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Math Fundamentals + Opportunities for Extension = Exceptional Results

This spring, seventy-two of our Grade 6, 7, and 8 students participated in the Gauss Math Contest. Twenty-five of those students went on to be recognized for their excellent results in this very challenging competition. Their amazing achievement inspired us to take a moment and reflect on the ongoing success of our Math program.
 
Change and innovation are essential, especially when it comes to teaching and learning. But sometimes fashion and trends can take precedence over best practices and evidence. Education has long been vulnerable to the proverbial pendulum swing, with math being one subject that is regularly debated and analyzed. 
 
Over the past couple of decades, there has been a big emphasis placed on discovering math concepts. While this is an important aspect of math instruction, over-emphasis on one means of instruction favours the students who learn well in that manner, while leaving others at a disadvantage. Too often, the emphasis on math discovery has pushed the idea of direct instruction to the sidelines. This means some students struggle to develop the skills they need to take on more complex math problems. It’s great to encourage students to discover and develop their own shortcuts and systems, but they need to understand the basics and be taught in ways that collectively work for all.  
 
That’s why at KCS we prefer to take a more balanced approach to teaching math. Obviously, we recognize that exploration and investigation are key parts of math. However, we also recognize that students who have been taught fundamental computational concepts through direct instruction are much more likely to be successful explorers and investigators.
 
So while our students are given chances to explore math concepts in different ways, we always ground our teaching in direct instruction of core skills. As the students go up in the grades, we provide them with math workshops, where they are given the chance to work in small groups with teachers to either extend or solidify their math abilities. A variety of tools and teaching strategies are used to support all students. With the confidence of a strong foundation, many from grade 2 to 8 opt to participate in the Caribou Mathematics Competition, a worldwide online math contest in which our students consistently achieve stellar results.
 
This has been our strategy for multiple years, and it’s clearly working. This year we had seventy-two students from grades 6, 7, and 8 participate in the University of Waterloo’s Gauss Math Contest (the students in grade 6 actually wrote the grade 7 contest, as they do not offer a grade 6 contest!). In this contest, any score over 100 is an excellent result that demonstrates not only a strong grasp of math concepts, but the ability to use those concepts in a variety of problem-solving situations. When the scores were all added up, a full third of participating students achieved a score of 100 or more: four in grade 6, nine in grade 7 and twelve in grade 8. Obviously starting with the basics is making a difference!
 
We’re always looking for ways to innovate at KCS. But we never let trends get in the way of what’s best for our kids. Because that just wouldn’t add up. 
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