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Dec 16, 2009 - Grade 6 students work on math exercises as John Mighton teaches their class at the Mabin school - a private school in Toronto. He's a Toronto mathematician who has come up with a step-by-step way to teach kids math that is being used in the U.K, and parts of Western Canada but not so much in Ontario. His work taps into interesting brain science. It started as way to teach under-privileged kids struggling with math, but now his charity, JUMP math, trains teachers and develops curriculums for different grades. He says there evidence it is the best way to teach high-achievers as well.

The Globe and Mail/Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail

Who should go

Traditional Schools

Students who thrive in a structured learning environment that offers a rich, broad-based education. Kids who want to "do it all" will find plenty of academic and extra-curricular opportunities in a traditional private school.

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Alternative or progressive schools

Students who perform best when they're allowed to be independent and creative. Students who are shy or anxious often come out of their shell when they're enrolled in an alternative school that adjusts teaching methods based on each student's personality.

Class sizes

Traditional schools

Traditional private schools generally boast lower student-to-teacher ratios than public and separate schools.

Alternative or progressive schools

Some niche schools have even lower ratios. The Study Day Program in Toronto, for instance, has about five students per teacher.

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Curriculum

Traditional schools

Traditional private schools offer various elective subjects outside of the provincial curriculum. In some schools, students can accelerate their studies and complete core curriculum subjects sooner. Students in higher grades start focusing on subjects that reflect the post-secondary programs they intend to pursue.

Alternative or progressive schools

Programs are based on provincial curriculum and enriched with electives or deeper course content. Some alternative schools also have a unique focus. One example is St. Margaret's School in Victoria, B.C., which is well known for its equestrian and animal husbandry programs.

Teaching method

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Traditional schools

Most classes are delivered in instructor-centred lecture format, with the teacher speaking at the front of the class. But students also learn through projects and are often asked to present their findings in class. Some traditional schools have also embraced technologies such as webcasts or teleconferencing.

Alternative or progressive schools

Montessori, Arrowsmith and Waldorf schools follow education methods based on their founder's teaching philosophy. Other alternative schools, such as Glenburnie School in Oakville, Ont., use interactive technology such as smart boards to let students and teachers work together during in-class lectures. Glenburnie teachers also often divide classes into groups that debate topics in a "town hall meeting" format.

Admission

Traditional schools

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Many traditional schools are highly selective and choose students with higher-than-average grades. Extra-curricular activities are also taken into account during the selection process.

Alternative or progressive schools

Like traditional schools, many alternative schools apply rigorous entrance standards based on academic performance. Certain schools, however, work specifically with students who have special needs, such as gifted children or children with strong academic promise but have some learning difficulties.

Campus

Traditional schools

Because many traditional schools have been operating for decades and have more students, they tend to have larger campuses with more facilities. For instance, St. George's School in Vancouver is spread out over two campuses and has multiple facilities, including two libraries, four gymnasiums, two dining halls and an indoor swimming pool.

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Alternative or progressive schools

Campus sizes are typically smaller, reflecting the smaller student bodies served by alternative schools. The Study Day School, for instance, occupies a space annexed to a church. Students in all three grades at The Study work together in the same space.

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