April 23, 2014

Mathematics Education
For the 21st Century:
A Fields-Nortel Workshop
July 15 - 19, 1997



As Ontario embarks upon a major reform of the secondary school curriculum, it is important not only to reconsider what has been taught in the past, but also to develop a vision of the needs of our high school graduates who will live and work in the 21st century. This Workshop will explore the effects of agents of change which are external to the classroom. It will focus on two main sub-themes, here called The Global Challenge and The Technological Challenge (see below), which have the potential to change our priorities in both "what" and "how" we teach. By focusing on these specific themes, rather than attempting to cover all aspects of curriculum reform, the Workshop is more likely to achieve its objectives and to provide useful input to the process of secondary reform.

Intended Audience:

The Workshop will bring together a select group of highly committed Ontario mathematics educators, with leading international experts, to explore the stated themes. Attendance will be limited to 25-30 participants. Accommodations for participants will be provided, nearby in the University of Toronto residences. (This is not intended as an in-service training workshop for teachers.)


The findings of this Fields-Nortel Workshop will be published as a white paper, which will be made available to the Ontario Ministry of Education and Training and to Ontario educators, as well as to high school systems in other provinces and countries. The white paper will report the discussions and present recommendations for change in the Ontario mathematics curriculum, with special emphasis on the needs of university-bound students. The co-editors will be W.F. Langford, D.E. McDougall and G. Hanna.

Program Committee:

William Langford, Deputy Director, The Fields Institute

Douglas McDougall, Upper Canada College and OISE, University of Toronto

Robert Long, Nortel, Education Interaction

Judy Crompton, President, Ontario Association for Mathematics Education

Gary Flewelling, Queen's MSTE Group, Consultant

Ron Scoins, Associate Dean of Mathematics, University of Waterloo

Mike Wierzba, President, Ontario Mathematics Coordinators Association

Outline of Proposed Program:

In the program, approximately equal times will be allocated to informative and provocative lectures/demonstrations on the one hand, and to discussion groups on the other. The number of presentations will be limited, in order to allow time to explore issues in more depth.

The first two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) will be devoted to educational technology issues; the current state of the art and projections of the future impact of these technologies. The emphasis is not on learning how to use these technologies; however, hands-on labs will be provided in the evenings for those desiring the experience.

The next two days (Thursday and Friday) will explore the implications for mathematics education of changes taking place in the global economy; the needs of industry and successes in other provinces/countries will be explored.

Saturday morning will be devoted to gathering information, summarizing the discussions, and drafting the report. The Workshop will end at noon on Saturday.


1. The Global Challenge.

Will the emerging global economy and knowledge-based industries demand new and different mathematical skills of our graduates? What are other school systems doing in mathematics education? Why do students in certain countries perform much better than Canadian students on international standardized tests? How can we motivate more students (including female) to enrol in the challenging high school mathematics courses which lead to high-tech careers? These questions will be addressed from the following perspectives.

  • Examine Curricula Elsewhere: The Western Consortium, Atlantic Canada, NCTM standards, Europe and the Far East. Compare curriculum objectives, teaching methods and university entrance requirements. What is the feasibility of a pan-Canadian mathematics curriculum?

  • The View from Industry: What kinds of mathematics will be needed in the 21st century workplace, that are not now being emphasized? What topics now taught will become obsolete? Is the present mathematics curriculum relevant to "real-world" problem solving; for example, does it prepare students for the interdisciplinary problems increasingly faced in industry? Can mathematics courses be made more exciting, to attract more students?

  • Life-long Learning: Global competition and technological change will require employees to adapt more quickly than ever before. What are the skills which will enable students to continue learning long after graduation?

2. The Technological Challenge.

Will new technologies change WHAT and HOW we teach? Computers, for example, have dramatically changed how mathematics is used in the workplace; how should this be reflected in the classroom? Will they shift the balance in emphasis between conceptual understanding and manipulative skills? Are there inherit dangers in these seductive new technologies? New technologies which will be considered include:

  • The World Wide Web: Provides virtually unlimited access to information for exploration by students, and in-service professional development for teachers.

  • Multimedia Computer-Guided learning: Self-paced interactive CD-ROM modules, "edutainment", new resources, new approaches to both remedial learning and challenges for the gifted students.

  • Computer Algebra and Geometry Software: Maple, CAD, Geometer's Sketchpad, graphing calculators, spreadsheets, Statistical packages, etc., in the classroom and in the workplace. Do they make obsolete the need for traditional manipulative skills? Do they create new opportunities for deeper understanding and problem-solving skills?