Archive for the ‘Education’ category

Students’ media carry the message

March 17, 2011

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation has a great awards program for students at public high schools in Ontario. Every September the Student Achievement Awards in honour of Marion Drysdale puts out a thoughtful theme for students to ponder. This year’s theme was Become the Solution: Words into Action. Students are then asked to produce a creative piece based on this theme. There are categories in writing, visual art and digital media. Students worked is first judged at the  school level and then, if successful, move on to District, Regional and finally Provincial levels. The eight provincial finalist each win $1000.00 and are brought to Toronto (for the organization’s annual general meeting) to receive their award from the Minister of Education.

Students and their teachers are also filmed talking about their work and how it relates to the theme. The video can be viewed here.

A booklet highlighting the winners work is also produced and be downloaded here.

This is an awesome program for creative high school students and the awards are substantial. If you know a young person who loves to create, send them here to check out the rules and guidelines for next year’s program.


Catholic values vs students’ rights

March 17, 2011

Yet another clash between religion and freedom has occurred at a Catholic high school in Ontario. This time things went down at St. Patrick High School in Thunder Bay on March 10, 2011.

Alexandria Szeglet, a Grade 10 student, attached to her school uniform a piece of green tape with the word “CHOICE” written on it. This was her response to a  number of other students who wore a red piece of tape with “LIFE” printed on it and choose not to speak for the day to as part of an anti-abortion/pro-life event.

Not only did Szeglet wear her green tape pro-choice message, she handed out pieces of the green tape to many other students as well. Szeglet as well as another dozen students were sent home for their actions. The principal of the school, John de Faveri, stated that “the pro-choice students were not appropriate in the context of a Catholic school.”

To read more about the situation, read this article or this one.

Many of my colleagues have speculated about the longevity of the separate school system in Ontario. Those who believe its days are numbered seem to think that it will be an economic reality that will eventually lead to its demise. They believe that during some provincial election far in the future, some party will bravely put forth the issue of the amalgamation of the school systems as a cost-saving measure.

I disagree. While there is certainly some duplication in the administration of the two systems, coterminous school boards are already sharing many resources and have combined for purchase power to the point that much of the savings have already been obtained.

What I believe will be the downfall of the Catholic school system in Ontario will be their individual board’s inability to afford students their basic rights while adhering to the ancient tenets of Roman Catholicism. I don’t see our province’s human rights regressing and I doubt the Catholic church is set to become more progressive in its social views. As this gap continues to widen, Catholic schools are going to struggle to remain relevant and viable in the eyes of the public.

It will be the public’s disgust with the positions and actions of Catholic School Boards that will lead voters to dismiss the separate school system and demand a single, unified one. It won’t be this provincial election, or probably even the next, but the clock is ticking.

Being the new kid in the classroom – a short film

July 7, 2010

Do you have 10 minutes to spare?

The video below, New Boy, is ten minutes of wonderful story-telling and pure craft.  Based on a short story by one of my favourite authors, Roddy Doyle, the film brings the anxiety of being the new kid in the class to a whole new level.  I love how the teacher unwittingly and unintentionally becomes the solution to the conflict.  The film won many awards including the Best Narrative Short Film at the 2008 Tribeca film festival.

Ten minutes – you won’t be disappointed.

Partisan Politics, Education, and the Ivory Tower

July 7, 2010

There was a time, as a young teacher, when I believed that academics working in the field of Education based their politics on their personal experience within the Education system.  That is, I thought that after working in and studying Education, those looking down at us lowly teachers from their ivory tower came to their academic conclusions based on their observations and then sided with a political perspective which supported their findings.  I realize now that politics is their initial point of reference for such so-called experts and that Education is merely subject of their gaze.

Case and point: How long have we in Canada heard about how we need to move to a more privatized and competitive schooling system, like the United States?  Charter schools, private schools, voucher systems – these were all supposed to give American kids an advantage over the students on this side of the border.  And – as a bonus – these privatized systems would, incidentally, lower taxes.

But recent results of international testing show Canadian students performing much higher than their American counterparts.  The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), ranked 15 year-old Canadian students fifth out of 57 participating countries when tested for math and science, while American students lagged behind in 32nd place.  Canadian students also proved superior in reading literacy skills.  All this while Canada only spends 3.4% of its GDP on education ($8,169 per student) while the U.S. spends 3.9% ($10,692).

So how do the right-wing edu-pundits respond to this?  In a recent National Post article, they have done an about-face saying that the achievement of Canadian students is due to our country’s competitive and somewhat privatized Education systems.  What???  Suddenly Canada’s Education system is competitive?  Nowhere in the article are there any arguments or explanations demonstrating that our system is truly more privatized or competitive than the American one or that pitting educational systems against one another is good for students.  This is certainly a clear case of right-wing spin.  Not surprising to find in the National Post, but depressing to see nonetheless.

Taking the classroom outside

June 25, 2010

June is a difficult month for students (and teachers).  Not only is there an increased demand to get assignments submitted and marked, but the warm weather calls, tempting students and teachers alike to move outdoors.  How many times have I had to field the question, “Can we have class outside today?”  Really?  Class outside?  Come on — that’s something that is not going to end well.

Although I have had students perform outdoor theatre and I have taken leadership students on camping trips, could a typical day-to-day lesson actually be facilitated outside?  Well tire manufacturer Bridgestone Canada and not-for-profit organization Evergreen have teamed up to provide one Mississagua, Ontario school with an outdoor classroom.

You would think that this was big news but good luck finding any reference to the project on the websites of either Evergreen or Bridgestone or even a local newspaper.  I came across it here, on a trucking news website.  Interesting.

A thank-you gift for the teacher

June 22, 2010

With school almost out I know that there are some parents out there fretting over what to giver their child’s teacher(s) as a year-end thank-you gift.  I can tell you from experience that there are probably an equal number of teachers out there worrying about having to accept these gifts.  There is a wonderful article in the Toronto Sun that explains this phenomenon.

I never felt very comfortable receiving gifts from students, however I have accepted (among other things) the following gifts: home baked cookies, a chocolate Easter bunny, a hand-knit toque, two traditional Korean figurines, pieces of student-made art and countless mugs.  My most treasured gift was a hand-painted flower pot, made to look like a can of Fresca.  The student who made this for me was a talented artist who noticed that I grew plants at the back of my classroom and that I drank far too much Fresca.

However, my most common and appreciated gift was usually given to me by students after having written their final exam.  About one student in ten would drop off their completed exam on my desk and then shyly thank me for what they experienced in our class.  Some bolder kids would shake my hand and specifically tell me what they enjoyed most over the semester.  Now that’s a gift every teacher would welcome.

My Fresca flower pot.

Standardized testing: trying to measure the unmeasurable

June 21, 2010

Okay, I’m not one to tell the Queen of England who she should and should bestow knighthoods upon, but when Kylie Minogue and Pierce Brosnan are knighted, I begin to question if the honour has become a bit diluted.  I do, however, commend the Queen on her choice of honouring educator and author Ken Robinson.

Robinson is a great supporter of the arts and its inclusion in public education.  He believes that creativity in schools is being strangled and he points to rigid bureaucratic systems (and standardized testing in particular) as the culprits.  Much of what he says is out of vogue with education pundits as he champions soft concepts such as creativity and imagination . . . things that are difficult to standardize and measure.  He  has delivered a wonderful TED lecture where he passionately asks that schools not be treated like fast food joints.

Take a quick look at this five-minute clip from the Bonnie Hunt Show to hear him speak on standardized testing:

Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.

-Albert Einstein