Be Careful, There’s a Baby in that Bathwater

Posted: 8th September 2017 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

My first car – in 1990 – was a 1978 Triumph TR 7 hardtop.  It was, perhaps, a little quirky for a brand new driver.  No power steering or power windows.  A cranky manual transmission that required me to engage the clutch (with my heel), the brake (with my toe) and the gas (with my other foot) every time I stopped so it wouldn’t stall.  An engine – in a tiny two seater car – that roared louder than the big diesel powered school buses of the 80’s.  But it was a great car.

Then I started attending university in one city and working in another and needed reliable transportation.  After that, a herd of kids followed, which meant more reliable…boring…predictable….transportation.  My name is Kristi and I am a minivan-driving soccer mom.

But, for the next couple of months I’ve got some “new” wheels due to a transportation crisis in my house during baseball coaching/school start up season.  I’ve borrowed my mom’s summer car so that we can all get where we need to go with the fewest headaches.  What am I driving?  Take a look:

My new ride is about as far away from my minivan as a vehicle can get.  It’s a little 1988 Mazda convertible.  Flip-up lights, obstinate manual transmission, am/fm radio with an actual dial to tune in the channels.

On my (loud) ride home in this baby, I was thinking about the proposed changes to the Ontario math curriculum that have been making news this week in education circles.  Old cars to math?  I know.  Stay with me.

I am the first in line to applaud the fact that the math curriculum is going to be updated.  It is outdated and, worse than that, really difficult to teachers to implement well.  Since the purpose of curriculae is to provide structure, direction, and consistency to instruction and learning, anything that can’t be implemented well will fail or at least falter.

Our new math curriculum needs some updates to improve the quality of math learning for our students.  I think most people who have experienced it would agree.  There are far too many specific expectations and massive overall expectations.  Big ideas are hidden.  Process expectations hold a minimal role.  Some concept learning trajectories are clumsy, disjointed or unreasonable.  There’s little scope for differentiation.

As I drove today, I realized that there were a lot of features from my modern-but-uncool minivan that I was going to miss in the next few months.  Good suspension.  Heated seats.  Rear window defroster.  Air bags.  But there are other features that I won’t miss – 12 cup holders, Sirius radio, automatic side doors, back up camera, automatic transmission.

I think the tricky part with a curriculum update is going to be picking the right modern updates that will meet the need without cluttering it up with new features just because they are shiny and new.  My list of must-haves and can-do-withouts might be different than yours.  You’d trade the heated seats for Sirius radio?  Me, not so much.

There are going to be some updates that we’ll probably all agree on, like cleaning up the expectations so they aren’t so overwhelming.  That might mean reducing the number of specific expectations, it could mean combining several specifics under meaningful big ideas and common conceptual learning, making the overall expectations more meaningful, or maybe it’s a little of all of this.

Some of the changes are going to be more controversial.  Do we need more of an emphasis on procedural/computational learning or less?  (I’ve heard both argued).  More real world math or is this just a shiny extra?  Have the process expectations been overlooked all this time because they are buried in the current curriculum or because they don’t have a place there?  What do you do with differentiation?  Spiralling? Cross-curricular links?

Those are just a few of the questions I can see being asked.  But there is one more question that I think we need to consider.

What good can come out of the current curriculum that we can carry forward into a new one?

I’ve spent enough time with the current curriculum to know that there was a lot of thought and research that went into making it.  And while it has it’s problems, there is certainly a depth a math expertise and knowledge in it that alludes most of us – me most certainly included.

Driving my minivan and driving this 1988 convertible are very different experiences.  Each has positives and negatives.  In an ideal world…or an ideal car…we wouldn’t be swayed by either nostalgia or novelty when creating the perfect driving experience.  I hope the team that will work on the new math curriculum will be similarly grounded.  Don’t throw out everything just because it is old, but don’t keep it just because we liked it at one time.  Don’t try to cram in every new buzz word/concept because it’s new, but don’t ignore the evidence that points to changes that will be good for students and educators.

If I ever have a mid-life crisis and go out and get myself a crisis car, it will have a cranky manual transmission, heated seats, air bags and an energy efficient engine that roars like a diesel powered school bus.  I want it all.  And I want it all in a math curriculum.

What do you want in a new math curriculum?


  1. adunsige says:

    Wow! You ask hard questions and on a Friday night to boot. 🙂 My Grade 5’s always appreciate your “hard questions,” and I do too. I think that I might need a little sleep and a little more thought to fully answer this big question of yours, but one thing that immediately comes to mind is that I’d love to see more “noticing and naming” as part of the new curriculum. I see such value of this in Kindergarten. Students are seeing math everywhere, and using mathematical vocabulary and thinking skills through play in some incredible ways. This was partially happening without the “noticing and naming,” but I think goes even farther thanks to making these links for students, and giving them opportunities to do the same. I look at some of the thinking skills that these K’s possess, and where they go thanks to math being linked directly to their “real world.” How I’d love to see the importance of this emphasized for all grades! So curious to hear what others say. I do love how you can make such a seamless connection between cars and math curriculum documents … you rock!! 🙂