Is Canada a Math Education Power House?

Is Canada a Math Education Power House?

Canada’s most recent results (2015) in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) which include mathematics, science and reading every 3 years for 15 year old students have been much admired.

In August 2017, the BBC called Canada “education superpower” because we were one of the top ranking countries. However, in–depth analysis indicates that our high school students’ performance, of mathematics in particular, has remained stagnant or declined over the past decade. Canada’s improved ranking was due in part to decrease in the performances of students in some countries.1

According to the C.D. Howe Institute Commentary (No. 27 May 2015), a “strong grasp of mathematics is required for success in the workforce, and early achievement in math is one of the best predictors of later academic success and future career options.”

Comparisons of Provinces

In the 2015 PISA results, Canada declined in Math scores overall compared to the last assessment in 2012.2 Generally, Math has become a divisive issue across the country as test scores declined or remained flat in every province except Quebec and Prince Edward Island.

Quebec not only improved its score but continued to come out top in Mathematics relative to the Canadian average in the PISA results while Ontario and provinces in the Maritimes and Prairies were below the average.  Of interest is PEI which improved its score over the last PISA results despite being below the national average.

Although the 2015 PISA results stated that there might be a non-response bias in Quebec, other assessments have ranked Quebec as the leader in Mathematics. In the Pan-Canadian Assessment Program (PCAP) for Grade 8 students, Quebec was the only province that is above the national average in Mathematics. Ontario on the other hand was the sole province that showed no improvement over a period from 2010 – 2016 in this latest PCAP report.

Proportion of Grade 6 students in Ontario meeting the provincial math standard decreased from 57% in 2013 to 49% in 2018

In the 2018 Education, Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) results, the percentage of elementary Grade 3 and Grade 6 students meeting the provincial math standard decreased over the last five years.3 An increasingly number of families has sought private tutoring to boost the students’ grades and it’s possible that the scores might even be worse without this.

Results for Grade 3 students fell to 61% in 2018 from 67% in 2013. More alarming was the results for Grade 6 students which decreased from 57% in 2013 to 49% in 2018.

In high school, of the 96,996 Grade 9 Academic stream math students, 84% did well and met the provincial math standard which remained high over the last five years. However, the 33,451 students enrolled in the Applied stream struggled with 45% in 2018 meeting provincial standard.

Although the results for the Academic and Applies Grade 9 streams have been stable, there is a need to improve the performances of students in the latter. Some experts have said that eliminating streaming is the way to go. In a Toronto Star article (January 2018), it was said that TDSB was going to de-stream over 3 years.

Divisive issue of Math education across Canada

There are two different camps on how to approach the stagnation or decline in math education across Canada.

Many educators and families are pushing for the Traditional Math Method saying that the Discovery Math Model introduced in the Canadian curriculum has led to a decline in the math standard in the country. They contend that the key is to devote more class time to work on basic fundamentals like addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, decimals and fractions.

This Traditional approach has been strongly advocated in the research done by Anna Stokke in the C.D. Howe Institute commentary (Commentary No. 427 May 2015). According to this commentary, “student fluency with particular math concepts, such as fraction arithmetic, in early and middle years has been shown to predict future math success”.

On the other side, proponents of Discovery Math stress on problem-based and experiential learning where students need to apply thinking skills to problem solve in our increasingly complex and globalization world. To them, math education should not be limited to computational skills in arithmetic; non-computational skills  such as data analysis plays a very important part in Big Data analytics where large amounts of data are studied to find hidden patterns, correlations and other insights to help us understand our society better.

What can be done?

Let’s look at the performances of two provinces in the latest PISA and PCAP results, Quebec and PEI. Quebec was above average in both PISA and PCAP while PEI performed below average in PISA and average in PCAP but has improved the performances of its students.

Quebec adopted Discovery Math and has consistently been doing well in it. In addition, its performances in Science and Reading have been on par with or better than the Canadian average. The core of its success lies in the investment in teaching. A Bachelor of Education in Quebec takes four years to complete, during which future teachers spend at least 700 hours in elementary of secondary classrooms (National Post September 2017)

It was further mentioned that in Ontario, teachers often get a four-year undergraduate diploma before starting a two year teaching degree. Ontario has elementary school through Grade 8 while high school in Quebec begins in Grade 7 and ends in Grade 11. Hence, Quebec student in Grade 7 and 8 are taught by “math specialists” while their peers in Ontario are taught by teachers trained to teach elementary school.

PEI’s result is below the Canadian average as seen in the 2015 PISA results but its math performance actually improved over the last assessment. Also noteworthy is that in the latest 2016 PCAP for grade 8 students, PEI’s students made significant gains in mathematics since 2010.

Why is this so we ask? PEI has invested heavily in training teachers and front line staff. It has also put into place strong leadership in the education department and school board as well provide well-being supports that help students reach their full learning potential.4

Pueblo Science’s Hands-on Math Activities

With our Canadian and international RISE programs, Pueblo Science has been delivering activities and learning kits to engage young students in math and sciences through active, hands-on learning experiences, discovery, experimentation and problem-solving opportunities.

For example, to teach about probability distributions, we use marbles falling down a pyramid of styrofoam cups; we present several math concepts such as basic statistics and the mobius strip, and more broadly, how to approach problem solving and estimation through mathemagic tricks and demonstrations with lots of class and audience participation!

This blog article was written by Russell K. Hassan.



2 Council of Ministers of Education Canada (CMEC). Measuring up: Canadian Results of the OECD PISA Study  2015 First Results for Canadians Aged 15

3 No testing in the 2014-15 school year due to labour disruption

4 (April 30 2018)

Good Morning Science: A perfect combination of education and entertainment.

Good Morning Science: A perfect combination of education and entertainment.

Encouraging our youth to be as excited about science and math as they are about recess often seems like a challenge, but it’s not impossible. The Good Morning Science fundraising event hosted by Pueblo Science proved this to be true. The event took place on November 10th 2018 at the InterContinental Hotel in Toronto and all proceeds went towards supporting Pueblo Science outreach programs in the Philippines, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad . All the families and volunteers in attendance enjoyed a delicious breakfast before beginning the day with an introductory presentation about Pueblo Science and its mission to extend STEM education to children in underprivileged global communities. Our speakers included the Consul General of the Philippines, the Director of the Impact Centre, and the Executive Director of Pueblo Science—Mayrose Salvador— all of whom shared stories of the positive impact Pueblo Science has made through training teachers in the developing world and creating a sustainable educational environment.

The presentation was supplemented by several hands-on activities such as making ice cream with liquid nitrogen, creating chromatography buttons, mood patches, slime, DIY lip balm, a robotics station and an introduction to coding. These stations were run by dedicated volunteers, such as myself, with a passion for science and a shared desire to stimulate academic interest in the younger generation. At each station, the idea of applying scientific thinking linked to basic biology, chemistry and physics principles to everyday objects and activities was emphasized.

One of the more popular stations amongst the kids, which I had the privilege of running, was Slime. This station was undoubtedly the messiest, which is probably why it was favoured by the kids. However, we did not simply make slime but also explained the science behind it. The main takeaways from this station were the principles of viscosity and polymers. The kids learned how the reaction between the acid in the liquid detergent causes the polymer structure of glue to change and form attachments called “crosslinks” that help make the slime weak enough to stretch and flatten when left to stand.

This event was the perfect combination of education and entertainment as it ended with a magic show, in which the magicians did reveal their secrets… through scientific explanations. As a volunteer, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience and am extremely appreciative of the initiatives that Pueblo Science has implemented locally and overseas. We hope that as awareness of our cause increases, new members join our growing community and help us raise science literacy.

This blog was written by Sara Shah.

Good Morning Science: Pueblo Fundraiser was a Success!

Good Morning Science: Pueblo Fundraiser was a Success!

On Saturday November 10th, 2018, Pueblo Science hosted our annual Good Morning Science Fundraiser at the Intercontinental Centre. It was amazing to see many children, parents, supporters, and volunteers come together to support the advancement of science education.

The event engaged parents through inspirational speeches from speakers: Dr. Cynthia Goh, and Dr. Scott Browning, Professors in the Department Chemistry at the University of Toronto and Philippine Consul General Rosalita Prospero. Children and their parents were also able to participate in a wide variety of educational science activities including learning how to code, making your own lip balm, and to even making instant ice cream using liquid nitrogen. Each activity inspired children and even parents to appreciate the impact and importance of science.

As a volunteer at the event, I had the opportunity to help run the liquid nitrogen ice cream making station. Nitrogen is a chemical element that is essential to all life on earth and can be found in living organisms. Liquid nitrogen is extremely cold and is maintained at a very low temperature of around -196 degrees Celsius. Therefore, we were able to make instant ice cream in just about 5 minutes with the addition of some liquid nitrogen into a simple liquid ice cream batter while vigorously stirring to allow for the liquid nitrogen to freeze the liquid ice cream batter evenly. After, everyone got a chance to sample the ice cream that was made. The station was evidently a clear favorite among both children, parents, and volunteers as many came back again later for more. Although, I think we can all agree that you can never say no to ice cream!

The event ended off with a spectacular science magic show hosted by Leo Mui and his assistant Anji Zhang, who stole the hearts of our audience with scientifically magical tricks including their mysterious color changing liquid, to their disappearing water act. It was really great to see everyone involved and enjoying the show while learning about the simple science behind the tricks.

We would like to thank all of our attendees, volunteers, and organizers for helping us put together a successful event! Hope to see you next year!

This blog was written by Soomin Lee.

Women in coding – hacking the gender gap

Women in coding – hacking the gender gap

As with many professions which historically were dominated by men, the STEM fields have seen a slow, but continuous, increase of women in the workforce over the last decades. One field is, however, standing out in the crowd, and is facing the opposite trend. Computer Science, which for a long time was one of the strongholds of STEM where women made up a substantial amount of the workforce, has seen quite a dramatic decrease since the 1990’s. From a decent 37% in the US in 1995 to only 24% in 2017. Sadly, current projections show that this number is most likely going to fall further in the next decade. Tech has become a male-dominated field, and it is not looking like it will change anytime soon. How did we end up here? Why are millennial women who grew up surrounded by computers and technology less likely to end up in the field than their baby-boom mothers? And finally—how do we turn the tide?

The computer girls

During the second world war, when all calculations had to be done by hand and triple-checked manually, the rapid increase in need for ‘computational power’ to do complex calculations was solved by hiring hundreds of women. At the end of the war, women were working on some of the most top-secret military projects, and e.g. played an important part in developing the world’s first general purpose computer – the ENIAC. In the years that followed, creating software was seen as women’s work, a good alternative to being a secretary. It was considered easy and not of the same importance as the hardware components their male counterparts were working on developing. – “It is like planning a dinner”. Although the intentions might not have been the best, the circumstances led to many of the important pioneers in computing being women, something which has been little known to the public before movies like The Imitation Game (2014) or Hidden Figures (2016). The percentage of female Computer Science majors also steadily rose to about 25% by the mid-80’s.

After the general computer hit the consumer market and sparked the beginning of the Silicon Valley boom, men started to shift their focus from hardware development to software engineering. The aspirational young man found an idol in visionaries like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, and the computer found its way into the bedroom of many a boy. With the rise of the computer came also computer games and being considered as toys – which had to be gendered – they were placed in the boys’ section. The image of the male computer nerd got a strong foothold in pop culture, and by the mid 90’s, the number of women in computer science began to decrease until the point where we are today.

Starting early

Then, what are the current challenges we are facing? The problems seem to start long before high-school. Looking at the youngest of the

crowd, they show no fear of technology at all. In fact, 66% of girls age 6-12 say they are themselves interested in, or currently enrolled in, computing programs. When entering middle school, however, the number drops dramatically, and when asking the same question to 13-17-year-olds, the number has been reduced to just 35 %. At the point of entering college, only 4 % of girls say they are interested or enrolled in a computing program.

So, what happens during these critical years? A multitude of factors seems to be influential, but some are of higher importance than others. Research from Accenture and Girls Who Code shows that just getting exposure to computing in junior high increases the likelihood of showing interest later by 18%. However, exposure alone is not enough to increase the percentage of girls pursuing an actual career in computer science. Role models, however, seem to have a real impact. While boys’ level of interest in computing/coding was not influenced by the gender of the teacher, girls’ interest was significantly higher if they had female teachers. High school girls who had an inspiring teacher, independent of gender, were also almost three times more likely to say they were interested in studying computing, compared to their counterparts. Finally, a lack of other girls in computing class was shown to reduce their interest by 33%.

Sparking a fire

Then how should we go about to spark and sustain girls’ interest in coding? As mentioned, catching the girls early in junior high and deepening their hands-on experience is important. Here computer games could have a positive impact. Girls who play computer games at a young age are found to be four times more likely to go into computing or coding roles as adults than those who don’t. (Accenture & Girls Who Code) The impression of computing matter too, and maintaining the perception that computing is something fun, cool rather than geeky through the years of junior high is crucial. Here popular culture might do a better job, for example, are male computer scientists and engineers found to outnumber women by 14.25 to 1 in family movies according to Computer Science for All.

Parents and teachers could do also do a lot to convey the importance of computing, but sadly these two groups are not found to think of computing as something that could be applied to societal problems. In fact, only 17% of parents and 11% of teachers say they believe it can change the world. A shocking 66% of computing teachers say that they would rather be teaching something else. Finally, there’s a need for more female teachers in computer science. Efforts to attract more female teachers should be supplemented with bringing in young professionals from the business to make it more understandable for kids what they can become by pursuing a career in computing.

A societal problem

Women developed computer science, not just men. Programming is inherently gender neutral, but with the disruptive effects it has on our society, it is both a societal and economic problem if women are underrepresented as computer science and technology evolves. Increasing the number of women in a male-dominated business is challenging. Luckily there are some positive outlooks. Today, more than 60% of girls in junior high and high school thinks of computing as cool. Hopefully, this will only increase in the years to come.

Coding skills in high demand

Coding skills in high demand

Coding skills are in high demand in a broad range of careers, not just for programmers. Coding skills could be valuable to people working with information technology (IT), data analytics, design, marketing, business, engineering, and science, to mention a few.  As the coding jobs grow faster than the job market, to learn how to code could be considered as one of the most useful skills to obtain in today’s world.

Why jobs value coding skills

Data analysts use computer programming to analyse data and to solve problems in business and finance, while designers use it to design websites and physical products. Other professions, such as engineers use coding to test products and solve technical problems, and in IT computer programming is used to build computer networks. Further, scientists use coding to analyse the results of their experiments. These are just some examples of career tracks where the employee often is expected to be able to use coding. In fact, coding skills provide an avenue to high-income jobs because coding jobs pay better on average.

Today, more than 50% of all jobs require some technology skills, and the experts say that this percentage will increase to 77% in less than ten years. The has estimated that it could be 2.4 million unfilled jobs in the US within science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) by 2018. Most new jobs in STEM are in computing, but unfortunately, just 8% of STEM graduates are in Computer Science.  Lack of computing skills could result in project delays, higher wage costs, more time and money finding qualified employees and training current ones, and this will affect the ability for businesses to innovate and bring new products to the market. ‘

Coding in early childhood

As the computing jobs are growing, the need for people with coding skills increases. It’s estimated that 65% of children entering primary school today will work in new jobs that don’t yet exists and that many of these jobs are likely to involve coding. To develop coding skills at an early age is associated with lower costs and longer lasting effects compared to interventions that start later. Children who are exposed to STEM curriculum and computer programming in early childhood do also demonstrate fewer gender-based stereotypes regarding STEM careers. This could positively impact the current gender-gap in coding since stereotypes are considered one of the main reasons why women do not choose a career in computer science. Furthermore, early childhood education in coding could engage children in problem-solving, imagination and cognitive challenges. We have compiled a list of high-quality resources that you can use to teach your kids how to code.

An education in computer science gives you a foundation that you can take with you in a range of different careers and be sure to get a reliable job.


Indigenous Community Programs Coordinator

Position Description:
The coordinator will act as the program lead for Pueblo Science’s Indigenous Community programs. The program includes week long camps as well as science festivals held in indigenous communities of Ontario and Quebec. The coordinator will develop the curriculum for the program and lead events during the summer. The candidate will also create SOP’s for the program.
The coordinator will also have the following responsibilities:

  • Prepare work plans, timeline for the project, updated weekly
  • Independently drive the project and regularly engage supervisors and peers for support and feedback
  • Participate in weekly progress meetings and deliver a final report and presentation at the end of the summer program
  • Maintain existing collaborations through regular communications with community contacts
  • Initiate new collaborations in other indigenous communities
  • Create an engaging, age-appropriate, community-relevant and respectful curriculum for the target communities.

Qualifications: Must be a full time student in September, 2018
Number of Employees Needed: 1

Position Details:
When: July 2 –August 24, 2018
Compensation: 14$ per hour
Where: 60 St. George Street, Suite 331
Time: 30 hours per week, must attend weekly meeting
How to apply:
Indigenous community students are encouraged to apply to this position. Please send resume and cover letter to:

Kit Developer

Position Description:
The kit developers will lead the development and prototype construction of science and engineering kits that are respectful and relevant to the lives of children and youth in indigenous communities. These kits will be incorporated in a problem-based learning project, with emphasis on student engagement and experiential learning. The employee will have the opportunity to take a lead role in the entire process of new product development.

Responsibilities include weekly project progress report to the Director of Product Development, documentation, and beta testing in July-August during the Pueblo Science summer events. The successful applicant will also engage in material procurement and research low-cost, low-volume manufacturing. Furthermore, he/she will ensure product safety, compliance with all Canadian standards(various provinces) and curriculum relevance. Expected output includes working prototypes and complete education manuals ready for deployment in early 2019.

Qualifications: Must be a full time student in September, 2018
Number of Employees Needed: 2

Position Details:
When: July 2 –August 24, 2018
Compensation: 14$ per hour
Where: 60 St. George Street, Suite 331
Time: 30 hours per week, must attend weekly meeting
How to apply:
Please send resume and cover letter to:

Executive Director Mayrose Salvador featured on Be the Next Her

Executive Director Mayrose Salvador featured on Be the Next Her

“I am the first one in my family to go to grad school and come from a small town where many people still don’t understand what a chemist does, much less what is done in PhD research. During visits back to my town, I realized that very little had changed in how children are taught science since I myself was in grade school — it was too theoretical, which made it too abstract and unapproachable.” – Mayrose Salvador


Our Executive Director, Mayrose Salvador was recently featured on Be the Next Her, a modern-day career blog for women to share their career, life experiences, stories and advice to inspire other women and girls to be successful.

In this article, Mayrose tells the story that lead to the inception of Pueblo Science, as well as some of the activities that go on day-to-day at our organization!

Read the full article here!

Palmerston STEM Night

Palmerston STEM Night

Part of our initiative at Pueblo Science is to spread Science awareness among the youth. On March 22nd 2018, we were a part of Palmerston Public School’s STEM Night, demonstrating physics and chemistry concepts to students at the school. Over a hundred students from grades 1 to 6 participated in activities at the event; including highly successful Chromatography and Phosphorescence demonstrations run by our dedicated volunteers, who took time out of their busy schedules in university and high school to help us reach out to the community.

Students participated in hands-on activities to explore science in a fun, engaging way. Chromatography, a common lab technique to separate a mixture, was shown to students by letting them create their own “Chromatography Buttons”. The future scientists drew designs on paper and watched as water spread the pigments in their markers across the sheet. The patterns that were formed were then pressed onto button pins, which they got to take home. The next activity was to demonstrate Phosphorescence. The students shone laser light onto a phosphorescent surface to create laser drawings. They were thrilled to see the drawings stay on the surface even after the laser light was switched off.

We would like to thank Palmerston for letting us be a part of their STEM Night. Being able to share our love for Science with the community means so much to all of us!

by: Russel Hassan

Encouraging the Next Generation of Women Innovators

Encouraging the Next Generation of Women Innovators

In the days leading up to International Women’s Day, Executive Director Mayrose Salvador had the opportunity to talk to media sites across Canada promoting gender equality and discussing ways to encourage more women to work in STEM.

Women comprise a significant percentage of STEM degrees graduates, yet they are under-represented in STEM careers with 20 per cent fewer women than men. STEM is an important part of society and holds many jobs in the future, which raises the question:

Why aren’t more women involved?

The low number of women in STEM is a bias that self-perpetuates with a lack of interest. It’s the perception that boys are curious, while girls are reserved, that we give boys Lego blocks and girls dolls. Girls are statistically more likely than boys to avoid STEM-intensive programs, which prevents them from pursuing STEM fields. The process of bridging the gap between men and women in the sciences starts with raising interest among the female youth, sending the message that STEM prowess is not limited to just boys and that anyone can succeed in the field.

In her interviews with news coverage, including City News Toronto , CTV Calgary (starts at 24:00), Newstalk 610 CKTB (St Catherines), the Jim Harrison Show (Kamloops), the Jon McComb Show (Vancouver), and Digital Journal, Mayrose explained the importance of getting girls into STEM and engaging them from a young age through education. The best way to introduce them to STEM is through hands-on and inquiry-based learning.

During the interview with CTV Calgary, an example was given on how a simple wind turbine made with easily obtainable inexpensive parts is very effective in teaching electricity. This underscores the importance of education and training that is geared towards hands-on and inquiry based modules.

Pueblo Science has been involved in school STEM clubs and science fairs since inception. One way of raising the engagement level of young girls is to make science camps accessible for them regardless of their socioeconomic status.

“I personally think that there is a lack of role models. Girls need to see what is possible and get advice on how to do it.”

Strong role models and mentorships are important in building an interest in the sciences. We strive to lead by example. From our volunteers to researchers, we have a strong presence of women who are excellent role models. Another way to provide role-models is to bring in accomplished women in science as speakers in schools.

It’s very important to raise awareness of and celebrate successful female role models. An excellent example is Julie Payette who is an astronaut, engineer and currently Governor General of Canada!

Accomplishments and the Future

Pueblo Science has trained over 2,500 teachers in Southeast Asia and the Caribbean since 2011 and we are already gaining traction in these overseas communities as well as in Canada. We are looking forward to launch a new program this year for the indigenous communities in Canada that will allow science professionals to teach fun science to teenage girls.

Pueblo Science getting exposure like this to the general public is extremely exciting. Being able to reach out through the various news outlets for International Women’s Day helps raise the profile for our initiative, and we’re so glad to see Mayrose out there for us!

by Russel Hassan