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Khan Academy

February 13, 2016 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 07:20 AM

The Khan Academy website just goes from strength to strength. In addition to math, they're now into chemistry, medicine, computer programming, and much more, although now you unfortunately have to register with them. You can also find out what it means to buy stocks in a company and whether you should rent or buy your home. Check it out here.

This is not a joke

February 12, 2016 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 10:19 AM

Further to yesterday's posting about the disturbing prevalence of special-needs students at Canadian universities, here's a report about an additional burden imposed on universities by political correctness. 

The Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba has taken it upon itself to "address the social and historic inequities faced by marginalized groups". As a result, it will select 45% of its students from "diversity categories" such as indigenous or LGBT people.  The 45% is broken down as follows.

  • Canadian indigenous people - 15%
  • Racialized people - 7.5%
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, or queer people - 7.5%
  • People with physical, mental, psychological, sensory, or diagnosed learning disabilities - 7.5%
  • Disadvantaged people - 7.5%

Obviously, this policy will have quite an impact on elementary and secondary classrooms in a few years - and not for the better - since the new policy will mean that a significant number of teachers will get certification who would not otherwise have been accepted into the program. 

The Role of Universities in a Changing World

February 11, 2016 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 03:30 PM

Thanks to Frank Gue for drawing our attention to this article in Macleans Magazine about how universities are helping students with "invisible" disabilities. According to the article, a 2013 survey found that Canadian universities students suffered from the following conditions.

  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder - 2%
  • ADHD or a learning disabilitiy - 4%
  • Chronic illness such as cancer, diabetes or auto-immune disease - 5%
  • Depression - 10%
  • Anxiety - 12%

Of course, some students may have more than one of these conditions, but even so it appears that close to a third of Canadian students need to be accommodated in some way by their university.

This reminds me of the Syrian refugee situation. Of course, Syria's neighbouring countries would like to help the refugees, but their numbers are overwhelming and are putting at risk the well-being of the non-refugees. Is it reasonable to ask Canadian universities to accommodate so many students with special needs? Will doing so compromise the universities' ability to serve their students without special needs? 

A secondary question is - or maybe it should be the primary question - why do so many Canadian students have special needs these days?

Your comments are solicited.

Home-schooling, Socialization, and the New Groupthink

February 10, 2016 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 07:57 AM

Click here for a very thoughtful article about home-schooling.  The article thoroughly demolishes the socialization boogeyman, but then takes the attack to conventional schooling - suggesting that in fact "the artificially hierarchical and age-segregated structure of modern schooling produces a warped form of socialization with unhealthy attitudes toward both authority and peers". 

There's more, but the most interesting new thought for me was the speculation about why the critics of homeschooling are so scathing, given all the evidence of the superior results of home-schooling. Could it be that "their concern [is] really for the welfare of those educated outside the schools? Or is it rather, as so much of their language suggests, for the success of a particular vision of society — a vision that they fear the independently educated may not readily accommodate?"

1 + 1 = 2

February 09, 2016 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 08:10 AM

The more dominant discovery math becomes across Canada, the worse the students do.  TIMSS   PISA

This trend is also evident in provincial test scores. SJP sent in this report on the widespread dismay in Nova Scotia over the latest provincial test results.

How low do we have to go before the penny drops?

Writing Wrongs is Wrong

February 08, 2016 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 07:35 AM


Some say that studying History allows us to learn from past mistakes and hopefully not repeat them again.  Let me begin with some brief handwriting history.  Going back to ancient manuscripts, we find that they were done with "lettering", that is, individual letters grouped into words.  As time went on and trading transactions required more documentation to be written by hand, the letters began to run together as handwriting was now needing to be done with increased speed.  Even the word cursive originates from the Latin "currere" (to run, hasten).  Since the connected handwriting was faster to produce, it remained the ONLY taught and used form of handwriting for many centuries.  Even today the most frequently-made comment on comment boards in response to keeping cursive handwriting is that people find cursive handwriting faster.

Manuscript printing was created in Great Britain with the intention being that teaching children a simpler form of making individual letters would prepare them for learning cursive handwriting in the following grades.  In the early 1900's many children attended school only sporadically and often left formal schooling around the age of 10 to 12 years old to secure employment or help their families with housekeeping work.  Teachers quickly realized that children who did not receive enough education in cursive handwriting were also unable to read anything written in cursive. They considered these children handicapped and a poor reflection on the teacher's ability.  Most teachers reverted back to teaching cursive beginning in the first grade.  This remained the norm for most European countries.

Manuscript printing was first introduced to north America by a British teacher, Marjorie Wise, in the 1920's.  There was a gradual acceptance by school boards of teaching printing first and then cursive in the succeeding years.  According to Kitty Burns Florey in her book "Script and Scribble", Marjorie Wise eventually recanted her opinion on teaching printing first.

For several decades, educators across north America had no problem with children learning both manuscript printing first and cursive writing later.  North America had its highest literacy rates during those years.  Teachers knew that handwriting was an essential and necessary component of mastering the English language.  Research today using fMRI technology shows more neural brain development in children who write by hand.  This brain development does not happen with children who are read to or who use only keyboards.

Montessori schools have always believed, and continue to believe, their students should learn cursive first.  Many countries around the world also ensure that their students are proficient in cursive handwriting, often in their mother tongue as well as English. This is significant now that we are  becoming more globally competitive for jobs.  Research also shows the increased brain development in children who acquire more than one language at a young age.

For over a decade, there has been a concerted effort to eliminate cursive handwriting from schools across north America.  With the increased emphasis on using technology in classrooms, teachers insist there is no time to teach two handwriting systems.  I agree that two handwriting systems are not necessary but I do believe teaching cursive as opposed to printing makes more sense.  We know it can be done because it was the norm for centuries - much longer than printing has been in schools.  

The most urgent concern now is that ALL handwriting not be eliminated from curriculums.  Many people find this absurd and improbable.  However, we are already observing a decrease in the teaching of printing by educators, as well as a significant decrease in the amount of handwriting that is being required to be produced by young children.  The same tactic used before of saying cursive is no longer important is now being said about printing.  Children's printing is now increasingly becoming illegible and rather than making an effort to improve the skill, many young children are being advised to learn keyboarding instead.

I have heard the anger in young people's voices when they tell me they asked, they begged, their teachers to please teach them cursive handwriting - and their teacher's wouldn't!  Some did not realize that their own teachers did not know how to write or read cursive.

The focus is being shifted to the use of technology.  There is even a movement towards eliminating all written communication in favour of only verbal interaction with technology.  Many see this as a wonderful advancement in technological application.  The truth is, we have been there before in past centuries - it was called an Oral Tradition, and made slaves of those who were unable to read or write by hand.

It's very interesting that an article that was written 25 years ago is an even bigger area of contention today.  Again, I must go back to history and remind others that if it were not for handwriting, we would not have the wise words of philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle today.  Monks who  transcribed many volumes of books in Ireland for many centuries are credited with keeping our handwritten language alive.  Great works of knowledge have been preserved for us even today because some people honoured and ensured the skill of handwriting was maintained.

Parents, Teachers and Students need to decide whether a basic skill that has served people well for thousands of years should be cast aside in favour of technology that has been available for a short period of time, and is increasingly making us all more vulnerable. 

There is more handwriting information available at

Sunday at the Movies (Impact of School Choice)

February 07, 2016 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 07:21 AM

Granted school choice transforms lives one at a time, but it's kind of like the story of the little boy who was rescuing starfish by throwing them back one by one and, when someone tells the him he can't make any difference because there are so many starfish and they're already starting to die, the little boy tosses another starfish to safety and says "It made a difference to that one".

So much for freedom of speech

February 06, 2016 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 10:04 AM

A columnist with the local newspaper, Luisa D'Amato, writes controversial columns somewhat in the style of Margaret Wente. Click here for a list of her most recent columns.

Because she has occasionally been critical of the local teachers' unions, one of them is telling its members to cancel their home subscriptions to the paper and avoid using it in the classroom.  more    H/T JG

Luisa D'Amato, who sometimes teaches journalism courses at one of the local universities, understands the importance of an unfettered fourth estate and the free exchange of ideas. Unfortunately, the local teachers' union can't seem to see this big picture.

Once again, politics trumps kids’ welfare

February 05, 2016 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 10:37 AM

Last September, I blogged about a charter school application in Calgary that would be the acid test of the province's charter school legislation. 

After lengthy consideration, the NDP government has turned down the application, saying that it's no different from what is currently offered by the city's public schools. more

That is a pretty weird reason for rejecting a school for kids with disabilities. According to the government's own handbook on charter schools, "Charter schools will specialize in a particular educational service or approach in order to address the needs of a particular group of students. Charter schools may complement or add to existing local programs where there are a sufficient number of students who could benefit from the program."

According to the applicants for the new charter school, space is very tight in the public school system for special-needs kids. In any case, if a school looks likely to improve the lot of special-needs kids, then its administrative structure (charter or not charter) should be irrelevant. 

It looks to me as if the Alberta government has failed the acid test.  H/T TB

Warriors and Worriers

February 04, 2016 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 07:51 AM

Educhatter tackles an interesting issue this week - namely, the levels and nature of stress being experienced by today's kids. more

Educhatter quotes Stanley Kutcher, one of Canada's leading experts on teen suicide, as thinking today's kids are under a "different kind of stress" and tend to be less resilient than before. Pointing to popular strategies designed to reduce and even avoid stress, Dr. Kutcher writes: "We’re not here as a species and still surviving those millennia because we couldn’t adapt to stress. On the contrary, our brains are wired to adapt.  I don’t think we actually do anybody a service and we may actually do young people a disservice by trying to protect them from stress and trying to make everything nice and everything rosy and having a Pollyannish approach to life.  I don’ t think that does anyone any good.”

An American psychiatrist who advises on the training of pilots advocates stress inoculation:  "You tax them without overwhelming them. And then you allow for sufficient recovery."

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