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Curriculum Questions

One of the hottest topics of discussion I have encountered so far this semester has been the new Mathematics Curriculum being implemented into Saskatchewan this year and over the next few years. Many things are changing, and it is difficult to say whether they are for the better or worse.  So far, many questions have been asked, but most have been left unanswered simply because no one has any idea.

Luckily, near the end of October a representative from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education will be visiting my math education class to discuss the new curriculum.  I hope to use this post as a place to refine my questions and possibly develop more.

I will be the first to admit that I do not completely understand this new curriculum, but I will try my best to describe what is changing (please correct me if I am wrong with something!).

The Framework

Math in Saskatchewan schools used to be set up (and still is until the new curriculum is fully implemented over the next few years) where you took your Kindergarten to grade 9 math then in highschool students took Math 10, Math 20, then Math A30, Math B30, Math C30, and eventually Calculus.  If I remember correctly, Math 20 was all that was required to graduate from highschool.  This aspect of the curriculum has been completely changed.  Now all students after entering grade ten must decide whether they would like to enter the “Workplace and Apprenticeship” stream or the “Foundations of Mathematics and Pre-Calculus” stream.  The following chart depicts the pathways and how these streams flow and tie together.

The pathways were influenced by the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol which, not surprisingly, found that different areas of post-secondary, business and industry sectors require different math skills.  Even if similar topics were covered in different streams, they need to be addressed in the different contexts.  Notice that the pathways do not connect to one another.  Any student wishing to switch pathways will have to start from the beginning of the new pathway.  The curriculum guide also states that “No pathway or course is considered ‘easy math’. Rather, all pathways and courses present ‘different maths’ for different purposes.“.

Essentially most of my questions revolved around the idea of turning math into pathways.  If you wish to read up more on the curriculums, they are free to view here.  A set of questions and answers regarding the new changes can be found here.

My questions:

Is streamlining students really a good idea? I get that different careers and opportunities after school use different math.  The guide says that one stream is not easier than the other, but rather that they are different.  I’m going to take a leap here and suggest that even if one is not easier than another (which i suspect they might be), that most students and parents will think so.  I worry that teachers will see this the same way and put less effort into those students.  The perceived differences, real or not, could potentially separate students in an unhealthy way.  As much as I hate to say it, I can easily foresee Workplace and Apprenticeship will become “stupid math” and Pre-Calculus route will be viewed as the “smart math”.  I thought education was shifting to a more inclusive atmosphere in our schools, and I fear that these pathways will contradict that. Will the students in “stupid” stream get left behind?

I have a difficult time imagining a scenario where the streams work out well for our students.

Is it realistic to expect students to know which path to take before they begin grade 10? I’m not too sure how many students entering grade 10 (15-16 years old) are capable of making a well informed decision about what they want to do after they finish grade 12.  I certainly was unable to.  I couldn’t even decide until I completed a year and a half of post secondary classes.  I’m especially troubled by the inability to switch pathways without starting over.  What will happen to those students who went down the pre calculus route and decide that halfway through grade 12, they want to become a tradesperson?  There would not be enough time to start over without extending a high school career.   Do these pathways ultimately limit our students opportunities once they have started down a certain path?

What about smaller centers with limited staff? Saskatchewan has a very large amount of small, rural centers.  I graduated from a school with just over 100 students from K-12.  This is not uncommon here.  Many of these small centers barely have enough staff as it is and are being required to cut more and more each year.  Yet, they will be expected to offer more math classes with less teachers.  Something doesn’t add up.

How will teachers who are used to the old curriculum welcome these new changes? It’s not that I don’t think that current teachers will be incapable of changing their practices, but I don’t think it would be a stretch to suggest they might be a bit reluctant.  I will be lucky enough to be educated in my classes about the new content, concepts and strategies of these new curriculums. Is more freedom being given or taken away?

Why are we making assessment more standardized? Although I was unable to find anything in writing on the Sask ed. website or in the curriculum, I have been told that each course will have a department set final exam.  It has also come to my attention that some schools and school divisions are considering making unit exams standardized as well.  So instead of allowing our teachers to be creative with their assessment and find more effective, useful methods to assess, we are forcing them to teach to exams.

Is this change a step in the right direction, or are we going about things the wrong way?  What has happened in other areas or the country or world? I am conflicted.

Please feel free to comment below. The entire purpose of this post is to fine tune my questions for when I get the opportunity to speak with the representative from the Ministry of Education.

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