A new C.D. Howe Institute report suggests that Canada’s math teachers need to shift their focus away from discovery-based learning and move back towards traditional methods.
Report author Dr. Anna Stokke says teachers should base 80 per cent of their math classes on direct learning such as memorizing multiplication tables and practising long division.
She says only 20 per cent should come from discovery-based learning techniques, which see students rely more on independent problem-solving and hands-on materials and less on instructions from the teacher.
Stokke also says most provincial math curricula need to start teaching concepts such as fraction, addition and subtraction at earlier grade levels.
What is discovery based learning?
Discovery learning is a technique of inquiry-based learning and is considered a constructivist based approach to education.
It is supported by the work of learning theorists and psychologists Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, and Seymour Papert.
Discovery learning takes place in problem solving situations where the learner draws on his own experience and prior knowledge and is a method of instruction through which students interact with their environment by exploring and manipulating objects, wrestling with questions and controversies, or performing experiments.
Why are people critical of discovery based learning?
A debate in the instructional community now questions the effectiveness of discovery learning.
The debate dates back to the 1950s when researchers first began to compare the results of discovery learning to other forms of instruction.
In support of the fundamental concept of discovery learning, Bruner suggested that students are more likely to remember concepts if they discover them on their own as opposed to those that are taught directly.
This is the basis of discovery learning. Critics argue that unassisted discovery learning tasks do not help learners discover problem-solving rules, conservation strategies, or programming concepts.
Additionally, several groups of educators have found evidence which supports the idea that pure discovery learning is less effective as an instructional strategy for novices, than more direct forms of instruction
“…what the kids are learning these days is based on nothing more than junk science and… they are ignoring the evidence when it comes to effective math instruction.”
Simi Sara discussed the C.D. Howe Institute report with Tara Houle, a parent advocate who started a petition earlier in the year urging the Ministry of Education to return to the basic teaching of basic math.
According to Houle, her petition has been successful and she has actively been trying to reach out to the government to inform them that “something’s going wrong with our math education these days”
“I’ve been sending Minister Fassbender updates… I also sent a very pointed letter to Premier Clark just last week… based on the fact that a lot of what the kids are learning these days is based on nothing more than junk science and that they are ignoring the evidence when it comes to effective math instruction.”
However, Houle says that she has not received a response from the Ministry of Education. Houle says that the C.D. Howe Institute report is a validation for what she and other parents have been saying all along.
“…effective instruction does include lots of daily practice, lots of memorization, lots of adding, lots of subtracting and columns, memorizing times tables, fractions, long division. It’s always been effective, but it seems… a lot of these new theorists … their more interested in following the trendy fad rather than the proven, effective method.”
Listen to Simi’s interview with Tara Houle:
If you would like to learn more about what discovery based learning looks like, click here