Category Archives: Science

Afraid to be Wrong

Over the past few days, mostly while shovelling snow, I have been listening to one particular podcast from the CBC Ideas Program: Knowledge and Democracy.

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 7.29.04 AM The program examines the interaction between science and society, looking at the “position” of the discipline “science” in a democracy.

It is of particular interest to me because of our  recent experiences with a government that chose to muzzle scientists and withdraw support from scientific inquiry.

The podcast is a combination of a talk given by Harry Collins at Memorial University in Newfoundland, and a conversation he had with Paul Kennedy.

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It raises important questions about the position of science in society.  I recommend it to anyone interested in how science is perceived in our society, and particularly for those advocating for science instruction and literacy in our public school system.

One sentence that resonates this morning is, “Would I prefer a society where people expose their ideas to criticism, or where they hide them away so nobody can tell them that they are wrong?“.

In our work with open learning, we often hear that education leaders are afraid to openly share their learning – to be “lead learners” – because it will expose what they don’t know.

Schooling promotes this thinking – that it is better to hide your ignorance.  It is very challenging to shift people who excelled in  school – many who then entered schooling as a profession – into believing that it is better to share ideas than to hide them.

How do we create the conditions in our public education system that encourage leaders to be learners, and to openly share their learning with others?

If we want “innovation”, we need to embrace ideas.

The only way to have great ideas, is to have a lot of ideas.

If our school culture values ‘being right’ more than it values learning, we can’t be innovative.

 

 

Resources:

Are we All Scientific Experts Now? (by Harry Collins)

Ideas with Paul Kennedy: Knowledge and Democracy

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Ten Years Ago, Ten Years From Now

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Today is my dog’s 10th birthday.

Technically, he isn’t really my dog.  We bought him for our son 10 years ago.

“Basso”, the beagle, was my son’s Christmas present in 2005.

A beagle was the #2 item on my son’s wish list.

Item #1 was an iPod, but everyone wanted an iPod in 2005, and all of the stores were sold out.

 

 

An iPod.  An iPod with video playback – new technology in 2005, and the cool accessory for a grade 11 student.Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 12.17.32 AM

As it turns out, we found an iPod as well, just before Christmas, in a pop-up tech store in Vaughan Mills (which had only opened about a year earlier).

Basso the beagle has seen so many changes in technology in his 10 years with us.  We have pictures of this dog on such a wide variety of devices – including that first iPod.

Basso still hides his face when he sees any device.

His earliest experiences with camera devices always involved infrared lights and flashes that hurt his eyes.  Even today, as I tried to take a birthday picture, he closed his eyes and then hid his face under his blanket.

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In April 2006, when my school board sponsored teachers to purchase technology for Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 11.54.33 PMtheir classroom use, I bought a beautiful Canon PowerShot A700 digital camera for just under $700.00. The very first picture I took is still my favourite picture of Basso.  Since then, Basso has had his picture taken with an iPhone 4, 4S, 5, 6, and 6s.  His picture has been displayed on an iPad, iPad2, iPad3, iPad Air, MacBook Pro and MacBook.

The worst technology Basso ever experienced was that  5th generation iPod back in 2005.

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 11.55.28 PMI needed that camera because my ultra-cool blackberry 7750 cell phone/smart phone didn’t have one.  We weren’t thinking about taking pictures with our phones 10 years ago.

Back then, my son was loving his time in grade 11 – at least the part that was high school hockey.

He was dying of boredom in his physics class, and a few other classes as well.  The content was utterly irrelevant and uninspiring. He saw no purpose in memorizing formulas for tests or trying to figure out the “type” of problem so he could determine what formula to plug the numbers into.

Since then, he has gone on to a brilliant career first as a national team athlete, and now as a science-based professional – a choice that required surviving many more (very boring) physics classes.  It certainly was not his physics classes that inspired him to have a career in science, where he does more physics every day than his teachers have ever experienced.

So I wonder, are the students in that physics class today still reading from a textbook, going home and answering questions for homework, and then being tested on their ability to memorize the formula or choose the right formula given some made-up problem?  Or are those students now solving real-life problems, networking with people who actually work in the field of physics, and learning about the amazing opportunities available to them in science?  Has the 10 years of explosive technology change had any impact at all on students in a grade 11 physics class?

Unlike with Basso, when I hold up my iPhone 6 to take a picture of my granddaughter, she knows that she is supposed to smile!

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Ten years from now, when she is in Grade 5, that iPhone 6 will be her blackberry 7750.  She will laugh at what I took her baby pictures with.

It will be the worst technology she will experience in her life.

I wonder, will her grade 5 class still look like the grade 5 class of today?  Or will our school system finally have entered the pace of change that is the world now?  Will her grade five class be mirroring her world and her life, or will it still be focused on her grade 6 EQAO scores and preparing her well for the world her grandparents grew up in?

We laugh at the technology from 10 years ago.

Do we laugh at what we thought classrooms should be like way back then too, or do they still look exactly the same?

 

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On Canada Day: Solving Big Hairy Problems

Over the past few months I have had the opportunity to present at conferences in other Canadian provinces. Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 10.22.52 AM It makes me realize how little I actually know about education in Canada outside of Ontario.

It’s silly, really.  Just because we exist in different education jurisdictions doesn’t mean we can’t spend more time learning from each other and collaborating on common problems.

My Canada Day resolution is to focus on building connections with my out-of-province colleagues.

We know that Canada has big problems and challenges.

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For example, we don’t know how to safely dispose of nuclear waste.  We are destroying Arctic coastlines with oil spills.  The tar sands have far reaching environmental and health impacts.  Our population is aging.  Our First Nations, Metis and Inuit citizens are isolated and can’t access the basics we take for granted in the south.

I would argue that our education system must build the capacity and desire in our future generations to solve these problems.  As Pak Tee Ng says, if we want our graduates to be creative and curious citizens, consider that’s how they arrive in school, so do no harm!

Yesterday, I was reading about some of the work my cousin, Robert LeRoy, has done in chemical and physical sciences, and I stumbled upon this quote from an interview with him:

Q: Are there any words of wisdom you could pass on to a novice in the world of science?

Finding something which interests you enough that you are willing to work really hard on it, and which challenges you to use your abilities to the fullest, is the key to a fulfilling and enjoyable life. Whether this involves basic or applied science (as in my case) or any other area of human endeavour is immaterial, and whether or not it pays particularly well, is also of no matter. Don’t choose something because it is easy – choose it because it is challenging and worthwhile.

Robert J. LeRoy, Theoretical Chemistry, University of Waterloo

We know there are barriers that keep some of our best thinkers from accessing opportunities to contribute to the solutions to Canada’s problems.  How could we collaborate as educators across the country to remove some of these barriers?

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Pasi Sahlberg, slides from #uLead15 Keynote shared here: http://pasisahlberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/uLead-Talk-2015.pdf

Our current system of high grades as a filter for future formal education is one such barrier.  In countries like Finland, there is the recognition that high marks are not proven indicators of success in all professional fields.  For example,  high marks in high school do not predict success as a classroom teacher, so high school marks are not used to select candidates for the Finnish Education Program.  In fact, about a quarter of successful applicants to the Teacher Education Program come from the lowest quartile of secondary school grades.

When we look at the number of disengaged secondary school students, we have to see a national tragedy.  This, in itself, is a big hairy problem for Canada.  How many of these students could be the ones with the ability and desire to find answers to our global and national challenges?

How can we create a system that embraces and enables all learners to reach their full potential, for the common good of all Canadians?

The story of the Genetic Genius, Dr. Lap-Chee Tsui, the man who isolated and identified the gene that causes Cystic Fibrosis, exemplifies some of the barriers faced by brilliant minds.  Dr. Tsui was not a good student and he could not score well on tests. Without numerous interventions, he would never have had the opportunity to make this important discovery.  The results of his work have changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Please take the time to listen to the full story here, on CBC Ideas with Paul Kennedy.  I have summarized the story below.

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As a child, Lap-Chee Tsui lived in China before fleeing to Hong Kong with his family, where frequently, his family was unable to pay his tuition fees for high school.  A kind and generous teacher loaned him money for the fees, until the teacher could be repaid by Lap-Chee’s father, so that he would be able to continue to study.  His parents stressed the critical importance of a good education, but it was his free time out of school that nurtured his curiosity.

Without many toys, Lap-Chee turned to ponds and tadpoles for entertainment. He loved to draw and build things. He experimented with his sister’s kitchen toys, burning salt and sugar to see the chemical reactions.   

Dr. Tsui characterizes himself as a very good learner with a very curious mind, but he could not write tests, the primary form of assessment in school.  As a result, he did not get good grades.

Other students could regurgitate class notes, right down to the punctuation errors, and score very high marks.  Lap-Chee felt he knew the material well, in fact he still uses some of that learning today, but he could not provide rote memorization of the material on the tests.

His poor grades would have stopped most people from pursuing further education.  However, he persisted, and with some luck, found an opportunity to begin laboratory research.

Here, he excelled.

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I will let you listen to the rest of the story that led to this amazing discovery.

My question is, how many brilliant problem-solvers in Canada have been blocked from achieving their potential by the false barriers the system has established?

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Photo Credit: Mike Prince

As Canadians, how can we ensure that all of our students have the opportunity to aspire to greatness, so that we all have a better quality of life?

The role of educators is key to the future of Canada.

 

July 3, 2015 edit: I have added this brilliant 3 minutes from Scott McLeod on how we are really good at using the words for change, but we are not seeing it in our classrooms.

 

 

 

Enable every child to grow to contribute to the good of this country.

Do no harm.

Resources:

Canadian Medical Hall of Fame: Dr Lap-Chee Tsui

Propelling a New Education Paradigm Forward to Reduce Dropouts – CEA (Deborah McCallum)

Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions From Going in One Year and Out the Other

Let me begin with a huge thanks to @RoyanLee who suggested the @InquiringShow Inquiring Minds podcast in his blog last summer.

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It has been such a great source of learning for me, especially while out walking the dog, doing the dishes, folding laundry or even (yes, Brandon Grasley) while brushing my teeth!

Screen Shot 2015-01-03 at 9.14.57 PMThe January 2, 2015 Inquiring Minds podcast is all about positive thinking, and how it relates to achieving our goals for 2015.

 

I grew up with a grandmother who was a disciple of Norman Vincent Peale and “The Power of Positive Thinking”.

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But does “positive thinking” actually lead to a better outcome?

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Is this quote actually even true?

Professor Gabriele Oettingen  helps us to rethink our beliefs about positive thinking.

She challenges us to think about positive thinking as a number of different activities instead of just one way of being.

Sometimes, we think very positively about an upcoming event because we have had similar success in the past.  This type of thinking is based on reality, and it often results in better outcomes because it is a motivating factor.

However, having positive daydreams about upcoming events is linked to poorer outcomes.  Positive daydreaming can lead to relaxation.  Professor Oettingen suggests that people who frequently use positive daydreaming as a strategy, convince themselves that they are fine, and they don’t take the necessary steps to move forward in achieving their goals.

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Image shared under a Creative Commons attribution, non-commercial share-alike license by Angie Torres.

 

Mental contrasting“, however, is a technique that can lead to successfully achieving  some goals, while letting go of goals that you will not be able to achieve.  The important factor is building close connections between your current reality and your goal as well as your current reality and identified obstacles, and what is needed to overcome the obstacles.

The process is known as “WOOP” – Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan.

The process is explained here: http://www.woopmylife.org/.  It’s a scientific approach to achieving the outcomes you want in life.

Can it turn your wishful thinking into the life you are looking for?

In the podcast, Indre Viskontas struggles with this confluence of science and “self-help”.  We are all looking for ways to help us achieve the things we want in life, but is this really science?

I would love to hear if this little piece of research helps you “stick” with your 2015 resolutions.

Could this be a helpful strategy for students?

Happy New Year!

How Will You Make Your Own Mess? “Creating a Culture Not of Mimics But of Masters”

We have problems.  Big problems.

Our world is warming up at an alarming rate.  Child poverty is still a reality in spite of “promises” to end it.

Who will solve these problems?

What are we doing every day to move toward solutions?

Commander Hadfield asked this question recently as host of the CBC Radio program “The Current”.

Listen to the short clip here:
http://www.cbc.ca/video/swf/UberPlayer.swf?state=shareaudio&clipId=2508270671&width=512&height=126

“It takes individual action…

What can I do to understand this better, and then based on that understanding, what can action can I take to then help improve things for myself, for Canadians and beyond our borders.”

Commander Hadfield wonders what we are doing wrong in teaching science to our children.  Why does their curiosity disappear as they move through the school system?

 

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Shared under a Creative Commons Licence by timuiuc

 

This short clip might shed some light on the issues.

http://swf.tubechop.com/tubechop.swf?vurl=sXpbONjV1Jc&start=431.61&end=492.43&cid=2794897

 

We can ask the very same questions about math.

This short clip addresses part of the problem, but the full video below is well worth your time.
http://swf.tubechop.com/tubechop.swf?vurl=-tFCVa3lCds&start=366.33&end=539.64&cid=3754815

 

 

How will you help our students to make their own mess?

How are you making your own mess?

What strategies take us away from the path to a society of mimics, and down the road to a society of masters, poised to solve our big problems?

 

Do You Believe in Science?

This evening, a friend shared this article about a MP from BC who challenges science while in the House of Commons.

It led to this hilarious video, which really made me think about the pervasive misunderstandings we tolerate in society when it comes to science.

Will today’s children continue to accept a Canadian government that makes major policy decisions based on belief rather than science?

Will they have the solid understanding of science they will need understand the long-term consequences of their actions?

Learning at #Educon

I am taking a moment away from the learning to capture some of the key ideas emerging from Educon 2.6:

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Click on the image if the Axioms are too small to read.  Consider how they might inform your daily practice.

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Educon is held at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. I took this shot during Kevin Jarrett’s (@kjarrett) photography workshop on #makeartnotpics.  I wanted to capture the heart in the window.  So appropriate!

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Jaime Casap (@jcasap) is always talking about how schools need to inspire digital leaders.  Digital citizens should be the norm, not what we work towards.

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A key comment at the panel on Friday night and then again from the keynote on Saturday was the idea that we need to now step back and rethink education.  Classrooms?  why?  Let’s use technology to make it different, not for the sake of being different but because learning can now be so much more powerful and inclusive.

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The engage vs. empower conversation was really refreshing.  So often the conversation barely reaches engagement because it is focused only on achievement, which can mean only test scores.  Don’t we want so much more for our learners than a test score?

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I love this conversation.  It’s not enough that we just empower kids to do what they want.  They don’t know what they don’t know.  Don’t they also have the right to be exposed to so many other things to wonder about and be curious about?

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One day of learning on a note paper.  I love how this makes thinking and learning visible.

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One of the highlights of #Educon for me was finally meeting David Jakes (@djakes) f2f.  To be mentioned on a Bill Ferriter note paper graphic with David Jakes is such an honour!

This particular graphic went viral during #Educon.  I strongly believe in ownership vs. buy-in in everything to do with learning.  It’s a distinction I first heard at #ECOO13 (I think) and it has permeated all of my work since then.

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Ah,  Richard Culatta, our Saturday morning keynote.  I had no idea what I was in for at this session, but I thought it would be USA Government stuff.  I was not even really looking forward to it.  But this guy rocked the  place.  My takeaway was his analogy of pencils and our school system.  You can sharpen that darn pencil until your fingers bleed but it will never be a pen, nor will it ever be Siri.  Now is the time to step back from the pencils and rethink what it needs to look like.  http://www.ed.gov/edblogs/technology/richard-culatta/

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Wow, wow, wow!  I sat down on Saturday morning and there I was, right behind David Warlick. 🙂  I worked to get @dwarlick to Thunder Bay a few years ago and he wowed us with his thinking.  I love how he takes a little nugget and wraps it up with his own flavours and then hands it to you in a conversation to go and do good work with.

I had several conversations with David over the course of #Educon.  He is a generous and thoughtful gentleman.

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 6.29.44 AMThink like Gretzky! Don’t pass the puck to the player, pass the puck to where the player will be when the puck arrives!  We need to stop planning for today and think about how exponential change will impact what we are doing.

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Like joy.  Learning, hope, joy, all reason enough to go to school.

Ah, see!  I was really there!  This panel discussion on open education was so thought-provoking.  I love the conversations that spiraled out of it.

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Love the simple, positive focus to the code of behaviour.

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It’s.not.about.memorizing.Really.

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My proud moment.  My heart sang when I saw this tweet.  What a beautiful construction!

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I love this.  We talked a lot about vulnerability at #Educon.  How does it feel to be “knocked off balance”?

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A “willingness to be disturbed” – to have our beliefs challenged by what others think.  We must admit we don’t know.  We have to let go of certainty.

http://www.ode.state.or.us/opportunities/grants/saelp/willing-to-be-disturbed.pdf

Ayla Gavins told powerful stories of how Mission Hill School in Boston runs “without a principal”.  Everyone takes responsibility for the success of the school.

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I have a lot of time for Jackie Gerstein (@jackiegerstein).  She tweeted this gem while I was at #Educon and she was watching the live stream of the keynote.

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More of Sylvia’s brilliance.  I have followed her for years.  Love her work! (@smartinez)

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Amen!

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maslow tweet wifi

The importance of access to devices and connections (wifi) was emphasized over and over again at #Educon.  This graphic says it all.  Do you think that spending on giving access to all learners should be a priority?

http://blog.markwcarbone.ca/2014/01/14/setting-the-stage/

Learn this century

Professional learning is one key to change.  We must all be learners.

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So important!  Conversations must push us and challenge our thinking, and we have to be okay with that.  It’s okay to be wrong!  It’s our best thinking at the time!

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It always starts with us.  Change the world.  #CTW

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Yes, it is really about relationships.

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So be courageous.  Get into the driver’s seat.  Progressive thinkers need to consider their sphere of influence.  How many progressive thinking teachers choose to move on and become school and system leaders?

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On the wall at #SLA Science Leadership Academy.

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Reflection in the glass at #SLA.  Let’s all enable the people in our school communities to soar.