Free financial literacy seminars

I’m excited to start working with the Toronto Public Library to offer free financial literacy seminars in Toronto this fall! I will have two sessions on “How to Teach Kids about Money” and three sessions on “Investing for Millennials.”

The dates and times at the Toronto Public Library branches are listed below. No need to register in advance, and admission is free:

Teaching Kids about Money: College & Shaw Branch: Tuesday, October 1, 2019: 6:30-7:30pm

Teaching Kids about Money: Humber Bay Branch: Saturday, November 2, 2019: 2-3pm

Investing for Millennials: Northern District Branch: Saturday, November 16, 2019: 2-3pm

Investing for Millennials: Toronto Reference Library: Monday, November 18, 2019: 7-8pm

Investing for Millennials: Jane & Dundas Branch: Saturday, November 23, 2019: 2-3pm

TPL Money

TPL Inv 2019

Quest Math

Canadian children are lagging behind in math and we need to solve this problem. My goal is to make math learning easier and more fun by introducing games and activities for young children. I am excited about sharing my ideas with teachers and parents.
I have developed the Quest math program and kit that includes:
  • Quest Math book: My own guide to key skills, games and activities from the early years to grade 4
  • Pack of cards for the activities/games
  • Specialty math dice for the math activities/games
For a school’s Math Night, I would prepare a PowerPoint presentation with ideas, research, games and some video to get the ideas across. The evening would include interactive activities and showing parents how to play the games in the kit.
Pricing is very reasonable for the kit and will depend on sourcing of items.
I do not charge a speaker fee for these presentations. This is a way for me to give back to the community. My main work is as a math tutor, consultant and investing instructor. My background includes more than a decade as a Bay Street economist, and more than a decade as an teacher/tutor. I have Masters degrees in both Economics and Education.
Please get in touch to find out more…

Key math skills from K-6

Math has become a confusing subject for kids and their parents and it’s time to simplify it. We need to start focusing on the key skills needed at each grade. If children are lagging behind, teachers and parents can put the primary focus on the key areas and not worry as much about the rest.

Let’s get to the point: Kids need to learn the key concepts set out in this inverted triangle in this order as close to these timelines as possible. From learning numbers to 100 in Kindergarten to the basics of algebra in grade 6 – these are the vital skills that should be the primary focus of our math education and math homework.

There are 5 strands in the Ontario math curriculum. To paraphrase George Orwell, “all math strands are created equal, but some are more equal than others.” Number sense and numeration, which includes addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, is the core of all math learning in the early school years. It is time that we recognize this and focus on these skills first. Children who excel at math will be able to work on all areas, shifting from one to the other with ease. Children who struggle in math need to take more time on the key basic skills.

Let’s take a look at how children learn math. The most compelling research in math education is in the area of neuroscience. Teachers know, from working with children, that once children have quick recall (or automaticity) of math facts (i.e., 4×6=24), they can draw these facts from memory and not use up computational power/working memory on these when solving complex math problems. What is exciting is to see this come alive through functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRIs).

Menon, from Stanford, has been one of the lead researchers to show, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, which parts of the brain are activated when they work on complex math problems involving math facts compared to those who have not committed the facts to memory:

Vinod Menon, Stanford University, Aug. 17, 2014

A great summary of these results is given in this clip by Paul Cholmsky from a math conference in 2011:

Next step: How do we get children engaged in learning these key math skills? There are two keys to this:

  1. Getting kids to buy into the idea that math is important
  2. Finding the right tools that get kids interested in practicing these key skills

These are the next two key questions to answer. Stay tuned…

Teri Courchene

Comments/questions? Get in touch:

Why math matters

It is possible that I have a slight bias, but I think math is the most important subject in school. Sadly, with today’s math teachers and curriculum, most kids will go through school unaware of the power and beauty of math.

As a math tutor of children from grade 3 to high school, I am always thinking of ways to approach concepts so that kids can “get it.” It’s not convincing to say,”this is what we do to get the right answer.” There is nothing compelling about that and it wouldn’t convince me to listen. Success is when the reaction is “cool.” Or for a complex concept, “I’m good at this!”

For the older set, grades 6 and up, I have started to use the word “efficiency.” To explain most of the processes in math, I show that we could do things the long way – but that mathematicians have come up with shortcuts or efficient ways to do things so that we can make it easier to understand and write.


8/16 is the same as 1/2 but we simplify so that it easier to understand.

5 x 6 is the same as 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 + 5 but the former is easier to write.

7is the same as 7 x 7 x 7 but using exponents is clearer and is easier to write.

Explaining how we get to the shortcuts:

Why is it important to see what is behind the short cut? We want the child to get the process and not just memorize the shortcut.

When children learn multiplication, I show using cutouts of grid paper what each multiplication question looks like (7 x 5 is 5 rows of 7). They can count the squares to verify the answer. I teach them about squaring: a number times itself can be written as a square: 6 x 6 = 6 They see that 6 x 6 is a square – hence the name.

I explain dimensions when I talk about perimeter, area and volume. Perimeter (2 x (l + w)) is a length measurement so it is 1 dimension (cm); Area (l x w) is surface area (cm x cm = cm2) so it is 2 dimensions; and Volume is length x width x height so it is 3 dimensions (cm x cm x cm = cm3).

When explaining the exponent rules, I show how to do it the long way to derive the rule:

10 x 100 = 1000

10x 10103

So the rule is: you add up the exponents when multiplying (2 + 1 = 3). The converse applies to division of numbers with exponents.

Why do we care if our kids “get” math? My take on math is that it is the best subject for teaching our kids how to solve complex problems, apply information and rules that they know, and develop accuracy and efficiency in their problem solving. It is the most important way that we can teach our kids how to think creatively within constraints. Looking ahead to life after school, these are great tools to bring to any career.

Test for you: can you show why any number to the power of 0 is 1?

10= 1

90= 1

250= 1

No googling the answer…


“All math strands are created equal, but some are more equal than others”

Mathematics in the early years

To paraphrase George Orwell, “all math strands are created equal, but some are more equal than others.” Number sense and numeration is the most important strand for the early years, and we need to change the curriculum expectations to reflect this.

We have five strands in the mathematics curriculum in Ontario:

  1. number sense and numeration
  2. measurement
  3. geometry and spatial sense
  4. patterning and algebra
  5. data management and probability.

Every day in my teaching, I see the results of our lack of focus on number sense. Many children struggle with adding and subtracting 1-digit numbers, even in grades 6-7. The Ontario curriculum does not expect children to develop quick recall or memorize addition facts (4 + 9 = 13) and related subtraction facts (13 – 4 = 9) – they only expect children to have the ability to arrive at the answers.

Similarly, when children start to work on multiplication, they are not required to memorize or develop quick recall of multiplication facts and the related division facts (6 x 7 = 42; 42/7 = 6). This does not necessarily hold them back at first, but over time, without these skills, they will struggle with long division, fractions and algebra.

Why is early-years math important? Math is a cumulative subject, in which prior learning is the foundation for future learning. Gaps that emerge in achievement in the early years tend to grow over time.  This has been dubbed “the Matthew effect” – strong students get stronger and weaker students lag increasingly far behind. Lack of skills in number sense hold children back because all of the other strands require strong number sense skills once children reach the junior grades (grades 4-6).

What can we do as parents?

Play number-based games with our kids (cards, Snakes & Ladders, Rack-O, Yahtzee, etc.)

Help our kids by making them learn their addition facts up to 9 + 9 by the end of grade 2.

Help our kids by making them learn their multiplication facts up to 9 x 9 by the end of grade 4.

We know as parents that we are the most important teachers our children have…

Teri Courchene, May 20, 2015

What is Numeracy?

Numeracy simply means being able to use mathematics in everyday life.

Mathematics education is about learning mathematics to succeed in school, but its purpose is much broader: to foster numeracy. Numeracy is mathematical literacy, which is defined as follows:

“…an individual’s capacity to formulate, employ, and interpret mathematics in a variety of contexts. It includes reasoning mathematically and using mathematical concepts, procedures, facts, and tools to describe, explain, and predict phenomena. It assists individuals to recognize the role that mathematics plays in the world and to make the well-founded judgments and decisions needed by constructive, engaged and reflective citizens” (Council of Ministers of Education (Brochu et al, 2013, 15)).

Numeracy enables us to not only make mental calculations, but to participate fully in the debates and decisions within our modern society. In today’s world, higher numeracy skills are closely linked not only to school achievement but also to success in the job market (Statistics Canada, 2014).

(The above text is an excerpt from forthcoming paper)

Brochu, Pierre, Marie-Anne Deussing, Koffi Houme, and Maria Chuy. 2013. Measuring Up: Canadian Results of the OECD PISA Study. Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC).

Statistics Canada, 2014. Educational Indicators in Canada: An International Perspective 2014. 81-604-X (December 2014).

by Teri Courchene