About Sandy

Sandy is a retired educator, author & former conservative political strategist. She operated the first "Crux of the Matter" from 2006 until 2017 and opened this "Crux of the Matter 2.0" blog in late August, 2018.

Writing services for students, like plagiarism, is cheating & life ruining

I just saw this link on Twitter @9PapersMarket. Their ad says: Paper Writing Serviceget papers, dissertations, and more written for you. Starting at $5.00 talented writers are waiting to write for you.

Then, on their main page, they say there is no plagiarism. Huh? Plagiarism is cheating. Having someone write your paper is cheating. Okay, so they may be different types of cheating. But, they are both fraud because a person is claiming to have done something they haven’t done!

Do these “student” writing companies have any idea of the consequences of cheating like this? Putting it succinctly, it can destroy lives.

As a former academic I have seen it happen. Professors are not stupid. If your paper sounds more advanced than what you wrote before in another paper or on an exam question, they will interview you. If you don’t have all the ins and outs of the pre-research for the paper in question, they will know you are a cheater. There are also APPS to catch cheating, such as this word cloud program at turnitin.com which is good even at the high school level. There is also Grammarly for fact checking for plagiarism.

So, what happens if a university student is caught cheating?

  • He or she will have a mark on their transcript for life.
  • Likely, they’ll be kicked out of their program.
  • No other university or college will accept them.
  • Their future employers will know when they ask for an academic reference.

My advice to all secondary and post-secondary students is to do their own work. That is why they are where they are — to learn new things, not how to cheat in the hopes of getting away with it.

And, yes, cheating can be addictive. If they get away with it once or twice, they’ll be tempted to continue. Eventually, however, they’ll get caught, one way or the other. As many who have cheated have found out, even later in life, the previous act of cheating can bite them.

I mean, check out this Google page. There are nearly 400,000 entries of people who have been fired for plagiarism which is very similar to having someone claim as theirs, what someone else wrote.  In fact, more often than not plagiarism is just for small sections of a paper, which in this case, is the entire paper!

Anyway, the very idea that a ghost writer could write someone’s dissertation is nuts. It can’t happen in any reputable university. Thesis supervisors are all over the process or they should be. And, remember, the final oral defence is with a very tough committee that usually consists of your thesis advisor, another inside reader and at least one outside reader. For sure, if a person has not written what they are defending, it will show.

Professional writing services that are contracted by business people and politicians are a very different matter. It is the student services that are the problem.

The crux of the matter is that writing services that do what students should do themselves should all be shut down as illegal and I am surprised that Twitter allows such advertising.

B.C. canoeists find human ashes & note in bottle “to see the world”

Click for CBC credits.

Click for CBC credits.

What a neat story in the midst of all the bad news globally and the anti-conservative whining nationally.

I just read on CBC via Twitter that a team of B.C. canoeists called “Team Soggy Beavers” found a bottle in the water in Victoria’s inner harbour this week. They are apparently training to take a trek to Alaska in early June.

Click for CBC credits.

Click for CBC credits.

What they found in the bottle were ashes, a photo and a note. The note apparently says it was “a celebration of life” and should anyone find the bottle to put it back in the water. The note also says: “My last wish to see the world.

So, the canoeists, who call the fellow “Ash” plan to take his ashes and the bottle to Alaska with them and then either throw it back in the water or “to pass it off ” to someone sailing to Asia and to continue that process clear around the globe.

It would be nice if someone recognized the story about this bottle so that we could find out exactly who the man was.

In the meantime, I agree that continuing the world-wide journey through passing the bottle would also be a very nice thing to do. At some point, however, the bottle needs to be put back in the water because that is what “Ash” wanted the finders to do.

Why I somewhat agree with ETFO’s negative position on standardized testing

Pencil on school test. Click for Peter Greene's article on Huff Post.

Pencil on school test. Click for Peter Greene’s article on Huff Post.

Who benefits the most from standardized testing? Certainly, in Ontario, the EQAO agency which conducts the testing benefits to the tune of millions and millions of taxpayer dollars a year. Another beneficiary is the Fraser Institute that provides annual “reports” on how schools rank. As well, some schools and municipalities benefit when schools in their areas have averages that are higher than the norm — resulting in some parents actually relocating to those communities.

However, contrary to the Fraser Institute’s “key academic indicators of school performance” (on page 5 in the above link), their reports are empty of specifics. Here, for example is what some of those so-called indicators look like.

1. average level of achievement on the grade- 3 EQAO assessment in reading
2. average level of achievement on the grade- 3 EQAO assessment in writing; and
3. average level of achievement on the grade- 3 EQAO assessment in mathematics.

Now, exactly where are the “academic” or “learning objectives” in the indicators? Do the test results indicate, for example, that students were able to identify words in text — which is the first “fluency” phase of reading? Or, in terms of comprehension, do the test results prove that students in Grade 3 were able to identify the main idea in a paragraph? Or, in the average level of achievement in math, were the Grade 3’s able to add and subtract in three columns?

In other words, while the Fraser Institute’s Report indicates there are four standards used by EQAO (e.g., levels one to four), their indicators actually indicate nothing.

There is so much more to a school than cold, static, standardized test results. There are academic subjects such as social studies, history and science. There is also phys ed and extra-curricular activities, such as chess clubs, bands, art clubs, basketball, volleyball and baseball. In all those instances, children are learning new things, as well as how to get along with others and how to cope in the world.

Plus, let’s not forget there are opportunities for parents to volunteer and get to know their child’s teachers and what goes on in their child’s school day to day.

I frequently hear non-teachers talking about the entitlement attitude of today’s teachers. That too bothers me and I say so regularly. However, how many parents, in the midst of such complaining, will also tell you that they like and appreciate their own children’s teachers?

In the U.S., under President Obama, teachers have been fired for low standardized test results that measure so little of what students are actually learning. As Peter Greene says in his Huff Post column: “What about identifying schools that need help? Is the data used to help those schools? Not unless by ‘help’ you mean ‘close’ or ‘take over’ or ‘strip of resources so students can go to a charter instead.’ Our [the U.S.] current system does not identify schools for help; it identifies schools for punishment.”

Anyway, check out this video and list of reasons the Ontario elementary teachers union (ETFO) recommends a random sampling approach, as opposed to 100% standardized participation in the various grades affected. It is why I somewhat agree with their complaints about EQAO standardized testing. There really are other methods of evaluation that would be more helpful to parents.

ON “Health & Physical Ed” curriculum embeds sexual & gender politics

I recently decided to read through the Ontario Health and Physical Education document to see what all the fuss was about regarding the presentation of “Human Development and Sexual Health” to Ontario’s Grades 1 to 8 children — children who range from 6 years of age to 13 years of age.

Here are the learning topics, slightly shortened, according to grade level and applicable page numbers. My short analysis is in my Endnotes.

Grade 1 — Section C1.3 — Identity of body parts, including genitalia (P.93)

Grade 2 — Section C1.4 — Outline of the basic stages of human development and related bodily changes. Also, identity factors that are important for healthy growth and living throughout life. (P.108)

Grade 3 — Section C. 3.3 — Describe how visible differences and invisible differences make each person unique, and identify ways of showing respect for differences in others. (P.124)

Grade 4 — Section C1.5 — Describe the physical changes that occur in males and females at puberty and the emotional and social impacts that may result from these changes. (P.141)

Grade 5 — Section C2.4 — Describe emotional and interpersonal stresses related to puberty and identify strategies that they can apply to manage stress, build resilience, and enhance their mental health and emotional well-being. (P.158)

Grade 6 — Section C3.3 — Assess the effects of stereotypes, including homophobia and assumptions regarding gender roles and expectations, sexual orientation, gender expression, race, ethnicity or culture, mental health, and abilities, on an individual’s self-concept, social inclusion, and relationships with others, and propose appropriate ways of responding to and changing assumptions and stereotypes. (P.177)

Grade 7

  • Section 1.3 — Explain the importance of having a shared understanding with a partner about the following: delaying sexual activity until they are older; the reasons for not engaging in sexual activity; the concept of consent and how consent is communicated; and, in general, the need to communicate clearly with each other when making decisions about sexual activity in the relationship. (P.195)
  • Section C1.4 — Identify common sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and describe their symptoms. (P.196)
  • Section C1.5 — Identify ways of preventing STIs, including HIV, and/or unintended pregnancy, such as delaying first intercourse and other sexual activities until a person is older and using condoms consistently if and when a person becomes sexually active. (P.196)
  • Section C2.4 –Demonstrate an understanding of physical, emotional, social, and psychological factors that need to be considered when making decisions related to sexual health. (P.199)

Grade 8

  • Section C1.4 — Identify and explain factors that can affect an individual’s decisions about sexual activity and identify sources of support regarding sexual health, a community elder, a teacher, a religious leader, a parent or other trusted adult, a reputable website). (P.215)
  • Section C1.5 — Demonstrate an understanding of gender identity (e.g., male, female, two-spirited, transgender, transsexual, intersex), gender expression, and sexual orientation (e.g., heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual), and identify factors that can help individuals of all identities and orientations develop a positive self-concept. (P.216)
  • Section C2.4 — Demonstrate an understanding of aspects of sexual health and safety, including contraception and condom use for pregnancy and STI prevention, the concept of consent, and matters they need to consider and skills they need to use in order to make safe and healthy decisions about sexual activity. (P.218)
  • Section C3.3 — Analyse the attractions and benefits associated with being in a relationship, as well as the benefits, risks, and drawbacks, for themselves and others, of relationships involving different degrees of sexual intimacy. (P.220)

Appendices

For summary tables of the relevant topics, see pages 224 and 225 of the document.

Page separator

Endnotes: For the most part, this curriculum document is thorough and well presented up to Grade 6. In fact, I would give that part of the document an “A.” However, I would give the Grades 7 and 8 section a “B” at most because of the very lack of inclusiveness it claims to cover, as well as being way over the top as far as what topics the government is expecting teachers to teach — as opposed to health care workers and/or parents.

Moreover, I would think having male and female students learning these topics together would sometimes be acutely embarrassing. At least that was my experience when I was teaching this subject in the public system when I first started teaching.

However, regarding the lack of inclusiveness, by basing most of the content regarding gender identity on the notion of gender as always being socially constructed, this curriculum document excludes all people of faith and what they might believe about being male or female, as well as such scientific biological and genetic evidence as XY and XX chromosomes.

Whatever. The crux of the matter is that this document is not going to be changed. In fact, even if the Ontario PCs were to gain power in 2018, they would not be able to change very much because the sexual and gender politics embedded in it are now law within the Ontario Human Rights Code — meaning that train has already left the station.

Homework ban’s long-term consequences for students & society

Credit Microsoft.

Credit Microsoft.

Some progressively oriented parents must think they can have their cake and eat it too. They want basic math facts and skills sets returned to the math curriculum, while simultaneously wanting a ban on homework. As Sarah Boesveld wrote in the National Post on September 5th, 2014, “there is a growing sensitivity to parent preference for work getting done at school.” (H/T newswatchcanada.ca)

Yet, a parent in Alberta, Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies, has a petition going at Change.org, as well as discussions with Alberta’s Education Minister to include basic math skills with the discovery emphasis. Similarly, a retired teacher in Ontario, Teresa Murray, is encouraging parents to sign a “bring back basic math skills petition.” Which makes me wonder if the thousands of parents signing these petitions realize that homework is needed to consolidate those very same basic skills?

The problem, apparently is that families are busy and parents are tired after working all day. I understand. As the saying goes, been there and done that. But, isn’t preparing our kids for the world of work our responsibility as well? School is either important or it isn’t. There are simply some basic skills that children and youth need time to learn.

I mean, think about the repetition of skills you went through to learn to drive and the point of consolidation when you didn’t have to think about the mechanics of driving or the rules of the road anymore. That process couldn’t be rushed. You simply had to drive as often as you could to get to that point.

True, I don’t agree with giving Grades 1, 2 and 3 homework with the expectation that the parents need to teach their kids new skills. That’s a teacher’s job. However, I do agree that, no matter what the age of the child, they should do some reading and calculating at home, even if it is on a multiplication computer game. Such repetition would, in fact, be particularly important for kids who are struggling academically.

Interestingly, David Martin, a Calgary teacher quoted in the Boesveld article,  believes by removing homework he has reduced the drop-out rate in his classes. Of course, keeping young people engaged in learning is a good thing. But, what does making a course so easy students won’t drop out actually teach a young person?  In my opinion, it demonstrates that when things get tough, you can simply quit or expect modifications.

The crux of the matter is that there will definitely be long-term consequences for Canadian society a decade or two from now if a homework ban becomes the norm because a whole cohort of children will not know how to deal with the kind of challenging workload they will have to face in all post-secondary programs and employment.

In other words, contrary to Martin’s non-sequitur, that one of his former students claimed he aced his university math class because of the no homework rule in high school, university and college professors and employers will not likely revise their courses or job tasks to make things easier. I have taught university and can verify that three hours a week of lecture and seminar is not enough time for university students to get their assignments done.

Rather, post-secondary teachers and employers will expect their students and employees to know how to spell and do basic calculations without a calculator, as well as how to be self-directed, motivated and organized to get their work done and on time. That, I am afraid, is the reality parents face today, no matter what their line of work, and so will their children!

Something to think about.

“Talent Egg’s” website tips for finding job after college or university!

I am always looking for news or helpful information on education at all levels. Today I came across a real winner. Written in October 2013 by a Globe and Mail guest columnist, Kate MacKenzie, she presented four tips to land a great job straight out of school.

Of course it was the catchy title of the article that got my attention and that is precisely what job seekers have to do as well — get the attention of an employer who is hiring.

I also noticed that MacKenzie indicated in her byline that she was a representative of TalentEgg, although she is not shown as part of the team on their About page.  In any event, visitors to TalentEgg.ca have got to know they can count on good ideas and contacts given a motto like — hatching student and grad careers.

Hatching indeed!

Tip One:  Campus Involvement and Leadership. There is no better way to show what you are made of, and how you can be a valuable contribution to an employer, than what you did during the three or four years you were studying — be it volunteer or paid work. The reason this is important is because you would have been using transferable skills and attributes, such as showing you can lead, get along with people, organize and prioritize events, communicate in person and in writing and, last but not least, that you are reliable — that when you say you will do something, you follow through.

Tip Two: Make sure you have a mix of soft skills. When employers are looking for someone who has the right “fit” they look for soft skills. More often than not, today’s businesses look for team players. Being able to effectively work as part of a team is a soft skill. However, occasionally, the opposite may be true. So, being able to work independently is another soft skill. As well, as already alluded to in Point # 1, good verbal communication skills, as well as being able to problem solve on your feet, are soft skills.

Tip Three: Strong Written and Oral Communication Skills. Note that all of these tips involve skills and attributes that are interconnected. I have hired staff in the past. The key to getting an interview in the first place is the covering letter and resume because if you can’t communicate effectively in writing, most human resource people, or if a small business, the employer, will simply pass over your application. In other words, because you are marketing yourself your covering letter has to state why you would be a good choice for the job — whether it was advertised or you heard about it through word of mouth. Yes, this is one time you can blow your own horn — as long as you word things in a way that doesn’t come across as bravado or bragging.

Tip Four: An understanding of the employer and the industry. I actually believe this tip should be first. With the Internet, Facebook and Twitter, there is absolutely no reason not to have a pretty good picture of the business or industry in which you want to work. If being interviewed, you simply have to sound informed and interested.

Related to this point, but not part of MacKenzie’s tips, if you are to be interviewed, think of one or more questions you can ask. Why? Because no job interview is complete until the interviewer(s) say: “So, do you have any questions?” Always have at least one question ready because, as with knowing about the company and/or industry, it shows you really want the job.

Oh, and when you are researching the company, find out what you can about their dress code because the last thing a job seeker needs to find out at the time of an interview, is that they are over-dressed in a tailored suit or dress or under-dressed in jeans. If, however, that information is not available, it is best to err on the side of caution and simply go dressy casual.

Conclusion: The crux of the matter is that all job seekers right out of college or university need to figure out what skills and attributes they have that an employer might want. And, no, the major or specialization you took is not what I am talking about because that information is likely a given. Rather, think about what you know and can do related to your field of expertise.

To do that, you will have to brainstorm skills and attributes and prioritize them into categories and point-form lists. Then, you will have to use that information to develop a blueprint resume which can be slightly revised to reflect each job search. In fact, if there is an advertisement available, go through all the points of the ad and make sure your resume deals with each point.

That is where your education and training comes into play. If the ad says, for example, you need a B.Sc in a certain discipline, make sure you have such a degree, will soon have such a degree, or at the very least, have equivalent experience.

It is similar with covering letters, although obviously not as detailed because they are usually no more than three paragraphs. Just make sure each letter is tailored to the job as advertised. The first paragraph of such a letter describes the job being applied for, the second states why you would be a good candidate and the third and final paragraph says why you are looking forward to an interview.

Without a doubt, using these four tips to develop a personal job strategy, as well as what the TalentEgg website has to offer, is sure to put graduates on a path to getting hired.

Discovery math not enough without pre-requisite skills!

For information on Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies, read this Edmonton Journal article by David Staples entitled “Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies leading the fight in Canada for better math education.”  (H/T bonefishcove).

Like all teachers and teacher educators, retired or practising, I am aware of traditional “discovery” methods but, from what I am reading, “Discovery Math” today is being done without mastering the pre-requisite computational skills children should have at grade levels such as Grades 3, 4 and 5.

So, the very notion that teachers now expect primary and junior aged children to estimate and/or guess answers while discovering the answers, is appalling. It’s like giving a child a car and saying: “Here are the keys. Now go drive it. You can guess the rules and laws as you go along.”

Right. On the way to the first accident which is, in my opinion, an excellent metaphor for what Dr. Tran-Davies’ daughter experienced when she decided she hated math. Yet, significantly, all it took was her mother showing her how to do some basic computational calculations and she was fine.

To put it bluntly, have education bureaucrats and teacher educators in Canada’s Faculty’s of Education and provincial and territorial governments completely forgotten about:

  1. Neo-Piagetian cognitive-developmental theory regarding readiness? (Link)
  2. Learning accommodation & automaticity — when learning sticks? (Link)
  3. Learning styles and Multiple Intelligences differences? (Link)
  4. Mastery learning & pre-requisite knowledge and skills — building one skill upon another? (Link)
  5. The Fundamental basic math computational skills — which are needed before children are faced with problems they can’t solve?

As I wrote in my post the other day, to improve standardized math scores, those in positions of authority should not tell teachers to throw out what they are doing now. Rather, they need to be allowed to blend the teaching of the basic skills BEFORE they give children problems to solve that expect automaticity in those skills.

The crux of the matter is that just as we need a balanced or blended approach when teaching reading and writing (e.g., a combination of reading basics with reading discovery experiences), we need the same when teaching math.

Note that even though Dr.Tran-Davies petition is related to Alberta education, I have already signed on behalf of Ontario parents. I have also linked it to all my Friends on Facebook, asking them to sign. Readers can do the same by visiting this Internet link.