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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Math skills not adding up, former prof says

"As thousands head back to classes this week, a former head of Memorial University's math department is warning that something dramatic needs to be done to improve what he describes as poor math skills of students in Newfoundland and Labrador." continues

Former head of Memorial University's Mathematics Department says too many high school students are entering university lacking the math skills they should have by that point. (CBC)

Herbert Gaskill guided Memorial University's Department of Mathematics and Statistics for about six years, and said what he encountered time and time again was worrisome.

He says the current math curriculum is "a mile wide and an inch deep," and a lack of memory-based instruction in the early grades, such as learning times tables, is setting students up for failure. 
"When I was head at Memorial University I saw too many students coming in the door [from high school] who had very high grades in math and were not prepared for [university]," said Gaskill, who is now retired but still advocating for substantial changes in the math curriculum. 
Gaskill said the evidence that many students were not prepared — despite what their school transcripts say — could be seen in the number of students who failed the university's math placement test.

Start with children early 
Gaskill, along with his wife Catherine, recently wrote a book titled Parents' Guide to Common Core Arithmetic: How to Help Your Child. The book focuses on primary and elementary math. 

The pair said parents have a better chance of helping their child early on, if they suspect a potential problem that their child may be experiencing with math problems.

Gaskill said that it is easier for most parents to help their child with more simple math problems while they are in early grades, and that correcting any potential issues early, is important.
"By the time kids get out of high school, it is far too late," he said.
"If you want to solve this problem you have to solve it at the very beginning by not letting it happen."
But Gaskill said the full onus should not be on parents themselves, and points to issues within Newfoundland and Labrador's math curriculum.
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