Tag Archives: High school

From CTV Edmonton


Edmonton teacher suspended for handing out zeros

CTV News Video

CTV Edmonton: Does no-zero policy coddle kids?
Veronica Jubinville reports on an Edmonton, Alta. teacher who was suspended after giving students a grade of 0. Some say the policy is fair, but others are worried kids won’t learn if they can’t fail.
CTV Edmonton Morning Live: Career likely done
An Edmonton teacher who was suspended for the remainder of the school year for handing out zeros feels he will likely be terminated permanently come next September. CTV’s Laura Tupper reports.
CTV Edmonton: Teacher shares his side of story
An Edmonton teacher is speaking out after he was suspended from a local high school, reportedly because he gave his students zeroes.
Physics teacher Lynden Dorval spoke with CTV News on Thursday, May 31.Physics teacher Lynden Dorval spoke with CTV News on Thursday, May 31.

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Physics teacher Lynden Dorval spoke with CTV News on Thursday, May 31.

Physics teacher Lynden Dorval spoke with CTV News on Thursday, May 31.

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CTVNews.ca Staff

Date: Fri. Jun. 1 2012 9:07 PM ET

An Edmonton high school teacher said he’s been suspended for handing out zeros to students who didn’t complete their work, bucking a “no-zero” policy at the school.

Lynden Dorval said he doesn’t agree with the school’s behavioural code that bans awarding a grade of zero for incomplete work.

Instead, the policy introduced at Ross Sheppard High School almost two years ago treats unfinished work as a behavioural problem and not an academic one.

“So of course the student’s marks are only based on the work they have actually done,” Dorval told CTV Edmonton Thursday.

“It’s just like in real life, there are always consequences for not doing things,” the 35-year veteran teacher said.

Dorval’s marking system didn’t sit well with the school’s principal Ron Bradley, who sent a letter to the Edmonton Public School Board asking for a replacement teacher.

The letter cites three incidents where Dorval reportedly went against the policy, dating back to 2011.

It also outlines a meeting where Bradley told Dorval to remove the zeros and replace them with the school-sanctioned codes.

The school board wouldn’t confirm the reasons for Dorval’s suspension. It did state it was a staff discipline issue.

However, Schmidt said teachers are expected to follow assessment plans.

“When an assessment plan has been put in place at a school level, it’s my expectation that every staff member will stick to that plan,” he told CTV Edmonton.

Dorval told CTV the zeros he gave to students weren’t permanent, saying it’s important for students to learn about the “real world.”

“The students know that in my case they’re not permanent zeroes, it’s just an indicator that they have to do something about it because this is how their mark is going to turn out if they don’t,” he said.

Dorval’s suspension has prompted a wave of reaction from parents who are calling into radio stations, penning opinion columns, as well as calling the school, the board and the Education Department.

Many have dubbed Dorval the “Hero of Zero” who has stood up to those who allow children to get away with not doing their work.

“We’re hearing from parents. They’re seeing this in a very over-simplified kind of way,” Schmidt said.

“What we’re trying to explain is that students can fail courses if they don’t do the work. Kids are not given the opportunity to game the system.”

Meanwhile, students are somewhat perplexed by Dorval’s suspension.

“If the student didn’t do their work, why should they get any mark at all, so a zero sounds fine to me,” Dimitri Muzychenko told CTV Edmonton.

Another student, Mohamad Al-Jabiri, thought the punishment was too harsh.

“What is he supposed to do? Like he’s not going to run after the kids, it’s high school, right?” he said.

While Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson is keeping an eye on the situation, he does not plan to get involved, according to his spokeswoman, Kim Capstick.

“We don’t have a policy on grading. Albertans elect school boards for this,” said Capstick.

Dorval plans to appeal his suspension on the grounds that the principal went beyond his authority. The teacher also hopes to ignite a discussion on caring versus coddling.

With a report from CTV Edmonton’s Veronica Jubinville and files from The Canadian Press

Read more:http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/TopStories/20120601/teacher-suspended-marking-zeroes-120601/#ixzz1wvfJvauT

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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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Once More Into the Blog, Dear Readers


The Remains of the Dock

Events have rendered me unwilling to think about education and despairing of teachers in Ontario ever being treated as more than technicians in the near future.  I have not written about education for many months now, but the little girl next door is leaving her Montessori school to start grade one at our local school.   My niece is half way through high school and two young cousins are returning to the francophone primary school.  We talk about school:  what their parents like; what works for the children; the inequities; the little miracles wrought by their teachers; the rules, ridiculous and important; the children’s biases and prejudices.  For the most part both the parents and children recognise that compromises have to be made in what is essentially still an industrial model of education but sometimes I hear frustration in their voices.

I am surrounded by teachers, too.  Primary, Montessori, kindergarten to grade 8 French, high school language, supply, university psychology, adult ESL teacher trainers, graduate supervisors.  They all have their delights and concerns as they return to the classroom.  Sometimes one or two will honour me by turning over a problem with me or asking my advice and I get some insight into their particular corners of the teaching profession.

All of us see things which don’t make sense, which hinder teachers in their teaching, students in their learning and parents in their support of both.  So inevitably I want to write again to point out the illogical, the wasteful and the effective events taking place in our schools.  I want to talk about what does work, especially the simple easy techniques.

I have been looking over the many thoughtful comments I have received from readers.  Please keep them coming; even when I disagree with you, they provoke me to think and consider other possibilities.  Writing in a vacuum is a dangerous thing as the writer may begin to believe everything she writes.

Watch this space for more about equity for the learning disabled, sense in teaching second languages and reflections on morality.  I hope to eventually have some comments to make on university teaching, too.  One might say that teaching is a new discovery in all university faculties, except, perhaps the education faculties.  And I am not too sure about them!

Rebuilding the Dock

Don’t Sell off Those Downtown Schools!


 In these times of declining enrolment, cuts to school budgets and no prospect of new income sources on the horizon, it is easy for a school board to look at the valuable downtown properties and consider selling them.  However, in many cities, such as Ottawa, there are still many families from all walks of life living in the inner city.  In the not far distant future, these families will be looking again for schools for their children, preferably community schools.

To achieve the goal of keeping downtown schools open and providing income or capital for the school boards, we need to rethink our use of property.  We need to consider sharing space the way stores have shared space with offices, apartments or condos above them for many years, even centuries, nay millennia.  The Romans had their stores or business places at the front of their homes, while the living quarters occupied the other three sides of the courtyard.  On many Canadian main streets there are stores with two or three stories of apartments or offices above them.

Obviously, because the health and safety of children is always a priority, schools sharing space with other facilities would require more careful planning than most arrangements.  In an age when we are locking school doors after school starts, questioning unknown adults on the schoolyard, insisting that visitors report first to the office for a badge and requiring all volunteers to have a police check, sharing property must be done with careful regard to student safety.

An example of the model I am proposing is this: in downtown Ottawa exists a former high school that takes up the better part of a city block.  Across the road from it are its former playing fields.  It would be too expensive to bring the building up to standard, but it is sitting on very valuable land ripe for development, eyed by property developers.  Here is what I propose.

Replace the high school with a three-story high school at the base of a multi-story condo. Immediately below the high school put a parking level for teachers, parents and visitors.  There set a security camera outside the stairwell and elevator leading to the school.  When visitors pressed the bell for admission the office would remotely unlock the door or elevator after checking the person through the camera.  If the elevator and stairwell opened immediately in front of the office, then visitors from the parking lot could be observed as they arrived on the main floor of the school.  Make the front entrance also visible from the office and security may not be perfect but it will be very good.

The condominiums would be from the fourth floor up.  Their lobby would be at street level, but on a street where there are no doors to the school; if the entrance to the parking lot was on the same side, there might not even be space for first floor windows in that side of the school.  The condominium lobby need not be much larger than the area required to accommodate an appropriate bank of elevators, mail boxes and small waiting room.  The elevators would serve the lower parking levels reserved for the use of the condominium owners, but skip the school parking level and the school itself.

This may sound complicated but this kind of mixed use or designated elevators is already being used commercially.  If you have ever been to a late movie in a theatre in an office tower, you might have noticed that the elevator was programmed to go only to certain floors and the parking garage.  On the other hand, if you have gone to dinner outside the building, leaving your car in the garage, you will find that access to it from outside would have been only through a door found in the building’s airlock.  Not only is there no need to go into the building to get your car, but those inner doors to the building will be locked!

Security cameras are not ubiquitous in our city and rightly so.  However their judicious use at entrances has been employed by organisations that are concerned about who is admitted to their building.  Women’s hostels are a case in point.  While I would not advocate security cameras within a school, their use at entrance and exit points is well worth considering.  It would certainly ease concerns about a high school and homes sharing the same building.

Why would people consider buying a condominium over a high school?  In this case, the view will be magnificent: the Ottawa River, the Gatineau Hills, the Parliament Buildings and much of Ottawa would spread below you.  Secondly, if carefully thought out, it might be possible for the condo and the school to share sports facilities.  A swimming pool, weights room and gym on the school’s third floor that was accessible to the owners of the condominiums outside of school and extra-curricular hours might be attractive.  In addition, the playing fields over the road could be accessible for Ultimate Frisbee and soccer and the track around it would be great for the runners.  There might be room in one corner for a tot lot.  Careful tree planting would provide shade in summer and make the playing fields attractive.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board does work to make school facilities available (for a modest fee) to the public outside of school hours; in fact the schools that are open most evenings and weekends are called Lighthouse Schools.  This would be an extension of that concept. 

Many schools these days are allowing day cares and even private schools to move into their unused facilities as enrolment shrinks.  The smart thing to do would be to design this high school with decreasing enrolment in mind.  One corner of the school could be designed to be shut off from the rest of the school if necessary and the rooms rearranged to suit offices or day cares or whatever organisation might be looking for space in the area. How could that be done?  I’m not sure, but isn’t that what good architects are for?  It would certainly be a challenge as walls that successfully block noise between classrooms are not easily removed for remodelling.

Enrolment does decrease from time to time, but eventually that earlier big wave of children will have children and enrolment will increase again.  We need to design our schools with the flexibility to meet the challenges of changes in enrolment.  We need to rethink how to effectively use expensive downtown space to the financial advantage of education.  Let’s not sell off our biggest financial assets but use them to guarantee schools within walking distance of the students who need them.  Let’s be innovators!

An Interesting Statistic


           Toronto District School Board states on its web site that 45% of its graduates are Ontario Scholars.  To be an Ontario Scholar, a student must have an average of 80% on her top six subjects.  The question is: should this be a cause for pride or embarrassment?

Yup, 45% are Ontario Scholars, but can you tell the difference?

Yup, 45% are Ontario Scholars, but can you tell the difference?

            A second question: when the averages of Ontario Scholars were heavily influenced by the results of the provincial exams, there were fewer Ontario Scholars.  Why the change? 

             Third question:  How do we know that each board is providing equally thorough educations in all the subjects offered and applying the same standards in formative and summative evaluations?

              I would love to hear from the high school teachers on this topic.  I am sure you have well supported opinions on this.