Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Caribou in Grade 3 and Grade 7

A big congratulations to Ms. Hill's group of Grade 3 students who have been competing in the Caribou Math contest all year long. They wrote the test under less than ideal circumstances last Wednesday (it was a quick rush before they went swimming), yet they still managed to score some great results!!

Sheridan placed 231st out of 1042 students in Canada, in the grade 3/4 category. That means she competed against students a full grade ahead of her and still managed to finish in the top 23% in the nation. She also ranked 214th out of 931 in Ontario. Way to go, Sheridan!!

Most importantly, there is a noticeable difference how these students are approaching math problems and using strategies to organize their thinking. Even with the decreased time due to swimming, they worked extremely well. There is one more contest to go in May.

At JC Hill, Mr. Hickey's grade 7 class has also been competing in the contest all year long. Look for their results to appear in a future post. It's great that both Ms. Hill and Mr. Hickey have given their students an opportunity to test their math skills in a challenging and fun format, while exploring the curriculum through problems. If you are interested in competing in the final contest, check out the Caribou Math link on the sidebar for details.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Social Networking In Schools: Educators Debate The Merits Of Technology In Classrooms

In this digital world, opportunities for education are available like never before. Though teachers using online tools are empowering students take part in their education, they may also expose them to inappropriate material, sexual predators, and bullying and harassment by peers.

Teachers who are not careful with their use of the sites can fall into inappropriate relationships with students or publicize photos and information they believed were kept private. For these reasons, critics are calling for regulation and for removing social networking from classrooms -- despite the positive affects they have on students and the essential tools they provide for education in today's digital climate.

The positive effects of social networking sites in education are profound. According to a study conducted by the University of Minnesota on student use of social media, students who are already engaging in social networking could benefit from incorporating it into curriculum.

Christine Greenhow, who was the principal investigator in a study, elaborated on the impact social networking could have on education.

"By understanding how students may be positively using these networking technologies in their daily lives and where the as-yet-unrecognized educational opportunities are, we can help make schools even more relevant, connected, and meaningful to kids."

Through utilizing teaching techniques that incorporate social media, teachers are able to increase students' engagement in their education, increase technological proficiency, contribute to a greater sense of collaboration in the classroom, and build better communication skills.

A Mashable article titled, The Case For Social Media in Schools, also details several reasons for advocating the use of social networking in the classroom and provides a real example of how it is affecting education in a positive way.

"A year after seventh grade teacher Elizabeth Delmatoff started a pilot social media program in her Portland, Oregon classroom, 20 percent of students school-wide were completing extra assignments for no credit, grades had gone up more than 50 percent, and chronic absenteeism was reduced by more than a third."

Karen Cator, from the U.S. Dept. of Education, in an online question and answer series featured on also commented on the potential of social networking to improve the American education system. As calls for education reform resonate across the country and looming budget cuts indicate a grim future for many public schools, online tools are becoming valuable resources. Some say, however, they come with too great a risk.

"Think about not only incorporating technology into your lessons, but creating more and more compelling assignments so that 21st century skills, the kinds of things students will have to develop in terms of critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, global participation -- that these are incorporated into assignments. The best spaces will incorporate social media, and interacting with others. "

Another study, which analyzed how students performed when asked to use twitter to do assignments, found that students who were asked to "contribute to class discussions and complete assignments using Twitter increased their engagement over a semester more than twice as much as a control group."

Use of social networking not only benefits students, but also provides new opportunities for communication amongst teachers and administrators. According to a report featured in The Journal of Educational Technology Systems:

"Tech savvy administrators are using blogs as a tool to keep parents, teachers, and students informed of the things going on in their schools."

to view the original source of this article, click here.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Classroom Guide: Top Ten Tips for Assessing Project-Based Learning | Edutopia

Classroom Guide: Top Ten Tips for Assessing Project-Based Learning Edutopia

This article from Edutopia features a valuable pdf guide for assessing project-based learning. There's an interesting quote from author and educator Shawn Cornally in this article. He looks at the whole idea of assessment as a tool that he's committed to using to "create learning, instead of just to judge it." It's the connotations provided by the word judge that interest me, because it speaks volumes of how many of our students have come to view their school experiences before the advent of challenge learning. It also says a lot about how there are many teachers out there who have come to perceive schools in the exact same way, and that they are truly interested in moving out of the factory learning mindset. It is our hope that you find the tips and resources in this Edutopia pdf guide helpful and relevant.

posted by Ross Crockett

New Guide Offers Assessment Tips for the Classroom

Recently, I watched a team of ninth-graders share their vision for a city of the future. They had clearly done their research, investigating everything from the politics of ancient Athens to the principles of sustainable design in the 21st century. They summarized their findings online and then took their learning a step further to design a 3-D model of their ideal city.

As their classmates and teachers gathered around the scale model, the young urban designers pointed out the innovative features of their metropolis. Not only were these students able to apply what they had learned, but they did so with passion, eloquence, and creativity -- none of which would have been adequately assessed by a multiple-choice test.

If we hope to offer students more real-world learning experience like this one, we need to be willing to reconsider how we assess learning. It's a big challenge, affecting everything from the daily rhythms of the classroom to time-honored traditions like report cards. Fortunately, there's plenty of help available. Edutopia's brand-new classroom guide -- Top Ten Tips for Project-Based Learning Assessment -- is chock-full of assessment resources and good ideas ready to borrow.

PBL Strategies

I've organized these tips to follow the arc of a project-first planning, then active learning, then culminating event, and, finally, reflection. At each stage, paying attention to assessment pays dividends. Follow the links in the guide to find videos, online discussions, digital tools, and other resources from educators who have wisdom to share.

Project-based learning and authentic assessment are made for each other. In PBL, students engage in inquiry learning to answer a challenging, real-world question. As a culminating event, students typically share products they have made or information they have learned. Having an audience for these events not only adds motivation but also causes students to defend or explain their thinking.

Not surprisingly, many of the suggestions in this new guide have come from members of the Edutopia community, who tend to be enthusiastic about PBL. These creative educators aren't waiting for sweeping changes to take place on the national education stage. Instead, they're devising their own good assessment strategies now.

For example, teacher and author Shawn Cornally has been on a quest to rethink assessment as a tool "to create learning, instead of just to judge it." He shares his own strategies along with links to other educators who have inspired him.

High school science teacher James Rocco borrows the popular "Cash Cab" format from TV to create engaging, and fast, feedback moments with his students. He explains how in Edutopia's Project-Based Learning group.

Teachers from School of the Future in New York open a window on their comprehensive assessment strategies in Edutopia's newest Schools that Work series. Social studies teacher Andy Snyder has been fielding follow-up questions about the high-performing school's innovative approaches in Edutopia's Assessment group.

Big Questions Ahead

At the national level, conversations about school reform are increasingly focused on assessment. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has called for rethinking standardized assessment to go beyond narrowly focused bubble tests, and new projects are in the pipeline to build a better system for gauging what students know and can do.

The National Educational Technology Plan, released in November, pulls no punches in explaining why the current system needs to change:

"Most of the assessment done in schools today is after the fact and designed to indicate only whether students have learned. Little is done to assess students' thinking during learning so we can help them learn better."

Those last seven words are worth repeating: so we can help them learn better. That's the real goal of assessment. Getting assessment right takes time, resources, collaboration, and a willingness to rethink some of the most familiar practices of school. But it's worth the effort, according to those who have generously shared their thinking for this guide, because of the benefits for both teaching and learning.

What are your favorite tools and strategies for effective assessment? How do you use assessment to help students take learning to new heights? Please share your ideas so that we can continue learning together.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Super Maths World

Try Your Hand at "SUPER MATHS WORLD"!!! A game environment to practice a vast array of math skills. Use the link here OR use the link on the side under "Links for Students". Thanks to IT Lynda for this site.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Whiz Kid with Asperger's Syndrome Aims High

You may have heard about this child already...13 year old in College with his own quantum physics theory, diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Read the article here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Did You REALLY Order More Textbooks???

This is AWESOME!! Pearson debuts eText e-reader app for the iPad. How can you NOT say goodbye to traditional textbooks after seeing the advantages of this???

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

21 Things That Will Be Obsolete in 2020

Inspired by Sandy Speicher’s vision of the designed school day of the future, reader Shelly Blake-Plock shared his own predictions of that ideal day. How close are we to this? The post was written in December 2009, and Blake-Plock says he’s seeing some of these already beginning to come to fruition.

1. DESKS The 21st century does not fit neatly into rows. Neither should your students. Allow the network-based concepts of flow, collaboration, and dynamism help you rearrange your room for authentic 21st century learning.

2. LANGUAGE LABS Foreign language acquisition is only a smartphone away. Get rid of those clunky desktops and monitors and do something fun with that room.

3. COMPUTERS Ok, so this is a trick answer. More precisely this one should read: ‘Our concept of what a computer is’. Because computing is going mobile and over the next decade we’re going to see the full fury of individualized computing via handhelds come to the fore. Can’t wait.

4. HOMEWORK The 21st century is a 24/7 environment. And the next decade is going to see the traditional temporal boundaries between home and school disappear. And despite whatever Secretary Duncan might say, we don’t need kids to ‘go to school’ more; we need them to ‘learn’ more. And this will be done 24/7 and on the move (see #3).

5. THE ROLE OF STANDARDIZED TESTS IN COLLEGE ADMISSIONS The AP Exam is on its last legs. The SAT isn’t far behind. Over the next ten years, we will see Digital Portfolios replace test scores as the #1 factor in college admissions.

6. DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION AS A SIGN OF DISTINGUISHED TEACHER The 21st century is customizable. In ten years, the teacher who hasn’t yet figured out how to use tech to personalize learning will be the teacher out of a job. Differentiation won’t make you ‘distinguished’; it’ll just be a natural part of your work.

7. FEAR OF WIKIPEDIA Wikipedia is the greatest democratizing force in the world right now. If you are afraid of letting your students peruse it, it’s time you get over yourself.

8. PAPERBACKS Books were nice. In ten years’ time, all reading will be via digital means. And yes, I know, you like the ‘feel’ of paper. Well, in ten years’ time you’ll hardly tell the difference as ‘paper’ itself becomes digitized.

9. ATTENDANCE OFFICES Bio scans. ‘Nuff said.

10. LOCKERS A coat-check, maybe.

11. I.T. DEPARTMENTS Ok, so this is another trick answer. More subtly put: IT Departments as we currently know them. Cloud computing and a decade’s worth of increased wifi and satellite access will make some of the traditional roles of IT — software, security, and connectivity — a thing of the past. What will IT professionals do with all their free time? Innovate. Look to tech departments to instigate real change in the function of schools over the next twenty years.

12. CENTRALIZED INSTITUTIONS School buildings are going to become ‘homebases’ of learning, not the institutions where all learning happens. Buildings will get smaller and greener, student and teacher schedules will change to allow less people on campus at any one time, and more teachers and students will be going out into their communities to engage in experiential learning.

13. ORGANIZATION OF EDUCATIONAL SERVICES BY GRADE Education over the next ten years will become more individualized, leaving the bulk of grade-based learning in the past. Students will form peer groups by interest and these interest groups will petition for specialized learning. The structure of K-12 will be fundamentally altered.

14. EDUCATION SCHOOLS THAT FAIL TO INTEGRATE TECHNOLOGY This is actually one that could occur over the next five years. Education Schools have to realize that if they are to remain relevant, they are going to have to demand that 21st century tech integration be modeled by the very professors who are supposed to be preparing our teachers.

15. PAID/OUTSOURCED PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT No one knows your school as well as you. With the power of a PLN (professional learing networks) in their back pockets, teachers will rise up to replace peripatetic professional development gurus as the source of schoolwide professional development programs. This is already happening.

16. CURRENT CURRICULAR NORMS There is no reason why every student needs to take however many credits in the same course of study as every other student. The root of curricular change will be the shift in middle schools to a role as foundational content providers and high schools as places for specialized learning.

17. PARENT-TEACHER CONFERENCE NIGHT Ongoing parent-teacher relations in virtual reality will make parent-teacher conference nights seem quaint. Over the next ten years, parents and teachers will become closer than ever as a result of virtual communication opportunities. And parents will drive schools to become ever more tech integrated.

18. TYPICAL CAFETERIA FOOD Nutrition information + handhelds + cost comparison = the end of $3.00 bowls of microwaved mac and cheese. At least, I so hope so.

19. OUTSOURCED GRAPHIC DESIGN AND WEB DESIGN You need a website/brochure/promo/etc.? Well, for goodness sake just let your kids do it. By the end of the decade — in the best of schools — they will be.

20. HIGH SCHOOL ALGEBRA 1 Within the decade, it will either become the norm to teach this course in middle school or we’ll have finally woken up to the fact that there’s no reason to give algebra weight over statistics and I.T. in high school for non-math majors (and they will have all taken it in middle school anyway).

21. PAPER In ten years’ time, schools will decrease their paper consumption by no less than 90%. And the printing industry and the copier industry and the paper industry itself will either adjust or perish.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Friday, April 8, 2011

International Day of Pink

Recognize the International Day of Pink on April 13th and stand up against bullying.

For more information, visit the Day of Pink website here.

for the love of learning: Accountability and the Provincial Achievement Test...

for the love of learning: Accountability and the Provincial Achievement Test...: "This post was written by the Alberta Teachers' Association and appears here. It's that time of year again when the attention of teachers, s..."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

for the love of learning: Fair isn't always equal

for the love of learning: Fair isn't always equal: "When we confuse fairness with equality we marginalize and victimize the very students who need us most. The only people who gain from such ..."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Six Nations District Numeracy Committee Meeting Minutes Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Six Nations District Numeracy Committee Meeting Minutes

Wed., Mar. 2/2011, 2:30- 4:00 pm

District Teacher Room, J.C. Hill School

In attendance: Alice Anderson, Tammy Claus, Marlene Martin, Joe Restoule General, Carrie Froman (late)

Absent: Deb Hill, Luanne Martin, Anne Noyes, Jessi Skye

  1. Call to order and agenda approved.

  2. Minutes from last meeting already approved.

  3. Business arising out of the previous minutes

Status of District Numeracy plan-District Numeracy Teacher followed the procedure set forth by the Numeracy Committee; responses from PAC were unanimously positive; Plan is now final and to be rolled out to Six Nations staff; two hard copies given to each teacher, digital versions as well; presentations on the plan to occur at each school by DNT along w/NC member; suggestion of a book with all district plans (most current, most recent) stationed at each school and consistent from school to school –possibly along with all other necessary and important forms

Status of invitation to Sumona Roy-Sumona agreed to present at the meeting; unfortunately there was a mix-up and she is scheduled to present at the April meeting

Super Source CD-ROM: Does NOT need CD to function-encourage teachers to load this on work and home computers; request was submitted in June 2010 to District Technology Teacher, Superintendent and Computer Support personnel to set up a number of Math software titles on the INAC server so ALL teachers have the programs automatically on their computer; follow up inquiry occurred in September 2010

PD days and times survey-committee reviewed the changes to the survey and approved the survey; next step is to share the survey with PAC before administering the survey to staff; comment was made regarding the 1 hour time length; suggestion that some PD, especially hands on workshops, may need approx. 2 hours; also discussed the CILM (Collaborative Inquiry Learning Model) or co-teaching approach to PD as well as the importance of follow up sessions that ensures sustainability in PD; this would hopefully assist teachers for whom after school PD is impossible due to parental commitments; possibly using OMSK’s PLC model to hold PD during the day

Functions of the committee-discussion on this item had occurred on the Six Nations Numeracy Committee wikispace; internet access was down so this discussion was unable to take place but will continue in the on-line forum

Report Card comments-suggestion about using the GEDSB math alignment document to ensure that long range plans are more reflective of new reporting process; comment re: progress report date and moving it closer to open house—parents seem to want to know then how their children are doing; comment about parent interview day being too late this year; suggestion that we have open house even sooner and/or interviews @ progress report time; suggestion to minimize subject focus on progress report; Numeracy committee members to share these items with their school calendar committee member and administration

Assessment Data Collection Practices-Tammy Claus shared an example of anecdotal collecting; uses different ink colours to distinguish dates of assessing; each child has a page with multiple boxes for each subject to write anecdotes; uses pink and green hi-lighters for strengths/next steps; Alice Anderson shared that she writes down what the child says orally; Joe Restoule General shared comment framework MISA document; several committee members stated that stretch your thinking in Math Makes Sense is a good section of the text to be using

Six Nations Numeracy Committee wikispace-due to internet access being down, review of this resource did not take place;

4. New Business:

PD Committee request: input on draft plan-NC reviewed, suggested PD occur on the Big Ideas in Mathematics; Marian Small’s resource was shared; NC agreed it would be great if all staff received the grade appropriate text; Suggestion that schools do NOT buy text books in advance of curriculum reform, and the impact of technological advancements in the schools; a Big Idea “list” to be compiled and added to the Numeracy Desk Book by committee

Working session on Desk Book items-NC spoke about more items to include in the desk book, and to continue to add to it through the wikispace and LiveBinder

OAME 2011: Put Math on the Map-Conference flyer shared with each school’s committee member

5. Meeting adjourned at 4:00 pm.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Monday, April 4, 2011

TheStar Standard tests: More questions than answers

TheStar Standard tests: More questions than answers

This article is part of a series that The Star is running. i am including the entire article below, because i find that it is a great read. You can click the link above to read it in its entirety from the original source.

Cookie-cutter school testing.

By Rick Salutin Columnist

If your kid recently soldiered through Ontario’s province-wide “EQAO” tests for reading, math and science, in Grades 3, 6 or 9, then you’ve been part of a worldwide homogenization of education techniques. This kind of testing is meant less to measure how kids are doing than how their teachers and schools are doing, so they can be held “accountable.” Now there’s nothing wrong with accountability. And testing is a necessary tool. The problem is accountability based on high-stakes, standardized tests.

Standardized means the same for everybody, set by a central authority — a government department or private company. But kids aren’t the same. A test can tell you what a kid scores, not what the score means for the kid. It depends on where s/he started from, what his abilities are and what’s important for her to know. A low mark for one kid might be a better sign than a high mark for another. Teachers know this and can adjust the lesson (and the mark’s meaning) to the learner. But anonymous test scorers can’t. So standardized tests are poor indicators of how kids and teachers are doing.

It gets worse when you tack the accountability piece onto standardized testing, as they’ve done all over the U.S. It may seem plausible and clear-cut. But when test scores become the basis for rewards and punishments like hiring, firing, teacher pay and school funding or closing, the tests grow vulnerable to, and even create an incentive for, cheating or gaming the system.

This is done by obtaining widely distributed test copies in advance and giving them to kids, shifting pass/fail levels on tests at state or local levels to meet criteria for receiving federal funds, faking results or “counselling out” weaker students by pressuring them to leave school on a variety of pretexts so the school or class average rises. All this is documented in U.S. education historian Diane Ravitch’s book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. She gets credibility because she served as an assistant secretary of education under George W. Bush, bringing in and arguing for standardized tests.

She now says, “We were wrong . . . testing actually makes the schools worse.” Any learning gains made are shaky and can “evaporate” quickly once the testing pressure is off. Learning in a school can even decline because of testing. There’s a technical term for it: Campbell’s law, proclaimed by U.S. expert on research methodology Donald Campbell. It says that if you base accountability on measurements, what you’re measuring may get worse instead of better. It sounds weird but it happens, for instance, if hospital ERs are rated by the number of patients treated quickly: they might rush people through rather than provide good care in order to raise their scores.

The list of objections to standardized testing is almost endless. The saddest come from teachers; many are cited by former New York Times education columnist Richard Rothstein in his book on accountability. They’re painful to read, the way TV crime dramas about child abuse can be painful to watch. Teachers say they now lack time to do things they loved, like taking kids on trips, or teaching trigonometry by going outside and measuring shadows in the sun. It all loses out to prepping for tests.

Besides, as philosopher of education John Dewey said, nothing kills the joy of learning like failing to have a real-life reason for the lesson. If you’re told you need it for a test, or as training for something later in life, it drains the life and joy from the present, and kids specialize in the present. If you’re not having fun, it’s really hard to learn, says a kid I know. Without fun it’s probably hard to teach, too.

Are there other ways to assess teachers and schools than numerical test scores? Yes, there have been many; they just aren’t as easy to measure. The U.K. began obsessively quantifying during the Thatcher years, but it still sent teams into schools to evaluate various elements beyond test scores until the 1990s. In its early years, the U.S. National Assessment of Educational Progress used a wide range of methods to judge success. If you take the trouble, you can assess outcomes in areas like personal growth, civics, health or art. You can judge by essays, artwork, physical challenges or public service. An Australian evaluation asked kids: Are there political causes worth fighting for? What a great question to judge whether a school successfully “taught” a sense of civic responsibility. In fact, the current fixation on “measurables” to the exclusion of everything else starts to look like an aberration from the long-term trend.

How did the notion of accountability get so narrow? Partly, it suited the business culture of our era, which prefers anything that can be quantified down to a fine powder. Bill Gates, in his new incarnation as education expert, says any teaching that you can’t measure is useless. (I wonder how you’d measure that claim.) The testing at certain points becomes manic. The U.K. under Thatcher reported on about 1,000 skills per kid, leading eventually to a huge revolt by teachers and headmasters. The U.S. version was George Bush’s No Child Left Behind, followed by Barack Obama’s Race to the Top. (The latter program sent millions in extra funding to Washington, D.C., schools, partly because of their high test scores. Teachers and principals also received individual bonuses. But those scores are now under investigation because of abnormally high rates of “erasures” — wrong answers being rubbed out and replaced with correct answers on computerized tests — as reported recently by USA Today.) In Ontario, it hasn’t been as drastic. But we’re partway down that road.

A small but apparently potent unit called the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat has been set up in the Education Ministry. Its mandate is to improve teaching generally, but classroom teachers and others in the field who’ve dealt with the secretariat say it’s relentlessly focused on boosting those EQAO scores. In a way, once the tests exist, it’s hard not to fix on them. They’re so concrete; they tend to take over from other forms of assessment.

It hasn’t reached the point, as in the U.S., that they’re the basis for hiring, firing or funding. But they do serve to guide parents in choosing (and rejecting) schools. Ontario has a “School Information Finder” that gives EQAO results and socio-economic data for parents to check. It implies a sort of competition model that pits schools against each other based on their test scores, in a contest to impress parents. Every member at the provincially created Education Partnership Table — parent groups, principals, deans of education, student reps, etc. — objected to it but Premier Dalton McGuinty refused to dismantle it. He has an election coming, against a Mike Harris-type opponent. He wouldn’t want to look soft on “basics” like tough testing, which polling shows support for. So politically, he treads carefully.

There is some recent resistance to the testing-accountability recipe. In the U.K., the “Celtic fringe” — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — is dropping or limiting standardized tests. Even England has canned them for the early grades, after a revolt including strike threats by headmasters in 2009. As for us, B.C. was big on the tests but has recently wobbled about whether they’ll be imposed, in response to objections from parents, teachers and principals.

The most intriguing counter-case is Finland. Since the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development began ranking countries in 2000 by their scores on Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, it’s been the star performer. It always scores at or near the top in all categories. Yet it does no standardized testing till the end of high school (“the first and last national test,” said a teacher in Helsinki). So the results have shocked everyone, starting with the Finns. Their country shot onto everyone’s list of most successful countries, especially since it also led in prosperity (the British think-tank Legatum, 2009), competitiveness (World Economic Forum, 2003-5) and perceived lack of corruption (Transparency International, 2010). Delegations of educators and journalists began arriving in the tens of thousands. Literally. When I entered school staff rooms there, teachers kind of rolled their eyes, then got helpful. It especially miffed them since they don’t value being near No. 1 on tests and didn’t aim for it. “We hate those results,” says educator Pasi Sahlberg, a prominent Finnish author/educator who has represented his country at the World Bank, the OECD, the EU and elsewhere. “It’s not a competition, it’s about building community,” he says. Finns do enjoy beating out Sweden, which ruled them for centuries. But that’s it.

Their big school reform began 40 years ago and wasn’t about scores; it was about creating a single school model for all students up to high school. Till then, students had been streamed in academic or vocational directions. In other words, the reform was about diminishing school choice for the sake of greater equality and social unity. There was a long, raucous debate. Many people, including teachers, argued against the reform, saying it would lower standards. The 2000 PISA results finally ended that debate. Everyone could see the reforms weren’t only socially just, they were academically brilliant.

I sat with a university researcher in the small city of Kokkola, 200 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle, as she explained her theory as to why Finland’s approach yields such great scores. But all she did was restate the elements of the approach, like teacher autonomy and an emphasis on social equality, without explaining why they produce those results. So here’s my theory: Everyone knows that what tests really test is how good you are at taking tests. The tenser you are, the lower you’re likely to score. Since Finns don’t worry about tests, they’re loose going in, and score well. This jibes with a report that found only 7 per cent of Finnish students feel anxiety doing math homework, versus 52 per cent and 53 per cent for French and Japanese kids.

It’s not that Finns don’t test. They just don’t do standardized, high-stakes tests. There were lots of tests in classrooms I visited, and in the halls, where individual kids or small groups might be taking tests with the aid of a teacher or assistant. But teachers set the tests themselves. They do it, one told her students, “because I want to know how you’ve learned and I want to know how I’ve taught.” Most good teachers I know feel this way: they value tests, as long as they exist to serve the learning process, and not vice versa.

As for accountability, the Finns also reject rewards and punishment based on externally set performance targets. Peter Johnson, director of education for Kokkola (whose job includes museums, libraries, youth sports and filling in for the mayor when he’s away) says with quiet pride, “Finland saw its last inspector in 1985.” We were having dinner in late November. It was dark and cold outside. The sun rose at about 10:30 a.m. and set four hours later. “We believe in self-evaluation,” he went on. He called it inside-out or self-service accountability. Others call it smart accountability. The Finns agree with assessing success based on results. They just don’t think test scores should be the results used. They also think self-assessment is faster and more efficient. If you find a problem, you fix it. You don’t have to wait for inspection reports. Johnson says he once told this to a group of 30 visiting Europeans: “They were so silent.” Then one asked if it was true Finland has no inspectors. It suddenly occurred to Johnson to ask if any of them were inspectors, and “half raised their hands.”

This may sound odd to Canadians. Why should anyone trust teachers with self-accountability? When Ontario teachers criticized the EQAO tests, a Globe and Mail editorial said, “They don’t wish to be held accountable.” That’s the common, U.S.-style response: attack teachers. Finland shows there are other kinds of accountability. Their version relies on the rest of society trusting educators. But how do you get to that level of trust? I’ll return to this question later.

When I mention Finland to educators here or in the U.S., they’re often dismissive. They say it’s not comparable: It’s too small (5.3 million), white, homogeneous and middle-class. But it does far better than comparable Scandinavian nations like Norway and Denmark, so something more is going on than size and uniformity. Its diversity is also increasing due to EU membership; its foreign-born citizens have doubled in the past decade. There are schools with more than 40 per cent immigrant students; in Helsinki (pop. 580,000) schools, almost 10 per cent of the kids are immigrants and more than 40 languages are spoken. Based on PISA data, those kids perform better than immigrant kids in similar places, so again, Finland is doing something right. As for size: education is controlled by Canadian provinces and U.S. states so it’s fair to compare to them rather than the whole country: Finland is smaller than Ontario but bigger than the other provinces, many of which are pretty homogeneous. Finland is also a northern land that was historically dominated by larger powers, like us. Its obsession, like ours, was survival. It makes as much — no, more — sense to compare ourselves to them, rather than to imperial behemoths like the U.S. and the U.K. Besides, to get there you fly for endless hours and when you arrive, it feels like you never left here.

There are differences, of course. Finland has few resources aside from fresh water and trees. From this they have concluded they have to be smart and well-educated to succeed economically, which they’ve done. Even from this difference, I’d say we can learn something: that being resource-rich, like us, can make you stupid and slow off the mark.

Nor are the people I met there complacent. “I fear this will all end badly,” says Pasi Sahlberg, meaning the hoo-ha about Finnish test scores. He thinks the EU will use Finland’s educational success as a reason to reduce some economic benefits it now receives. He also has darker fears: that the passion for justice and independence that motivated the reforms will wane and be replaced merely by some fickle international acclaim and admiring foreign delegations. What will inspire future generations of Finnish educators? he and Peter Johnson both wonder.

Meanwhile Ontario continues along its same course of standardized testing, little concerned, it appears, about the perils and precedents.

The real basics: building character

Testing for reading, writing and math sounds like the three Rs from the good old days of pubic education.

But Egerton Ryerson had a larger role in mind for the system he created in Ontario in the 19th century. He wanted schools to counter the anti-monarchy and republican influences that came with heavy immigration from the U.S. and had led to the rebellion of 1837, and to construct an Anglo balance to the French fact in Quebec. This amounted to a “citizenship” agenda, alongside the training he wanted to provide for every child.

In the U.S., Founding Fathers like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson also supported public education for moral and civic ends, not just or even mainly for academic skills. In 1830 a Pennsylvania committee warned that poor and working children should get more than “a simple acquaintance with words and ciphers;” they should also acquire “a just disposition, virtuous habits and a rational, self-governing character” — what we now think of as character education or a citizenship agenda. As late as the 1930s, philosopher John Dewey said it was important not just to know how to read, but how to distinguish between the “demagogue and the statesman.”

In fact, in the old days, there was probably less emphasis on the basics than there is now. Put another way, the basics didn’t used to be so basic.

International testing

The Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, run by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), measures educational achievement in the 34 OECD members, though it also surveys other countries and some cities. Every three years it tests about 5,000 15-year-old students per country, in reading, math and science, with special emphasis on one of those for each round. The tests are handwritten, part multiple choice and part short essays. There is also a questionnaire on background, study habits, etc. PISA’s methods are highly regarded. The first three test years (2000, 2003 and 2006) showed Finland at the top in the area emphasized that year. Canada did well, placing second twice and fifth once.

In 2009, Finland scored first or second in all categories among OECD members. Canada was fifth, fifth and third. Some countries have done surprisingly poorly; the U.S. and Germany were generally in the middle or at the back of the pack.

New Report Card Comment Framework Resources

Check out these new resources and videos from the MISA London network. There are some great videos of how the learning goals and success criteria you develop in class, easily fit into the development and writing of your report card comments. Take a moment to view them...

Friday, April 1, 2011

Earthquake Wiki

Check out the "Year 6" class use of wikispaces to construct a project on the ChristChurch earthquake in New Zealand. Apparently there were no "adults" involved in the construction of the wikispace.