Back to the Math Basics in Ontario!

While Lilley says rote learning will be back, such as practising the time tables, I wonder about such basics as telling time.

While Lilley says rote learning will be back, such as practising the time tables, I wonder about such basics as telling time.

Check out Brian Lilley’s latest column which does indeed prove that elections have consequences!

According to Lilley, the Doug Ford Conservative Government in Ontario will soon introduce a new math curriculum for all public elementary and secondary grades. It will, allegedly, be curriculum guidelines that bring back the basics, while introducing up-to-date skills that will be needed by today’s students in the future.

This is certainly good news for those of us who have been demanding “bring back the basics” for over a decade now.

I am a curriculum development specialist and understand exactly what it is going to take to implement a change like this. It will involve a massive ideological and practical change that will certainly take the 4 years Lilley says the government will need to get everything in place.

Older teachers with a lot of experience will be fine because they used to teach the basics. Newer teachers, however, will need some retraining and mentoring. And, of course, teacher training institutions will need to find out why the “discovery math” research was so wrong.

In other words, this change will affect just about everyone in the public education system, including parents. Lilley says homework will be easier for parents. Time will tell about that.  Anyway, whatever the challenges ahead, I respect the Ford Government moving forward on this.

I should point out that not every teacher in the public system will be affected — because not every teacher teaches math.  For example, while classroom teachers in the primary and junior grades (1-6) usually teach their own students math. It is subject specialist teachers who teach math at the intermediate (7 and 8) level. Of course, subject specialists and lead teachers are involved in teaching math at the high school level, where there is still streaming.

While Lilley says rote learning will be back, such as practising the time tables, I wonder about such basics as telling time. It may come as a surprise to some, but kids in Grades 4 and 5 today only learn to tell the time digitally. I learned that first hand from a great-grandson who is in Grade 5. A very good student, I asked him one day what time it was. He said I don’t know because I don’t have my watch or tablet with me. I pointed out the clock on the hutch, near where he was standing, and he said something to the effect that I don’t know how to read a clock.

To say I was shocked would be an understatement but he explained that everything computerized was digital. Actually, no, not everything is digital. There are millions of clocks everywhere! Then, there is the 24 hour clock, which we need to know to travel. Anyway, using an analog clock will be one of the topics I will look for when the new curriculum comes out.

The crux of the matter is what the Ontario Government curriculum developers will include in the new curriculum. And, those developers will be made up of teams of curriculum specialists, from school boards to faculties of education, to make those decisions. Contrary to public opinion, politicians and bureaucrats do NOT do that.

In the meantime, let’s get a comment discussion going.

C/P at Jacksnewswatch.

Students Need to Debate Opposing Political Views

Berkley riot January 20th, 2017

Berkeley riot January 20th, 2017

Solving conflicts through debating differing points of view is called “the dialectic.”  It was a method used by Socrates and written about by his student Plato, about debating and exchanging ideas while searching for the truth.

Young people today and, unfortunately, many of their teachers, do not seem to understand the idea that debating should be about a “search for truth” that may include points of truth from both sides of a debate.

And, therein lies the problem. In politics, for example, Liberals and progressives believe their views are right and true and that conservatives are simply wrong and evil. I mean, as the image indicates, the violent rioting at Berkeley in California on January 20th, 2017 showed today’s liberal thinking students couldn’t deal with change.

They had had the leader of the Democratic Party, Barack Obama, as their President for 8 years. And, given those 8 years had been during most of their growing up and maturing years, he had been a major part of their lives.

So, no, they weren’t rioting because of maltreatment of any kind. Rather, they were destroying property and rebelling simply because the electors in the U.S. chose a conservative, a Republican, to be president.

So, what is going on? Why do today’s students think that only their view of the world is valid?

One possible answer was put forward by a University of Notre Dame Professor in 2016. Patrick Deneen wrote an article entitled “Res Idiotica.”  For example, he writes:

Our education system excels at producing … self-contained selves whose only public commitment is an absence of commitment to a public, a common culture, a shared history.  They are perfectly hollowed vessels, receptive and obedient, without any real obligations or devotions.  They have been taught to care passionately about their indifference, and to denounce the presence of actual diversity that threatens the security of their cocoon.”

The key phrase in the last sentence of that quote is, of course, that they have been taught to “denounce the presence of actual diversity that threatens the security of their cocoon.”  It is an amazing metaphor.  We can see a caterpillar wrapped up and hidden away from the world, unable to break through its cocoon to become a matured, free flying butterfly.

Deneen seems to think the problem is because high school and university students are not being taught the liberal arts basics as they used to. That is likely true. However, I believe that the problem is also that, as we can see with the Berkeley riot, today’s students are not being taught how to handle opposing views. I mean, not only do university students do everything they can to stop anyone with a conservative viewpoint from speaking on campus but conservatives, like the Covington High School students, are physically attacked in Washington for just wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat.

So, while I agree with much of what Deneen writes, I believe the problem could be solved, not just by more liberal arts courses, but by teaching young people (from Grade 7 onward) how to debate ideas. No, not where one side wins and one side loses, but where differing points of view are accepted as valid — even if they don’t agree with them.

In my opinion, then, the crux of the matter is helping students understand what diversity of opinion really means. Only when that happens will they be able to break through their cocoon of bias and be free.


C/P at Jacks Newswatch (JNW).
H/T and thanks to regular JNW reader BTDT for sending along the link to Patrick Deneen’s article.

Social justice & “hidden curriculum”

“Social Justice” is the underlying philosophy in Ontario and, in fact, in all publicly funded Canadian and U.S. schools today. Some taxpayers and journalists, like Sue-Ann Levy of the Toronto Sun, believe it is destroying the education system in Ontario from within.

In her column today, for example, she assumes teachers’ unions can do something to change what is taught or at least what is emphasized. The reality is that, by themselves, teachers’ unions cannot.

Look, I understand where Levy is coming from and I agree with her that school choice would shake things up and bring about change — even if reluctantly. But, the reality is that comprehensive curriculum change is only changed from the top — by society. And by society, I mean parents, the media, the politicians, academic researchers and yes, the teachers’ unions.

Notice, I did not include teachers in the change process and the reason I did not is because, in their jobs at least, teachers are followers. They prepare their unit themes and daily lesson plans from government documents and teach their students directly from those plans.

Perhaps I need to explain that a bit more. For those who don’t realize it, teachers are bound by a code of ethics they are taught in teachers’ college. Chief among that code is that they never ever critique their employers. In fact, even on their own time, say at a parent meeting at their community center, they have to be careful what they say and do.

Anyway, there is a formal technical term for the social and political influences on the school system and that is the “hidden curriculum.” And, no, that is not just edu-babble. There really is both an intended and unintended curriculum that guides everything that goes on in each and every school system, school board and school.

For example, you will often hear parents say they took their child out of one public school for another public school because the new school had a better academic, sports, arts or drama program. That is where choice would shake things up. If parents didn’t like their neighbourhood public school choices, they could use their choice voucher and send their child to a private school with the curriculum emphasis they preferred.

Anyway, in Ontario, this is how public school curriculum guidelines are developed from the top down.

  1. The Education Ministry develops overall education goals and curriculum priorities for their public schools at the direction of the Education Minister. I know this process to be true as I observed it when I worked for a Mike Harris MPP who was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Education Minister.
  2. Once the overall curriculum “guidelines” are developed, those documents are available online and distributed to school boards which, in turn, make them available to school administrators who then make them available to classroom teachers and school-based subject specialists.
  3. Then the teachers use the formal guidelines as the basis of their yearly unit themes and daily lesson plans based on what they personally believe about those themes and teaching and learning.
  4. Lastly, each teacher submits their documents to their principal for his or her approval, who may or may not recommend revisions.

In other words, an awful lot of people have input into what children are taught and how they are taught. Sure, teachers’ unions can be a part of that process, but they, alone, cannot tell the Education Ministry what to do.

As Levy’s argument implies, Ontarians are going to struggle for the next few years because we have a provincial government that is conservative and a public school system that is progressive. And, that reality has both intended and unintended consequences. Like it or not, some of the unintended consequences are the inroads social justice warriors have made. So, apart from Levy’s suggestion to allow publicly funded school choice, I simply cannot foresee a different philosophy influencing the public school curriculum anytime soon — hidden or otherwise.

“Post Its” as reading organization strategy

This post is how classroom teachers, parents and older students can effectively use Post It Notes. My point is that while there are a lot of computer and telephone Apps to help with reading comprehension and writing planning, some of the old fashioned techniques still work the best. In fact, I would put “Post Its” as the star.

Why? Because there are so many different shapes and sizes and they can be easily moved around. In fact, it is the ability to stick and change the order of the Post Its that is key. Individuals with learning difficulties, for example, no matter what their age, often have difficulty with sequencing. Here I am going to refer to the 3×3 and 4×6 sizes.

(1) Post Its for Teacher Instructions:

In a whole classroom context, when teachers are dictating lesson instructions orally, printing them on a chalk or white board or typing onto their e-blackboard, they could ask their students to write each instruction on a separate Post It. If the size used is 4×6, there is still room for the students to write what they have to do related to that specific instruction. Or, if the smaller, more flexible 3×3 size is used, the students can easily add a second or third Post It because they will stick together.

(2) Post Its for Reading Comprehension:

  • Because most students in the primary grades are still learning to say and identify words, I am going to assume that the students I am recommending use Post Its to recall what they just heard or read are at least in Grade 4. Whether the teacher is reading the information or the student is reading silently to himself, the student needs some way of remembering the important words and phrases.
  • When I was in private practice, I usually recommended at least two readings because some children, when they stopped to write down words, would forget everything they just read. However, if only once through is possible, tell the students to just write down words that interest them. In that way, they are not yet trying to remember the main idea and you don’t interfere with processing the information.
  • The point is to have the students write words or phrases that interest them on Post Its, not worrying what they mean or how they are spelled at that point. The reason is not to dismiss the importance of grammar or spelling but not to interrupt their thought about what they are reading. A lot of people don’t understand that not everyone can think on two tracks at the same time. Once the story/article is finished, spelling corrections and clarifications can be added.

(3) Post Its as Organizer: Once the reading is finished, and corrections and clarifications completed, ask the students to put all the Post Its in a folder in their correct order for the next day. Then, by the time the story is finished, the students should be able to tell you the story in the order of the each Post It.

Crux of the Matter:

As a learning specialist, I can tell you that the repetition of the word or phrase, combined with trying to figure out the meaning, will help the students remember the story. Older students in high school and beyond can also use the Post Its as a guide to writing a report or essay.

More, in the next post, about how older students can use Post Its to research, plan and write an essay.

TeacherCon & digital revolution in education

Whoa, what is going on? Are we actually in the midst of a digital revolution in education? I mean, I always liked teacher conferences when I was teaching at the university level, but they were never readily available for the rank and file classroom teacher.

Sure “principals and lead teachers” got to go out of town for a day or two, but not the rest of us. The best we could hope for during the 1970s, 80s and 90s, was an occasional Professional Development Day (or Professional Activity Day as they were called by some boards). Those activities, however, were usually organized through our local teacher’s union rather than the school board.

But, make no mistake about it, TeacherCon is very different. It is about significant, relevant teacher learning, in this case, dealing with the reality of the digital revolution.

So, what is TeacherCon all about? It is about making sure all teachers and children in Grades K to 12 are literate in the latest technology. For example, check out They state, for example, that their conferences offer a multi-day event designed for teachers by teachers teaching educators how to teach web design, coding and programming in their classrooms.

Specifically, they give five quick points as to what they are all about.

Point One: It’s free. In fact, the TeacherCon organization even offers travel stipends to teachers who really want to go but can’t afford it, such as a single parent or because the teacher just started teaching. Sure, new teachers would learn some of the latest digital issues, but certainly not everything. As I recall, up to the year 2000, public school boards didn’t even have the budgets for such a stipend.

Point Two: At least least fifteen TeacherCon events will be held in 12 different locations in Canada during 2019.

Point Three: Each teacher who attends a TeacherCon will leave with a kit of practical tips and resources.

Point Four: As a mentioned above, workshops not only cover practical tech help on web design, HTML and processing, they also dive into the various tools introduced.

Point Five: Teachers, based on conference reviews, are really loving the process.

Now, if someone is reading this and they are not an educator, believe me # 5 is huge. I taught both teacher preparation and graduate teacher education, and teachers are notoriously hard to please. So, the workshops must be very relevant to get participants to take a car, train or plane to get where they are going and actually feel positive about the outcome.

I have been very critical of public education the last decade but this process seems very much worth everyone’s time. What I noticed, as well, in researching this story, is that Teacher Conventions are popping up everywhere.

Take a look at this Google page on teacher conferences in 2019. True, many are in the U.S. but for Canadian educators wanting to travel, there are:

  • College Math Prepation, being held in California — which is currently so popular it is sold out.
  • Get Your Teach On in Dallas Texas.
  • Innovative School Summit in Las Vegas.
  • Best practices for teaching literacy in Baltimore, Maryland.

The crux of the matter is that, while I don’t always agree with all the new innovations, some are very relevant to today’s world, particularly tech. Of course, literacy and math preparation are always relevant we well. In the Math case, which I have written about before, I hope old fashioned methods and drills are once again back in fashion.


Adjustments required to Ontario’s Sex Ed Curriculum

Ontario citizens should not worry about the 1998 Heath and Physical Education Program revisions that include some of the good aspects of what I will call the “Wynne Sex Ed Curriculum.” In the latter case, I can understand why it was hated by so many parents because of the assumption that gender is always socially constructed.

Interestingly, the reason critics are negative about it, is because Ford and his Education Minister, Lisa Thompson, have confirmed that some aspects of the “Wynne” curriculum will still be taught. Which, by the way, is not a flip flop. That is simply how curriculum is revised! Updates and revisions simply include what continues to be relevant.

Here, for example is what the 2018 version looks like in PDF format. And, to the left is a diagram of my favourite model for what it takes to develop a new curriculum.

For those who are not familiar with my background prior to retirement, I should explain that I got my PhD from the University of Toronto (OISE) in the 1980s majoring in two specialities — educational psychology and curriculum. At that time, there were actually professors at OISE who were known to be conservative. In addition, while my research and thesis adviser was progressive in outlook, unlike in today’s political climate, he would listen and discuss differences of opinion.

My point is that I know what I am talking about in terms of the technical aspect of curriculum design, development and implementation. All three aspects are different. At this point, Ford and his committee are still gathering information from parents, teachers and academics. Only after that process is completed and matched to actual scientific research (other than almost entirely on subjective constructivist  “action research methods“), will the design and development start.

Which means, that Ontario parents and teachers may not see a new, revised document, for upwards to a year. And, that is okay. That is what it takes to get it done right.

In the meantime, teachers’ unions are making threats. The very fact that Ford is checking out what parents want for their children’s education, in addition to sex ed, means he is keeping his promise to scrap the “Wynne” program. The Education Act is what it is. The unions have nothing to do with teacher duties, no matter what they scream and yell. The Government runs the show.

Mind you, having been a classroom teacher, I know that teachers have a lot of autonomy when it comes to making unit and day plans based on an Ontario document about such things as health and physical education. And, discussions between teachers and students are not always predictable.

So, what was the problem with the “Wynne” sex ed curriculum when compared to the 1998 document? The main difference from the 1998 version and the “Wynne” version was, as I said at the start of his post, the notion that gender is more socially constructed than biological. Sometimes, that topic got into the aims and objectives at each grade level in a sneaky way.

For example, as I wrote a few years ago in my old blog, in Grades 1, 2 and 3 the objectives involved identifying body parts, including genitalia, the stages of human development and visible and invisible differences. It’s not hard to guess what kind of differences might have been emphasized.

Similarly, in Grades 3, 4 and 5, physical differences in males and females and strategies for managing stress come up. Again, understanding human development is good. The problem is that we know, anecdotally, that some students in early grades, as early as the age of 10, have been supported to transition to the opposite sex. This is much too early for such a notion because children are still maturing.

In fact, Jean Piaget would turn over in his grave at this type of social manipulation of cognitive and physical development.

Last but not least are the intermediate grades 6, 7 and 8. It is unbelievable what they were taught under the “Wynne” program. True, older pre-teen kids can handle learning about sexual relations and consent. However, what many may not realize is that the sexual relations they are talking about include not only heterosexual, but homosexual relations as well. How it is done. The differences. And, last but not least, they are taught all about masturbation.

While that is information most 12 and 13 year olds probably already know, as a curricula objective, it is based on pure loosey goosey liberal ideology. It is also very one-sided for all the people who don’t buy the idea that gender is socially constructed as opposed to biological and genetic.

Look, when someone is an adult and decides to live as the opposite sex to what they were born, fine. That’s their informed, mature adult choice. Same with gender re-assignment surgery. But, progressives need to understand that children are developing socially, cognitively and physically well into their late teens and what they don’t need is well meaning teachers and LGBTQ advocates pushing gender confusing notions at them, particularly given that the suicide rate among adult transexuals is very high.

The crux of the matter is that while there was some good in the “Wynne” sex ed document, in terms of openness about how boys are different from girls, there was definitely too much social engineering going on based on progressive, liberal ideology that is simply not supported by solid scientific research — other than, as I said earlier, research that is constructivist in nature.

How odd, then, that liberals and civil liberty advocates now want to sue the Ford government because they dare to update a health and physical education curriculum to suit the majority of Ontarians. The title of this Toronto Star column, for instance, calls the possibility of a new and/or revised health curriculum, a ham-fisted roll-back approach.

Hogwash. It is called democracy. The Ford caucus is currently the Ontario governing party, winning an election fair and square. Meaning, there is nothing ham-fisted about developing a new curriculum with topics and objectives that the majority of Ontarians can accept and support — and who have had an effective role in its development.

C/P at Jack’s Newswatch.