In 2011, the school I presently work at developed a learning focus on enhancing math practice. Through open, collegial, respectful, but at times difficult discussions, we teachers recognized a need to learn more about how inquiry or problem based learning could be used to enhance our math pedagogy (philosophy of teaching and learning). This learning focus was chosen because we believed it would help address our students’ needs. Fast forward to December 2013, when the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) released its results on student learning, specifically on math in Canada.

PISA reported that Canada’s ranking in math moved from 10th, to 13th out of 65 in the world. Media responses on Canada’s move resulted in some claiming that ‘discovery learning’ and lack of teaching math “basics” were to blame.

Ultimately, I feel it is important for educators viewing the PISA results and media interpretations of the results, to do so through the lens of how does this impact the needs of the students in your school?

Before the PISA results were released, my colleagues and I realized that students at our school were adept at solving questions that required them to pick and apply an appropriate math computation. However, we as a staff also realized that students at our school needed more learning opportunities to enhance their ability to reason, prove and communicate their thinking, especially during open-ended ‘problem solving’ questions. We also identified supplementing our math practice with inquiry, as a teacher need. These remain student and teacher needs at my school.

My Principal, Rob Dixon, shared his opinion with the entire staff about math learning in our school, especially in light of the concern around PISA 2012 results.

**…it is important for us to balance our teaching to include inquiry as well as time to build basic skills.**

**As well, properly designed inquiry promotes excellence, imagination and creativity for each student to soar and achieve well beyond the limitations a text book and drill and kill teaching promote.**

**This is where the teacher is the difference maker, the knowledgable, skilled facilitator of planned, integrated and differentiated inquiry practices that bring math to life for all students. Very exciting stuff!!**This I find relevant for my students and their needs.

Can we learn from the PISA report and those who reference it? Of course. For example, in an attempt to address the growing call for a return to the ‘basics’ in math, Dr. Cathy Bruce (Trent University Professor, Faculty of Education), who has been reviewing the PISA 2012 results for Canada explains:

Why jump on basic skills when 96.4% of Canadian participants demonstrated basic skills but 4.3% demonstrated high problem solving #PISA13

— Cathy Bruce (@drcathybruce) December 5, 2013

@AlexOverwijk @DaveLanovaz data about the levels of achievement 1-6 is after page 15 in Canadian report on PISA

— Cathy Bruce (@drcathybruce) December 7, 2013

YRDSB Principal, Brian Harrison, shares in his blog that “PISA results confirm that the students who perform best in math have teachers who are well trained, both initially and over the course of their careers.”

These results are more in-line with the needs of the students and teachers at my school. On the one hand, the students in my school need to develop their ability to problem solve, prove their thinking and communicate it effectively. On the other hand, my colleagues and I have realized that we need to supplement our math program with tasks that challenge student thinking and encourage students to reason, justify and communicate their thinking effectively. And that this professional learning should be on-going.

I am sure there is more we can learn.

What are some of the things you take away from the PISA 2012 results, as it relates to the needs of the students in your classroom or school?

there were two funny things that I found with all the media attention to this.

1) Somehow dropping from 10th to 13th is perceived as a huge drop when, in fact, PISA says that Canada is statistically the same as the Netherlands, Estonia, Poland, Belgium, Germany, and Viet Nam which puts us in a tie for 10th spot. And yes our scores have been dropping since 2000 but only 16 points (or about 3%) over 12 years. Hardly a crisis

2) yes people are trying to blame this on not knowing basics but Quebec who scored the best in Canada ” balances traditional math drills with problem-solving approaches.” according to this article (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/education/quebec-students-place-sixth-in-international-math-rankings/article15815420/) which seems to resonate well with what you’ve put here.

BTW, love Kathy Bruce’s good use of stats. thanks for pointing it out.