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Math conference returns to birthplace

As the Canadian Mathematics Educators Study Group (CMESG) marks its 40th annual conference it is returning to where it all began – Queen’s University.

The event is being co-chaired by Jamie Pyper (Education) and Peter Taylor (Mathematics and Statistics), one of the founding fathers of the group back in 1977.

Peter Taylor (Mathematics and Statistics) is the co-chair of the Canadian Mathematics Educators Study Group, along with Jamie Pyper (Education). (University Communications)

For Dr. Taylor it has been interesting to see how the conference has grown and changed over the years, with the original 30 attendees now over 150 from a diverse range of backgrounds, including graduate students. The conference is more interactive and discussion oriented, utilizing working groups rather than large lectures and presentations.

Dr. Taylor will lead the way in taking an alternative approach at the conference. He is giving one of the four plenary talks during the conference, but it will be anything but traditional. “Instead of giving a talk I’m going to try something more like dramatic storytelling, and I’m going to be getting a critical piece of help along the way,” he says. “That fits with what the conference is trying to do now – find a new way to move forward. Everyone talks about the curriculum of the 21st century. We need to do something different and to do that you need to try different things. So, it’s in that innovative sense that I’m doing this. That’s really important for me.”

The CMESG’s first conference was held at Queen’s in 1977 in response to a Science Council of Canada report that said there were fundamental problems with the way math was being taught in our schools. While teaching methods have changed in the four decades since, Dr. Taylor says that many of the problems continue today.

“It’s interesting that these problems, or updated versions of them, have become increasingly important. You can see it in the media about how kids are taught and what they are learning, are they getting the right skills. There’s more public awareness and energy in this debate than ever,” he says. “It’s even become somewhat urgent. We’ve got to get this right. The world is entering into a new kind of culture, and our kids have to be ready for it.”

“Innovation is key,” he says, “and education within the STEM disciplines plays a vital role. Recent studies show that early education in areas such as spatial reasoning and coding has a positive effect.”

“We are recognizing increasingly through research, and much of this is Canadian, early intervention of some of these mathematical ideas is critical,” Dr. Taylor says. “What you do with kids at the pre-school, kindergarten and Grade 1 stage, can make an enormous difference at Grade 6.”

The 40th CMESG starts Friday, June 3 and continue to Tuesday, June 7 with most events being held at the BioSciences Complex. More information can be found at cmesg.org.