My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

14 Articles Tagged with “education”

  1. What's the point of education?

    Last week The Globe and Mail ran an opinion piece calling for coding to become a mandatory subject in Canadian schools. I’m sympathetic to the idea, for I agree that computer literacy and an awareness of how the algorithms and programs that increasingly influence our lives is crucial to being an informed citizen. That being said, I disagree with almost all the points made in that article. More generally, as I continue to think about my own opinions of the state of education here in Ontario, particularly when it comes to math, I keep coming back to the question that heads this post.

    The entire article rests on a premise that Canadian kids are less prepared for jobs that involve coding because of its omission as a required subject. Frelix starts with a strong and confident statement:

    Parents have certain expectations when they send their children to school. They’ll learn to read, write, do math, maybe learn a second language, generally prepare for postsecondary education and build a foundation for entering the workforce. But most Canadian kids aren’t getting everything they’ll need for the working world that will await them upon graduation.

    This seems uncontroversial if you take as…

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  2. When they speak

    I had an excellent class this morning.

    Previously I blogged about how, in this combined ENG3C/NBE3C Grade 11 English course, we looked at various texts to help students article their identity. We’ve now moved on to looking at the history of Indigenous peoples in Canada. We have watched three documentaries (Trick or Treaty?, Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, and We Were Children), and the students are working on research reports on topics of their choosing.

    Today we listened to the Canadaland Commons episode on residential schools and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report. After watching We Were Children the day before, I wanted to give students more information and access to more perspectives. Desmond Cole and Andray Domise play excellent hosts to Ryan McMahon and Chelsea Vowel, who are both so passionate. While we listened, I modelled for my students that kind of note-taking I expect them to try when they are researching for their own projects.

    After we listened to the podcast, I opened the floor for discussion. It was a slow going at first, and even at its peak, I’d say that three or four students dominated the discussion, with one or two…

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  3. Exploring Self and Identity Through Short Stories

    I have two book reviews I really should be writing instead, and some planning to finish, because I’m off tomorrow afternoon to Sudbury (of all places) for a two-day workshop. So of course I’m blogging instead!

    In the previous session (March to April) at the adult education centre, I taught a Grade 11 workplace math course (MEL3E). I’ve taught this course several times now, and I didn’t bring much new to the table content wise (although I like the tweaks I made to the culminating activity). However, now that my board is getting on board with Office 365 and I had access to a classroom cart of iPads, I, along with a few other teachers, investigated the possibility of using Microsoft OneNote’s Classroom Notebook. That experience in and of itself is worthy of more blogging, but that’s not what I want to talk about today.

    Last week we started a new session (May to June), and I’m back at the Aboriginal Student Advancement Program (ASAP), teaching adult aboriginal students Grade 11 college English (ENG3C) and a Native Studies English literature course, Contemporary Aboriginal Voices (NBE3C) as a split class. As you might expect, this means a lot of content from…

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  4. Algorithms are not the answer

    Oh, look! It’s another article about discovery vs rote math! Here we go again….

    I thought I had solved this back in 2011 (twice!), but apparently a couple of people in the world didn’t listen, so now here I am, back at it again. It seems like every five years when the latest round of test scores shows that the sky is falling we’ll be doomed to have the same arguments over and over about how to teach, and in particular, how to teach math. It’s tiresome. I’ve only been a teacher for four years, and I’m already tired of it.

    Let me qualify that statement of fatigue: I never tire of talking about how to teach. Education is serious business, and having a healthy debate over the best and most effective strategies is important. I am not out to label anyone in any of the camps as wrong or extremist in their views, and I believe that most of the participants in these discussions genuinely want what is best for our children. When I say that I’m “tired” of this discussion, I’m not here to say, “I’m right” (even though I am) and, therefore, we should shut down…

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  5. Report cards are not the problem here

    Yesterday Martin Regg Cohn wrote in the Toronto Star about how the work-to-rule action by ETFO is harmful to students because of the inconvenience and delay it causes in notifying parents about those students’ final marks. He says:

    Marks don’t matter. Achievement goes unnoted. Adversity remains unremarked.

    Cute—far cuter than Cohn’s attempts to belittle the seriousness of the industrial action happening here later in the column with his own work-to-rule parody.

    But this post, unlike my last response to someone protesting labour action, is not actually about labour, collective bargaining, or the right to take these actions. Rather, I take issue with the way Cohn, and others, have chosen to focus on the refusal to complete report cards as some kind of grave sin that demonstrates the insincerity of teachers’ commitment to our students.

    Here’s the truth: if teachers and schools have been doing their jobs all year, then those final report cards don’t matter as much as you claim.

    Firstly, I’m so disappointed that anyone wants to make this a debate about marks in elementary school. What, are you afraid your kid isn’t going to get into the most prestigious Grade 6 class? If a student is in…

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  6. An open response to “Teachers have no right threatening education”

    Dear Mr. Lavallee,

    You wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in The Chronicle Journal on Saturday, April 11: “Teachers have no right threatening education.”

    Your letter communicates a great deal of frustration with teachers, arguing that we suffer from a sense of entitlement, that we strike because we aren’t satisfied with how easy we already have it. You ask us how we “dare” to “hold our kids’ education hostage.”

    The truth is, the decision to strike is never an easy one. Striking is not easy. We don’t do it very often. We teachers are, by and large, passionate about our jobs: we love what we do, and we love being in the classroom with students. It’s true that the weather has recently taken a turn for the better—but I can assure you, we would much rather be inside, teaching, than outside on a picket line.

    It is because we are passionate that we consider strike action. It is precisely because you and I share a concern for our children’s education that we teachers require adequate working conditions.

    You seem to be under the impression that teaching is a cakewalk: we “make great money, have great benefits, two months…

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  7. Haters gonna hate: we need Ontario's new sex ed curriculum

    Ontario’s new health and physical education curriculum landed today. As with all curriculum documents, you can read it yourself. This marks the first revised curriculum since 1998/1999.

    I remember in 2010 being disappointed when the McGuinty government backtracked hard on its revised curriculum. Both Premier Wynne and Minister of Education Liz Sandals seem pretty committed to keeping this one around, however, and that’s a very good thing. We need this, and the groups who claim we don’t or who feel that elements of the new curriculum are not “age appropriate” need to open their eyes. It’s not 1998 anymore. It’s 2015. Same-sex marriage is legal, transgender people are people too (always have been, but now let’s act like it), and the Internet is here to stay.

    And I don’t know if you’ve looked lately, but there is a lot of stuff about sex on the Internet. Like, a lot. And that’s before you start looking for porn on purpose.

    Concerned Parents, you are absolutely right: we have a huge problem with sexual education in Ontario. But the reason for that problem is not because of terrible revisions to the curriculum. It’s because the curriculum is so out of…

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  8. Science is awesome in this week’s link roll

    Eight days of school left, and then I get to return to Canada for a month! I had a nice dinner in Norwich on Friday with the math department. My train ride home should have been uneventful, but I stupidly forgot my suit carrier on the train from Norwich. So it’s somewhere in London Liverpool St Station, with any luck, and I get it back.

    I didn’t have that many links to share, and I was busy last weekend, so I held them over until this week. But that means I have much more to highlight!

    • I’m always happy to read about how the atomic bomb has changed our world. Wait, that sounded wrong. Let me start that again.
    • I’m always interested to find out new side-effects of using atomic bombs in our atmosphere. For instance, it’s possible to determine if a supposedly pre–World War II painting is a forgery by checking the quantity of certain isotopes, like strontium, in the paint. Atomic testing has markedly increased such isotopes in the atmosphere, so paint manufactured after World War II is different from paint manufactured before! Now, scientists have used a similar process to confirm that our brains grow new neurons

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  9. Educating the “innocent”: This classroom is not yet rated

    A few weeks ago I discussed gender stereotypes in ads with my Grade 8 class. I knew I would have no trouble finding examples to bring in to demonstrate what I meant. Indeed, I found this awesome website, the Gender Ads Project, with thousands of scanned magazine ads categorized by the stereotypes they portray. What I didn’t anticipate was how difficult it would be to find ads that both clearly demonstrate a stereotype and are safe for a Grade 8 classroom. I knew ads were hypersexualized, but it has never been more apparent than the hour or so I spent discarding various ads for being too racy for the classroom.

    This annoyed me, but the source of that annoyance was not the advertisers themselves. Oh, I’m plenty miffed by advertisers for all those gender stereotypes they perpetuate in their attempts to sell, sell, sell. But in this case, I was annoyed by how, as a teacher, my hands are often tied in a way that prevents me from truly addressing important issues in an authentic way. It’s silly to think that kids aren’t being exposed to hypersexualized ads outside of the classroom: these ads pervade every medium, from television…

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  10. Sailing off the edge

    Last Thursday I wrote my final exam as an undergraduate university student. This marks the end of my formal schooling (for now). I have this week off, which is a welcome break and short vacation, and then I begin my second five-week practicum. Come the last full week of April, I will be finished completely. No more assignments. No more tests. I’ll be a transcript and some bureaucratic processing away from being a certified teacher.

    I have mixed feelings about being finished school. On one hand, it is a relief. This last term of classes went by slowly. Many of my friends remarked that they were not getting much from their classes this time, that they were anxious to get back out in the field or to be done … and I can see whence this line of reasoning comes, and I agree in part. We had an intense conversation about this in my Philosophy of Education class, about how we would redesign the teacher education program if we could. All of us spoke with the voices of very tired teacher candidates.

    On the other hand, it is also terrifying. This is it. When I entered university, I entered as…

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  11. More on math from Margaret: Arithmetic should be boring

    Once again Margaret Wente, my favourite Globe and Mail columnist, has delved into the gritty underworld of math education to expose the truth. This time she is concerned that we’re not teaching basic arithmetic in schools any more. She takes issue with recent trends in math education, which emphasize discovery-based learning over drill or rote-based learning. As a consequence of this shift, the standard algorithms for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are no longer a core part of the curriculum. Wente, as well as some parents and teachers, thinks this is a bad idea. And while I agree with her on one point—it’s essential for students to know basic arithmetic as they go on to high school—once again I have to protest how she has chosen to argue that point.

    Before I discuss Wente’s arguments, I think it’s important to mention one thing that Wente does not make explicit. Education falls under the mandate of the provincial governments. Hence, every province and territory in Canada has different math curricula. There are similarities, but we still have to be careful when we are talking about math education across the entire country as if it were some uniform curriculum.

    Canada is “Behind…

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  12. Learning to look past my privilege and listen

    I keep meaning to write a more general post about my experience in professional year, but other things always seem to be happening. Such a post will happen eventually. Or maybe it won’t, and I’ll look back at this blog three years from now and wonder what I thought about learning how to teach—except that, hopefully, the threads of what my nascent personal philosophy of pedagogy will be visible in some of these posts. Now that I am fast approaching that moment when I can call myself “teacher”, I am always thinking about how I am going to teach. And everything I read or watch or see relates to that, in some way.

    Take Slutwalk, for instance. We talked about this in my Media, Education, and Gender class last week. We discussed it in relation to violence against women and how to prevent sexual assault, as well as the implications of “reclaiming” a word like slut. Indeed, we asked some very interesting questions: who can reclaim the word, and why would that group want to do so? The N-word was brought up as a comparison. So imagine my surprise when, this weekend, Slutwalk and the N-word intersected…

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  13. Why Wente is wrong about math education

    I woke up on Friday to see a page from Thursday’s Globe and Mail on the living room table. My dad had flagged an article by Margaret Wente as something that I might find relevant. You can find it online under the title “Too many teachers can’t do math, let alone teach it”, but in the paper itself it was published with the headline, “Go figure, because teachers can’t.” I encourage you to read the article, but the gist goes like this: elementary teachers, according to Wente, are failing to teach students the basics of math, because faculties of education don’t take their responsibility to prepare those teachers seriously enough.

    By way of disclaimer, I am preparing to teach at the Intermediate/Senior level (I/S), or grades 7–12. As an I/S teacher, and as a formally-trained mathematician, I have to admit to a bias when it comes to this subject: I do worry about how well-prepared elementary teachers are to teach math. I’ve marked for a course that teaches elementary concepts to prospective teachers, and some of the answers to the assignments are … creative. However, my concern isn’t so much with their knowledge of content; I worry more about…

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  14. Next year I kind of enter the adult world

    I'm almost finished my fourth year of university, and with it, my HBA in Mathematics. It doesn't feel like four years! It feels like barely yesterday I was a nervous first-year student trying to figure out how to get around our campus (which I now realize is tiny compared to other campuses).

    I won't be graduating at the end of the year, because I'm actually in a five-year concurrent education program. For those of you unfamiliar with it and with teaching certification in Ontario, let me give you a brief run down. Instead of completing my mathematics degree and then doing a one-year education program ("consecutive education" or colloquially known as "teacher's college" around these parts), I have for the past four years been enrolled in concurrent education. As the name implies, I'm taking education courses concurrently with the courses I need for my math degree. So at the end of the five years, assuming I complete the program, I'll have an HBA in Mathematics and a BEd. In Ontario, teachers are certified to teach in a specialization defined by grade level. Mine is "Intermediate/Senior," or I/S, which means grades 7-12. I really want to teach high school, but…

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