Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Tyee practices censorship

            I found that curious as I have not been abusive or rude.  So I then posted a short comment to my discussion partner to let him know that my comment was under review.  The Tyee deleted that one labeling it as spam.
          Curious behavior on the part of The Tyee.

        • I have posted below the comment The Tyee has been 'reviewing' for a few hours now.

                • Keep in mind I am not a social scientist or psychiatrist so my 'claims' are based on my observations in life and in my work - I teach high school.
                  As I have matured over the years I realized that my perceptions have a huge role in creating my experience. As you grow older you see the rudeness or carelessness of others as a symptom of their lack of awareness and compassion rather than evidence of true evil intent. The kind of 'casual racism' we may have in Canada fits here I think - again I haven't researched this, it is a world view I have built over the years.
                  Let me provide an example. A couple of years ago I had a boy in one of my classes who was a person of colour. One Monday morning he was telling me about his weekend and got very animated about a confrontation he had had with a clerk at Home Depot. This boy was in the store and looking at tools. A clerk came by and said to him: "Just want you to know there are security cameras here." The clear implication being the clerk suspected this boy may shoplift. The boy got angry and demanded the clerk get the store manager which he did. The boy accused the clerk of profiling him because of his race and told the manager that they shouldn't be racist. I don't remember what the manager's response was but my student seemed to have been mollified. I praised the boy saying it was important to stand up for yourself. I told him he did the right thing. However I wondered if there was another element to the confrontation that my student missed.
                  Later that day I spoke to one of my colleagues who is a person of colour and recounted the boy's story to him. Right away my colleague said that the clerk was probably profiling the boy because he was a 14 year old boy - not because he was a person of colour. We will never now for sure, but I suspect my colleague was right. So the upshot here is the boy had an unpleasant experience that he and many others would describe as 'casual racism', when a more accurate description may be something much less serious.
                  Historically, Canada has been very racist. Modern Canada however has a good claim as being a place that upholds human rights through its legal system. The big exception being the Indian Act and the struggles of First Nations society - but we are working on that.
                  Racism is a very corrosive thing. Accusations of racism, if they are false, are corrosive as well.
                  Racism exists. Where it does we have to deal with it. But if there are other explanations for bad behaviour we should consider them.

      Friday, October 9, 2015

      Why I can't vote Green

      I like the Green Party's policies and national leader and local candidate.  The party best represents my values as a citizen and the local candidate is a nice guy.  So I am disappointed that I can’t in good conscience vote for the Green Party under our “First Past the Post” voting system in the Courtenay – Alberni riding. 

      The Conservative candidate won here in 2011 with 46% of the vote.  NDP were next with %38, followed by the Liberals at %7.5 and the Greens at %6.8.  A proportional representation voting system that many European countries use would have meant representation for the %54 of our voters who did not want or choose our current MP or our current government.  The Liberals, NDP and Green party platforms all say they will bring legislation forward to create a more democratic system of voting than First Past the Post if elected.  The Conservative party position is that they may put it to a referendum.  With the Conservatives, the soonest we could be rid of First Past the Post would be two elections from now.

      Under Stephen Harper, Conservatives have proven to be a destructive crew.  Because of the closure of the Coast Guard base in Kitsilano, the Coast Guard did not have on hand the resources to immediately deal with the bunker fuel spill in English Bay in the spring.  Prior to the closure, a spill response boat with enough boom material to encircle the freighter spilling the fuel was based in Kitsilano.  At the time of the spill, the response boat was moth balled at a dock in Richmond.  Our conservative MP at the time, James Lunney, did not speak out against the degradation of Coast Guard response on our coast. 

      Macleans magazine recently ran a report on the loss of up to %60 of scientific data gathered over decades dealing with the environment.  That data was paid for by Canadian tax payers, but because of recent budget cuts and conservative government policy decisions, 12 government libraries have been closed across the country since 2012.  Much of the un-digitized data in the form of books, journals and data sets has actually been thrown into dumpsters, sent to recycling centers and turned into pulp.  The loss of baseline data such as this means our scientific community cannot do basic research.  As a country we are now operating blind in a very real sense.

      Two polls conducted on behalf of the Dogwood Initiative in the Courtenay – Alberni riding in May and then in September show support for the Conservative candidate on the rise.  The Conservatives are now at %25, the NDP at %30 and the Green at %11.  With two days to go until the election, the Conservatives could win here again.  That is a frightening prospect.  So until Canadians are rid of the un-democratic First Past the Post system – I can’t vote for the party I want.  I have to vote for the one that has a chance to stop and hopefully reverse destructive Conservative policies.

      Brad Wilson
      Qualicum Beach

      Wednesday, January 7, 2015

      A great idea just got better thanks to one of my students, Austin Hoehn.  The original great idea came from Paul Bogush's site as one of his 13 assessments that don't suck ...

      I used Paul's RSA Animate idea in my Social Studies 9 class last year.  The students were given a section of the text dealing with the effect of the American Revolution on Canada - why Nova Scotia didn't join the revolution, the Loyalists' arrival in what is now Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes, the migration of the Black Loyalists and finally the Constitution Act that created Upper and Lower Canada.  Here is an example of that effort.  It was fun and effective.  Effective in that the students read for a purpose and worked together to create a product they were proud of.

      Before Christmas this year I tried this project with my BC First Nations 12 class.  I gave them a big topic - the history of First Nations People in BC in 5 minutes or less.  The biggest problem for the students even though they were sharp grade 11 and 12 students was to decide what was important and not important in that history.  They figured it out but it took a long time - much longer than I expected.  Next time I will either break the project into chunks or work on skills that help them summarize.

      Another big problem was solved by one of my students.  Austin Hoehn suggested that instead of filming the students as they draw, we should draw a whole section and then erase it backwards (from the final picture drawn to the first) and then reverse the video.   The voice over would then be done over the reversed video.  It was a big time and stress saver because the students could put their ideas with strong pictures on the board without doing a practice drawing on the big board or a large sheet of paper.  It is a cool effect too.  Take a look here and here.

      Saturday, August 31, 2013

      Elements of Curriculum

      Elements of curriculum are more than what the BC Ministry of Education tells us they are.  This is from the ministry's website:

      "The Ministry of Education sets the education standards for students in grades K to 12 through the provincial curriculum. These standards are called Prescribed Learning Outcomes (PLOs). PLOs outline the expectations for what students should know and be able to do at each grade and within each subject area."

      (BC Ministry of Education)

      From the time I became a teacher and for much of my career this was how I saw curriculum too. It was the skills and content of the subjects I taught as outlined by the ministry.  As I grew as a teacher I began to see it as more than that. It included everything that happens in the school.  From the sports and arts activities that happen outside of school hours to the interactions in the hallway.  All these experiences are influences that shape children's view of the world and their place in it.    

      This past summer I participated in a school activity that expanded my definition of curriculum further.  I have a summer job running a camp for schools from abroad.  We had a two week camp with 21 high school students from a school in Japan who were billeted with families in the community and received ESL instruction as well as sports, gardening, art and First Nations culture lessons at the school.  The school in Japan wanted interaction with Canadian students, but as it was summer vacation that was not so easy to do.  But they were paying, so I used some of that money to hire five students from my Japanese program who are going with me on a study tour of Japan next spring break. It was a good match.  The students I hired are energetic and motivated to earn money for their trip and to interact with Japanese people.

      We also connected with a group in our town that is teaching sustainable gardening techniques in our community and has reached out to the school to start a garden here.  This group got a grant to hire a very capable Vancouver Island University student, Madeliene Dwyer,  who set up the garden on an unused piece of land behind our gym.  Using some of the money the Japanese school paid us, Madeliene bought top soil, seeds and a few other supplies.  Over two mornings our Japanese and Canadian students learned how to make a lasagna garden ( a layered garden) and planted it with vegetables common to Japan.  My Canadian students will maintain this garden and will make some Japanese dishes with it later in the fall.  We are documenting this with a web page on my class site that the students from Japan have access to and will show our dishes and our meal when it is made.

      So my definition and understanding of curriculum has expanded.  It now includes interaction with the local community of my town and even a community far off in Japan.  Teaching and education always have been more than just what happens in the classroom.

      Saturday, June 15, 2013

      Does Online Instruction Work?

      Does Online Instruction Work?
      (Part 3)
      Larry Cuban is a former high school teacher, superintendent and university professor.  He writes on classroom teaching, the history of school reform, the use of technology in K-12 and how policy is translated into practice.  In part three of his blog series on Online Instruction, Larry looks at the research used to justify the implementation of online instruction. His blog post is re-posted here with permission.
      The first two part of this series can be found here: Part 1, Part 2.
      Here is the fundamental question that public policymakers (e.g., federal and state officials, local school board members and superintendents) have to answer when making decisions that involve children and youth compelled to attend public school. Such a question, however, about the effectiveness of online instruction in raising student’s academic achievement and producing other desirable outcomes such as increased attendance, higher graduation and lower dropout rates, and college admissions—that is what I mean by “work”– gives educational leaders heartburn.
      Why heartburn? Because of the tortuous role that research plays in policymaker decisions about adopting and implementing technologies in schools, especially the current clamor for online instruction. Over the past few decades, there have been thousands of K-12 studies that have sought an answer to the question.
      The answers provided by scores of studies have been contested because most have had serious design and methodological flaws. Moreover, many of these studies lumped together full-time virtual schools, hybrids, and online courses, And the results have been underwhelming.  That is where heartburn enters the picture.[i]
      Even when researchers over the past few decades have performed meta-analyses of a smaller number of studies that have met higher standards of quality they found that virtual instruction in its various modes, at best, is equivalent to regular face-to-face classroom instruction. At worst, some studies showed less achievement gains than traditional teaching. And keep in mind that these meta-analyses were of studies where online instruction occurred in mostly math, reading, and science courses—not other academic subjects. The overall picture is considerably less than promoters of full- and part-time virtual schooling have promised or leaders had expected.[ii]
      What complicates matters is that findings drawn from research studies on the effectiveness of online instruction are only one of many interlocking tiles in a mosaic that policymakers assemble in judging whether to adopt virtual instruction for children and youth. Policymakers are often torn by the push-and-pull of conflicting impulses over determining what kinds of evidence of effectiveness matter and how much evidence is necessary to inform, shape, and justify a policy decision?[iii]
      Consider the push impulse for evidence. Using research and other forms of evidence to make a decision is rational, a value highly prized in life much less for policymaking where the stakes in power, influence, and resources run high. Gathering, sifting, and analyzing data to make a personal, professional, or organizational decision is what is expected of those in decision-making posts. So when it comes to public policy decisions, in the best or worst of fiscal times, policymakers have to make a strong public case anchored in ample evidence to convince voters and key stakeholders (e.g., school boards, chambers of commerce, teacher unions, state officials, etc.) to buy and deploy new technologies in classrooms and have students use them regularly. Evidence, including research studies, that these technologies will help students learn more, faster, and better is expected.  Furthermore, current top-down pressure among business, civic, and educational leaders for “research-based practice” and “data-driven decisions” hammers school decision-makers to have solid proof in their pockets or snazzy PowerPoint presentations filled with studies that tout the effectiveness of students receiving online instruction.[iv]
      Where the pull impulse enters the policy picture is that these very same policymakers have an equally strong tug to buy and deploy glittering new technologies as quickly as possible without waiting for researchers to come up with supportive findings. At professional conferences, national leaders pitch the virtues of “revolutionary” changes springing from virtual instruction and placing new technologies in classrooms. Pulled by first-hand experiences and stories of “transformations” in student learning and astute marketing by vendors, policymakers, technology leaders and school officials do not need to read research studies, visit other districts, or attend more conferences. They know in their gut the answer to the question of what works; they have faith in their intuition and, like entrepreneurs and ambitious decision-makers elsewhere, they want to forge ahead and implement virtual schooling swiftly because they believe it will help students learn.
      These policymakers are not irrational. There is a political logic in mandating online courses for every student as a graduation requirement, starting pilot tablet and laptop programs, and encouraging a principal and cadre of teachers to create a technological innovation tailored to their school They consult with key stakeholders in the community before inviting charter management organizations like Rocketship Schools to establish blended learning programs in their schools. These decision-makers do not need researchers to tell them that these new technologies “work.” They believe in their heart that they will work. Push-and-pull conflicting urges pit solid research studies against strong beliefs and leave unanswered the question of what kinds of evidence matter. Too often beliefs trump facts.[v]
      In asking the fundamental policy question that too often goes unanswered about whether online instruction is effective in teaching and learning, it helps to examine other reforms that have “worked” where responsible decision-makers did not rely on stories, beliefs, and intuitive snap judgments but, instead, were guided by solid research evidence.
      Take preschool education. Well-designed study after study of three and four year-olds who were in preschool programs (e.g., Perry pre-schools, Abecedarian) followed their progress through schools and into adulthood. These studies show short- and long-term gains in academic achievement, adult behaviors, and post-graduation earnings. Or consider the research and evaluations of career-technical academies where students get prepared for both college and career.  Researchers doing experimental and quasi-experimental studies have found over the past four decades a range of positive student outcomes for graduates of these programs.[vii]
      Considering these examples where research studies in K-12 schooling clearly show that certain investments in programs and practices work, why do so few policymakers who buy, deploy, and mandate different forms of virtual schooling seldom cite studies to determine whether online instruction is effective? Why is the return on investment of taxpayer monies so often ignored?
      Three reasons come to mind.
      Research results are scant and mixed. As stated above, the results of meta-analyses of K-12 studies do not show a decided edge for students taking online courses or in virtual full-time schools performing even marginally above students who are in teacher-led classrooms.  More striking, however, is that only a few studies of virtual instruction in K-12 schools meet the minimum quality threshold for design, sampling, and methodologies. From a recent (and often cited) meta-analysis of studies, researchers stated:
      Few rigorous research studies of the effectiveness of online learning for K–12 students have been published.  (original italics). A systematic search of the research literature from 1994 through 2006 found no experimental or controlled quasi-experimental studies comparing the learning effects of online versus face-to-face instruction for K–12 students that provide sufficient data to compute an effect size. A subsequent search that expanded the time frame through July 2008 identified just five published studies meeting meta-analysis criteria.[viii]
      The authors of the meta-analysis conclude that these five studies:
      comprises a very small number of studies, especially considering the extent to which secondary schools are using online courses and the rapid growth of online instruction in K–12 education as a whole. Educators making decisions about online learning need rigorous research examining the effectiveness of online learning for different types of students and subject matter as well as studies of the relative effectiveness of different online learning practices.[ix]
      In short, given the results of the few K-12 studies that have been done, there is clearly insufficient evidence to launch major online initiatives in either elementary or secondary schools. For those policymakers who seek to appear rational and prize research findings, the pantry is nearly empty.
      The research being done is shoddy. While only a few analyses of online instruction approach the gold standard of experimental or quasi-experimental studies, a great deal of research has been (and continues to be) done. Unfortunately, much of it is poor quality. Most studies fall far below minimum standards researchers have established to determine the effectiveness of an educational program or procedure. Bias is evident in the sampling of students and teachers included in studies. Bias also appears in studies funded by technology vendors. Moreover, there is far too much reliance on teacher and principal surveys and self-reports of student engagement and achievement. Finally, among those studies that claim higher test scores as a result of online instruction, few studies control for obvious factors that could explain the rise in test scores. [x]
      Slip-shod research, of course, has seldom stopped champions of online instruction from pressing policymakers to include such studies in their recommendations and use such research to persuade practitioners of the merits of virtual schooling for children and youth. Thus, poorly designed studies loaded with lethal flaws that show student gains in test scores often made media headlines for millions of readers and viewers while occasional well-designed studies that show modest or no gains turned up in academic journals read by a few hundreds researchers.
      Nonetheless, policymakers have decided again and again to have more and more elementary and secondary school students in blended schools and taking online courses to solve one or more of the problems described in Part 2.  Were sensible observers of the contemporary policy scene to watch top-level district, state, and federal leaders push ambitious virtual programs, these observers would note the frequent absence of convincing evidence for the sharp expansion of online instruction. These observers would easily conclude that decision-makers made policy on grounds other than research findings. They would hardly miss that when policymakers did cite research studies in making the decisions, citations would be selective and, more often than not, had justified a policy already decided upon. Why is that? Here is where I offer a third reason for the minor role that research plays in making decisions about virtual learning.
      Symbolic, political, and budgetary reasons carry far more weight in making policy decisions about online instruction than research findings.
      State and local school boards and superintendents adopt elements of virtual schooling because they want to be seen as technologically innovative and ahead of other districts. In this culture, the value of technology is equal to social and economic progress. Even the term “high tech”—like high fashion, high church, high class, high society—conveys a whiff of superiority relative to “low tech” methods and materials. Symbolically, high-tech is high status. Students using new technologies signals that schools are modern, up-to-date, and preparing the next generation to enter higher education or go directly into the labor market with sufficient skills and knowledge to find jobs. Being in the vanguard of innovation—schools buying iPads for every kindergarteners—signals voters, taxpayers, and parents that the district wants to raise achievement through engaging students while bringing the real-world into classrooms to prepare children and youth for an information-driven economy. Not adopting new technologies, even when funds are short, sends a clear message that district leaders are failing their students, mindlessly reinforcing traditional instruction, and neglecting grave educational problems. (xi)
      For policymakers to be seen as ahead of the game in technology garners public support. Too often school critics forget that local boards of education are completely dependent upon voters for funding. Those school boards that rely upon local and state resources to raise funds for schools are politically smart, then, to buy computers, whiteboards, and expand online instruction as high-status symbols to cement community support for future tax levies and bond referenda. They are also politically smart in spending monies to adopt and implement virtual schooling because in the long-term—about a decade—it will reduce significantly the cost of schooling children and youth.
      Finally, policymakers also know that business, civic, and community expect of them unceasing efforts to improve students’ academic performance through better school organization, governance, curriculum, and instruction—including the adoption of technology. Since World War II, job number one has been reform. Unrelenting reform is, in short, a policymaker strategy for political survival. [xii]
      For these three reasons, policymaker use of research studies on online instructional effectiveness matters little.  The truth is that even were there more than a handful of rigorously designed studies showing strong student effects from taking online courses, such results would be used to justify after-the-fact policy decisions. Of course, such solid studies are missing from the research pantry. The fact remains that no one knows for sure for which students virtual schooling works, in what subjects, and under what conditions.
      If that is the case now, it does not mean it will be so forever. Recall that I pointed out how rigorous research designs, sampling, and methodologies have produced findings over time that have accumulated into convincing caches of evidence (e.g., preschool and career-technical academies) sufficient to give policymakers a rock-solid foundation for making decisions if the political conditions and resources were favorable for such policies.
      Sure, that final “if” clause is crucial but it is realistic in light of the history and practice of making and implementing school policy over the past half-century. Political, economic, and social conditions influence which reforms get identified and adopted. With the current excitement over virtual learning and blended schools unlikely to abate in the immediate future and interest in spending ever larger amounts of money on online instruction, asking decision-makers about the evidence supporting expansion of online instruction is, at the least, a question that demands answers that can be reviewed and analyzed publicly.

      [i] Gene Glass, “The Realities of K-12 Virtual Education,” p. 5.
      [ii] Cathy Cavanaugh, et. al. “The Effects of Distance Education on K–12 Student Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis.” 2004 Naperville, IL: Learning Point Associates ; Rosina Smith, et. al.  “A Synthesis of New Research on K-12 Online Learning”. 2005,  Naperville, IL: Learning Point Associates; Barbara Means, et. al., “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies,” (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, 2010).
      [iii] See, for example, Charles Lindblom and David Cohen, Usable Knowledge: Social Science and Social Problem Solving (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979); Carol Weiss, et. al., “The Fairy Godmother and Her Warts: Making the Dream of Evidence-Based Policy Come True,”American Journal of Evaluation, 2008, 29(1) at:
      [iv] For a typical example of calls for practitioners to use data-driven decision making, see:  Pamela Shorr, “10 Things You Always Wanted To Know about Data-Driven Decision Making,” Scholastic Administr@tor, September 2003, at:
      [v]Michelle Davis, “States, Districts Move to Require Virtual Classes,”Education Week, October 9, 2011; Kelsey Sheehy, “States, Districts Require Online Ed for High School Graduation,” U.S. News, October 24, 2012 at:
      [vi] Districts sometimes give up laptops. See Winnie Hu, “Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops,” New York Times, May 4, 2007; Jonathan Schorr and Deborah McGriff, “Future Schools,” Education Next, 2011 at:
      [vii] James Heckman, “Skill Formation and the Economics of Investing in Disadvantaged Children,” Science, Vol. 312,  June 30, 2006, pp. 1900-1902; James Kemple, “Career Academies: Impact on Work and Educational Attainment,” March 2004, MDRC
      [viii] Barbara Means, et. al., “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies,” (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, 2010), p. xiv.
      [ix] Ibid., p. 54.
      [x] Yong Zhao et. al., “What Makes the Difference? A Practical Analysis of Research on the Effectiveness of Distance Education,” Teachers College Record,  2005, 107(8), pp. 1836-1884; Means, et. al., “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies.” For an example of vendor bias in reporting research, see: Intel White Paper: Education Transformation, “The Positive Impact of eLearning—2012 Update.” A capsule summary that contains the both the high-and-low of research on online instruction as well as studies of educational technology is on p,8:
      While few rigorous experimental or controlled quasi-experimental studies on eLearning’s benefits have been published, a critical mass of evidence indicates that investments in eLearning can deliver substantial positive effects.
      [xi] In the discussion on symbolism of technology in K-12 schools and in the larger culture I draw from Kathryn Henderson, On Line and On Paper(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998, chapter 8; John Meyer and Brian Rowan, “Institutional Organizations: Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony, in Walter Powell and Paul DiMaggio (Eds.) The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), pp.41-62; Jeffrey Pfeffer, “Management as Symbolic Action: The Creation and Maintenance of Organizational Paradigms,” Research in Organizational Behavior, 1981, 3, pp. 1-52.
      [xii] Frederick Hess, Spinning Wheels: The Politics of Urban School Reform(Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1998).

      Wednesday, June 12, 2013

      Monday, June 10, 2013

      Heliset Hale

      Got an email from my principal Friday night saying a group of First Nation runners who were on a run from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to Victoria at the southern tip, and wanted to visit a class at my school on Monday.  I agreed of course and we had Kelly Paul of the Tsartlip First Nation, her fellow runners and their support team visited our First Nations 12 class today.  Kelly and her group are carrying a message to First Nations communities and schools along their route to cherish life and in so doing try to stop the suicides that have affected too many families - especially too many First Nations families.

      The name of their journey is Heliset Hale, which is Salish for "awaken life within you".  Kelly and the other members of her group told the students of how suicides in their families had affected them.  They talked about the pain they see in the eyes of family members who lost a child, or brother or sister.  They talked about how the run had become a healing journey for them.  Kelly said that running had become part prayer for her - that her run was now a spiritual experience.

      The Heliset Hale team then got my students up and moving and interacting with them.  There was laughter and questions and conversation.  They bonded with the students in a very short time.

      This serendipitous meeting of the Heliset Hale runners and my students comes at the end of a semester learning about the effects of colonization, attempts to force assimilation through restrictive laws and of course the impact of residential schools.  While my students will forget many things about my class as time rolls on, today was one of those days that will stay with them.  They were touched deeply, as was I.

      Go the Heliset Hale site here.