Webb of Thoughts

personal blog of kyle webb

Category: featured (page 1 of 3)

Effort in Assessment

To kick off our Winter 2011 semester we attended a conference covering many different education topics.  For one session I chose to attend a presentation about physical education assessment, mostly since I know nothing about physical education and thought that perhaps I could get some ideas that could translate well over into math and the sciences.

To kick off this particular presentation, the presenters posed a question to us;  Should effort be included in assessment?  I immediately thought to myself, of course it should.  I think mostly everyone else in the room had the same train of thought.  Then they asked us to consider the following scenario:

Chairs (From Flickr)

Chairs (From Flickr)

You’re looking for a new wooden chair.  You head to the local wooden chair shop and, after some time, you narrow down your search to two different chairs.  You decide to sit in them to see how comfortable they are.  The first one feels good, you can see yourself sitting comfortably in it everyday.  You sit in the second one and it falls apart. You find out that the first one was built in less than a day by a “natural” builder who has incredible talent, he/she usually builds a few a day without any problem.  The second chair, which fell apart, was built by someone who spent months of hard labour and put a lot of  love and care into their work.  Regardless of this background knowledge, which chair would you buy?

This scenario bothered me ever since I heard it.  To be completely honest, I had not considered this approach until hearing the scenario.

Is the purpose of education to create the best wooden chair?  How can we encourage students to learn to build better chairs if we don’t find out what areas need improvement in the building process?  Did the builder struggle with gluing, cutting or what? Isn’t knowing about the process involved much more valuable?

How do we get out of the mindset of caring solely about the final product?

Curriculum Questions

One of the hottest topics of discussion I have encountered so far this semester has been the new Mathematics Curriculum being implemented into Saskatchewan this year and over the next few years. Many things are changing, and it is difficult to say whether they are for the better or worse.  So far, many questions have been asked, but most have been left unanswered simply because no one has any idea.

Luckily, near the end of October a representative from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education will be visiting my math education class to discuss the new curriculum.  I hope to use this post as a place to refine my questions and possibly develop more.

I will be the first to admit that I do not completely understand this new curriculum, but I will try my best to describe what is changing (please correct me if I am wrong with something!).

The Framework

Math in Saskatchewan schools used to be set up (and still is until the new curriculum is fully implemented over the next few years) where you took your Kindergarten to grade 9 math then in highschool students took Math 10, Math 20, then Math A30, Math B30, Math C30, and eventually Calculus.  If I remember correctly, Math 20 was all that was required to graduate from highschool.  This aspect of the curriculum has been completely changed.  Now all students after entering grade ten must decide whether they would like to enter the “Workplace and Apprenticeship” stream or the “Foundations of Mathematics and Pre-Calculus” stream.  The following chart depicts the pathways and how these streams flow and tie together.

The pathways were influenced by the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol which, not surprisingly, found that different areas of post-secondary, business and industry sectors require different math skills.  Even if similar topics were covered in different streams, they need to be addressed in the different contexts.  Notice that the pathways do not connect to one another.  Any student wishing to switch pathways will have to start from the beginning of the new pathway.  The curriculum guide also states that “No pathway or course is considered ‘easy math’. Rather, all pathways and courses present ‘different maths’ for different purposes.“.

Essentially most of my questions revolved around the idea of turning math into pathways.  If you wish to read up more on the curriculums, they are free to view here.  A set of questions and answers regarding the new changes can be found here.

My questions:

Is streamlining students really a good idea? I get that different careers and opportunities after school use different math.  The guide says that one stream is not easier than the other, but rather that they are different.  I’m going to take a leap here and suggest that even if one is not easier than another (which i suspect they might be), that most students and parents will think so.  I worry that teachers will see this the same way and put less effort into those students.  The perceived differences, real or not, could potentially separate students in an unhealthy way.  As much as I hate to say it, I can easily foresee Workplace and Apprenticeship will become “stupid math” and Pre-Calculus route will be viewed as the “smart math”.  I thought education was shifting to a more inclusive atmosphere in our schools, and I fear that these pathways will contradict that. Will the students in “stupid” stream get left behind?

I have a difficult time imagining a scenario where the streams work out well for our students.

Is it realistic to expect students to know which path to take before they begin grade 10? I’m not too sure how many students entering grade 10 (15-16 years old) are capable of making a well informed decision about what they want to do after they finish grade 12.  I certainly was unable to.  I couldn’t even decide until I completed a year and a half of post secondary classes.  I’m especially troubled by the inability to switch pathways without starting over.  What will happen to those students who went down the pre calculus route and decide that halfway through grade 12, they want to become a tradesperson?  There would not be enough time to start over without extending a high school career.   Do these pathways ultimately limit our students opportunities once they have started down a certain path?

What about smaller centers with limited staff? Saskatchewan has a very large amount of small, rural centers.  I graduated from a school with just over 100 students from K-12.  This is not uncommon here.  Many of these small centers barely have enough staff as it is and are being required to cut more and more each year.  Yet, they will be expected to offer more math classes with less teachers.  Something doesn’t add up.

How will teachers who are used to the old curriculum welcome these new changes? It’s not that I don’t think that current teachers will be incapable of changing their practices, but I don’t think it would be a stretch to suggest they might be a bit reluctant.  I will be lucky enough to be educated in my classes about the new content, concepts and strategies of these new curriculums. Is more freedom being given or taken away?

Why are we making assessment more standardized? Although I was unable to find anything in writing on the Sask ed. website or in the curriculum, I have been told that each course will have a department set final exam.  It has also come to my attention that some schools and school divisions are considering making unit exams standardized as well.  So instead of allowing our teachers to be creative with their assessment and find more effective, useful methods to assess, we are forcing them to teach to exams.

Is this change a step in the right direction, or are we going about things the wrong way?  What has happened in other areas or the country or world? I am conflicted.

Please feel free to comment below. The entire purpose of this post is to fine tune my questions for when I get the opportunity to speak with the representative from the Ministry of Education.

Cramming

Studying for an exam (From Flickr)

Studying for an exam (From Flickr)

A few weeks ago, I finished up my finals for the year.   Luckily, I only had to write two finals because all of my education classes had final projects instead.   This meant I had a great deal of extra time to prepare for my two difficult math finals.  I’m used to having to prepare for five finals in the same time period, so I had plenty of time to get ready for these two.

Did I use this time to my advantage? Of course not.  Why would I?  If high school taught me anything, it was that I can cram the night (or even morning) before an exam, and do well on it.  I was so good at it, I graduated with highest average in my class and received the Governor Generals award for Academic excellence, “the most prestigious award that students in Canadian schools can receive” (quoted from http://archive.gg.ca/honours/awards/acmed/index_e.asp).  I strongly feel that my effort in high school was pathetic, and that the awards and recognition I received was not deserved.  Perhaps I wasn’t challenged enough, maybe I just didn’t care.  It’s tough to recall what was going through my head at that point.

It turns out that this skill has stuck with me into my post-secondary career. For one of my finals I was able to figure out the mark  I got on the exam.  Miraculously, I pulled off a 95% on the final.   I use the word miraculously because I only put in about three or four hours of studying, if you can even call it that (much of that time was wasted away on Youtbe, Twitter, and Facebook).

I found some definitions of “studying”.

Studying: perusal: reading carefully with intent to remember
(http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=studying)

Reading carefully with intent to remember? Try having an intent to get a good mark. I could have cared less if I remembered, since I didn’t feel that class would be beneficial to myself down the road.

Study skills and study strategies are abilities and approaches applied to learning. They are generally critical to success in school, are considered essential for acquiring good grades, and are useful for learning throughout one’s life.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studying)

They are very critical to success in school and essential for acquiring good grades. Useful for learning throughout one’s life? Not so much. Not my study skills. How often are we faced with situations similar to a midterm or final exam in real life? I’m yet to encounter anything similar.  Maybe it’s still coming.

Do I know 95% of the class material? Not a chance. Maybe I did from 9-12 that morning, but by that night, most of it had already been forgotten. If you asked me what that class was about now, I could probably tell you a few of the topics we covered, but not much more.   I was able to attain a mark that in no way reflects my knowledge of the course.  What it reflects, is how effectively I was able to cram in those three or four hours.  Apparently I’m pretty good at it.

Studying (from Flickr)

Studying (from Flickr)

I get away with this, because the current education system allows me to. If I (or any student) can get by with as little effort as possible, why would I (or we) change things up? I know this is not right and not going to help me in the long run, but classes that allow this are just making the problem worse.

I do not want my students to turn out like this. I am a product of the system that I want to change. I’ve never really been encouraged to learn, but rather I was encouraged to get good grades. It appears to me that most people don’t know the difference.  To be honest, I didn’t really know the difference until this year.  I have started to realize that I have learned more in classes that I’ve received 60’s in than those that I’ve received high 90’s in.

So how do I encourage students to learn? I am the perfect example of how I don’t want my students to turn out. Is it possible to simply abolish exams? Or grades?  I don’t think it’s this easy, especially in high school, where grades are essential for students who wish to move onto post secondary education. Certainly, marks motivate many students to pay attention and do their work.  But if they are anything like me, they will write the test, get  a grade for it, and forget the very next day.

I want to encourage life long learning, not up-to-the-exam learning.

A Reflection

This is my slidecast of the reflection I presented to my ECMP 455 class last night. The audio not perfect, but after probably fifteen different tries, I’ve realized that it probably never will be. Enjoy!

Reflect, Reflect, Reflect

Reflect (from Flickr)

Reflect (from Flickr)

Reflecting. It seems like it is the only thing I ever do anymore.  To be quite honest, I’m getting a little tired of it.  This is probably why my blog has been pretty slow in recent months.

It’s not that I don’t like reflecting.  I have found it to  be extremely awarding and beneficial to my own learning, just as I’m sure you have.  The problem is, it has become a chore.   In a certain class I take right now, we are required to write a full reflection, following an outline given to us, after every single class, reading, lab,  and field experience.  They also get handed in and evaluated, which is frustrating for me because I don’t feel any reflection is subject to marking of any sort.  Sure suggestions and comments are great, but in this case they always come from the same individual.  It’s not that I don’t like my teacher or what he has to say, but maybe I’ve became a little spoiled by blogging and getting great comments and insights from readers like yourself.

I don’t think reflection is something that can or should be forced.  As soon as you tell someone they must reflect, they are no longer reflecting for themselves.  They’re reflecting for whoever told them too.  Surely some direction and guidance never hurt anyone, but to force reflection defeats the purpose.

I want to reflect for me.  Not for my teacher.

I guess that’s me reflecting about reflecting.  Time to get back to reflecting…

Pick The (Teacher’s) Best Answer

Exam Room (From Flickr)

Exam Room (From Flickr)

Two weeks ago, I wrote a midterm for one of my education classes. We were told it was a multiple choice exam consisting of 80 questions. When my class arrived at the exam we discovered it was a pick the best answer type of exam. Our professor stated that every answer was correct, but we were supposed to pick the “best” choice. Not surprisingly, hands up shot up around the room. “What if our best answer is not the same as yours?”, “What if we have a different opinion for that question?”, and a few other similar questions were asked by our class. The answer was simple: “Then select what you think I would choose as the best answer.”

Please tell me that  I am not the only one who sees a problem with this.  In a class where we are supposed to be establishing our own beliefs about education and beginning to determine how we will approach our careers as educators, we are supposed to be picking the answer that our professor feels is best?  How can I develop my own beliefs, if what I believe is marked wrong on an exam?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t a test like this only encourage students to learn their teacher’s beliefs and not establish their own?  Why not have an exam with either definite correct answers or one where you can justify your selection?

A test like this promotes students to simply tell their instructor what they want to hear.   Where is the critical thinking in that?  Aren’t we supposed to encourage students to think for themselves?

I recently did a lesson in my field placement where I showed and led a discussion around “A Class Divided”.  In this discussion, I learned just as much about the topic from my students as they would have learned (hopefully) from me. even though I had watched the videos on a number of occasions.  After I managed to get my students speaking their minds, I was shocked by how incredible some of their insights on the topics were.  Isn’t this how a classroom should be?  Shouldn’t students be constantly pushing their teacher’s to think more into their lessons?

I just find it extremely frustrating that we are learning to become teachers through methods that we should not be using.  I find that in many situations (not all) that these classes are not practicing what they preach.  This is just a minor example.

As a future teacher, how can I ensure that my students aren’t simply looking to please me?  How do I get them to think for themselves and create things that I would not expect?  What do you do to push students to dig deeper?

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