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The thing about math
Math can be difficult, but a program that uses real-life problems might help students find solutions
The Gazette
Royal Vale High School student Wilson Mei is a math whiz.

Wilson Mei is a math whiz. Last year, when he was in Grade 9 at James Lyng High School in St. Henri, he was the only student taking the enriched Grade 11 Math 536 exam.

Not that he wasn't used to being ahead of the curve; in Grade 7, he had completed the Math 436 program.

"I don't know why I'm so good," says Wilson, 14, now at Royal Vale High School, who finds geometry and algebra particularly challenging. "Probably one of the reasons is that my dad's a math teacher. It's really hard to tell.

"I guess I'm good because I like math and in free time I can do it on my own."

These days, Wilson is doing pre-calculus on his own; the school is looking for a tutor to work with him. "It's pretty fun," he says.

It's safe to say that, unlike Wilson, a lot of students hate math. But whether they know it or not, most of them use it every day.

Helping them do that is the goal of the math programs in most Montreal schools.

And forget about rote computation - meaning the calculations that must be done to figure out a math problem.

"Math has expanded into situational problems, where students are asked not just to work out the solution but to explain it," says Tom Booth, a math consultant at the English Montreal School Board.

"Real-life problem solving is an integral part of math teaching today."

Grade 10 student Audrey Benoualid, now studying Math 436 at Royal West Academy, says teaching makes all the difference.

"It really depends on your teacher," says Audrey, 14. "If they explain it well, it's much easier to understand."

Audrey says she's figured out the math quite well. "But I know a lot of kids in my class are having a lot of trouble."

She has noticed that certain people do better in math. "Some are more inclined to math and sciences, and others do better in English, literature and history."

Luckily, Audrey finds herself getting in the high 80s or 90s in most of her subjects.

And for those who don't have an affinity for math, the new approach using "problem situations" - known as "prosits" in the teaching community - might be a great way to learn.

"You're asking students to use mathematics and solve problems, and to reason mathematically. And finally, to be able to explain," Booth says.

Why don't more students like math? Is it because it takes a certain type of brain to grasp the subject?

Tom Booth knows.

"I would suggest to you that the type of brain that would be able to wrap itself around mathematics is a brain that is excited about solving problems, coming to solutions, being inquisitive," he says.

A math lover is "an inquisitive mind that yearns to be able to solve problems."

That's certainly the case with Wilson, who says that in addition to the challenges of math, he likes "how it uses your brain."

So it's true, some students are more able than others to fathom the intricacies of math and to come up with solutions. Others are better at the arts.

"There's a structure to mathematics," Booth says, "and some students who are more artistically minded might feel restricted by that structure."

But here's where the new "prosit" math will come in handy. Instead of only the structures of math, problem solving allows students to use their creativity to get to the final solution.

So maybe you're not the math whiz destined to take the higher levels of math or to move up from one level to another. It's still possible, Booth says, to become better at math later on.

"Maybe because of lack of concentration or maturity, a student cannot complete a course in math," he says.

"But when he or she gets into CEGEP and wants to study a program that demands high-level math, sometimes a student who hasn't managed the course can then take it as a prerequisite.

"And they do much better."

So students, tell your parents: it's not the end of the world if their kids don't take Math 436 in high school.

You heard it here first.

Here's a prosit

Math consultant Tom Booth describes a "problem situation" that students might face:

"There is a spare classroom available in the school, and it's up to the student to change that classroom into a resource centre for students.

"How would they do it?

"First, they would have to survey other students to find out what they wanted, and then they would have to decide how to decorate - for instance, half with carpeting and half with tiles - and then they would have to figure out how to get equipment."

Where does math come in?

"First they would have to do a survey, and to use numbers to determine who would use the resource room. Then they would have to measure in order to install the carpets and tiles. Then the financial aspects, coming up with a budget, and finally, they might want to do a schedule to figure out who would use the room and when.

"It's a broad area, not just a measurement of the floor."

What Do You Think?

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Write and tell us.

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as long as it arrives by Friday morning. Feel free to include your own


Send your e-mails to and faxes to (514) 987-2638 c/o schools.

Talk Back

Last week we asked you about your favourite after-school hangouts:

I'm 12 years old, in Marymount Academy, and I hang out in different places with my friends after school. We go to chill at McDonald's and chat or either walk around the streets while talking. Of course, I know that teens have fun hanging out. My word to the teens is, "Keep it up, teens, hang out when you want to have a lot of amusement, but ... you also have education as part of your life. If you don't study you'll end up on the streets."

Milany Thiagarajah,

Marymount Academy

In my school not many of us have an after-school hangout, unless you call that the 161 bus stop. On spring and fall days I might sit in the park across the street from my house with a friend or two, but other than that we don't have one!

Nathalie Pfeiffer

Grade 8

Beth Jacob High School


we also recently asked you about stress

I like to think of high school as one big stress game and I'm the player.

Tests, homework, orals and forgetting to do my homework are all stressful. In this game that I'm playing, I must pass everything, or else.

This game is painful.

Jordan Ficara

Grade 7

Rosemere High School

Don't do this! Don't do that! Do this! Do that!

Everyone stresses me. Why can't they just stop giving me headaches? Peer pressure isn't a problem at all. It's finding the right balance between friends and school, and trying to keep my grades up that cause stress. Teachers seem to all give assignments due the next day. Tomorrow, I have a religion test, an oral in French on Friday, a geography test and a French test on les déterminants plus a science project due tomorrow.

Stop bugging me, people!

Christine Pierlet

Grade 7

Rosemere High School

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