Anna Stokke, University of Winnipeg

Anna Stokke, BSc. (Math, Brandon University), MSc. (Math, University of Manitoba), PhD (Math, University of Alberta)

After completing my studies at the University of Alberta in 2003, I was delighted to receive a position at the University of Winnipeg in my home province of Manitoba. I am a mathematics researcher in combinatorial representation theory.  I am also a passionate math professor/teacher and this is a part of my job that I love very much.

I became involved in math education for two reasons. As a math professor, I see the struggles that some of my students face and I see inadequate preparation from the K-12 system in many students. I am also a mother to two wonderful children. I have been surprised to see some of the changes in math curricula and I have found that math is not emphasized in schools as much as it should be. Many parents have expressed frustration to me about this and many parents (those who can afford it) send their children to tutoring to make up for inadequacies in the system.

When my daughter was in Grade 2, my husband Ross Stokke and I decided to start a Math Club for my daughter and some of her friends. We have been delighted by the enthusiasm these children show for math. Kids really can love math and they can all be good at it, given proper instruction and an adequate amount of practice, so why is it that so many young adults and adults dislike math? I think this has much to do with problems in the system and I think that most of these problems can be fixed.

Update:  We recently expanded the Math Club that we were running out of our home and founded a non-profit organization, called Archimedes Math Schools.  My husband and I volunteer our time to plan the lessons and to assist university students, whom we’ve hired, to teach math to 63 kids in Grades 4 and 5.

When I first started working at the University of Winnipeg, I taught a course in the history of math several times. This is a very interesting course but had low math prerequisites at the time, and I discovered that many students in education were taking this course to satisfy their math credit. (In fact, many hoped it was a way to get around their math credit.) Some of these students were so far behind in math from high school that they had difficulty with simple arithmetic operations. Even worse, many of them blatantly hated math. I find it shocking that a) students can graduate high school with such low-level math skills and b) students with such low-level math skills can train to be teachers who ultimately end up teaching math. What I have observed at the university level leads me to believe that part of the problem with math education in schools has to do with the fact that some teachers who are required to teach math have not received adequate training in math and may even fear or dislike math. I do not think the current system serves children or teachers well and I think that if we are to make any positive changes in schools, we first need to improve math teacher preparation.

Frustrated with what is surely a vicious cycle, some of my colleagues and I started a petition in the fall of 2011 to raise high school math requirements for elementary and middle years teachers in the province of Manitoba.

In September, 2011, I wrote an opinion / editorial piece about some of the issues entitled
Why our kids fall behind in math that appeared in The Winnipeg Free Press.  I wrote another piece, Raise the lowered bar for math, in May, 2012. Since I started speaking out about these very important issues, I’ve received many letters of public support, for which I am very grateful.