Category Archives: education

Our new grad

Our older son, Alex, graduated from Queen’s in Math this spring. We attended convocation which was lovely, a big change from Zouheir’s and mine which was held in the now-demolished arena. Alex’s was held in Grant Hall, a lovely historic building on campus and something of an icon. Four disciplines received their degrees, both undergraduate and graduate: mathematics, physics, computer science, and geography.

Principal Daniel Woolf addresses the candidates.
Principal Daniel Woolf addresses the candidates.

There is much pomp and ceremony in a Queen’s convocation. From organ music, to bagpipes that pipe in the procession, to the beautiful space. It lasted about an hour and a half, including an address by the recipient of an honorary doctorate, Peter Nicholson.

Graduates file onto the stage as their name is called, they are “hooded” and then congratulated by the rector, principal, and a representative from the alumni association.

There was a reception afterwards in Jeffrey Hall for the math grads, with an opportunity for parents and students to mingle with staff and faculty. And to take pictures.

Proud parents!
Proud parents!
The Math class of 2013.
The Math class of 2013.

We also got a nice picture of the breakfast club from the summer of 2012. Alex worked for Professor Agnes Herzberg, who made coffee every morning. They’d be joined by another student Ed Belk and Professor Mansouri for coffee and current event chat before the work day began.

Alex with last summer's "breakfast club": fellow math summer research assistant Ed Belk, Alex, Prof. Emeritus Agnes Herzberg (Alex's supervisor), Prof. Mansouri.
Alex with last summer’s “breakfast club”: fellow math summer research assistant Ed Belk, Alex, Professor Agnes Herzberg, Professor Mansouri.

Professor Herzberg gave Alex a coffee mug with an image of Jeffrey Hall on it, and we grabbed a moment when the rain held off to get an outdoor pic.

Professor Herzberg, Alex, Zouheir (proud father)
Professor Herzberg, Alex, Zouheir (proud father)

Thirty-one years ago, I graduated from the same department. A few pics:

Zouheir and Janet, Queen's Graduation, 1982.
Zouheir and Janet, Queen’s Graduation, 1982.

 

Me, with mother and grandmother. June 1982.
Me, with mother and grandmother. June 1982.
Queen's Math Class of 1982.
Queen’s Math Class of 1982.

Alex has begun a Master of Management Analytics at the Queen’s School of Business, which is held in Toronto. It uses the Executive degree model, running on Wednesday evenings and alternate Saturdays to permit full-time employment. Alex is hot on the trail of work, and has started a blog that will have present some of his work in analytics. He’s making use of all the open data that is coming on-line in Toronto to do some interesting analyses. Check it out and leave him a comment!

 

Sick days and supply teachers: the inconvenient truth

Source: The New Yorker (www.condenaststore.com)

There’s been a lot in the press lately about teachers and sick days. I’m opinionated on this topic, but today I want to write about (high-school) students and supply teachers from the point of view of a parent (and student).

I had a 40 minute drive to a music lesson with my son who is just finishing up Grade 12. We have a pretty honest relationship about school issues, and he tells me when he’s skipping a class and why. I ignore the automated calls from the TDSB as I typically know when he has skipped and support him.

Here’s the thing: based on his report, students only actually learn anything 1 time out of 10 when there is a supply teacher, and that is typically when the supply teacher is for a math class and has math credentials (and the teacher has left a lesson plan.) Much more typically, the supply is tasked with the job of keeping order in the classroom for the 76 minute class (in my son’s non-semestered, eight-classes-every-two-days school). That’s 76 minutes the students sit around doing homework, playing on their smartphones, chatting with their friends, watching a movie (typically not related to curriculum) or having a nap. So not only are teachers being paid for this sick day, but supply teachers are being paid for babysitting teenagers and there is not actually any learning going on. As a taxpayer, this incenses me. As a parent, I say “C’mon home.”

This gets even more annoying at the end of the year:

Right now, they’re in “summatives.” This is a period of roughly a month when major projects are due, final performances are done, and exams are written. All of my son’s summatives are finished except for his math exam which is the week after next. So, what is the incentive to go to ANY classes (other than math) during this last week of school? His math teacher has announced that in-class reviews are done, and so at this point the onus is on the students to prepare for the exam. This week is basically a write-off as far as learning is concerned, with locker clean-out Monday, and a moratorium from Tuesday to Friday, so Michael has booked private music lessons, is going to a masterclass, and practising. Napping. Preparing for his math exam. And playing videogames. At home.

And I continue to ignore the automated calls from the school board telling me he wasn’t in class.

Anyone else have similar experiences?

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On attending a graduate seminar.

I attended a seminar at an institute at the Munk Centre for International Studies recently.  It was a talk given by a doctoral fellow and was tangentially related to my interests in health information and policy.  I was very surprised when the speaker proceeded to read her talk (for 40+ minutes), accompanied by slides that had densely worded sentences on them, summarizing what she was saying.  She was very articulate, but it was like having someone read a journal article to you, and in a field with which you are not completely familiar.  I managed to stay on track for the first 30 minutes, but the last few minutes went right over my head, particularly when she got into this.

We had a break, and then the respondent read her comments.  Again from what appeared to be a typed script.  

[Is this reading-from-a-script the norm at academic talks?  It certainly wasn't in mathematics, but that's a completely different animal.  I don't remember it happening in any of the epidemiology talks I attended as a grad student, or in public lectures I've attended recently.  Definitely in some homilies though!]

Once the questions started, and no script was available,  the presenter appeared extremely nervous and quite ill-at-ease, punctuating her partial sentences with “like”, “um”, “er”.  Many times, a simple “Good point.  I will have to look in to that.”  would have sufficed to answer questions.  Rather than going at the question indirectly with a vague answer.  

She also nervously played with her hair, which was extremely distracting. 

I started thinking about the different skill sets required for writing and speaking, and how proficiency in one certainly doesn't guarantee the other.  And how we probably get better at both as we get older.  I certainly did.  The major problem with the reading from the script is that finely crafted sentences that work on the page can be very difficult to parse when they're coming at us aurally.  By the time on ehas  figured out what a sentence means, the speaker can be three or four sentences ahead.  

Ah well.  Right now I have a sample of one from this institute, so I will certainly return and see if it's the norm for presentations.  It's good for my aging brain to work a little.  Sort of like sight-singing of renaissance music with no bar lines and tight harmony.  You just have to keep going and hope it all hangs together by the end.

Things are settled.

Michael has missed St. Mike’s since he left at the end of last year, Grade 8.  He’s in our local, highly-rated public high school, has made lots of friends, is in the band, and likes (most of) his teachers.  It became apparent three weeks or so ago that he was interested in returning, so we approached the administration to discuss this.  For a variety of reasons, they were anxious to hear directly from Michael, so last Thursday, he met with the principal and admissions director for an hour.  He had previously written a letter to the principal that Z and I delivered outlining his reasons for returning.  The administrators went over his pros and cons list with him at their meeting.

The list (with respect to St. Mikes) looked like this (pretty much verbatim).

Pros

  • excellent teachers
  • excellent equipment/resources
  • sense of community/family
  • lack of jerks
  • art
  • music
Cons
  • sports-emphasis
  • friends are scattered over a wider range
  • uniforms
  • no girls
  • longer commute

We have all come to the agreement that it makes sense for him to finish up the school year where he is, and he’s at the top of the waitlist for any spots that open up next year.  They typically have a few open spots from students who leave for whatever reason, so we are reasonably sure that he will be able to get in.

Z and I are ecstatic, to say the least.  We very much want a Catholic education for our children, one with high standards, discipline, and frankly, I like single-gender schools.  In weighing the pros and cons, Michael came to the conclusion that St. Mike’s is the right place for him, and he’ll work hard to finish strong this year, ready to return in September.

Things are settled.

Michael has missed St. Mike’s since he left at the end of last year, Grade 8.  He’s in our local, highly-rated public high school, has made lots of friends, is in the band, and likes (most of) his teachers.  It became apparent three weeks or so ago that he was interested in returning, so we approached the administration to discuss this.  For a variety of reasons, they were anxious to hear directly from Michael, so last Thursday, he met with the principal and admissions director for an hour.  He had previously written a letter to the principal that Z and I delivered outlining his reasons for returning.  The administrators went over his pros and cons list with him at their meeting.

The list (with respect to St. Mikes) looked like this (pretty much verbatim).

Pros

  • excellent teachers
  • excellent equipment/resources
  • sense of community/family
  • lack of jerks
  • art
  • music
Cons
  • sports-emphasis
  • friends are scattered over a wider range
  • uniforms
  • no girls
  • longer commute

We have all come to the agreement that it makes sense for him to finish up the school year where he is, and he’s at the top of the waitlist for any spots that open up next year.  They typically have a few open spots from students who leave for whatever reason, so we are reasonably sure that he will be able to get in.

Z and I are ecstatic, to say the least.  We very much want a Catholic education for our children, one with high standards, discipline, and frankly, I like single-gender schools.  In weighing the pros and cons, Michael came to the conclusion that St. Mike’s is the right place for him, and he’ll work hard to finish strong this year, ready to return in September.

Gatto on public education.

From a piece by John Gatto, originally published in Harpers (2003).

Now for the good news. Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they’ll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology – all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.

Go read the whole thing.

H/T Seraphic Goes to Scotland 

Gatto on public education.

From a piece by John Gatto, originally published in Harpers (2003).

Now for the good news. Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they’ll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology – all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.

Go read the whole thing.

H/T Seraphic Goes to Scotland