To my math students

I see you struggling. Looking for a question similar to the one on the assessment. Searching for something that will show you the steps to complete this problem. Desperately hoping that there is some rudimentary pattern you can reproduce. Something has gone wrong in your mathematics education.

Most likely, it happened long before you reached me, but if I have shown you that mathematics is reproducible and regurgitation-based, I’m sorry. Mathematics is understanding. If you take the time to understand the concepts, and what the questions are asking, you do not need to reproduce common examples. Once you understand the theories, you are able to complete any question. Take the time to understand.

I apologize. At no point in our instruction did I complete an example just like the question you are stuck on. You will not find a similar example to replicate. However, if you understood that this question required a basic use of combinations, you wouldn’t be so frustrated right now.

Mathematics requires understanding. I can help you with that. Unfortunately, you didn’t deem that important until your assessment. Good luck.


Excited about Educating

I have had a blank screen staring at me for about an hour. I am attempting to write an article about a topic which I am quite passionate about, but as mentioned in my last post, I have felt less than enthused about teaching lately, so why would I be excited to write an article about educational practice?

In an attempt to refresh my memory, and hunt for some desperately needed citations, I began reading some of my writing from my master’s program. As I was about half way through my major paper, I realized how excited I am to be returning to academia this fall. I was challenged in my masters program; challenged to rethink what education meant to me, and why I had become so complacent and accepting of the current educational regime. I was challenged to improve myself as an educator for myself and my students, not simply asked to implement a division wide practice forced upon me. I was pushed to really think about education, curriculum, and practice – their origins, evolution, and personal meaning.

As I prepare to return to academia this fall, I have been asked to consider teaching undergraduate courses in education. At first I was elated solely because I am considering this as a potential career, but today it took on a new meaning. I may have the chance to make young teacher candidates to rethink education for themselves, to consider what the current system means to them and where they think they will fit into it. I may have the opportunity to gain an entirely new perspective on education from those who have most recently been a part of the system. I will have the opportunity to grow philosophically as an educator; I am extremely excited about this.

Recently, I have been wondering if I made the right decision to move from the trenches (aka the classroom) and into academia, fearing that I may become disconnect from education. However, today I know I made the right decision and I CANNOT wait for this journey to begin.

Developing Practice

Lately, I`ve been feeling quite disconnected from my classroom, like I`ve been going through the motions. I know that my students are still receiving quality information, but can I justifiably say they are receiving a quality education? 

The best teachers are not necessarily those who know their material inside and out, but those who can excite and engage students in the learning process. Lately, I have felt stifled and grown stagnate because of many strict rules I have to follow to ensure that ALL students receive the same education, no matter which classroom they are placed in the school. Why should every student receive the same education? Doesn’t this go directly against the uprising pedagogical wave of differentiation? I fear that standardization within our schools is just the first step to standardization across the province.

Keep your options open

There is an epidemic in North America, the mentality that our students are to ‘keep their options open’. Now, it isn’t this statement that I disagree with, it is the way it is being handled within our educational system.

Parents, and students alike, are keeping their options open by overloading themselves with science and math courses. The successful completion of these courses will allow them to competitively apply for any university program, but are we really keeping their options open? As Sir Ken Robinson alludes to in his Ted Talk, How to Escape Education’s Death Valley (Apr 2013), we need our students to have a broad and well rounded education; we are not doing this by keeping their ‘options open’. We are pulling students from the fine arts and practical arts to overfill our science and math classrooms with many students who don’t want to be there. Using science and math courses as the option-defined medium, has really limited many of these options to business, technology, science industry, and medical careers; is this really that many options?

Secondly, I am a strong advocate for both science and mathematics education, but also recognize that not everyone is meant to take every course. Year after year I see students have their self esteem crushed by taking a high level mathematics course (or physics course) which they neither understand nor need for their intended career path, but because their parents want their ‘options open’ they suffer in silence through these courses. Why are we forcing these students to suffer crippling self-esteem destruction just to have their options open after high school, particularly when they are not likely to pursue these paths?

What is the real benefit to keeping their options open? We should be exposing our students to various areas, not simply academic knowledge. Students should be taught to find what they love and pursue it, not that the world isn’t always pleasant. Educators need to excite our students and students need to learn that being excited about art is just as good as being excited about science; they have options beyond academic pursuits and should be exposed to this as their reality.

What is Education?

Today, at FETC, I was posed an interesting question – “What is Education?” I have spent a lot of time reflecting on this, and limited to my constraints of formal education. The speakers’ response was, “Education is a form of opening up.” Brilliant response. Education is opening up a students’ mind, opening a group of students to new ideas, opening a generation to what it around them. How do we open this next generation?

What does it mean to open up students today? How can we achieve this? Most importantly, how can we integrate today’s most personal piece of technology – the cell phone?

I really all boils down to one question, what do we as human beings want out of education? Do we develop our next generation for success? Do we drive our students to seek happiness in their education? What does our society need? This shift in education needs to occur, because our old model of developing ‘productive members of society’ developed in the industrial revolution, and the technological revolution of today has vastly altered the areas for which we need to prepare our students.

I believe we need to re-develop our educational system to drive towards understanding; understanding of our world, understanding of one’s personal circumstances, and understanding of the tools developing in our world. We need to prepare students with skills, not specifics. The world needs question askers and problem solvers, and our educational system must alter itself to fit accordingly.

Hit the Target

Today, in physics 30, we did one of my favourite labs,


problem-based learning. Students are given access to a basic projectile set up based on inclined planes (covered last unit). We go over a brief explanation of how motion in two dimensions work and then set on the quest of calculating where to place the target in order to hit it.

heavily based on

I have ranted numerous times about the need for problem-based learning within our science courses, particularly with the past enlightening years working on my masters. However, I rarely get a glimpse into how deep this commitment truly is.

My favourite part of this lab is that I made it up in my pre-service teaching. At the time, I was told it would be too difficult for students to solve, but even with declining work ethic in our student population, I always notice that even the weak students are engaged in this project. It is exciting, and challenging, and fun!

Problem-based learning is not only for veteran teachers! I actually find that I developed some of my best material when I was in my first years of teaching – as idealistic and hopeful as I was… I wonder what else I can dig out of the vault…

Why not science?

CBC News has posted an interesting article regarding Canadian math and science ability across our country. In short, we are VERY lacking in our science and mathematical ability as a general population. They claim that this is due to the fact many provinces only require mathematics until students are in grade 10. At this point, I was shocked (at least we require grade 11), and a little worried. Do students really understand all of the math they need to be productive citizens by grade 10?!

Then, I looked at the ages considered, 16 – 65. A very diverse group. I would have liked to see results broken down by age categories. For example, do the younger students have stronger skills? I ask this because I believe they would for two reasons, 1) students have more recently completed formal math work, and more importantly, 2) math is now given in real world contexts. Do these contexts affect retention?

My next questions are around the drop out rates of science and math. Why are these rates so high when science is SO interesting? I have always wondered why my physics class sizes are growing it is only by a few students per year. Physics is how we explain our world! My class is JAM PACKED with labs and investigations and I even avoid difficult math until the very end of concepts. Why aren’t students taking these courses? Is it because they want an easier class? Is it because they don’t like science? I am completely baffled, but definitely understand where this article is coming from.

Scientific literacy is fundamental in our society. New technologies emerge every day and our students need to have a basic understanding of these new technologies. So, let’s start the conversation. How can we improve our science classes to increase the number of students taking them?