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Swimming De-Stream: New Grade 9 Math Course off to Strong Start at Westmount

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Swimming De-Stream: New Grade 9 Math Course off to Strong Start at Westmount

Secondary school can be quite the unfamiliar experience for students entering Grade 9. There is a different school building to get accustomed to, a fresh schedule to nail down, and new course content that they are being exposed to. It can take time for some students to become adjusted, but they eventually get their new routines down.

This school year, Grade 9 math educators are going through a similar process. The Ministry of Education updated the curriculum for Ontario’s Grade 9 math course (MTH1W), which covers key math concepts and skills for all students as part of a de-streaming effort. This change means that educators are venturing into uncharted territory as they deliver this new course.

“We’ve talked about the fact that it’s the first time through and that we’re guinea pigs in that respect,” said math educator Lindsey Zarate. “I think they’re sort of used to the programming from elementary school, so it makes it easier in some ways. They understand that we’re going to do a lot of different strategies around different learning styles.”

Zarate is one of the handful of HWDSB educators teaching MTH1W in this first block. Even though we are only in November, the course is set to wrap up next week due to the quadmester schedule. The Westmount Secondary School educator has seen positive results despite this being her first time through the class.

“It comes down to individualizing the program for each student. It’s not easy, but it’s exciting,” explained Zarate. “You get to see what their strengths are and what they’re bringing to the table.”

The new course signals the start of de-streaming for Grade 9 programming across the province. De-streaming ends the practice of placing some students in pathways or programs based on perceptions of their ability. It is an important equity measure that seeks to ensure that a student’s pathways decisions are personalized to fit their interests and aspirations.

“The biggest thing to keep in mind is that before de-streaming, we were asking kids to close or open doors that they didn’t even know existed,” Zarate told us. “Now what we’re doing is saying, ‘Let’s just expose you to high school math. Let’s give you all those opportunities to explore without that pressure of streaming.’ In Grade 10 or Grade 11, then they’ll start to decide where they’re going with that.”

In addition to de-streaming, MTH1W also introduces some changes to course content. The Ministry of Education says the new course is relevant to today’s job market, prepares students for advanced Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers, and helps them understand concepts in real-life scenarios, such as coding.

For Zarate, she has already found joy in the new content that has been incorporated into her lessons. Students have been able to gain experience in the areas of problem solving, financial math, and programming, which would not have been common in years past.

“There’s more project-based learning, so there’s exploration of different knowledge systems,” said Zarate. “That’s been an interesting opportunity because I’ve had students go on trips to different places and said, ‘Hey, can you tell me about the math there when you get back?’ That’s been a fun twist that we normally wouldn’t have had in math class.”

When preparing for this new course, Zarate borrowed knowledge from her elementary colleagues who have been differentiating their classrooms for years. The Westmount educator also found comfort in HWDSB’s Reimagining Wellness initiative that kicked off the school year. The series of activities and lessons addresses needs highlighted during the school closures for COVID-19: the need for safety, routine, support, growth, community, and more.

“We integrated some of the activities in the beginning, especially around getting to know our students,” Zarate explained. “Part of the de-streaming philosophy is that we’re really trying to know our learners. I really like the opportunity to grab ideas from the choice board to get to know our students.”

When asked what she hopes her students, and future ones, will take away from this updated math course, Zarate says it all comes down to confidence and growth.

“I want them to have a strong identity as a math learner, which a lot of students don’t, “Zarate told us. “When they come in, a lot have math phobias. A lot of students feel like they’re not good at math, so it’s about breaking those barriers down. Everybody can do it. We’re starting at different points, and that’s okay.”

Grade 9 Math De-Streaming Resources from the Ministry of Education

Updated on Thursday, November 04, 2021.
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