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And So It Begins…

September 12, 2014

Last weekend, Jim Prentice was selected to lead the Progressive Conservative Party in Alberta with a landslide victory. His capacity to organize and fundraise, coupled with his experience in both business and federal politics ensured his seat at the table. Now the questions begin about who will form Mr. Prentice’s cabinet. He stated publicly that he will reduce the size of his cabinet to 20 ministers. As a teacher, I hope to see a few things I hope the the new Minister of Education will consider, should we get one.

Inspiring Education and Curriculum Redesign

In May, 2013, Jeff Johnson passed a Ministerial Order on Teaching and Learning for the province. It states: “The fundamental goal of education in Alberta is to inspire all students to achieve success and fulfillment and reach full potential by developing the competencies of Engaged Thinkers, Ethical Citizens with an Entrepreneurial Spirit, who contribute to a strong prosperous economy and society.” This is what I want for my children. I want them to have the knowledge and the skills to critically evaluate problems they encounter. I want them to be engaged with networks, both inside their classroom and outside of their classroom. I want them to act in ways which reflect an ethical citizenship whether online or in face to face interactions. I want them to be educated in a system which does not continue to promote a system designed during the Industrial Revolution. I want them to be an integral part of their education and be able to visibly demonstrate their learning and their understanding. The Ministerial Order, Inspiring Education and the Curriculum Redesign will all contribute to this process.

I am confused when detractors of these documents and processes suggest that knowledge and understanding are not both considered important. In order to understand something we need to have a knowledge base. No where in any of the documents or the curriculum redesign process does it suggest otherwise. In fact, the curriculum redesign is looking at enabling students to go even deeper into their understanding of content. This is something education experts, such as John Hattie, suggest as integrally important.

I am also confused when critics of the above items suggest the best way to teach is through direct instruction – pointing and telling students where to go. I would agree, this is the best way to create a student body without the capacity to think. I posed a question to my senior students for the past few years: “Why does my youngest son (now four) ask why more than my 17 year old students?” The response I received was always the same: “Because the system doesn’t allow us to ask questions. It gives us the answers and we memorize them.” So, if that is what we want, that is what we will get. As a parent, I would much rather my children be given an opportunity to ask “why” and then be guided on a path. Obviously I want the teacher to ensure they are going the right way, but if they don’t succeed the first time, that’s OK. Learning is messy and they should be able to make mistakes, reflect upon that and keep going. Even experts, such as Hattie, suggest the data around the success of direct instruction results is flawed. Hattie does suggest that the most important things we can do in the classroom are to encourage self reflection and self grading and promote teaching and learning at an individual student level, something that is very, very difficult in the current system.

Vive la Revolution!!

It is time for a change. The world I went to school in no longer exists. The world my parents went to school in is long gone. We need to educate our children in a system that reflects their reality. Change is good, even if a few people pine for the good ole days! However, in the interests of maintaining a balanced perspective, here is a link to an article posted in an Edmonton Journal Blog that presents and viewpoint directly opposite to mine: http://goo.gl/lc17gG

Happy Friday everyone!

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