Category Archives: Elementary

Proposed Health Curriculum


Students need to understand the role their behaviour plays in supporting their health and other peoples’ health; they need to know that getting sick happens to everyone and doesn’t always require a visit to the doctor; they need to know how to do simple nursing at home so that people in their care do not get sicker; they need to know what kinds of symptoms require a doctor’s care or even a visit to the hospital.  This is why I advocate teaching First Aid and basic nursing skills such as ways to reduce fevers without resorting to drugs,  appropriate foods to feed patients with stomach bugs or colds, how long a patient needs to rest, stay home, take it easy and what the signs are of severe problems which require help.

I am not advocating that students be trained to be medical professionals but they should be trained to have sufficient knowledge and skills to care for themselves and others and be able to ask reasonable questions about health issues.  Part of growing up should be about caring for other people as well as oneself.  An understanding of the differences in infants and the elderly from the regular population in their health needs is vital.  An educated population could reduce the burden on hospitals and medical professionals.

WHAT IS WELL?

– HOW TO KEEP THE BODY IN GOOD TRIM FOR DEALING WITH BUGS AND ACCIDENTS:

Diet – what kind?

Exercise- what kind? How much?

Sleep – its importance and how much

Main health effects of sleep deprivation (See ...

Main health effects of sleep deprivation (See Wikipedia:Sleep deprivation). Model: Mikael Häggström. To discuss image, please see Template talk:Häggström diagrams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dealing with stress

Hygiene – both mental and physical eg.

Person washing his hands

Person washing his hands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

hand washing after using the toilet and before eating

The importance of friends

The social self.

The social self. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vaccinations

– how they work

– Dangerous myths about vaccinations

Helmets for cycling

– Proper use

– Rules of the road for cyclists & cars and pedestrians.

– Defensive cycling

Safety – risk appraisal and safe behaviour

– Alcohol

– Cigarettes

SEXUALITY:

Menstrual cycle

Relationships

Male & female genitalia

Well Baby Check up

Well Baby Check up (Photo credit: BenSpark)

Conception

Pregnancy

Birth

Breastfeeding & alternatives

Contraception

STDs

Menopause

– WELL BABY CARE

Senior Strutters March Show

Senior Strutters March Show (Photo credit: Old Shoe Woman)

– ISSUES IN AGING SUCH AS:

Age Wave

Age Wave (Photo credit: jurvetson)

Maintaining physical and mental health

Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular Disease (Photo credit: GEEKSTATS)

– Through exercise, diet, participation in the community

– Planning finances for retirement

– Keeping the person living independently as long as possible

Weakening immune system

Loss of bone and muscle strength and ways

Gym Free-weights Area Category:Gyms_and_Health...

Gym Free-weights Area Category:Gyms_and_Health_Clubs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

to reduce it.

Sleeping problems

Elder abuse

MENTAL HEALTH

Dealing with stress

Preventing stress

Good stress

Kindness and compassion as elements in maintaining good health

– WHAT IS SICK?

– HOW THE BODY DEALS WITH ILLNESS – anti-bodies

– Fever

– Fatigue

– SYMPTOMS OF COMMON PLACE ILLNESSES:

Colds

Stomach bugs

Influenza (flu)

Cold/Flu/H1N1 symptom chart

Cold/Flu/H1N1 symptom chart (Photo credit: Kevin Baird)

Viruses

Headaches

Infections

Differences in symptoms and appropriate treatment for the elderly and infants

– TREATMENT OF COMMON PLACE ILLNESSES:

Role of the caregiver in keeping a patient comfortable

Rest – what is it?

Fluid – what kind?

Diet – what kind?

Cold sweat...

Cold sweat… (Photo credit: squishband)

Observation – fever, rashes, behaviour, vomiting, diarrhoea symptoms

Over the counter medication such as acetylsalicylic acid, ibuprofen and acetaminophen, their use, minimum & maximum doses, cautions on use

Symptom suppressors such as over the counter cough and cold medication & how and when to use them

– HOW TO PREVENT INJURIES

Cycling Oxford

Cycling Oxford (Photo credit: tejvanphotos)

Safety on the road

Cleaning up spills

Tidying floors

Understanding which chemicals are dangerous and how to find out if they don’t know.

Storing chemicals and medications appropriately

Fire and scalding prevention

Using and storing knives

Water safety

– SYMPTOMS OF COMMON PLACE INJURIES:

Scrapes

Sprains

Cuts

Bruises

Breaks

English: A typical examination room in a docto...

English: A typical examination room in a doctor’s office. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

bites

Drowning

FIRST AID FOR THE ABOVE

– WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR & HOW TO HANDLE A VISIT TO THE DOCTOR’S OFFICE

Bring information about medicines

A clear description of symptoms – the fine art of taking and using notes

Health card

Patience

A child and adolescent’s right to confidentiality – how much, under what circumstances and at what age

– WHEN TO GO TO THE EMERGENCY:

Bankstown Hospital Emergency Room

Bankstown Hospital Emergency Room (Photo credit: redwolfoz)

Bleeding

Breathing

Unconsciousness

High fever (what is a high fever?)

Pain – prolonged or fierce

– & WHAT TO EXPECT

Hospital expectations such as:

bringing health cards

washing hands

wearing a mask for cold symptoms or coughs to prevent spread

First contact

Triage

Waiting times

A child and adolescent’s right to confidentiality – how much, under what circumstances and at what age

– DISEASES FREQUENTLY CAUSED BY LIFESTYLE:

Diabetes 2

Heart and stroke

What scientists call "Overweight" ch...

What scientists call “Overweight” changes with our knowledge of human health (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obesity

Addictions

Tooth decay and loss

Emphysema

COMMON CHRONIC DISEASES, PROGRESSION AND TREATMENTS:

Diabetes 1

Asthma

Acne

Emphysema

Cancer

Migraines

MENTAL ILLNESS, SYMPTOMS & COMMON TREATMENTS

Explanation of common terms used to describe mental illness such as:

psychotic,

paranoid,

1212mentalhealth-RW

1212mentalhealth-RW (Photo credit: Robbie Wroblewski)

phobia

MOOD DISORDERS

  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • Dysthymic Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Suicide

SCHIZOPHRENIA

ANXIETY DISORDERS

  • Panic Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Social Phobia
  • Agoraphobia
  • Specific Phobia

EATING DISORDERS

ATTENTION DEFICIT HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER (ADHD)

AUTISM

PERSONALITY DISORDERS

Family doctor

Teacher

Support groups

ETCETERA

Explanation of terms bandied about the educational system such as ADD, ADHD, intelligence, autism, learning disability and how they affect a person’s learning and education.  Treatments.

English: Ritalin (Australian packaging)

English: Ritalin (Australian packaging) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Explanation of interaction of physical and mental illness, drugs and physical and mental illness.

Explanation of alternative treatments such as:

Massage on the RM Elegant

Massage on the RM Elegant (Photo credit: yachtfan)

Acupuncture

Chiropractic

Massage

Physiotherapy

Biofeedback

Discussion of drug use: over the counter, prescription, illegal and naturopathic and the role of the pharmacist in ensuring that the appropriate medications are prescribed.

Pharmacy Rx symbol

Pharmacy Rx symbol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Discussion of commonly prescribed medications, how they work and how to use them effectively:

eg Antibiotics

Antidepressants

Antivirals

Analgesics

Antipyretics

Anti-inflammatories

Antihistamines

Examples of curriculum, including the health curriculum (from Ontario’s ministry of education) that could integrate with or already cover the proposed health curriculum. 

Health Curriculum Grades 1 to 8

Healthy Eating.

Personal Safety and Injury Prevention.

Substance Use, Addictions, and Related Behaviours.

Growth and Development

Integration of Mental Health

Grade nine and ten science

A1.4 apply knowledge and understanding of safe practices and procedures when planning investigations (e.g., appropriate techniques for handling, storing, and disposing of laboratory materials [following the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System-WHMIS]; safe operation of optical equipment; safe handling and disposal of biological materials), with the aid of appropriate support materials (e.g., the Reference Manual on the WHMIS website; the Live Safe! Work Smart! website)

A1.8 analyse and interpret qualitative and/or quantitative data to determine whether the evidence supports or refutes the initial prediction or hypothesis, identifying possible sources of error, bias, or uncertainty

A1.9 analyse the information gathered from research sources for reliability and bias

A1.10  draw conclusions based on inquiry results and research findings, and justify their conclusions

B1.3 describe public health strategies related to systems biology (e.g., cancer screening and prevention programs; vaccines against the human papillomavirus [HPV] and measles, mumps, and rubella [MMR]; AIDS education), and assess their impact on society [AI, C]

Sample issue: Early-childhood vaccination programs have greatly reduced the incidence of certain diseases and the social and medical costs associated with them. Influenced by controversial studies arguing that there may be health risks associated with such vaccines, some parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children, which could lead to a resurgence of these potentially deadly diseases.

Sample questions: What strategies are included in public health initiatives aimed at reducing the incidence of smoking-related diseases? What impact have these initiatives had on smoking rates and associated medical costs? How have health authorities responded to the threat of West Nile virus? What effect does this response have on people’s lifestyles? How did various cultures attempt to prevent disease before vaccines were available? What impact have vaccines had on global health?

B 2. investigate cell division, cell specialization, organs, and systems in animals and plants, using research and inquiry skills, including various laboratory techniques;

B3.2 describe the interdependence of the components within a terrestrial and an aquatic ecosystem, and explain how the components of both systems work together to ensure the sustainability of a larger ecosystem

B3.3 describe the complementary processes of cellular respiration and photosynthesis with respect to the flow of energy and the cycling of matter within ecosystems (e.g., carbon dioxide is a by-product of cellular respiration and is used for photosynthesis, which produces oxygen needed for cellular respiration), and explain how human activities can disrupt the balance achieved by these processes (e.g., automobile use increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; planting trees reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere)

Sample issue: Scientists are researching changes in climate patterns as possible contributing factors to an increase in the number of smog days in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada. As the air quality worsens, people may curtail their outdoor activities, and those with respiratory problems may require medical attention, increasing health care costs.

C1.1 analyse, on the basis of research, various safety and environmental issues associated with chemical reactions and their reactants and/or product(s) (e.g., chemical reactions related to the use of cyanide in gold mining, the corrosion of metal supports on bridges, the use of different antibacterial agents such as chlorine and bromine in recreational pools) [IP, PR, AI, C]

Sample issue: Ammonia and chlorine bleach are two common household cleaning agents. How-ever, when these two substances are mixed, the chemical reaction produces chlorine gas, which is highly toxic.

Sample questions: Why is it important to understand the chemical composition of chlorinating agents used in swimming pools before using them? What chemical reactions result in acid precipitation? What impact does it have on the environment? What sources of information are available on the safety or environmental implications of chemicals and chemical reactions? Why is it important to ensure that these sources are up to date? Why is it important to understand WHMIS information, including Material Safety Data Sheets, before using any chemicals?

• recognize that communities consist of various physical features and community facilities that meet human needs;

• use a variety of resources and tools to gather, process, and communicate information about the distinguishing physical features and community facilities in their area;

• describe how people in the community interact with each other and the physical environment to meet human needs

C2.1 use appropriate terminology related to chemical reactions, including, but not limited to: compounds, product, and reactant [C]

C2.2 construct molecular models to illustrate the structure of molecules in simple chemical reactions (e.g., C + O2 ? CO2; 2H2 + O2 ? 2H2O), and produce diagrams of these models [PR, C]

C2.3 investigate simple chemical reactions, including synthesis, decomposition, and displacement reactions, and represent them using a variety of formats (e.g., molecular models, word equations, balanced chemical equations) [PR, AI, C]

C2.4 use an inquiry process to investigate the law of conservation of mass in a chemical reaction (e.g., compare the values before and after the reaction), and account for any discrepancies [PR, AI]

C2.5 plan and conduct an inquiry to identify the evidence of chemical change (e.g., the formation of a gas or precipitate, a change in colour or odour, a change in temperature) [IP, PR, AI]

C2.6 plan and conduct an inquiry to classify some common substances as acidic, basic, or neutral (e.g., use acid-base indicators or pH test strips to classify common household substances) [IP, PR, AI]P

Sample issue: Ultrasound is routinely used during pregnancy to monitor the development of the fetus. It is also used to perform amniocentesis, which screens for genetic disorders, and allows doctors to perform surgery on the fetus before birth to correct some abnormalities. However, there have been few studies on the long-term effects of the use of ultrasound.

Sample questions: How are medical imaging technologies used in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease and stroke? What types of imaging technologies are used in ophthalmology? How have they benefited people who have eye disease? How have developments in biophotonics advanced a range of surgical procedures?analyse a technological device or procedure related to human perception of light (e.g., eyeglasses, contact lenses, infrared or low light vision sensors, laser surgery), and evaluate its effectiveness.

What strategies are included in public health initiatives aimed at reducing the incidence of smoking-related diseases? What impact have these initiatives had on smoking rates and associated medical costs? How have health authorities responded to the threat of West Nile virus? What effect does this response have on people’s lifestyles?

Summertime and the Camps are Expensive: How to Keep our Kids Thinking and Learning on a Dime …


Kids playing in a lake at a church camp

Kids playing in a lake at a church camp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We bemoan the summer holidays as a time when students forget everything they learned in school and then need to spend September reviewing.  Research, and I can’t remember which and with the summer haze in my brain am too lazy to look up, suggests that middle class children don’t lose too much through the long summer holidays.  These kids go to camp, visit relatives, take classes and generally keep their brains ticking over.  If they aren’t precisely reviewing what they have already learned, they are at least adding to it.

Who is really hurt by the long summer holidays?

On the other hand, kids with lower socio-economic status do lose out.  Their parents are likely to both be working and are hard pressed to find care for their children, much less something stimulating.  If a parent is at home, then money to do anything extra is unavailable.  When these kids return to school, they are behind the eight ball.  They have not just forgotten over the long holidays, but they have not had any enrichment to enhance what they have already learned.  What to do?

The thing is that if you are reading this, you may be poor but you are unlikely to be lower SES.  Graduate, medical and law students may have very low incomes, the economic part of the SES, but their social status is high.  Even people who have gone off the grid or simply work the streets to help the homeless may have a minimal income but high status socially.  Even on a low income it is possible to afford a computer, second-hand or refurbished – or access one at the local library.

On the other hand, drug dealers may be rolling in dough but low in social status, although that may depend on the society they are mixing with.  They may have a computer, even a high end one with all the bells and whistles, but I doubt they are reading my blog or this post.

It is those folks who have minimal incomes and minimal status who are less likely to be able to provide camps and classes and stimulating activities for their kids.  It isn’t impossible but it is difficult.  I’m going to offer advice here, but how many people who need it, will read it?

Free Camps, Lessons and Stimulating Activities:

The best place to find a free summer camp is at a church.  They aren’t sleepover camps, they are usually half days and some do push their religion.  However, your children will learn something about Christianity, which will be an enormous aid as they study English literature.  It will also give them some insights into Judaism, Islam and even Mormonism.

My daughter went to one themed on Paul.  One day we were chatting about Paul as I walked her home from camp.  I confessed that I was not a fan of Paul as he was a bit of a misogynist.  After I explained that a misogynist was someone who didn’t like women, my daughter was quiet for a bit.  Then she pointed out that no one except Christ was perfect.  Perhaps misogyny was Paul’s flaw.  After all he did have other wise things to say.  My jaw dropped.  As I said, it is an opportunity to learn a bit and stimulate some thought.

Scouts and guides are another place for almost free camping and lessons.  One of my sons got a lot out of scouts including a couple of long camping trips.  He learned the usual skills and benefitted from the guidance of adults who weren’t parents or teachers.

Some camps will trade a child’s camping fees for a parent’s skills.  It won’t work with every camp, but it is worth trying with alternative or church over night camps.  If you can cook, do office work or general maintenance, ask.  Ask your local Y about groups that help send kids to camps or have programs for families to go to camp.

Learning New Skills

Can’t afford lessons?  Canvas other families in the same situations.  Maybe among you there are a few experts such as knitters, musicians (singers or drummers are ideal), dancers, artists (they don’t have to be famous or sell their work), woodworkers or bakers.  Arrange to have lessons for the children in your group of families.  Your kids will learn a new skill and learn to appreciate another adult.  You will get to know some other children well.

Seeing and Stimulation

            On the street where you live

Learning and stimulation are often right at your feet or your children’s feet.  Get in the habit of going for walks with your kids.  Teach them how to walk safely

Wabush Manhole Cover IV

Wabush Manhole Cover IV (Photo credit: ManHole.ca)

in their neighbourhood.  Go at their pace. They will get you seeing things you haven’t really looked at before.  The obvious things are construction sites and big trucks.  It’s always amazing how many workers don’t mind taking a couple of minutes to explain what they are doing.  My kids found manholes fascinating, too.  They were a great place to practice reading.  I also learned a bit of local history when I realised that the same foundry that made the manhole covers, made stoves in our area.

Those walks are also good exercise and an opportunity for you to continue street-proofing your children. Point out street signs, landmarks, public building and telephones. Get them to tell you how to get home.  Children who have wandered their neighbourhoods on their own by the age of ten will have a better directional sense and more confidence.  People who walk with confidence are less likely to be victimized.

            It’s a walk in the park

Having fun!

Having fun! (Photo credit: ucumari)

Of course, parks are a great place in the summer.  You take your kids to play on the playground or splash pads or swim but as a by-the-way you can get them in the habit of observing the life around them.  Try going to different parks and point out different plants and trees, birds and animals.  You don’t have

Observing

Observing (Photo credit: Adalberto Gonzaga)

to know what they are.  Keep a sketchpad or camera tucked in your bag to record what they see and make notes. Jot down their observations or if they are old enough, give them their own note pad and encourage them to keep

their own notes.  Show them how to just write down the minimum number of words necessary to remind them. When you get home, you can look them up or take another trip to the library.

            Go shopping, but leave your wallet at home

Shopping streets can be full of information.  Why do stores have big windows?  Which way do doors open?  Why?  Which colours do they see most in

a child

a child (Photo credit: sogni_hal)

store windows?  Which store windows are the prettiest?  Most dramatic?  Most interesting?  Why are there people sitting on the sidewalk asking for money?  Depending on your city, the street and the person, your child might want to talk to them.  It’s an opportunity to learn that people are people no matter how they live.

If you visit a small store when it is quiet, you could talk to the proprietor about what it is like to run a business, where his wares come from and why he decided to open a store.  You could get your children to keep track of the different kind of stores on different streets.

            Museums

Museums are most wonderful when they are free.  If they are free in your town, pop in with the kids for only half an hour at a time.  Even if they aren’t free,

Young hands

Young hands (Photo credit: jepoirrier)

there is usually one day a week when they are, so that is the day to drop by.  Do a little research; sometimes there are tiny museums that are free.  Sometimes there are amazing little stores that are almost as good as museum, but first you must carefully train your children to look only with their eyes.

The best museum for kids is a science and technology museum.  Get them pushing the museum’s buttons instead of yours.  If you don’t have a zoo, the next best is an art gallery but pick the exhibit carefully.  Children enjoy bright energetic abstracts or meticulously realistic art to start with.  Let them ask the questions and make the comments before you get helpful.  You can borrow books about art from your library if you

Russell Coates Art Gallery Bournemouth

Russell Coates Art Gallery Bournemouth (Photo credit: Martin Beek)

don’t have the answers. When they get home they might want to try the kind of art they have seen.

An Exhibition

Your children might want to go around their home to pick out art and oddments worthy of display.  They can create cards explaining what each thing is and why it is so special.  Perhaps your network of teaching and learning families could add a demonstration of the skills the kids have learned over the summer.  Of course, that will call for an exhibition to which they can invite their friends, family and neighbours.

I am going to do it ALL

You aren’t going to do all of these things.  Just writing about it exhausts me.  It is a frame of mind that says there is a world of learning and fellowship and fun and excitement out there free if I open my eyes and my mind and my heart that is important.  I don’t have to be rich or educated to give my child a summer she will enjoy and will keep her mind ticking over.  I can send her back to school ready to continue learning.  It just takes some thought, imagination and planning on my part.  And maybe a little help from my friends.

Parenting

Parenting (Photo credit: Leonid Mamchenkov)

Ideas, lessons and units currently available on for Teaching Outside the Box http://teachingideasoutsidethebox.wordpress.com/


6. TEN BOOK REPORTS IN A YEAR: THE PACKAGE

This unit is aimed at getting twelve year olds to read in quantity and quality.  It could be adapted for other grades and might need to be adapted for other marking systems.  The list in number 5 was originally written to go with this unit.

5.         Have You Read?

A list of books aimed at academically talented grade seven and eight students with the intention of broadening their usual tastes in reading and pushing them to try something new or a bit more challenging.

4.  Finding the Poetry

A lesson aimed at teaching the important parts of writing poetry: words and feelings.

3.  Learning to Love Teaching Poetry

It’s tough teaching poetry well.  This is a suggestion for a unit used for grades two, three and four using The Walrus and the Carpenter and The Tyger.

2.  Lessons in Perspective (Art, Empathy, Math, Literature)

A unit that combines lessons in perspective in art, empathy and mathematics.  Can be expanded to include literature and writing. Can be adapted K-12

1. Using the Internet to teach and teaching students how to use the Internet

Ideas on teaching research skills to all grade levels, including appropriate use of Internet, identification of bias, Boolean logic, using indexes, encyclopaedias and other resources.

How Do We Value French as a Language?


Many Canadian parents want their Anglophone children to be in French Immersion. They believe that being bilingual in French and English will give them an inside track in getting jobs with the government and any organisation that deals with the government. And maybe it will.

Reading, conversation and pop music in French

‪Seducing Dr. Lewis – a charming Quebecois film about a small community on the North Shore trying to find a doctor. Continue reading

how to take down a teacher in the ottawa district schhol board (sic)


The title was the search engine term used by one reader who reached my site.

Wolves chasing an elk

Wolves taking down an elk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It made me start thinking about my career with this board and the number of teachers in the board I have seen targeted, or I have been told about by a colleague who saw them targeted.

Here is a partial list of those cases in no particular order.  Some were dealt with fairly; some resulted in a teacher suspension or a teacher being charged.

  1. A primary student told a supply teacher that he was going to tell the principal that he (the teacher) had taken down his (the student’s) pants.
  2.   Parents decided a junior teacher was too fat to teach physical education and were instrumental in getting her dismissed.
  3. Some intermediate girls were annoyed with their poor marks and got back at their teacher by falsely claiming that he had sexually assaulted them.
  4. Some intermediate students set up a homophobic web site and showed it to one of their teachers on the assumption that he was gay.  The parents of one of them thought the subsequent suspension was unfair.
  5. On two different occasions in the same school two different students lied about two different teachers in two consecutive years.  Instead of investigating, the principal turned each one over to the board which chose to believe the children.
  6. A teacher on an exchange on the other side of the world was called by a friend to find out if she had a good lawyer.  Unbeknownst to her, she had been charged with sexual assault by a former student and it was all over the news.  The judge eventually threw it out of court but not before she and her family had been through public hell.
  7. Thirteen parents got together in a private home to discuss a new teacher’s math program because A) she said math wasn’t her thing so she wouldn’t be running an extracurricular math program, B) she didn’t always teach from the textbook or assign lots of homework (she was an experienced math, English and social studies teacher).  The principal refused to deal with it.
  8. A gifted and imaginative grade one teacher was turned on by the parents and her colleagues in the program she taught in because she (successfully) used whole language rather than phonics exercise books to teach reading.  Her students also learned to appreciate art through an appropriately designed unit on Matisse.  One of her colleagues even withdrew her daughter from the class.  Her principal did not defend her or reprimand the colleague.  She left the program.

Unfortunately this desire is not an anomaly.  There are many students and sometimes parents who want to “take down” a teacher.  If  parents support the students or the administration does not support the teacher, the life of the targeted teacher becomes hell.  Every action, every slip, bad call, ambiguous action becomes open to the worst possible interpretation. 

Are Your Art Lessons Dragging? Are You Looking for Resources?


Obviously you can’t change the curriculum, but you can take the objectives and go to the web site called The Heart of Canadian Art put together by a Canadian teacher.  There, you will probably be inspired by the resources, suggested lesson plans, lists of art galleries big and small in Canada and Roxanne Morley Anderson’s enthusiasm for art and kids.  Give it a try and see if you can’t get you and your students out of the winter doldrums.

The link is in the education section of my links list on this page.  Have fun!

Problem Solving and Ill-Structured Problem Solving


Too often we give our children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.   Roger Lewin

Cadets at BRNC participate in a team problem-s...

Cadets at BRNC participate in a group problem solving exercise. Image via Wikipedia

If school were to prepare children to solve the problems of real life, we would have to consider the nature of real life problems.  So let’s look at two.

REAL LIFE: THE PASSPORT OFFICE

At the passport office in Ottawa there is a guard who sits at the door.  His job is to check whether applicants have everything they need to get their passport.  He then directs them in one of three ways: to the right because they have all their paperwork done, to the left because they need to pick up paperwork or sort out a problem or home because a signature or a photograph is missing.  It is very efficient and saves everyone a lot of time.  Whoever thought of this had carefully considered what the bottlenecks are at this point in the bureaucracy and how they could be resolved.

What I think is interesting is the likelihood that a good percentage of those people who don’t go to the right, could have been spared the trip altogether if they had carefully read the instructions and the followed them with equal care.

REAL LIFE IMAGINED: THE NEW JOB

A single healthy young woman who has been working for a year and lives in a city has been offered a new job.  The new workplace is awkward to get to.  What should she do?

Most peoples’ response would be that we don’t have enough information to answer the question.  In fact this may be all the information the young woman might have.

To solve this problem she and we need to ask questions to get useful information.

What other information do we need to answer the question?

What makes it awkward to get to?

Is it close enough to walk?

Is cycling an option?

What bus route options are available?

Could she take a bus that comes close and walk the rest of the way?

Would using a car help?

Could she afford a car?

Is car-pooling an option?

Is moving an option?

The answers to these questions may create other questions such as costs in time spent traveling, distance from favourite activities, whether the new job is worth the difficulties, are there trade-offs such as walking becoming part of her exercise program?  From our own experiences we know it is rare that immediately we have a problem we will have enough information to solve it. We also know that sometimes there is not one right answer and we are left deciding between two or more equally acceptable but different answers.

ILL-STRUCTURED PROBLEM SOLVING

This is the essence of what is known as ill-structured problem solving.  Students are given a problem to solve.  In solving it, they discover they need more information and sometimes as they acquire that information, they discover that the problem is not quite what they thought it was.

In the problem above, the young woman may realise that the issue is not how to get to her new job but whether the extra costs and difficulties make it worth taking the job in the first place.  She may be able to negotiate working part time from home or working flexible hours.  She may decide the increase in salary and opportunities for promotion are worth the difficulties and hope that later she can find either an alternate means of transportation or closer accommodation. Some are solutions that are not obvious in the statement of the problem or in the information supplied.

With the same information available to start with and the same information available through research, different people or groups of people may solve the problem differently and may also take different paths in accumulating facts and applying logic to arrive at a solution.

ILL STRUCTURED PROBLEM SOLVING AS A TEACHING TOOL

This kind of problem solving as a teaching tool was first used at McMaster medical school* in Hamilton, Ontario.  While it didn’t change the retention of information by much, it did improve diagnostic and other skills in the embryo doctors.  It was so successful it was soon copied by Harvard’s medical school.   In browsing through the Internet I noticed that ISPS seems to be most used in higher education and sometimes in secondary schools.  It is also seen as something appropriate for academically talented students.

This is the kind of problem solving that will be a permanent part of our lives and good decision-making will rely, in part, on our skill in dealing with it.  The question arises, can we teach it earlier? How old do children have to be before they will benefit?

CHILDREN AND PROBLEM SOLVING

TRIZ process for creative problem solving

One model for solving problems Image via Wikipedia

Take a look at most math books. The word problems often follow the same structure for each concept taught.  If the unit taught were subtraction, most of the word problems would follow a pattern:

 

Owner        has X  things.    If   it gives away Y things, how many will be left?

Harry              has 7 puppies.     If he gives away 5 puppies, how many will be left?

The teacher   has 25 cookies.    If he gives away 5 cookies, how many will be left?

The merchant has 10 free cars.  If he gives away 7 cars,    how many will be left?

After a couple of questions, the students look for the numbers, plug them into the formula without thinking about the problem: X-Y= right answer, and move on.  To be sure we now require students to write down what the problem is, the method and the answer, but these, too, are formulaic.

Should we throw in a question such as:

Collector has Y whatsits but needs X whatsits, how many more does he need to find?

the child who hasn’t truly grasped the concept of subtraction will be confused.

Adam has 5  flat smooth rocks, but needs 13.  How many more does he need to find?

Should the subtraction problems be mixed with other word problems, such as addition, the child who hasn’t grasped the concepts will be completely stymied.  If she has also not learned her number facts, she will be so slowed and frustrated that arithmetic will become difficult.

CHILDREN AND ILL-STRUCTURED PROBLEMS

These problems are not ill structured because all the information necessary to solve the problem is available, but the issues I have described are part of the skills involved in being able to solve an ill-structured problem.  The child needs to understand what kind of problem is in front of her, whether she has all the information she needs to solve it and what tools she could use to solve it.  She needs to have the confidence to examine the problem to see if she can extrapolate or calculate the information she needs and especially the confidence to declare that there is not enough information.

If one of the problems read:

 Justin needs 13 smooth white stones.  He found some beside the river and 6 in the schoolyard.  How many more does he need?

the child should recognise what she needs to do solve the problem and that she cannot do it without a certain piece of information.

Depending on her age, it might not be essential that she can voice the necessary operation; it would be sufficient to demonstrate the difficulty using drawings or beans.  She might say:

He has 6 stones and some of the 7 he needs to make 13.  That means he must have at least 1 stone.  The best estimate I can make is that he needs between 6 stones and none to make up the 13.  

Or she might say:

I know that 13 – 6 = 7 so the stones he got in the school yard are between 1 and 7.  If the number of stones he found in the schoolyard is subtracted from 7, the answer is the number needed. 

There are lots of ways for a child in grade two or three to talk about a problem like this.  The point is that she is considering the problem itself, rather than plugging in a formula.  I am not knocking learning formulae or number facts; I believe they are worth the effort, but without learning to play with ideas to solve problems, a student is only being trained to be a calculator.

It also really doesn’t matter if she is using mathematical terms.  In fact it is probably too much to ask her to use what is new vocabulary for her.  What matters is that she is solving the problem to the point where she can see her way through to an answer or why she can’t reach an answer.

TN2020: Problem solving through storyboarding

TN2020: Problem solving through storyboarding (Photo credit: Zadi Diaz) There are many processes that are useful in solving a problem.

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?

In many grade 11 and 12 academic math and physics classes today, students complain that the teacher is unfair if she gives problem sets on tests or exams that are not more or less identical to the ones they studied in class.  In other words, they expect not to have to figure out a problem, but simply recognise it, match it with the correct formula and plug in the numbers.   They want this in order to get the highest possible marks to aid their applications to universities. This is neither math nor thinking.

This story astonished me when I first heard it, as I naively assume that the last two years in an academic stream should be used to hone students’ analytical abilities.  I wondered how these students would cope if they were given and ill-structured problem in science or in math.  How would they cope if it were their summative?

These students do not see variety in their problem sets, much less ill-structured problems.  They arrive at universities unprepared to think, expecting to memorise facts and formulas.  Professors who expect them to think are resented and courses they expect to be bird courses are unpleasant surprises when the professors demand thought.

The professors are distressed, too.  They expect to teach concepts that the students will take away and make an effort to understand.  They expect to have embryo scientists and mathematicians in front of them, eager to learn and understand; they do not expect clever calculators waiting for more formulae and numbers.

Math and the sciences aren’t the only subjects where students are allowed to slip through using formulae.  It is not uncommon for students to leave high school for university never having progressed beyond the five-paragraph essay.  For those of you who are not familiar with the concept, the five-paragraph essay is another formula.  I won’t go into it as you can find it on the Internet.  Suffice it to say that no student starting first year in the Humanities should be stuck knowing only how to write a five-paragraph essay.  For a start, their ideas should be too complex and too subtle to be expressed in such a crude instrument.

Problem Solving PDCA

Problem Solving PDCA (Photo credit: Luigi Mengato)

BUT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT UNIVERSITY STUDENTS

It isn’t only true for academics.  What kind of job is a plumber or electrician or cleaner going to do if their only thinking is formulaic?  How will parents deal with their children and the school or medical system if they can’t think things through to ask the questions that will help their children or themselves?  Just because students are not going on to university is no reason to condemn them to simplistic thinking.

Going back to our grade two student: if every year she is in school she is taught and expected to think and apply the facts she has also learned, consider how she will be empowered to make good decisions for her own life.

If she has the talents to go on to university, imagine how little time she will waste as she engages with new ideas.  The same applies no matter what post-secondary education she chooses because she will have learned to look beyond the obvious. In a world, we are told, where she can be expected to change jobs and learn new skills with some regularity, isn’t that what her education system should do for her?

English: Mimi & Eunice, “Problems”. Categories...

Image via Wikipedia

* McMaster Medical School:  the Little School that Could and Did  http://www.scribd.com/doc/20150938/McMaster-University-Medical-School

Harvard Dean Gives McMaster an A   http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1491910/pdf/cmaj00138-0091.pdf

McMaster’s Innovations in Medical Innovation Honoured in NewsWeek   http://fhs.mcmaster.ca/main/news/news_archives/newsweek.htm

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