Expert says faster isn’t better when it comes to math

Dr. Marian Small
Dr. Marian Small holds a session for parents and educators of the Algoma District School Board focused on helping students succeed in math.

Algoma District School Board (ADSB) was pleased to welcome Dr. Marian Small for three days earlier this month as she presented sessions to parents and educators focused on helping students in both elementary and secondary school succeed in math.

Dr. Small is an international professional development consultant and a renowned speaker at national and international conferences. She has co-authored many mathematics textbooks used throughout Canada and the United States and has worked with many Ontario school boards as they focus on how to instruct mathematics in ways that deepen students’ understanding of mathematics K-12.

Dr. Small’s visit was made possible through a grant secured by ADSB’s Parent Involvement Committee (PIC). During two evening sessions for parents, Dr. Small shared some of the ways in which math has changed since they were in school and in doing so, helped parents understand how they could better support their children in math.

“We used to believe that the best way to learn facts was to sit down and memorize them by saying them over and over. And that being super fast with them was really important. Now we realize that a child is better off if he or she has tools to recall something he or she may have memorized but may forget. There is now research that shows that even though some kids memorize well, for kids who are anxious about math or get nervous having to be quick, old strategies doom them to failure.” – Dr. Marian Small

Dr. Small’s techniques focus on encouraging students to think about different ways of approaching math problems. For instance, Dr. Small shared a problem that she might use in a class.

“I’ll say to a class, I bought something and gave the clerk $20. She gave me back one bill and four coins. How much might the item have cost?”

There are several ways for students to approach this problem and come up with an answer. There is increasingly more focus on estimation and on mentally calculating using strategies.

Dr. Small also spent a full day with ADSB elementary and secondary Vice Principals, Superintendents, elementary Math Learning Partners, secondary Instructional Support Teachers and Program Team members. Elementary Vice Principal Elaine DeRosario and secondary Vice Principal Jennifer Barbeau shared their learning at the March 27 Board Meeting.

Elaine appreciated the way in which Dr. Small suggests manipulatives can be used by students, not to prove their answers to problems, but to show what they are thinking as they solve the problems. Many of Dr. Small’s books and resources are already being used in our classrooms and for Elaine it was a pleasure to be able to work with and ask her questions.

Jennifer found that at the secondary level, many of the techniques that Dr. Small introduces for use in math classes can be utilized in other subject areas (music, science, computer technology). Jennifer stressed the importance of hearing that, as a teacher and Vice Principal, making mistakes is okay and in fact to make mistakes and to continue to persevere is a valuable lesson for both educators and students to learn.