apply the knowledge and skills that we want them to have?  Is math only so we can be an A, B, C, or D student or is it so we can navigate both small and large problems that we encounter in everyday life?  Is knowing the formula for an area important or is it more important to know when to use it because we can always look the formula up?  Is memorizing facts important or is knowing what fact or procedure needs to be used?  Do we want thinkers or do we want robots?  I hear people arguing all the time that we need to “go back to the basics”.  I am not even really sure what that means.  What I do know, is that going backwards is not preparing students for what is ahead of them.  I believe that this reversion that many are in favour of will lead to the same fate as many have met with to date – get to grade 10 or 11 and then the wheels fall off.

I would argue that math instruction hasn’t changed significantly since I was a child.  The research around effective instruction and learning has changed significantly, but realistically, in many classrooms everyday, it’s not that different.   We still value memorization, rote practice, artificial textbook problems, silent seatwork, drills and tests, yet none of this is important outside of school.

Let’s equip our next generation, if not for big problems, at least for discounts at the outlet mall!

Exploding Dots with James Tanton

I recently attended the Ontario Association for Math Educators (OAME) Conference at Humber College.  One of the keynote speakers was James Tanton.  He spoke about Exploding Dots – his method, if you will, for developing conceptual understanding of number systems and operations.  His philosophy on maths is refreshing and exciting as he aims to “to promote thinking and joyous doing, conceptual understanding over rote practice and memorization.”  I was intrigued and fascinated as he led us through a range of mathematical concepts and operations using these dots.  Mind blown!!!  Drop the mic.



Truth and Reconciliation

I know I’m a math blogger, but I feel compelled to share this site with all of you.  I have recently begun a journey into really trying to learn and understand more about Canadian history, specifically history relating to Indigenous peoples of Canada.  I am a podcast addict and have recently listened to CBC’s series “Finding Cleo” which is a podcast series that chronicles the lives of Cleo and her family after being taken from their Cree family and placed in white homes to help solve the “Indian Problem” as it was termed at the time.  I knew little about the residential schools and the impact that these had, and learned about the Sixties Scoop and the AIM program.  I learned so much from this podcast, and it has led me to do additional research to learn more about this dark part of Canadian history.  I invite you to explore with:


Also, learn more about the podcast I’ve been listening to at:


My colleague, Katrina, also shared these ones with me:



My Favourite Find in Quite Some Time!

These progression videos by Graham Fletcher are officially one of my favourite finds ever.  I think these videos could help shed some light on the progression of operational sense and how to meet students where they are at.  There are videos for counting and number, addition and subtraction, multiplication, division, and fractions.  They offer a “Cole’s notes” version of all you need to know about operations.  This will be the best few minutes of P.D. you will afford yourself.



Prove it

Select 3 consecutive number (i.e. 2, 3, 4).   Multiply the first number by the third number.  Now square the middle number.  Do the same with another group of 3 consecutive numbers.  What do you notice?  Will this happen every time?  Why?  Can you prove it?

We worked through this at “Let’s Talk Math” as we examined the notion of proof.  How do we get our students to develop and evaluate mathematical arguments and proofs and use mathematical reasoning to deepen their mathematical understanding?

Things that make you go, “hmmmmm”.

Number Talks AGAIN!!!

When I hear over and over again how weak mental math skills are, it begs the question, “What are we doing about it?”  People will be quick to blame “discovery math” or “new math”, but the fact remains that it has always been a part of the curriculum for students to learn basic facts and also mental math skills.  So why don’t our students have these skills?  These skills take practice and not necessarily a drill and kill approach.  That only works for some.  What our kids need is time to make sense of numbers and the way that they work together, their relationships, how to manipulate them.  There is no better way, in my opinion, than a daily Number Talk.   I wholeheartedly believe that if all classes did 10 minutes of Number Talks daily, we would see such a significant impact on student learning in math.  Why are we not doing this?  What are your thoughts?