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Let's do the math!

Sara General

Let's Do the Math!.jpg

This past weekend I started a Math Club.  So far there are only two people in it and we’re doing high school Algebra and Trigonometry because we want to take this Open Course Ware Calculus course for free online at MIT.  This is because I’m really interested in the math, physics and computer sciences but also because I’m trying to find ways to improve my skills in these areas so I can take a more informed look at challenges our schools are facing around math assessment and in particular, standardized assessment.  I’m speaking here of course, of the EQAO assessments.

Most of you may be aware of what EQAO is so I won’t explain it in detail, but essentially, it’s a standardized test administered in grades 3, 6, 9 and 10 and the purpose of it is to gauge how well students have learned the Ontario curriculum in reading, writing and mathematics.  As an Ontario wide assessment mechanism, it impacts teaching and learning communities in various ways.

Many educators, myself included, have questions about EQAO and its validity.  I think it's important to challenge some of the assumptions made about EQAO in newspaper articles like this one which included the following quote from an educator: “A child who doesn’t know their [math] facts will never see a pattern, make a prediction or an estimate. They’re really held back as problem-solvers,”   Now I'm picking on the point this person's trying to make, I admit, and it's because I feel this is precisely the kind of thinking that underpins the drive towards even more standardized education or an emphasis on math for instance, as opposed to any other discipline in which a person might learn problem solving skills.  I think these kinds of approaches can be alienating to our spirits.   Do not mistake me – I’m not saying that assessment is not important or that math and reading aren’t important, and obviously - I love writing.  I completely understand and agree that it is important to assess because doing so can help improve the learning experience or inform the instructional strategies that are being used to connect with students.

What I am not convinced of is that EQAO is the right instrument to assess our kids or that it should be given the kind of attention in the school (and by proxy the classroom) that it sometimes is – especially for Indigenous students whether they are on reserve or not.  Which means I have questions about the extent that it should guide the existing and future efforts of our schools here at Six Nations, or quite frankly, anywhere else.

In looking at assessment however, the other factor that emerges is the issue of curriculum.  When I say curriculum, the image that pops into my head immediately is the image of the Ontario Ministry of Education curriculum which is what I believe that majority of teachers on Six Nations are required to teach.  I would love to have an in-depth discussion with teachers about the curriculum because I know that some of them have already found the way to do exactly what I’m trying to talk about below.  My own impressions are this.

When I took the Native Teacher Education Program in 2003, I fully admit that I loved the curriculum.  I loved it because it was a planned and organized guide designed to help the students and I explore different subjects through the year together.  I understood that this was what I was expected to teach and that there were all kinds of strategies that I was learning that would help me to do so.

When I fell out of love with the Ontario curriculum, was when I realized it did not tell the true history about who the Original Peoples of Turtle Island are.  It did not share or value Indigenous worldviews in several important ways, but here is one of them.   Hodinohso:ni people believed that everything is connected, a theme that comes across beautifully in the Creation story.  A woman falls from the sky and the animals of the world conspire to help her promote and grow life on this planet.  Without all of these efforts, life would not occur.  And in recognition of this great collaboration, as Indigenous Peoples, we recognize that all things have a spirit.

The Ontario curriculum does not address this particular Indigenous worldview or how that worldview influenced our people to grow and innovate over the generations, which is so unfortunate, really.  Our teachers need to be empowered to teach our students about this and how cool it is.  And for those that are, it’d be great to see how they’re doing it or what further resources they wish they had to connect it to other disciplines like science and math that I hear a lot of parents say they want for their kids so they can get jobs.  I even hear kids themselves say they wish there was more science (and gym and art  - usually never math actually!).   And despite what the likes of Tom Flanagan suggest, Indigenous Peoples are sophisticated thinkers.  Believing that things are interconnected and being able to live in sustainable ways with the environment around us for thousands of years is sophisticated. Our ancestors had a way of viewing the world - a view they passed on to us, that’s become central to advanced sciences and theoretical physics.

Some people are worried about what the EQAO scores say and what it means we need to do as schools and a community, and so am I – but only to a degree.  Even as an adult learner, I realize it is difficult to prioritize all of the different areas that I feel are important to honouring my responsibilities as an Ogwehoweh person and also meet other responsibilities (financial, for example) or to learn math.  I want what I learn, including math, to be connected to my life and complimentary to the knowledge that elders share.  I sometimes sense a similar frustration coming out of the classrooms – particularly the language classrooms where the amount of resources available for science and math teaching is even more limited and English can feel very dominant.   There are just so many priorities and it’s difficult to fit them all in a day.   So what does this mean for our schools - can there only be one priority?  Is there one that we could agree upon that will guide us to meeting the other learning goals that are important to us? Is it having high scores on the EQAO or something else?  Or maybe the question isn’t that simple.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Nya:weh for reading!