Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Tag: education (page 1 of 13)

Things I did not learn in teacher college

The best leaders are the best learners


These are some things I wish I learned in my teacher training:

  • The goal is not classroom management, the goal is effective student learning. It may be that a well-behaved class is an excellent environment for learning, but the means by which you end up with that well-behaved class matter.
  • Most of your early lessons are going to be awful. Remember the ones that aren’t and build on your successes.
  • Connect with other educators as much as you can. You are each other’s best lines of support.
  • You are always in charge of your professional development. Any experiences which other people require you to do are training, not professional development.
  • Never stop learning. You should continue to explore your own subject area, because a teacher who is inspired by what they teach is more able to inspire others. Always take time to learn more about teaching, because what you learned in college is only part of the story.


Note: It may be that this advice was given to me during my time in teacher college, but I didn’t learn it then, and I sure wish I did.

It’s not just music

Listen to the two songs linked below, and ask yourself, is this the message we should be sending our children?

After the horrible rape case in the now infamous town of Steubenville, I have been thinking about what could possibly have made this act seem justified by the boys who committed it, and although I do not think we can lay all of the blame on popular media, as it is a reflection of our culture, some of the blame must lie there.

I listened to this song, at the request of my son, and I was quickly horrified. It reminded me of a song I knew growing up, and how my uncritical mind had been deceived into liking this song, until a friend quietly pointed out (while I was singing the song) what the lyrics to the song meant.

I remember the moment that opened my mind, and started me thinking about music more critically.

My friend and I were walking from Koerner Library to the Student Union building on UBC campus, as part of our weekly Safewalk shift, and I started to hum, and then sing. As I got to "how easy it would be to show me how you feel", my friend interrupted me and asked, "Do you know what those lyrics mean?" I stopped singing, and said, "Uh…" I was slightly embarrassed. "That song is about pressuring girls to have sex with their boyfriend," she continued, "Are you sure you want to be singing it?" I paused, and ran through the lyrics in my head, and realized just how right she was.

I will admit that at the time I had more than my fair share of naïveté, but I believe that this is a common experience for many to not think very critically about the music to which they listen (or any media which they consume, for that matter).

I certainly know that young children, like my son, are especially unlikely to think critically about music. I wonder where my son learned of this song, and who introduced it to him and I wonder if they talked about the meaning of the song. I am especially worried that songs like this will influence his developing perspective on women, and his later relationship to them.

I would like my son, and all other boys, to grow up to be men of which we can be proud. Please, if you are exposing children to music or any other media, please, please think about what music to which you expose them, and ask yourself, if this child accepted the message of this music whole-heartedly, would this make them a better person?

Disrupting education

Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see. Neil Postman
(Image credit: Steve Slater)

I’ve read a lot of articles over the past few years about education is being disrupted. Most of these disruptions are focused on schools as systems (think financial disruption, not pedagogical disruption), not schools as ecosystems. The distinction is important.

I’d like education to be disrupted as well, but I think in some ways that are much different than what many education reformers are pushing.

  • I’d like every student to have a teacher, a school, and to feel comfortable to be in that space. For my school’s partner school in Kenya, we’ve put up a wall to add a level of security to their school, but it would be nice if all of the students had access to latrines, clean water, and food. When we can fix this problem everywhere in the world, I’ll consider education disrupted. Note: I’m also in favour of ensuring that the education we provide everywhere is suited to the needs of the local communities the schools support.
  • I’d like every student to feel safe to speak their mind in front of their teacher, and to feel safe in their presence. In too many places around the world, corporal punishment is still acceptable, and students are taught obedience over independence. It is possible to know when to follow the rules, and not have to sacrifice the ability to reason independently.
  • I’d like Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner’s chapter 12 of this book (at least) to be required reading for every teacher. Teachers (and parents) need to at least be discussing their role in quelling the questions of students.
  • We need to recognize that Daniel Pink’s idea of "Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose" as drivers of human motivation, especially for highly demanding cognitive tasks, does not just apply to adults, it applies to students as well. Unfortunately most schools do not give students opportunities for any of these three guiding principles of human motivation. How often does your school let students completely master a skill before moving onto the next skill? How often do students have choice in when, how, and what they learn? How often is the purpose of school given so base that it does not actually invite students to participate?

A thought experiment

Here’s a thought experiment for you (h/t to Dan Meyer for the sports analogy).

Imagine you start learning the game of basketball by learning how to shoot free throws. At no point are you told what the point of shooting free throws is, or how being a good free throw shooter will help you play the game of basketball, or even that there is a game of basketball. Worse, you are occasionally asked to shoot as many free throws you can in a minute, and then judged against your classmates based on your performance.

You are at some point asked to start practicing all of your free throws blindfolded, possibly after unsuccessfully learning how to shoot free throws earlier. If you are lucky, your coach tells you how many free throws you sank, and how many you missed. You finally have some understanding that free throws are important in basketball after years of not having a clue why you were practicing them but no matter how many times you practice, you never seem to get better at free throws.

By way of analogy, this is almost exactly how addition and multiplication facts are taught to students. They spend the earliest years learning addition and multiplication facts with only a superficial explanation of how these facts might be useful later, and most do not learn how addition and multiplication fit into mathematics as a whole and they certainly never get to experience "the game."

In their later grades, their teacher  (although lacking the time to give students feedback on their "basic skills") expects students to work on their higher level mathematics without a calculator or any aid of any kind for their foundational numeracy skills. The premise behind these calculator-less classrooms is that students will likely forget their addition and multiplication facts if they get to use a calculator, and so the use of a calculator is banned. Unfortunately, in most of these classes, very little time is spent reteaching addition and/or multiplication facts, and almost no feedback is given to students as to whether they have even done their addition and/or multiplication correctly, so if you are a student who never understood addition or multiplication in the first place, this further practice without support is unlikely to be useful.

If you are going to ban students from using calculators in your class for basic arithmetic operations, then you must at least take the blindfolds off of your students and help them improve their arithmetic skills. On the other hand, I prefer not to ban tools, but instead find ways that these tools are used productively (and unproductively) and change my teaching to compensate.

Things good schools do

This is a bit of an experiment in collaborative writing. How it works is that you copy this entire post verbatim, and add one thing to the list below. If you put this on a blog, please tag this post with "goodschoolproject" if possible to make these posts easier to find later.


  1. Good schools focus on the learners, not the system.


You are free to share and modify this post, but whomever you share it with must enjoy the same freedom.

Technology influences cognition

Technocriticism Wordle

That technology can influence cognition should be painfully obvious when you examine our primary technology of communication – language. Someone who knows a language cannot choose to ignore that language when confronted with it. If you are a literate person, letters arranged together do not appear randomly placed, they form words. When someone talks, you cannot hear it as babble, you are forced by how this technology has influenced your thinking to hear words.

When one looks at language, it is nonsensical to ask if one has a choice whether or not to use this technology. Once proficient in a language, barring a severe brain trauma, one remains proficient in that language and has it forever more alter their thinking. You can’t choose not to use a language once you have it and are exposed to it anymore than you can choose your parents.

Different languages and the accumulation of culture (another technology) that goes along with them result in different ways of thinking. One of the reasons why translation is so difficult between cultures is because quite often cultures have concepts which are unique only to their culture, which tells us that differences in the technology of culture results in different types of thinking. In the same way, people who are proficient in digital cultures have their own thinking altered by their participation in those cultures.

It is possible that there are technologies which do not influence our cognition. It may be, for example, that we are not influenced by our cell phones (which incidentally, whatever their value may be, a device which allows almost anyone in the world to interrupt you no matter what you are doing) to the degree that they influence our thinking.

I do not think this is true though. When you look at cell phone use in particular, you will no doubt recognize that possession of a cell phone and knowledge in its use means that if you are planning to meet someone else, who also posses a cell phone and knows how to use it, you are less likely to carefully plan exactly when and where you will meet them. So just possessing and knowing how to use a cell phone changes your behaviour, and changes how you plan your life. If one possesses a smart phone, and are at all proficient in its use, one generally stops planning exactly how one will travel somewhere in advance.

My strong suspicion, although I cannot yet prove this, is that all technologies include different types of thinking which are a necessary part of using the technology, and that while the influences of technology are not deterministic — we have some free will in our use of technology, I do not think that someone who is not cognicent of the limitations of their technology will see those limitations.

The benefits of technology use are generally easily apparent. What are usually less apparent are the drawbacks. So instead of blindly using technology without regard to the potential drawbacks, we need to be considerate of its use, and be critical of how it has changed us. We need to be technocritical as users, and those of us who are experts in technology use must especially be experts in critical reasoning around its use.

Why people often do not accept the research

Via the @BCAMT email list-serve:

"[T]here is an interesting (and disturbing) literature on situations in which information does not change prior biases or decisions. The word I have seen is ‘motivated reasoning’.

Interestingly, I ran into a problem of ‘motivated reasoning’ with a class of future teachers. The question is: when would research about the teaching and learning of mathematics change their classroom practices. A common response to articles, given some practice in critiquing research, was:\

– if I agree with the conclusion, the article was reliable;
– if I disagree with the conclusion, then here are x reasons why the article was not reliable and I should not change my practices!" 

Dr. Walter Whiteley

Dr. Whiteley works with pre-service teachers, and would like me to point out that they are still in the middle of articulating their own personal theories of how learning and education work, thus they lack experience in schools from the other side of the desk. It is therefore possible that this is an issue isolated to pre-service teachers.

On the other hand, I have seen people vehemently defending a position that has no merit simply because they are unwilling (or unable) to see that the evidence is mounted against them. I have also noticed many times that months later, this person has changed their perspective, sometimes claiming that the opposite to what they had previously believed was their belief the whole time, so maybe that argument influences their thinking later, and they are more willing to change on their own.

It takes enormous strength of will to remind ourselves of our cognitive biases, and act against our instinct to defend our mistakes. I can’t say I’ve succeeded at this all that much. Does anyone?


Nobody remembers names

Almost everyone I meet tells me when I first introduce myself that they are horrible at remembering names. I am patient with them and am happy to repeat my name for this person several times.

Why should we expect someone to remember our name the first time? It’s essentially a random piece of information which has no relationship to who we are as people. We learn names by immersion (other people around use the name), by repetition, in context, and by using the name ourselves.

So why would we expect our students to remember disconnected facts without immersion, repetition, context, or use?

Annie Fetter on the development of math teachers


Annie gives a very short talk that highlights some of the issues in math education, and which I can tie to work various people have done on learning.

Everyone who is trained to become an educator has some fairly strong intuitive sense of what it means to be an educator. They have seen educators work, and they know how to copy the behaviours of the teachers they have seen. Unfortunately, often we want to change teachers behaviours, and so we must address the misconceptions that teachers have about learning head-on.

If you do not address the misconceptions that people have, chances are very good that they will incorporate the new information you present (in almost anyway that you present it) into their existing misconceptions and as a result, not change their behaviours at all. This is a problem that numerous educators have discovered (it seems independently of each other) and one which definitely has implications for teacher education.

Annie’s observation that her teaching college in 1988 was already talking about inquiry based learning, and some pretty serious reforms in mathematics education, and then her description of her beginning practices which were so different, gets at the heart of this issue. She was "taught" that inquiry based mathematics is an effective pedagogy, but she didn’t hear it. She probably did hear it, but she thought that her notion of what inquiry based education meant was the same as what she was doing. She was unable as a beginning teacher to see how different her techniques were than what she was being taught to do.

So if we want to change teacher education, we definitely need to assume that the student teachers coming in have an understanding of what it is to teach, and that much of what they understand is misguided and just plain wrong, and we need to incorporate the wrongness of this approach into our instruction of teachers.