From: __Owl Canadian Family__, Education
Issues, March 2001, page 12

John
Mighton is the author of intelligent, award-winning plays and a top-notch
mathematician at the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences in
Toronto. He also tutors so-called slow
learners every night in a free program called Junior Undiscovered Math
Prodigies (JUMP), which he founded two years ago.

Since then,
he's learned a lot about the troubled state of math instruction in Canada. He's alarmed by the poor quality of numeracy
teaching offered to most children outside Quebec (our math champion on
international tests), and the defeatist attitudes of the administrators and
teachers that excuse it.

For starters,
the 43-year-old expert in knot theory (a DNA strand is a knot) doesn’t believe
in math prodigies. Mighton maintains
that math is a logical and lucid language that anyone can learn with the right
instruction -- an approach taken for nearly 10 years in Quebec, where only
specialists teach math to kids after Grade 7.

The myth
that only the gifted can learn math is both false and socially damaging, argues
Mighton. And it's one that well-taught
students are shattering. Two years ago,
for example, he started tutoring a Grade 6 girl with learning disabilities who
couldn't count to 10 by twos. After two
years of weekly tutoring, she's doing Grade 9 work.

The secret
to good teaching isn't much of a secret, Mighton says. When teachers break math down into its basic
components and teach one step at a time -- the numeric equivalent of teaching
phonemic awareness in reading -- any student can become a whiz. Teaching in tiny increments may initially
seem like spoon-feeding, but it does get amazing results. "After taking a couple of steps at a
time, the students start to figure things out by themselves, and you see some
amazing non-linear leaps in learning," he says.

"But
most math textbooks and provincial curricula go from one topic to another and
there's no real follow-up," notes Charles Ledger, an award-winning retired
high school math teacher in Markham, Ont., who now teaches 300 students a week
after school with his own program, *The Spirit of Math*.

"Instead
of teaching problem-solving skills, the curricula focus on topics," he
says. That entails some jumping
around. Kids will be just nicely into
fractions and proportions one week and the next -- instead of building on the
skills they've just learned -- they'll be plunged into the triangles and trapezoids
of geometry.

Most math
textbooks also get in the way. Ontario,
for example, recently mandated two texts for its schools, *Interactions*
and *Quest 2000* -- both equally poor.
As Mighton admits, "I'm a mathematician and I can't understand many
of the questions in *Interactions* -- they are that poorly worded and
open-ended."

But the
really big obstacle to math proficiency in our schools remains the educational
establishment's appalling attitude to the subject. "We allow these failures to go on because we assume some
children are gifted and the rest will struggle along. But when you see what kids are really capable of, this approach
can only outrage you," Mighton says.

What our
schools need are more teachers with Mighton's sense of outrage.

For more information
about The Spirit of Math, please visit: __www.spiritofmath.com__