Monthly Archives: February 2010


“I keep it fresh like a homemade pie.”
– Juan Alzamora, age 11

Another, non-math related post (though i can see the implications for Math Raps–maybe i need to start developing some). My dream of using Bloodhound Gang in the classroom may soon be a reality.

Truly, it is genius to see the benefits of rap/hip hop to teach simile and metaphor.

View the article here.

To Text or Not to Text?

Check out this article from the London Telegraph on how texting is affecting our youth…

OMSK Family Math Night

i had the pleasure of being amongst the OMSK community at their Family Math night. Despite some blustery weather blowing in sleet and freezing rain, there was an excellent turnout. Parents, guardians and their children were treated to some very fun (and secretly educational) math activities.

There were many great stations set up by over a dozen staff members, with activities ranging from the primary division to the intermediate level. Unfortunately, i was not able to attend and see all of them, as i did have my own activities to run. Some of the highlights i was able to view included some awesome centers in Mr. Anderson’s room, a fun use of manipulatives (miras and pattern blocks to teach fractions) presented by Mrs. MacLeod, and a concentration memory game (to help kids learn their numbers and the corresponding written form) being played by Mrs. Reuban. i also heard that the parents of several grade 8 students were involved in a problem solving activity that their own children had completed in class. Not sure how the parents measured up to the students in that task.

An unexpected surprise and treat was a teacher appreciation package, along with some cake, to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week. These were handed out by Ms. Brant and the OMSK Home and School.

All in all, it was a fun night of learning math through games, problem solving, and hands on activities. Parents and students and teaching staff all had smiles on their faces and an increased capacity of math understanding. Way to go, OMSK community!!!

Little Caribou



The results are in from our grade three/four Caribou contest contestants. We had 8 students participate in the contest, all from grade three. There were 7 from Ms. R. Bomberry’s class at IL Thomas and one student from Ms. C. Sowden’s class at Emily C. General.

Our highest achiever came in 301st out of 580 participants. Considering that the contest includes grade 4 students, who quite possibly may have made up at least half of the contestants, that is a remarkable achievement for a grade three student. It would be nice to see how our grade fours would have fared.
Other students’ results were 303rd, 311th, 447th, 464th, 506th, 533rd and 552nd. Each student should be proud of their accomplishment and their participation. With more practice and experience in writing tests like these, those results will certainly improve, as we saw with the grade 5 and 6 students who participated in the contest the second time around.
Future contest dates and practice tests can always be found at the link on the right that says Caribou Math Contest. Grade 5/6 have another opportunity on April 21st and the final grade 3/4 contest is scheduled for May 19th. i hope to see you all again on those dates!!

Another Caribou

Grade 3 and 4 students will have the opportunity to write the Caribou Math Contest tomorrow.

i will be at Emily C. General in the morning and IL Thomas in the afternoon to witness the awesome math abilities of our younger competitors.
Wish them the best of luck!!

More than Math

I know it hasn’t been a lot of math news lately, but these topics i’ve put on are meant for district discussion, FYI, or somewhat related to math and how technology will affect student learning (which includes math). As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

This is a wonderfully informative article by Maris Stansbury, Associate editor for E School New, posted January 18th on the E School News web site. The title pretty much says it all, and there are some great gems of info to be had here about the inner workings of the new digital generation and how to approach gaining a better understanding of them.

posted by Ross Crockett


What Every 21st-Century Educator Should Know

Educators today are constantly bombarded with the phrase “21st-century skills,” and the message that all students need to learn those skills in order to succeed. And while general roadmaps can help educators get started on this path toward 21st-century instruction, FETC keynote speaker Cheryl Lemke provided a more narrow focus on what it takes to be a 21st-century education leader.

“It’s all about the ripple effect,” Lemke, president and CEO of the Metiri Group, said in her Jan. 15 speech. (The Metiri Group is a consulting firm dedicated to advancing effective uses of technology in schools.) “When a creative idea is born, it has so much potential, and that potential can turn into innovation. By innovation, I mean that it begins to change the entire system, and therefore causes ripples in the system.” Lemke went on to explain that today’s students have the ability to start ripples in society, and a good education leader will know how to give students the skills they need to start those ripples.

“One big goal of your classes and your teaching should be to engage student interest as much as possible,” said Lemke.

“The first thing we need to clarify is this definition of a ‘digital native,’” said Lemke. “We’ve all heard that these digital natives are multitaskers, meaning they can focus on multiple things at once. But recent neuroscience research suggests that what these kids are really doing is jumping between different tasks and not giving each task full attention. It’s not focused, it’s distracted, and therefore reduces the overall quality of attention each task needs.”

Lemke reminded attendees that Linda Stone, former vice president of Microsoft, years ago said this behavior is really just “continual partial attention.” “There are times when students shouldn’t be multitasking,” said Lemke. “While technology makes it easier for students to jump around between tasks, they don’t always learn what they could. So it’s our job to keep students interested enough in their tasks.”

To keep students interested, Lemke said educators first must know about students’ lives and their interests outside of school—something she called “adolescent learning 2.0.” Adolescent learning 2.0 makes the adolescent the center of learning, while taking into consideration factors outside of school, such as their peers, communities, home life, and all their available resources (the internet, social networks, and so on). “School is just one part of what constitutes an adolescent’s learning,” explained Lemke. She also noted several key trends that are shaping education today; trends that education leaders should be aware of:

(1) Democratization of knowledge

According to Lemke, information is readily available to students from several different sources (both inside and outside of school), and teachers need to recognize their role is evolving—from information provider to more of a mentor. One way to embrace this role of mentor is by teaching what digital resources are available to students and how they can take advantage of those resources.

Lemke noted that many new and freely available resources come out of the Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) conference every year. For example, one presenter at the TED conference, David Bolinsky, former medical illustrator at Yale and cofounder of XVIVO, a scientific animation company, showed attendees a film in progress called the Inner Life of a Cell. Bolinsky worked with Harvard scientists to create simulations of cell functions that educators could use to intrigue students about biology.

The question you should be asking is, ‘When they leave school, are they even more curious than when they began?’”

Lemke also noted sites such as MIT’s Open Courseware and Connexions, a “content commons” of free, open-licensed educational materials in fields such as music, electrical engineering, and psychology.

“One big goal of your classes and your teaching should be to engage student interest as much as possible,” said Lemke. “The question you should be asking is, ‘When they leave school, are they even more curious than when they began?’”

(2) Web 2.0 and mass collaboration

“One of the greatest ways to engage students and teach 21st-century skills is by using the web for collaboration,” said Lemke. She gave attendees a glimpse into how mass web collaboration is transforming society. One example is a resource called Innocentive, which connects small businesses with problem solvers via the web. Whoever solves the problem gets cash for solving that problem.

An example from the web site involved a small oil company in Alaska that had a problem with its oil pipes freezing in cold temperatures. After the company posted its problem online, a construction developer solved the problem in hours because his construction sites had the same problem with freezing concrete pipes. The solution was to vibrate the pipes to keep them from freezing. After drawing a proposal and calculating a few other technicalities, he submitted his answer and received $20,000.

Lemke also quoted a list from the Johnson & Johnson Co. on what defines good collaboration, which can help educators when asking their students to work online collaboratively:

  1. Balance of formal and informal work
  2. Positive interdependence that promotes personal responsibility
  3. Considerable promotive interaction
  4. Shared workspace
  5. Iterative group reflection and processing to improve effectiveness

“We also need to start creating assessments for group work,” said Lemke. “Most of the time when educators grade students in groups, it’s still based on individual [contributions]. The work of the group as a whole needs to be assessed as well.”

(3) Multimodal learning

Lemke urged educators to read neuroscience research about how the brain processes memory with sights and sounds. “Students can learn better when concepts are presented in many modes,” she explained.

Lemke gave the example of another TED presenter who showed how the world’s countries have shifted in life expectancy rates and birthing rates since the 1950s. Instead of just telling the audience, the TED presenter showed, through moving representative colors on a chart, how countries have changed. “It’s not only students who need to think visually; educators have to as well,” said Lemke.

For more information on Lemke’s keys to being a leader in 21st-century education, visit here.

ELEMENTARY TEACHERS’ FEDERATION OF ONTARIO | Students Short-Changed by Government’s Focus on Test Scores

ELEMENTARY TEACHERS’ FEDERATION OF ONTARIO Students Short-Changed by Government’s Focus on Test Scores

Click on the link above to view the article from it’s original source OR read it below:

Students Short-Changed by Government’s Focus on Test Scores

TORONTO, Feb. 4 /CNW/ – Teachers have raised concerns that the provincial government’s push for improved provincial test scores is making it difficult for them to provide a balanced program for elementary students.

According to an Environics Research Group survey of Ontario elementary school teachers, 77 percent of teachers feel that the range of topics taught to students is being narrowed because of the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) testing program.

“Teachers feel their students are being denied a well-rounded education because of the government’s focus on test scores. It has created a skewed emphasis on literacy and numeracy to the detriment of other subjects,” explains Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) president Sam Hammond.

“The government has recently underlined, for example, the importance of arts and physical education, but the intense focus on literacy and numeracy means there is just not enough time for these other subjects,” said Hammond.

The majority of teachers surveyed also think that EQAO testing has either made no difference to the quality of elementary education in Ontario, or even made it worse. A large majority think EQAO testing should be phased out.

“Other jurisdictions with a history of large-scale assessments are reducing or cancelling their testing programs. It’s time for Ontario to review its student assessment regime,” Hammond said.

The Environics survey was conducted in early November, 2009, among a sample of 1,010 Ontario elementary teachers who are ETFO members. The margin of error for a sample of this size is considered to be plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario represents 73,000 elementary public school teachers and education workers across the province and is the largest teacher federation in Canada.

For further information: Sam Hammond, President, ETFO, (416) 962-3836 (Office); Larry Skory, ETFO Communications, (416) 962-3836 (Office), (416) 948-0195 (Cell)

What He Said…

This an article written originally by Alfie Kohn.

I keep thinking it can’t get much worse, and then it does. Throughout the 1990s, one state after another adopted prescriptive education standards enforced by frequent standardized testing, often of the high-stakes variety. A top-down, get-tough movement to impose “accountability”– driven more by political than educational considerations – began to squeeze the life out of classrooms, doing the most damage in the poorest areas.

By the time the century ended, many of us thought we had hit bottom – until the floor gave way and we found ourselves in a basement we didn’t know existed. I’m referring, of course, to what should have been called the Many Children Left Behind Act, which requires every state to test every student every year, judging students and schools almost exclusively by their scores on those tests, and hurting the schools that need the most help. Ludicrously unrealistic proficiency targets suggest that the law was actually intended to sabotage rather than improve public education.

Today we survey the wreckage. Talented teachers have abandoned the profession after having been turned into glorified test-prep technicians. Low-income teenagers have been forced out of school by do-or-die graduation exams. Countless inventive learning activities have been eliminated in favor of prefabricated lessons pegged to numbingly specific state standards.

Talented teachers have abandoned the profession after having been turned into glorified test-prep technicians. Low-income teenagers have been forced out of school by do-or-die graduation exams.

And now we’re informed that what we really need . . . is to standardize this whole operation from coast to coast.

Have we lost our minds? Because we’re certainly in the process of losing our children’s minds.

To politicians, corporate CEOs, or companies that produce standardized tests, this prescription may seem to make sense. (Notice that this is exactly the cast of characters leading the initiative for national standards.) But if you spend your days with real kids in real classrooms, you’re more likely to find yourself wondering how much longer those kids — and the institution of public education — can survive this accountability fad.

Let’s be clear about the latest development. First, what they’re trying to sell us are national standards. It may be politically expedient to insist that the effort isn’t driven by the federal government, but if all, or nearly all, states end up adopting the same mandates, that distinction doesn’t amount to much.

Second, these core standards will inevitably be accompanied by a national standardized test. When asked, during an on-line chat last September, whether that was true, Dane Linn of the National Governors’ Association (a key player in this initiative) didn’t deny it. “Standards alone,” he replied, “will not drive teaching and learning” – meaning, of course, the specific type of teaching and learning that the authorities require. Even if we took the advice of the late Harold Howe II, former U.S. Commissioner of Education, and made the standards “as vague as possible,” a national test creates a de facto national curriculum, particularly if high stakes are attached.

Third, a relatively small group of experts will be designing standards, test questions, and curricula for the rest of us based on their personal assumptions about what it means to be well educated. The official Core Standards website tries to deny this, insisting that the items all teachers are going to have to teach will be “based on evidence” rather than reflecting “individual beliefs about what is important.” It would be charitable to describe this claim as disingenuous. Evidence can tell us whether a certain method is effective for reaching a certain objective – for example, how instruction aligned to this standard will affect a score on that test. But the selection of the goal itself – what our children will be taught and tested on – unavoidably reflects values and beliefs. Should those of a single group of individuals determine what happens in every public school in the country?

Advocates of national standards tell us they want all students (by which they mean only American students) to attain excellence, no matter where (in our country) they happen to live. The problem is that excellence is being confused with entirely different attributes, such as uniformity, rigor, specificity, and victory. Let’s consider each in turn.

Are all kids entitled to a great education? Of course. But that doesn’t mean all kids should get the same education. High standards don’t require common standards. Uniformity is not the same thing as excellence – or equity. (In fact, one-size-fits-all demands may offer the illusion of fairness, setting back the cause of genuine equity.) To acknowledge these simple truths is to watch the rationale for national standards – or uniform state standards — collapse into a heap of intellectual rubble.

To be sure, excellence and uniformity might turn out to be empirically correlated even if they’re theoretically distinct. But I know of no evidence that students in countries as diverse as ours with national standards or curricula engage in unusually deep thinking or are particularly excited about learning. Even standardized test results, such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), provide no support for the nationalizers. On eighth-grade math and science tests, eight of the 10 top-scoring countries had centralized education systems, but so did nine of the 10 lowest-scoring countries in math and eight of the 10 lowest-scoring countries in science.

If you’re determined to evaluate students or schools in relative terms, it helps if they’re all doing the same thing. But why would we want to turn learning into a competitive sport?

So if students don’t benefit from uniformity, who does? Presumably corporations that sell curriculum materials and tests can reduce their costs if one text fits all. And then there are the policy makers who confuse doing well with beating others. If you’re determined to evaluate students or schools in relative terms, it helps if they’re all doing the same thing. But why would we want to turn learning into a competitive sport?

Apart from the fact that they’re unnecessary, a key premise of national standards, as the University of Chicago’s Zalman Usiskin observed, is that “our teachers cannot be trusted to make decisions about which curriculum is best for their schools.” Moreover, uniformity doesn’t just happen – and continue – on its own. To get everyone to apply the same standards, you need top-down control. What happens, then, to educators who disagree with some of the mandates, or with the premise that teaching should be broken into separate disciplines, or with the whole idea of national standards? What are the implications of accepting a system characterized by what Deborah Meier called “centralized power over ideas”?

I’ve written elsewhere about another error: equating harder with better and making a fetish of “rigorous” demands or tests whose primary virtue (if it’s a virtue at all) is that they’re really difficult. Read just about any brief for national standards and you’ll witness this confusion in full bloom. A key selling point is that we’re “raising the bar” – even though, as Voltaire reminded us, “That which is merely difficult gives no pleasure in the end.” Nor does it enhance learning.

Then, too, there is a conflation of quality with specificity. If children – and communities – are different from one another, the only safe way to apply an identical standard to all of them is to operate at a high level of abstraction: “We will help all students to communicate effectively,” for example. (Hence Howe’s enduring wisdom about the need to keep things vague.) The more specific the standard, the more problematic it becomes to impose it on everyone. Pretty soon you’re gratuitously defining some kids as failures, particularly if the new standards are broken down by grade level.

The reasonable-sounding adjectives used to defend an agenda of specificity — “focused,” “coherent,” “precise,” “clear” – ought to make us nervous. If standards comprise narrowly defined facts and skills, then we have accepted a controversial model of education, one that consists of transmitting vast quantities of material to students, material that even the most successful may not remember, care about, or be able to use.

This is exactly what most state standards have already become and it’s where national standards are heading (even if, in theory, they could be otherwise). Specificity is what business groups and newspaper editorialists want and it’s what very vocal defenders of “core knowledge” equate with good teaching. Specificity is a major criterion by which Education Week and conservative think tanks like the Thomas B. Fordham Institute evaluate standards documents. In any case, Achieve, Inc. and the National Governors Association probably won’t need much convincing; they’ll give us specific in spades.

Finally, what’s the purpose of demanding that every kid in every school in every state must be able to do the same thing in the same year, with teachers pressured to “align” their instruction to a master curriculum and a standardized test?

I once imagined a drinking game in which a few of those education reform papers from corporate groups and politicians were read aloud: You take a shot every time you hear “rigorous,” “measurable,” “accountable,” “competitive,” “world-class,” “high(er) expectations,” or “raising the bar.” Within a few minutes, everyone would be so inebriated that they’d no longer be able to recall a time when discussions about schooling weren’t studded with these macho managerial buzzwords.

But it took me awhile to figure out that not all jargon is meaningless. Those words actually have very real implications for what classrooms should look like and what education is (and isn’t) all about. The goal clearly isn’t to nourish children’s curiosity, to help them fall in love with reading and thinking, to promote both the ability and the disposition to think critically, or to support a democratic society. Rather, a prescription for uniform, specific, rigorous standards is made to order for those whose chief concern is to pump up the American economy and make sure that we triumph over people who live in other countries.

If you read the FAQ page on the common core standards website, don’t bother looking for words like “exploration,” “intrinsic motivation,” “developmentally appropriate,” or “democracy.” Instead, the very first sentence contains the phrase “success in the global economy,” followed immediately by “America’s competitive edge.”

If these bright new digitally enhanced national standards are more economic than educational in their inspiration, more about winning than learning, devoted more to serving the interests of business than to meeting the needs of kids, then we’ve merely painted a 21st-century façade on a hoary, dreary model of school as employee training. Anyone who recoils from that vision should be doing everything possible to resist a proposal for national standards that embodies it.

Yes, we want excellent teaching and learning for all — although our emphasis should be less on student achievement (read: test scores) than on students’ achievements. Offered a list of standards, we should scrutinize each one but also ask who came up with them and for what purpose. Is there room for discussion and disagreement — and not just by experts — regarding what, and how, we’re teaching and how authentic our criteria are for judging success? Or is this a matter of “obey or else,” with tests to enforce compliance?

The standards movement, sad to say, morphed long ago into a push for standardization. The last thing we need is more of the same.

All for one OR One for all?

Here’s an interesting article that questions the competitive nature of education and whether or not the model of competition is conducive for learning. Click here to read it.

Feel free to have a read and post a comment in response to the article. i’m not sure of my position, though i know i do not enjoy or promote competition to the degree that many others do. Participation is a more important concern of mine.

Elluminate Yourself

Cam MacDonald, (math consultant in the GEDSB), posted a response to last week’s video game article informing us of a live session concerning video games and learning. Click here to go directly to the link, or view a copy of the page below:

James Paul Gee on Video Games, Learning, and Literacy

Monday, February 01, 2010
Posted by Steve Hargadon

Date: Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010
Time: 5pm Pacific / 8pm Eastern / 1am GMT (next day) (international times here)
Duration: 1 hour
Location: In Elluminate. Log in at The Elluminate room will be open up to 30 minutes before the event if you want to come in early. To make sure that your computer is configured for Elluminate, please visit Recordings of the session will be posted within a day of the event at the event page (here).

Join me and Ed Hill for a live and interactive interview with James Paul Gee on Wednesday, February 3rd.

Professor Gee is well-known for his “provocative examination” of the positive effects on learning of video games. He’s currently the Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studeis at Arizona State University, and is the author of the acclaimed What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy.

James Paul Gee is a member of the National Academy of Education. His book Sociolinguistics and Literacies (1990, Third Edition 2007) was one of the founding documents in the formation of the “New Literacy Studies”, an interdisciplinary field devoted to studying language, learning, and literacy in an integrated way in the full range of their cognitive, social, and cultural contexts. His book An Introduction to Discourse Analysis (1999, Second Edition 2005) brings together his work on a methodology for studying communication in its cultural settings, an approach that has been widely influential over the last two decades.

Professor Gee’s most recent books deal with video games, language, and learning.What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2003, Second Edition 2007) argues that good video games are designed to enhance learning through effective learning principles supported by research in the Learning Sciences. Situated Language and Learning (2004) places video games within an overall theory of learning and literacy and shows how they can help us in thinking about the reform of schools. His most recent book is Good Video Games and Good Learning: Collected Essays (2007). Professor Gee has published widely in journals in linguistics, psychology, the social sciences, and education.

What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Second Edition: Revised and Updated Edition

[Cross-posted from]
The link is also available with Mr. MacDonald’s response in the comment section from the video game post.