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Carolyn Crosby – Pathways to career-ready math skills

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Guest blogger: Carolyn Crosby

About five years ago I had a student in grade 10 who told me his brother was in a college carpentry program and the first thing his college teacher said was: “Forget all the math they taught you in high school – it doesn’t apply here.”  I couldn’t refute his statement since I didn’t know the exact skills that were necessary for success in a college carpentry program.  I knew the Ministry of Education’s high school math expectations – but not how they flowed from high school to college.  Further, it was obvious that my grade 10 student didn’t have much confidence in my ability to prepare him for his future career.

And so a journey began.  For the past three years, a small group of high school teachers has been meeting with college educators who teach college trade programs and apprenticeships.  Algonquin, Loyalist, St. Lawrence and Kemptville colleges were kind enough to set up these meetings with their automotive, plumbing, HVAC, oil and burner technician, hair dressing, landscaping and carpentry programs.  We asked a simple question:  “What math skills do you want students to have when they enter into your program?”

From these conversations we were able to identify a core of necessary math skills:

  • Adding fractions
  • Decimal placement
  • Converting fractions to decimals and decimals to fractions
  • Decimal inches and decimal feet
  • Percent calculations
  • Ratio and rates
  • Pythagorean Theorem
  • Perimeter, area and volume
  • Imperial and metric measurement
  • Mental math – times tables, adding and subtracting
  • Estimating
  • Visual recognition of material/tool sizes
  • Order of operations
  • Manipulation and use of formulas specific to the trades
  • Primary trigonometric ratios (for some trades)

The College Math Project also determined a similar list of skills that college math prep courses teach. The final report notes that these concepts are initially taught in grades 6 through 8 as part of the Ontario elementary school curriculum.

Generally, from Grade 8, pathways are determined by the student’s grade.  Strong math students take Academic Math, average math students take Applied Math, while struggling students take Locally Developed Math, which leads to the Workplace Math pathway.  This structure sabotages the purpose of the Applied and Locally Developed pathways where some students feel “less than” their Academic classmates even though the Applied and especially the Locally Developed pathways focus on the real life math skills needed in most careers.

Each of these pathways has a purpose and direction.  Quite often, students struggle through the Academic pathway to keep all their doors open, but it is at the expense of learning these real life math skills. Students need to know that each pathway has its own purpose and that movement between pathways is possible in future grades if necessary. More often than not, our best math teachers tend to teach the Academic pathway, while the Locally Developed pathway is often taught by an inexperienced or non-math teacher.  We need our best teachers in all of our pathways to create authentic learning.

Our high school programming has the ability to prepare all students for postsecondary education or the workplace.  More conversation and understanding is needed of our high school pathways to improve the success of students in their postsecondary programs.

Carolyn Crosby is a math teacher at St. Luke Catholic High School in Smiths Falls, Ontario.

Our opinion is that the opinions expressed by our guest bloggers are their opinion, and not necessarily those of HEQCO.

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