Math can be difficult, but a program that
uses reallife problems might help students find solutions

Royal Vale High School student Wilson
Mei is a math whiz. 

CREDIT: MARIEFRANCE COALLIER,
GAZETTE 


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 precalculus 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.
"Reallife 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 highlevel 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.
dnebenzahl@thegazette.canwest.com
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."
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Talk Back
Last week we asked you about your favourite afterschool
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 afterschool 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
and...
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