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Edcamp Leadership BC

November 30, 2012 3 comments

I recently attended Edcamp Leadership BC with Tyler and Humaira. It was the second edcamp I attended (I summarized my first visit here). Like last time, I arrived in Delta at 9 am on only four hours of sleep so lack of sleep seems to be a trend for me the night before an Edcamp event… I forgot to prepare a topic to discuss and I was eager to discuss what do grades mean? Unfortunately no one else had proposed any similar topics related to grading.

My first workshop was Learning in the Digital Age. I thought the time could have been better spent discussing ideas. We watched a couple of lengthy videos (relative to the one hour we had for the session) that depicted how technology and social media were used in one teacher’s classroom. Furthermore we spent a fair amount of time discussing the technical details of running a class website (eg student emails, privacy issues, parental consent etc…). We also went over some assessment for learning practices:

  • clear learning intentions
  • student generated criteria
  • quality descriptive feedback
  • inquiry and asking good questions
  • self and peer assessment/feedback
  • ownership of learning

The second workshop was Strategies for Differentiated Learning. I hadn’t encountered the concept of differentiated learning so I decided to attend that session and see what it was about. The problem is every student is different so in any given classroom, there will be some students who are struggling with the curriculum while others find the material too easy and therefore lack the motivation to learn. Different students have different strengths and weaknesses so one way to address this is to have them present what they have learned in different ways. For example students can choose to present their understanding of Shakespeare in the form of a skit, painting or rap instead of the traditional essay. I didn’t realize it until the discussion, but I was lucky to have high achieving classmates in elementary school. Even in grade two, they went and learned a lot beyond the curriculum and shared that knowledge with the rest of the class. They did that without anyone asking them to and that motivated me to go beyond the curriculum as well.

The third workshop was 21st Century Learning and Teaching with Technology. This session was unique in that a student facilitated the discussion (I like to think of him as mini-Tyler). He mentioned teachers have to be better instructors in that simply lecturing on material is taking time away from student discussion and learning and that it’s ok for teachers not to have the answers to everything (ie it’s important for learning to be a two-way street). We also discussed the importance of self-regulation with regards to cell phone usage (ie refraining from checking one’s phone while in class) since banning cell phones in classrooms isn’t an effective practice. At the core, everyone, not just students, needs to learn how to prioritize things and internalize them. Banning cell phones is not going to change the fact if one values the importance of staying connected with friends over his or her education in a given moment.

The last workshop was Things that Suck. We had to pick sides (for, undecided, against) for various educational issues such as grades, standardized curriculum, bring your own device, use of Facebook as a classroom learning platform etc… Unfortunately there was very little opportunity for discussion. I will blog about these topics sometime in the next year…

I enjoyed the day very much. Unfortunately I noticed the same problems the previous Edcamp had. Again I was hoping for a bit more in-depth discussion and a more diverse crowd (the majority of the participants were teachers). Similar to last time, everyone I talked to assumed I was a teacher. It would be great if more students and parents participated in these discussions. For the next Edcamp I will make sure to prepare a topic beforehand so I can lead a discussion! Also check out the accounts of other participants who attended Edcamp!

EDIT: Also check out Edcamp Leadership BC by Tyler Nelson. He mentioned several points I forgot to…

Categories: Education

The Power of Education

September 17, 2012 1 comment

I’ve mentioned before that I believe the purpose of education is to teach us how to live a life. My only argument for that is YOLO :P. Each of us has only one life so we need to know what to do with it. Education teaches how to think. It’s more than simply learning how to solve a problem analytically or how to find a creative solution. Education gives us the ability to exercise control over our thoughts and ultimately, our lives so that we don’t default to our natural reactions or instincts.

For example, a bat and ball cost $1.10. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? Or consider the following scenario: Jack is looking at Anne, but Anne is looking at George. Jack is married but George is not. Is a married person looking at an unmarried person? Many people will initially answer $0.10 and we need to know Anne’s marital status, but that’s incorrect.

This shows how people can still be wrong about many things they are certain of. To quote part of David Foster Wallace‘s commencement speech: here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe…there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of…Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real. Being able to think will allow you to alter your natural me-first attitude, something society frowns upon.

Many people know that I hate waiting. I’ll be honest here: my natural default reaction every time someone is late is fuck you for wasting my time. Thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic it doesn’t have to be a choice. As such, I’m annoyed and am in a bad mood, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead I can use that time while waiting to think. I can choose to think differently instead of simply defaulting to my natural reaction. If I didn’t know how to think differently, I am going to be frustrated and miserable every single time someone is late and there’s no shortage of tardy people.

Obviously there are different ways to interpret the situation and that depends on one’s experiences. For example if you are late, I can choose to think that you helped an old lady carry groceries to her car or that you stayed up all night beside your father who is dying of lung cancer in the hospital. Of course those scenarios are very unlikely, but not impossible. I don’t ask people why they’re late because I would rather give them the benefit of the doubt. If I was so certain I knew what the reality was, I would have neglected other possibilities that aren’t as frustrating and miserable.

I had a conversation with a friend a long time ago who didn’t seem to have any guilt or remorse when admitting that she was a highly judgmental person. Her argument was that it’s human nature to judge others in order for us to survive. She was implying that we unconsciously judge others so there’s nothing wrong with that. While I agree with the argument, I find that to be a weak one though. As such she rants a lot because many people annoy her. That is unfortunate because I believe there’s a difference between merely surviving and living a life with the freedom of thought.

This doesn’t have to be about compassion (although I still believe it’s the greatest virtue a person can have). It can simply be about one choosing to view the world through a different perspective. Thinking isn’t easy, it takes discipline and effort. There are times when I can’t do it or that I just don’t want to do it, as evidenced when I once ranted at an event. I believe this is one part of what learning how to think really means: to be more humble and critically aware of oneself and his or her certainties about reality.

Categories: Education, Life

The Stupidity of the English Language

September 12, 2012 Leave a comment

English is a stupid language. It’s already bad enough that we have to memorize so many grammatical and spelling rules and so much worse that we have to memorize perhaps just as many exceptions to those rules. For us, it’s easy to pick up on little things because we live in an English-speaking community, but for people from other countries where English isn’t the predominant language, it’s much harder.

A lot of inconsistencies make it hard for people learning English for the first time. Consider the words “eggplant” and “pineapple”. There aren’t any eggs in eggplants and neither pine nor apple in pineapples. I didn’t know this until recently, but flammable and inflammable essentially mean the same thing. Anyone who hasn’t heard of these words would obviously assume they are antonyms but for some reason, they mean the same thing.

English spelling is messed up. It should be more consistent and phonetic with fewer rules and exceptions. For example the rule “i before e except after c or sounded like a” has many exceptions that it’s not really a rule anymore. Words that don’t follow the rule include:

caffeine, either, geisha, protein, seize, weird, species, etc…

Since English is used everywhere in this world, it should be simple and logical so that everyone can easily learn it and effectively communicate with others. A lot of words have silent letters which serve no useful purpose and many words like “desert”, “bow” and “wind” have different pronunciations depending on the context of the sentence. Therefore, it would be much simpler if every word is spelled exactly the way it’s sounded. When we email and text message, we abbreviate words like “u”, “thru” and “nite” so why can’t we shorten words to how it’s sounded when we write for the same reasons? Almost all words would have fewer letters meaning that we save effort, ink, paper, money and most importantly, time.

For fun, here are two somewhat incoherent passages. See if you can read them effortlessly:

When “say,” “they” and “weigh” rhyme, but “bomb,” “comb” and “tomb” don’t, wuudn’t it maek mor sens to spel wurdz the wae thae sound? Eether wae, the consept has yet to capcher th publix imajinaeshun. Thae sae th bee selebraets th ability of a fue stoodents to master a dificult sistem that stumps meny utherz hoo cuud do just as wel if speling were simpler. Americans doen’t aulwaez go for whut’s eezy — witnes th faeluer of th metric sistem to cach on. But propoenents of simpler speling noet that a smatering of aulterd spelingz hav maed th leep into evrydae ues.

Can you raed tihs? Olny srmat poelpe can. I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Amzanig, huh? Yaeh, and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

Categories: Education, Life

UBC Exam Scheduling

February 7, 2012 4 comments

A few candidates running for the UBC AMS elections lobbied to have administration release the exam schedule earlier, specifically before the course add/drop deadline. They cited the need to better plan family affairs and student control of their schedule. While there’s no harm in releasing the schedule earlier, it shouldn’t be released before the course add/drop deadline.

Have you considered why UBC releases the schedule relatively late? In comparison, SFU students know their exam schedule when they register for courses so there must be some reason for this big difference right?

It’d be great if someone can confirm/refute this, but I think UBC releases the exam schedule relatively late because it uses an algorithm to determine the most favourable exam schedule for the greatest number of students (by favourable I mean no exam hardships, clashes etc…). Students should be signing up for courses that they want to take as opposed to taking courses that fit a convenient exam schedule. Some important dates to take note of…

  • UBC course add/drop deadline: January 16
  • UBC exam schedule released: February 3
  • UBC exam period: April 11 to April 25

Hypothetical situation 1: Let’s say students knew before registering, that Bioc 302 and Fren 112 exams were at the same time on the same day, but (for some random reason) 100 students wanted to take both courses. Since the schedule was released early, UBC is going to have to process 100 separate applications of exam conflict forms. However if UBC had known in advance that many students were going to take both courses, it could have scheduled the exams to avoid this conflict because student timetables are finalized after the add/drop deadline.

Hypothetical situation 2: Let’s say you had to make early travel/family/surgery arrangements so on Jan 10 you book plane tickets for April 20 since you know that’s the last day of your exams. However two days later, you realize that you had to take a prerequisite (say Psyc 100) and that exam is on April 24. Now you go shit, even though I waited until the exam schedule is released before booking travel plans, I didn’t realize my timetable would change.

Even if the schedule is released earlier, students can’t make travel plans until after Jan 16 when they know their timetable is 100% finalized. Although there is a greater control of travel plans if the exam schedule is released earlier, students will lose a lot of freedom (or perceive a loss of freedom) when registering for courses. There are very few things (if at all anything) that should compromise what a student wants to study at UBC. The final exam schedule is not one of them.

Categories: Education, UBC

Edcamp Delta

January 16, 2012 2 comments

I went to Edcamp Delta last Saturday at Delta Secondary School. For those unfamiliar with how an Edcamp works, David Wees summarizes it nicely on his blog. Coincidentally there were two other Edcamps running on the same day: Coquitlam and Santiago. I arrived in Delta at 8:30 am after only 2.5 hours of sleep which is a record since I never had less than three hours of sleep a night even during my four years at UBC. There were free lunch and snacks which I wasn’t expecting because the website said we would be responsible for bringing our own food.

Unfortunately the topic that I most wanted to talk about, What do Grades Mean,was left out. There was an overlap of similar topics such as Technology 101 – Social Media, Technology in Science, Google apps in Education and Twitter in the Classroom. I thought those four topics could have been combined into broader ones so we would have more of a variety of topics to discuss. I was considering to propose my own topics Knowledge vs Critical Thinking Based Learning and Math Education but it was my first time at an Edcamp and I didn’t know what to expect then.

My first workshop was Formative Assessment. I wanted to stir up a debate whether the BC Provincial Exams and FSA should be mandatory, but we didn’t get enough time. A main concern among educators is how to personalize education for each student given the time constraints and when class sizes are 30+ students. There were three interesting points brought up:

  • Fist to five method – Students show using their fingers how much they know about the current unit. It’s a quick way to see if everyone is on the same page. I would question whether that method measures more of a student’s confidence or their actual understanding of a topic.
  • Choice – Students would be able to choose to do a play, painting, sculpture, etc… instead of being forced to write an essay each time to represent their learning.
  • Blogging – One high-school teacher gets his students to blog about what they’re learning which comprises 20% of one’s mark. I see potential in that since students reflect on what they’re learning and they get to see their peers’ interpretations of various issues.

The second workshop was What Must Stay and What Must Go in Education. The discussion centered around the babies and bathwater metaphor. I didn’t understand the metaphor, but did get the point that some things needed to stay (the babies) in the education system and some things needed to go (the bathwater). Again the teachers recognized the education of the masses system is not ideal. It was suggested that teachers streamline learning outcomes (go with the flow) rather than have an absolute standard that every student has to meet. I also mentioned that education is lifelong and shouldn’t be restricted to schools. To be honest, all the important life skills and lessons I know, I learned outside of the classroom. If I wanted to know the pathway of glycolysis or which hormones are secreted from the anterior pituitary, I can get that information within two minutes on my phone. Some babies mentioned were integration of subjects, focus on students and relationships, portfolio of learning (ie keep records of learning), passionate teachers and eco-literacy. Some bathwater mentioned were the numbered grading system, report cards and knowledge-based learning. I ended the discussion by asking what is the purpose of education (I blogged my answer here). Once we find an answer we will have a better idea of what the babies and bathwater should be.

My third workshop was Project Based Learning. It is synonymous with problem based learning, but our group treated the two as the same. Apparently the teachers had trouble coming up with PBL ideas for science courses and not art courses such as English and Social Studies. I find that counterintuitive since science is all about answering questions and solving problems. I thought the time could have been better spent since people mostly discussed the different PBL activities they have used in the past. I also got the feeling that many teachers were unsure of how to carry out PBL effectively and there was no one at the session who could give advice.

The last workshop was Helping Students Learn for Knowledge’s Sake. One teacher suggested replacing the numbered grading system with a comments section. Instead of receiving a percentage, students would get comments such as good, satisfactory, needs improvement etc. on their report card. However I argued that  is very subjective since what does satisfactory mean to each person? We should keep the grading system, albeit imperfect, rather than abandon it since we still need a way to distinguish students who are applying for scholarships, universities, professional schools etc… The problem is that grades extrinsically motivate many students to learn so removing the grading system will not address that issue. Instead we need to find a way to intrinsically motivate students to learn. Unfortunately we didn’t stay on topic to discuss that.

Although the level of discussion wasn’t the same as the ICE event at UBC last October, I enjoyed my day in Delta very much. Most of the participants were high-school teachers and administrators so the crowd was homogeneous, but there were still lots of interesting discussions. It was amusing how everyone I met asked me what I teach since they assumed everyone there was a teacher. My biggest complaints were that I had to trek all the way from Vancouver and it was on the same day as the UBC Student Leadership Conference. I look forward to attending the next Edcamp event. Hopefully I will be able to lead my own discussion too.

Categories: Education

Goal Setting

January 3, 2012 2 comments

From my sports psychology lecture notes for those who have made new years resolutions. The goals you set should be…

Specific

  • simple, clear and understandable
  • focus on particular behaviours or outcomes

Measurable

  • observe and quantify particular outcomes
  • need baseline, pre-post comparison

Attainable

  • individually matched to ability
  • too easy: lose interest, no value
  • too hard: frustration, reduced confidence, giving up
  • “just right”

Realistic

  • match goals to preferences, challenges, priorities, time available etc…

Time-framed

  • use short-term and long-term goals, set deadlines
  • too short: give up
  • too long: procrastinate

To enhance motivation, goals should be:

Fostering individuals (and teams)

  • challenge personal fears and stereotypes
  • if you put in more effort/sacrifices, you will see positive changes
  • team goals focus on group values and “scores”, not individuals only

Internalized and Inspired

  • self-determined (known task) or assigned (unknown task) so if you know how to do the task, it’s better for you to set the goal
  • supported by others
  • have role models
  • keep reminders (eg pictures, sayings)

Rewarded and Reinforced

  • make rewards appropriate for goal
  • social, material reinforcement

Evaluated

  • record strengths and needs
  • review “plan of attack” ie keep logs, video
  • ask for input and feedback

SMART goals FIRE up motivation!

Categories: Education, Life

Bulimia – More Common Than You Thought

December 15, 2011 1 comment

**Edited re-post from a facebook note I wrote last year**

Are you feeling stressed out this time of year? Tired due to lack of sleep? Have your eating habits drastically changed? Experiencing weight fluctuations within a short time period? Spending more time in isolation feeling depressed? Has your self-esteem fallen thinking you’re not good enough like other role models you see? Going through long periods of time without ingesting anything then suddenly binging and purging in a span of two weeks like there’s no tomorrow?

I’m not talking about food here. I’m talking about binging and purging INFORMATION.

If you experience all of the above symptoms, then I’m sorry to say that you have ACADEMIC BULIMIA.

DIAGNOSIS

Academic bulimia is common among undergraduate students affecting both males and females equally. However younger students in the IB program have also shown similar behaviour patterns. Typically the student goes through an entire semester neglecting most of his or her coursework until “final exam” season. During this two-week period the student absorbs huge amounts of information from books and lecture notes at astonishing rates, aka cramming. On the day of the final exam the student slowly expels all the information he or she has managed to memorize. After several minutes of what did u get for #3? and how many words did u write for #5?, the student walks home retaining very little memory of the course.

These series of unfortunate incidences are caused by one’s desire to fit in and conform to expectations of high grades set by others. By others I mean one’s parents. The misinformed student believes that failure will lead to horrendous consequences which explains why he or she goes through such extreme lengths to meet those demands.

PROGNOSIS

It is very encouraging that this affliction lasts for only 2 weeks and future incidences of academic bulimia are very predictable. After final exam season, the student starts socializing with everyone else again and will binge on alcohol this time as opposed to information. Often the student will discard all class notes and start selling textbooks if he or she decides not to burn them. This cycle lasts until one obtains a Bachelor’s Degree. Exceptions include those seeking entry into medical school. Only the best bingers and purgers are accepted and even then, they will have to take their binging and purging to a whole new level for another 4 to 8 years.

TREATMENT

If you see a friend or stranger exhibiting at least one of the above-mentioned symptoms, don’t hesitate to interrupt them. After all, who wants to lie in bed sick with the flu because he or she didn’t get enough sleep? You can start by directing them to this blog where I deconstruct society’s misconceptions that one has to sacrifice everything to live up to others’ high expectations. So take your studious friend outside, enjoy the sunshine and not talk about the different functions of the 12 cranial nerves or the structures of each amino acid. Ask that cute girl or guy sitting across from you in the library out to lunch so they won’t feel like a social outcast. I don’t know about you guys, but I’d pick a hot date night over a cramming session any day.

Categories: Education, Humour