Despite the billions of dollars spent on education each year, student math test scores continue to fall in most of Canada. The alarming statistics don’t bode well for the success of future generations. Like reading, math is a fundamental skill, necessary for success in life and work.
John Mighton who established JUMP Math, a tutoring program now being used by more than 170,000 students across Canada, the U.S. and other countries, insists that any child can learn math.
Contrary to the popular notion that only those who are gifted in math can do well in it, Mighton believes every student can do well if they are taught in the right way and if they are given the opportunity to practise in order to consolidate what they learn.
“Math is easier than it appears,” Mighton says.
Mighton insists that kids are born with wonder and curiosity, and they enjoy solving problems. “They lose that wonder and curiosity… it’s our job to keep it alive.”
Mighton’s own personal success in math came late in life. Although he loved math as a youngster, he was convinced by his teachers that he didn’t have the necessary aptitude to have a successful career in math. So he pursued his love of theatre instead and eventually went on to win the Governor General’s award for one of the plays he wrote.
Despite the award, it was difficult to make a living writing plays so he always had a part-time job to keep himself afloat financially. It was after he convinced a woman to hire him as a part-time math tutor — despite not having a degree in math — that he rediscovered his love of math.
After years in the trenches, working with struggling students and finding ways to improve their math scores by leaps and bounds, Mighton founded the JUMP Math tutoring program. Although he had nearly failed calculus in his first year of university, Mighton later went on to get an advanced university degree in math and now is a math professor at the University of Toronto.
His struggles with math make him an ideal candidate to found a math tutoring program, says Mighton.
Mighton had several tutors working with him, and while he was very pleased with the progress his students were making, he realized it would be more efficient to develop resources for teachers to help them in the classroom.
Mighton sees many problems with the way math is being taught in schools. Too often kids believe early on that “they aren’t good at math.” It’s a catch-22, he says. “The more a child falls behind, the more anxious they get, the worse they will do.”
He adds, “If a teacher makes the students feel comfortable they will do better.”
Part of the problem is that teachers don’t actually know how to improve their teaching. “Teachers are my heroes but many admit they don’t have enough training to teach math,” asserts Mighton.
It’s also difficult for teachers to help individual students when there are 25 or more students in a class. “Students need more guidance than they are getting in school,” says Mighton.
Another part of the problem is that math is like a ladder; if you miss a step it’s hard to go on to the next level, says Mighton. “Children stop paying attention because they don’t think they can do it.”
Kids also suffer from cognitive overload. “They are being asked to learn too many things at once,” says Mighton.
The JUMP Math program uses a system of guided discovery. It allows students to discover math concepts independently in manageable steps while the teacher provides sufficient guidance, examples, feedback and scaffolding for all students to work towards their full potential.
And it works. An independent study showed that students using the JUMP Math program progressed at twice the rate of the control group. JUMP Math is a complete package of resources intended to cover the curricula for Grade 1 through Grade 8.
Parents can also help their children develop fundamental math skills at home. Play board games or card games that involve numbers. Show how you use math skills when baking or calculating crop yields or production per cow. Practise counting and go through the times table at home to reinforce fundamental skills. (For more suggestions for what parents can do to help, see the sidebar.)
JUMP Math is a registered charity which operates as a social enterprise deriving most of its income from sales of print and digital program resources, and from teacher professional development. Income from sales is reinvested into the organization to further JUMP’s mission of encouraging an understanding and love of math in students and educators.
By the way, Mighton was appointed an officer in the Order of Canada in 2010 for his work with JUMP Math.
Help your children develop fundamental math skills at home
John Mighton, PhD and founder of JUMP Math tutoring program, offers these at-home suggestions:
- Play games involving numbers, i.e cribbage, Monopoly, and snakes and ladders.
- Modify the “Go Fish” game. Instead of seeking out matching pairs, the goal is to try to get pairs that add to 10. For example, if a child has a one, they must ask for a nine to make a pair that adds to 10. Then change the target number to numbers other than 10. If needed, you can give the student a list of numbers that add to the target number.
- Make it relevant to kids. Show kids where math can be used such as measuring, cooking, baking, building, and calculating speeds and distances travelled.
- Help your kids develop a learner mindset. Reinforce that everyone can learn math.
- Watch your words. Avoid saying, “I wasn’t born with math ability.”
- Show them that perseverance and hard work pay off. Students who believe that success depends on innate ability do poorly compared to those who believe that success depends on effort.
- Reinforce numeracy skills at home by practising multiplication times tables and counting. Research has shown that extensive practice is needed to master new skills and concepts. Students who haven’t mastered basic number facts have trouble seeing patterns and making estimates and predictions.
- Resources for parents and teachers for Grade 1 to Grade 8 are available on the JUMP Math website with a free account.