Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Month: September 2010 (page 3 of 3)

We Don’t Give Grades.

We don’t give grades as teachers do we? We expect our students to complete the work we assign, we assign them a mark on the work depending on whatever we perceive the quality of the work, and then we use a bunch of similar assignments and tests to determine a mark for the students. So we don’t give grades, we just give absolutely everything else the kids need in order to be able to "earn" a grade. 

When I worked in NYC, we were required to give a participation grade for our students. This participation grade couldn’t be based on the students attendance, tardiness, behaviour, or anything "bad" they did in class. As a result, almost all of us quickly realized that we pretty much had to give the maximum amount for attendance, which in our case was 20%. So we gave every student 20% right away on their grades (in NY they need 65% to pass).

Next we had to give students marks for homework, again another 20%. Now here, we did have to actually assign homework everyday, but our administrators had us play a different game. We had to accept late assignments because many of our kids would be absent (some months our attendance rate was hovering around 60%, shhhh… don’t tell the city!). We also had to make sure we went through the homework assignments at the beginning of the classes. Oh, and we had to hand back the homework once we had it marked as well. We had a terrific homework completion rate, if we didn’t mind 33 copies of the same assignment. Note that now, almost all of our students are hovering at around 40% without having really done any thought or demonstrated any learning.

We were next encouraged to give quizzes on a regular basis. I gave one every class at the beginning of the class and I made the quiz a very simple review of what we had covered before. Essentially everyone got 100% on the quiz, if they were in the classroom in time. The quizzes were collectively worth another 20%.

Now, if you are keeping score at home, you recognize that students only needed to earn an additional 5% out of a possible 40% on the class tests in order to pass. That means that if the students earn a mere 12.5% on our class room tests and assignments, they will pass our course (which was always the only objective 99% of our students had). Believe it or not, even under these conditions I only ever had a pass rate at around 70% of my students overall.

The point I’m trying to make here is that every school with a grading system has a set of steps (or if you prefer hoops) that the students must go through in order to be successful in your course and pass or get a "high mark."  These benchmarks are always set by the students, the school, or the state, and students never have any control over how they are graded. Not every school sets the bar as low as the school I worked at in NYC, but all of them have a bar set at some level which is the minimum level at which the students need to succeed.

To me, a system where a student is given complete guidance on how to be successful, and has no control over the terms of success is not a very good system. We could argue that the students have not "earned" their grades, they have been "given them" since they have no ownership over the process.  

This system to me is broken.  Students shouldn’t be trying to jump through hoops to earn grades, anymore than teachers should be spending their time constructing hoops. Both the teachers and the students should be focused on the student learning, and the ownership of that learning should be the student’s.


Canadian Educators on Twitter

So a few weeks ago I started a list of Canadian Educators on Twitter using some fun code I found to create a Twitter list from a Google spreadsheet. I’ve created another list because the first list filled up to 250 educators. Links to both lists of Canadian educators are below. The reason why I created these lists in the first place is because Canadian Educators have some distinctly different issues to deal with in our education system than do our US counterparts although there are more similarities than there are differences.

In any case, please follow the educators on the lists below so we can collaborate and discuss Canadian education. Also, come and post information on the #CanEd stream on Twitter.

Twitter list:!/davidwees/canadian-educator/members

If you want to add yourself to one of these lists, fill out this form.
You can view the list directly here as a spreadsheet: or here as HTML:

Other useful Canadian Twitter hashtags:

#BCed – BC educators

#edtechbc – BC educators interested in educational technology

#ABed – Alberta educators

#MBedu – Manitoba educators

#SaskEd – Saskatchewan educators 


(Please let me know if you know of more hashtags for Canadian educators to follow)

13 Things My Students Want in an Ideal Teacher

Students at my school were brainstorming things that they felt they needed from their "ideal" teachers. Here they are:

  • Guidance
  • Relationships
  • Structure
  • Flexible
  • Understanding
  • Knowledgeable
  • Transparency
  • Diversity
  • Discussion 
  • Free-thinking
  • Inspiring
  • Passionate
  • Genuine

Are these the qualities that you remember your ideal teacher having?

Starting Research on a Topic

Here’s how I would start research on a topic, if I was really interested in finding out what is happening RIGHT NOW on that topic.

First, I would make sure I had a Twitter account. Twitter is an excellent way to to keep track of what is currently going on, from the perspectives of some of the people actually involved in the activity. Not everyone is on Twitter, so you will miss some perspectives if this is your only research technique, but it is a good starting place.

Let’s suppose we want to find out some information on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I’d start by researching a bunch of sources of Palestine ideas and news, and then do the same for the Israeli news sources so that I get a balanced opinion of what is going on.

To do this, sign into that Twitter account you have, then go to Type in " Palestine" into the search box and check out the search results. The top results will all have the word "Palestine" in their URL, which means you’ll be looking at Twitter accounts which have deliberately chosen to include the word "Palestine" in their name. Follow everyone you find, then repeat the search for " Israel" and do the same for the Israeli’s.

I would then scan through the people that your new sources of information are following, and follow the ones that seem to have a lot of influence measured in the form of number of followers. In other words, whomever the accounts you just followed are following are probably also good sources of information. 

Each of these people you follow has a Feed associated with their tweets. This is useful, because we’d like to be able to sort the Tweets into ones biased toward Palestine, and ones biased toward Israel. For each person you’ve followed, hopefully keeping track of which camp they are in, click on their feed. Subscribe on the feed using an RSS reader like Google Reader, and put the feeds into two folders, one for the Israeli feeds, and another for the Palestinian feeds.

Next step, go to and do a search for "Palestine" and find some Palestinian blogs to follow. Find the feeds for these blogs and subscribe to them in your RSS reader, and do the same for some Israeli blogs. You may want to put these blogs in their own folders as well, or put them into the Palestinian and Israel folders you created before.

Now, find some major media sources like the BBC, CNN, Al Jeezera, and others. I’d recommend media sources which are geared for an International audience. You’ll probably find that something like Fox News has few stories that are relevant since they tend to focus on US news.  Each of these news sites has a search box which you can use to find your Palestinian and Israeli perspectives, but none of them offers RSS for their searches (oops!). However you can still copy the URL from the search results and paste it into the box for Google Reader’s subscription box and Google Reader can create an RSS feed for changes to that website (I don’t know if other RSS readers have this functionality).

You can also create a Google Alert feed, by navigating to and entering your search terms and then selecting "Feed" instead of "Email" when choosing the "Deliver to" option. Subscribe to these feeds in your RSS reader as well.

This information is now all pouring into your reader instead of you having to go out and search for it. I’d also recommend reading about the history of the conflict, again from multiple perspectives, but in terms of online searching and finding news stories about the region, you have probably got all of the information you could want coming right to you.

What Does Brain Research Have to Say About Our Teaching?

My head of school started the beginning of the year by talking about brain based research.  He was told in a session he participated in during the summer that the use of sarcasm in a classroom can hamper learning. The reason for this issue with sarcasm is that, according to the presenter, negative emotional responses shut down the higher level functions of the brain and force the brain into "fight or flight" mode, during which very little learning can take place.

According to Diane Connell, there are 11 principles of brain-based learning:

1. The brain is a parallel processor.

2. Learning engages the entire physiology.

3. The search for meaning is innate.

4. The search for meaning occurs through patterning.

5. Emotions are critical to patterning.

6. The brain processes parts and wholes simultaneously.

7. Learning involves both focused attention and peripheral perception.

8. Learning always involves conscious and unconscious processes.

9. We have at least two different types of memory: spatial(autobiographical) and rote learning (taxon memory).

10. Learning is developmental.

11. Learning is enhanced by challenge and inhibited by threat.

The consequences of this theory of learning for educators are multiple. First, we need to engage student’s positive emotions in order to enhance their learning. Shout at a kid, or make them feel dumb, and you are certain to be inhibiting their learning by inducing negative emotions in the sense that negative emotions make us feel threatened.

According to this theory, learning is enhanced by the challenge of the task. Certainly we recognize this as true in our students, when we talk about pushing our students to their limits. This theory also inherently recognizes that poorly written standardized tests are never going to challenge our students’ abilities and are therefore not enhancing their learning.

There are other consequences too; the need for exercise in order to promote learning in other areas, the need to explore the whole picture as well as the details, recognizing the developmental nature of learning, and others. The point here is that the emotional connection to learning is important and if we really want to help our students learn, we need to pay attention to their emotional responses to what we do.

Sarcasm, taunting, derision, and other negative emotions have no place in our classrooms.


Connell, J.D. (2009). The Global Aspects of Brain-Based Learning. Educational Horizons, Retrieved from on September 5th, 2010

Jensen, E. (2008). A Fresh Look at Brain Based Education, Phi Delta Kappan International, Retrieved from on September 3rd, 2010