Day 62 – Pro D Pasi Sahlberg

Pro D – Today we had a professional development day, and a lot of snow! I grew up in the interior of BC, sliding around on snow and ice and frozen lakes. My drive to work in the morning was a bit crazy though. Twice while going up a hill my car lost traction, sliding sideways and backwards. I used all of my ninja-things-you-should-do to keep the car moving forward but lost out. In the end the solution was to gun it. Pedal to the metal. I parked at the bottom of Dunbar at Broadway and enjoyed a nice walk up to Lord Byng on 16th Avenue in the snow.

The morning was spent attended a talk by Pasi Sahlberg. His talks are probably often geared towards American audiences, because as he clearly laid out, other countries should be more like Canada when it comes to education.

Here is a mind dump of what I took away from the talk and other thoughts of mine recently.

  1. I’ve always hypothesized that BC’s success in education is due to great autonomy in teaching, and Pasi also believe this to be a factor
  2. PISA scores give us some information which can be useful but shouldn’t necessarily be a driving force. Pasi says PISA is now succumbing to the equivalent of doping in sports.
  3. Canada’s PISA score is increased because of our immigration policies.
  4. The highest PISA scores are likely greatly a result of authoritarian values, both in education and family life. I don’t understand why this isn’t talked about more. Is it direct instruction vs inquiry, or authoritarian vs self-deterministic?
  5. I shake my head at the hand-wringing of the WISE folk and their BC followers. I truly believe that they are mostly wrong in their analysis of math education in BC. We’re going to the toilet, they said. We’re about to see the results of 10 years of bad pedagogy, they said. It hasn’t appeared though. Well, some of their arguments are still valid and PISA is not the final chapter of math ed analysis.
  6. Bloggers like Greg Ashman analyze education policies based on research results, which I certainly appreciate and agree with. This was one of the biggest eyebrow raising things for me when I entered education from my engineering career. I would read or hear about something and ask, “how do you know that though?” In some ways I’ve changed some of my attitude after working with kids.  There is a lot of evidence that shows that inquiry doesn’t lead to better learning. I get it. However, it’s my philosophy of education that changes how I look at this. What I noticed when talking to kids is that they have had their curiosity beaten the hell out of them. Many kids are so unused to asking a question, wondering, and generally not curious about things around them. Students of mine, especially older students in physics, that are used to a lot of teacher centered direct instruction are seemingly incapable of expressing a thought without first being told what that thought should be.  I spent considerable time with my science 8 class last year having them develop questions, discuss questions, develop opinions and develop scientific experiments (ie inquiry). I saw amazing growth in these kids as people, citizens, and students, even if they may not have learned as much “content,” (and I don’t think they did learn less content).   Worked examples be damned, my students stopped saying “I don’t know” when asked “what do you think?”   That is worth more than a test will ever measure, imo.

Day 140 – Questions about Space


Science 9 – For our first day about space I had the students generate their own questions. I used the methodology outlined in Make Just One Change.

Space is a fantastic unit for inquiry. Pretty much every kid has things they wonder about for space. And by going through all of these questions they’re interested in, we actually cover all of the required learning objectives.

Day 100 – Viscosity Experiment

Science 8 – In science 8 we continue to use the Smarter Science framework for developing experimental design. For today’s class, I started out by pouring some corn syrup into a beaker of water. The idea was to stimulate kid’s observations and wonderment about viscosity. By having a beaker with water in it, the students are reminded that corn syrup and water are probably different.

I had the students fill out a level 2 Smarter Science experimental sheet, which I plan to take home and give feedback.

For today though, I took the idea that several kids had which was to test pouring rate. This is close to a lab that is in the science 8 textbook. So while the kids followed a set experimental procedure, I think many will have come up with the overall design of the experiment by themselves with correct dependent variable, independent variable, and control variables.

Day 81 – Yeast Budding


Science 9 – Having previously viewed yeast budding under a microscope, students worked with me to design a new lab based on their observations.

Students noted the following observations: colour was tan, a gas was given off, there was budding, the yeast moved around (on the slide due to fluid flow).

Students then agreed that they could vary the following: amount of yeast, amount of sugar, amount of water, temperature of water, type of water/liquid, type of sugar.

From this, the experiment was designed. I had to help with the what we would use to measure or observe: by putting balloons on the flasks, the amount of gas can be compared.  Students agreed to test the type of liquid (pH) and amount of sugar.  This fit nicely with a lab that is written up in our textbook. Of course I was guiding them towards this 🙂

One problem with this is lab is that we have only two electronic balances for measure yeast and sugar, and our triple beam balances are not calibrated (they won’t zero properly).  Measuring mass is a major time pitfall in carrying this lab out.




Day 79 – Friction Inquiry

Physics 11 – Today was one of my favorite lessons for the year, where students propose things that affect friction and then carry out their own experiments to answer the question “what things affect the force of friction?”

This group’s work was pretty good, I especially like their force diagram. Yes, surface materials affect friction.

Here’s another group’s results. Check out the sweet bar graph.

One of the more surprising results: velocity does not affect friction. This group did a good job in carrying out an efficient test. They knew that they didn’t have to measure velocity, they only needed to use two buggies that clearly had different velocities. They also were clear that what they really had to measure was force.

Two groups working on surface area had different hypothesis. The above group is the first time that I’ve had a student predict that surface area would not affect friction, and he managed to convince his group of this prior to them carrying out their test. That was pretty cool.

Mass affects friction. I drew points on their bar graph to emphasize what looks to be a linear relationship. I had encouraged them to do an x-y graph but they went with a bar graph.

One thing that I noticed a few times was groups being confused on what to measure.  It’s possible that only 1/2 of the students were able to design the experiment while the other half listened and were convinced by their peers on what to do.

One group was supposed to see if velocity affected friction and they concluded that it did. However, we noticed that they only tested one velocity.  Other groups were correctly dealing with their experimental variable, but were measuring time or distance instead of force. I will spend a day working through Smarter Science with them…

Day 78 – Density

Science 8 – First we started by me dropping different materials into water and the class yelled out if they thought the object would sink or float.  Good times. I then wrote a statement that summarized what they saw (I make no apologies into guiding their inquiry towards the required learning objectives).

“Not everything floats”

From this, we went around the class and had students come up with a question related to the above statement (the QFocus). The next task was to start investigating a question or two.  Lots of kids had some ideas on what density is, but no one was brave enough to offer a definition, so we started with “what is density?”

Students were put into random groups and given an object.  They were asked to find the mass (using a triple beam balance), volume and the ratio of mass to volume.  We summarized the information and then I asked students to use google to find what material that had, and to communicate this.  Students handed in their written answer, and I’ll give feedback on how well they communicated their claim and evidence.  Sounds pretty sciencey, no?

Some groups had a difficult time matching their density to a material.  The problem was in their measurement of volume.  We finally came back to the challenge from last day.  An error of 3mm on a size of 1cm results in big errors… I asked the kids to calculate the volume of w x l x h for…

  1. 20cm x 10cm x 1cm =
  2. 20.3cm x 10cm x 1cm =
  3. 20cm x 10.3cm x 1cm=
  4. 20cm x 10cm x 1.3cm =

We now know which measurement is more sensitive!

Finally, students gave self-assessment feedback on how they’re doing with density.

I had a student teacher observing this class.  She noted that it was chaotic and loud, but that she was amazed at how much kids can produce with so little specific directions.


Day 63 – Story Writing


Science 8 – Students continued to work on their short stories and presentations.  It’s amazing just how much use I can get out of my classroom notebooks.  They are a fantastic tool to have on hand, it’s a shame they are not found in more classrooms.  It’s also too bad that so many students have a $600 smartphone instead of a $500 notebook computer.