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Traditional way of teaching math is not working

January 27, 2011

For the past 25 years SFU Education professor Peter Liljedahl, education officials and researchers have known that the traditional method of teaching math was not working very well for students today.

"It was based on a learner-response-type philosophy no different from Pavlov’s dog experiments.

That is, traditionally, kids are trained to respond in certain ways. If they respond correctly, 'we call that learning,' Liljedahl said. If not, they’re given corrective behaviour.

More progressive teaching methods are based on the belief that children need to construct their own understanding of math concepts.

Both systems work, he stressed, but researchers have come to learn that only about 20 per cent of students truly understand math the way it’s traditionally taught.

'The rest of the students are able to respond correctly at the younger grades and then struggle increasingly as they get up into the high school grades,' he said. 'And that’s when you see the huge disparity in student performance towards the other end of their high school experience.'"

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