How 60 million dollars will not save our Ontario pupils from academic failures?

(Ontario Education Minister)

50% of Ontario Grade 6 students failed this year’s provincial standard math qualification. It seems like a shocker in that how could the affluent and prosperous communities in Ontario failed half of its pupils at elementary school. Yet, barely understood the problem, the Ontario government impetuously decided to invest $60 millions in buying more resources and strictly reinforcing the presence of math and science teachers in the classroom, hoping this will help the students to pass. As lacking resources and teachers was ever the root cause for our failed students and in large the incompetent Canadian education system. Having problems is the norm of life, but having no solutions or worse wrong solutions is cul-de-sac of desperado. The action of the Ontario government is like a desperate zookeeper to strengthen the endangered pygmy marmoset by feeding him the elephant’s diet, you are not going to get an elephant sized monkey. Nor will we have more competent learners.

The key to understand this failure is to examine the pedagogy of our education system, instead of rummaging through what’s wrong with our students. Today, too many teachers teach students to how to pass exams, rather than mastering the materials. This strategy works only for a short term, because it is easy to duck feed students what they need to pass one test, one course, or a semester. The problem with duck feeding style teaching is that the “duck” will either puke out or poop out everything, meaning there is little or no retention in the end. Consequently, when students move onto the next subject, the next course, or the next semester, they do not feel prepared and have nothing to draw upon. The teaching for test scores focuses and cares only about the percentage gained, 60% passing, 75% B, 90% A, pays no attention to the 10%, 25%, and 40% lost or missing from our students. In essence, our students instead building the next stage of their lives on the things they know, they actually start with a foamy and bubbly foundation that is doomed to crumple.

Teaching for mastery is the norm of life. When we learn how to run, we start with crawling, then standing, and then walking, and it’s only when we master walking, we start running. In Taekwondo, you start your training with a white belt, you would remain as a white belt for as long as necessary, and only when you have mastered it you would move on to become a yellow belt and eventually to the black belt. Learning English, we begin with alphabets, and once we mastered the 26 alphabets, we move on to words, and then sentences, and it’s only when we mastered the grammars, we can attempt to write passages.

But, in education, we run to the opposite. We move students as cohorts, a pass of 60% or even worse in universities a D with 50% allows students to move onto the next course. So instead of building on what they know or retained, students in general accumulate more unknowns and misunderstandings, the result is falling behind and prematurely terminate one’s academic career. The structure of our education system resembles to terrible house building. When we build the house foundation, we rechon it to be 80% complete. Instead of perfecting it, we move on to build the first floor, and lucky us, we got 75% done. So move on again to build the second flood, and we got 65% done. So on and so forth until we reach the point of zero percent of confidence – the point of collapsing, costing time, money, or even lives. Why is this not OK in construction, but completely permissive when we are building our future selves?

My solution to this problem is to teach by mastery, not by test scores.

Students should not be moved as cohorts, they are all unique individuals. We need to provide personalized education. No horizontal comparison, but vertical comparison of past, now, and future. We ask students what they want to be in the next year, the next five years, or in the next decade. Students move on only when they completely comprehend and master the content. With mastery and continuous understanding of what they want, quickly student will develop a career perspective if not a life goal. From here, students only need to master what’s needed for her/his upcoming vocational educations and it’s only here that students can be diverted.

This practical education scheme based on mastery saves students’ time and money by eliminating the overspending on courses that they would never use nor benefit. Furthermore, this practice also breaks the trend of devaluation of education, meaning the bachelor degree will no longer be the new high school diploma. People who are earning their degrees are truly in position of needing them for their career aspiration, not just because everyone else is going to colleges.

One of the biggest critics of teaching for mastery is the complaint of lacking human resources to launch the personalized education. This is a complete lack of basic comprehension of what teaching for mastery and personalized education is. In teaching for mastery/personalized education, students needn’t to be paired with a teacher or teaching assistant in a one-on-one manner. Just like in personalized medicine, a doctor can still have many patients, but what makes it personalized is the retro fitted caring system, not the nomenclature. Thus, in personalized education, what matters is the communication between students and teachers. This communication is interpreted in two ways: one is the evidence-based learning; the other is the feedback-based teaching. In evidence-based learning, it is an opportunity for teachers to truly evaluate how well students have mastered the material. In feedback-based teaching, teachers inquire how students feel about their current learning experiences and what their next learning objectives are. The combination works as a synergism in which the evidence-based learning propels the feedback-based teaching, and in retrospect, the feedback-based teaching accentuates and focuses the evidence-based learning in the long run.

Of course, there are many other ideas and methodologies being touted with in order to fix our educational system with the $60 million. One of these is what Rob Furman referred to in Huffington Post as Service Learning. I am a true lover and believer of Service Learning, which is more commonly known as community based learning. There are many benefits of Service Learning, such as better absorption of knowledge, enhancing academic learning, reducing students’ stereotypes and preconceived notions. However, in this case where we are trying to address the poor math and science learning outcomes, fundraising, soup kitchen, and senior home visits are unlikely to do anything. In addition, one prominent danger of Service Learning is best summarized by Lori Pompa:

“If I “do for” you, “serve” you, “give to” you – that create a connection in which I have the resources, the abilities, the power, and you are on the receiving end. It can be – while benign in intent – ironically disempowering to the receiver, granting further power to the giver. Without meaning to, this process replicates the “have vs. have-not” paradigm that underlies many social problems.”

To improve the learning outcomes of our students, to nurture more competent and successful learners, and to encourage continuous learning, we need policy makers to be aware of, support, and reinforce the teaching for mastery, service learning, and many other great teaching practices, definitely NOT the teaching for test scores. Let’s make the next $ 60 millions dollars go where they belong.

 

Do YOU have a vision for what Ontario could become? Showcase YOUR abilities and ideas with the Lieutenant Governor’s Visionaries Prize!

U of T students! Do you have great opinions and ideas that would impact Canada’s future in a meaningful, significant way? The Lieutenant Governor’s Visionaries Prize is a platform for you to share your vision for Toronto, and be recognized for it!! The Lieutenant Governor’s Visionaries Prize wants you to identify the challenges that Ontario will face and the opportunities that will emerge over the next 50 years—and then share your plan of action for the province.

With just an 800-word essay or two-minute video, applicants are eligible to win $2,500 AND a meet and greet with Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor at a special reception on October 3. There are not a lot of platforms for students to have their voices heard on a governmental level, so we want to ensure that Canada’s emerging leaders and policy makers take advantage of the opportunity.

The Lieutenant Governor’s Visionaries Prize is organized into six different categories, outlined in the press release below. Short-listed candidates in each category will travel to a city in Ontario to present their idea in front of head judge Piya Chattopadhyay (host of CBC’s Out in the Open) and a guest judge.

In celebration of Ontario’s 150th anniversary, the prize offers innovative thinkers aged 18 and over a refreshingly easy chance to bring their vision for Ontario’s future to life.

 

For detailed information, please visit

LG Visionaries Prize

Messy Makes It Happen

What do you do when you’ve been trying to work something out for a while but your efforts don’t seem to bear any fruit? When you’ve been working on that essay for hours, and you can tell before you’re even half-way through it won’t turn out as well as you want it to? Or when you have a club that hasn’t been as active as it should be despite your best efforts?

Faced with such a scenario myself and drawing from personal experience, I’ve found, there are two options to choose from moving forward:

  1. Scrap everything you’ve got so far, and start again from scratch.
  2. Work with what you’ve got and try to improve on it.

Sometimes it’s easier to scrap what you’ve got and start on a clean slate; this way, you don’t have to work through existing problems you’ve tried solving, and can start with a fresh page, a fresh mind, a fresh start. Other times, starting from scratch means having to rebuild your foundations which takes a lot of time and effort. I’ve recently had two separate experiences, both pointing to the same conclusion: messy makes it happen. Never give up on what you’ve got going just because it’s not going your way or makes you feel uncomfortable. Push through the discomfort because, quite often, after the initial stage of difficulty, incredible things can happen. A whole new approach to the problem can emerge—a solution completely unfamiliar and unexpected.

 

At the construction site of Union Station.

This first experience was in one of my Architectural studio classes. I was working on a drawing for weeks before I realised that I had made a mistake and that my drawings were inaccurate. Faced with this problem, I decided to clear my slate and start from scratch because I was stuck and couldn’t make my way out out of the situation. My solution was to completely step out of the maze and start again, rather than turn around and try to find another path out of my problem. Looking back, I wish I had chosen the second option because I realised I would have figured out a solution to my problem if I had only spent more time thinking about it. I got scared. I ran into a problem and, in a state of fear, saw no way out, so I chose to run away and start again. Here’s what I learned: when curious minds are given enough time, space, and freedom, the imagination has room to roam. So give yourself enough time, space and freedom to think through a problem and follow lines of inquiry down a new path.

My second experience was completely different from this first one.  As a student minoring in Italian, I recently joined the Italian Undergraduate Students’ Cultural Association (IUSCA) as a third year undergraduate representative. Upon joining the club, I learned the organisation had previously experienced a downfall and wasn’t actively running. Years later, a zealous undergraduate student, had a vision of creating an Italian club that would serve more as a family than a formal organisation. The club would conduct events ranging from study group sessions, to a talent show based on Italian culture for students of the Italian department and beyond. This student, like me, had been faced with two options: should she try to revive the extinct IUSCA group, or establish a new organisation from scratch? This student chose to work with the existing club, making it stronger than it ever was before.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, she understood that messy does not necessarily mean bad, and that we shouldn’t give up on something just because it doesn’t initially seem to be working out. Through my experience, I came to learn this too.

messy makes it happen.

 

Undressing Nightlife Dress Codes

During the summer months my friends and I rarely stay inside the house. We can usually be found barhopping downtown. Having explored Toronto’s nightlife for over a year, it is easy to stop noticing things. For example, how most of the attire for females at bars and clubs isn’t exactly what you would wear to church on Sunday. Being a student in downtown Toronto lead me to become unaware of the nightlife expectations placed on us.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to travel to Europe this summer, meaning I had the opportunity to explore the nightlife of other cities. My first night out I was with a mid- to late twenty-something crowd when we decided to go to a trendy rooftop club in the heart Rome’s l’Eur. It was packed. So packed that the line extended down the street. We were lucky to get in because we knew someone (ayeeee connections!). Once inside, it was like a club in Toronto except cleaner and less trashy. Also noticeable was how the women there were dressed. These girls were dressed like a girl in Toronto would be dressed to go to dinner or the movies and they looked super comfortable and happy with themselves.

Moreover, how they felt and looked translated in the way the opposite sex reached out to them. In Toronto, most males at bars or clubs act a certain way, and lets just say they aren’t usually looking to get to know you the next day. In Rome, I was approached by a few guys (from the ages of early twenties all the way to late twenties) and I found –here comes the real shocker—that they were interested in actually getting to know my likes, dislikes, interests…ME. They weren’t touchy and extremely respectful. True gentlemen.

After recovering from those nights and getting some deeply deserved sleep, I started to think about what would happen if my friends in Toronto and I dressed the way the other girls and I did at clubs in Italy. I knew the reaction of other people, both guys and girls, would be completely different. Why is that? Why is it that in Toronto if women don’t dress like pop culture tells them to they are most likely not taken seriously, or completely ignored? Or sometimes not even LET IN to these bars and clubs? I mean Italy has pop culture too, less significant on a world scale but still very prominent in society. Is it because in Italy the culture expresses the idea that less makeup and more clothing is more? Is it a result of the influence of the American film, music, and fashion industries on Canada, or more specifically Toronto? Is it because females think that they have to show it all off even if they don’t want to just to get any attention?

I was almost 100% certain that if I went to a bar dressed with the same outfit that I loved and felt great in on one of my nights out in Rome or Milan, I would be completely snubbed by the boys, the girls, the bartender, the bodyguards, etc. So, since I like being proven right I decided to test it out. So Friday night, my best friend Amanda and I both tested it out and dressed how we wanted to dress. That is, in a nice pair of jeans, crewneck tank tops, and sandals and go to a hip bar downtown. We get to the front of the line and while the body guard checking our IDs didn’t say anything, his eyes said it all. We go inside and as predicted we didn’t make as many friends and we would have if we dressed in our usual attires when we go out. However, the friends we did make are still in contact with us for future outings (very interesting, am I right?).

So at the end of this, what did I learn? People going to bars and clubs are going to dress in different ways and people should dress however they want, not they way society, the bodyguards, the location, or whatever tells us to. I learned this in Rome, Milan, and Toronto.

Moral of the story: dress however the hell you want. You do you.

A Lesson from Water: Polarization to Radicalization

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Water is ubiquitous and everywhere we look, even in the least expected places. In the desert or on Mars, we still find water.

Water is polarized. Its polarity stems from the fact that a water molecule carries both a partially positive and partially negative charge. Positivity and negativity, like yin and yang, result in its polarized nature. Its properties allows water to “shake hands” with the essential building blocks of life, like our genetic materials (DNA/RNA), proteins, and fats (lipids), thus sustaining life on earth. At important moments, it also willingly sacrifices itself for our metabolism.

However, at other times water molecules can become excited (charged), brandishing its long arms to grab one more negative charge, which turns itself into a radical. The water-derived radicals damage all building blocks of life, and are thus destructive to all life forms, producing effects ranging from the fishtail wrinkles to liver cirrhosis to cancer.

The radicalized transformation of the polarized water molecule exemplifies the violence in our society.

Polarization is the representation of two sides on the premise of a whole. Canada is a polarized country. We get rid of the Conservatives to elect the Liberals; we discuss the pros and cons of the legalization of marijuana and assisted suicide openly. On the passing of our former mayor, Rob Ford, we put aside of his distasteful past, and remember what he did well for the city of Toronto and her people. A polarized society is a sustainable society that balances the weights from both sides.

Radicalization differs from polarization by its gluttony. A person becomes a terrorist by gaining a bomb; a rancher become an armed militia when he put his own ends above the federal law; a presidential candidate arises from a narcissist offering to build a wall. Our body deals with free radicals in a two-pronged approach: on one hand, it eliminates them; on the other hand, if the cells became overwhelmed by radicals, the cells commit suicide. Either way, our body tries to get rid of the radicals and minimize the damage.

In regards to national and international security, we are trying to do the same to the violent terrorists; however, we are strained both ways. Currently, we are at a crossroad: on one side, we try to eliminate terrorism; on the other side, we try to prevent the heartless and amoral attacks. We cannot stop, because if we did, we would then lose both battles. Our inactivity shows our weakness and reluctance to collaborate, and that only means encouragement to the terrorists.

To root out the radicals, one needs to understand the root cause. Jealousy of our wealth, envy our democracy, or hate of the fact that we are happy and free are often touted as the reasons for terrorists attacks. However, such thinking only represents our ignorance of the past and arrogance to learn.

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Terrorists are created by no one but us, the West. Let’s use Taliban as an example. When the British realized that they could no longer sustain the Indian subcontinent, they drew lines on the map to separate the subcontinent based on religion: one country for the Muslims and one for the Hindus. For Muslims, there was the East and for West Pakistan, and later the East of Pakistan became Bangladesh. India was left for the Hindus. Since the separation, Pakistan and India have been fuming and fighting. The smaller state of Pakistan had no space to fall back on once India attacked, so they decided to butter up their backyard neighbours- Afghanistan. In the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, India supported Russia and thus Pakistan decided to work with US. Eventually, the Soviets pulled out from Afghanistan and Pakistan took over Afghanistan. This was the key moment in which Pakistan started to train local militias against their neighbour, groups which later became Taliban. A similar pattern is observed in almost all tumultuous places: Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, and Somalia. In every case, the West decided to destabilize a region for its own gains and created a void that could only be filled by something worse: radical terrorists.

When can we learn to keep our hands in our own pockets? I understand the urge to tell people how to be good, but this does not solve any problems. We need to let trapped people to find their own ways out. We should only assist from the outside. Our foreign policy is like a stud walking into a case of domestic violence. We beat up the husband and leave. Surely, he won’t torture his wife in for a while, but the violence will resume. It’s only when the wife wants to change that such violence can be quenched.

UTSU Spring Elections 2016

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As the semester comes to an end and elections season has been intense in all of the faculties and colleges, the election that affects all students at UTSG and UTM has now begun: the UTSU Spring Elections. For the next few days, students can exercise their right to vote for a UTSU that they feel will make a difference for them and cater to the needs that they want. As the Architecture, Landscape, and Design Director running on the slate HelloUofT, I wanted to talk a bit about my experience and why I think that it is extremely important to vote in these elections.

As a first year, I did not involve myself in and around campus simply because I did not think that I had neither the personality nor the courage to speak up about the lack of representation and involvement of my faculty. It was only after my friends invited me to join their group that I took the steps to put myself out there. Working with the slate has definitely been a lot different than just listening to them talk to me at a public place on campus. I have seen the raw, intense emotions of individuals who truly want to make UofT a place where the students feel included and engaged. I have seen a group comprised of seven executives and over fifteen directors instantaneously care for each other as soon as we all met. The experiences from our leaders inspires us to push harder and fight for the things we believe in, and I can honestly say that if these group of people can care immensely for people they’ve only just met, I am confident that they can put this love and strive into a UTSU that will not only listen to their students, but give back and give more reasons as to why UofT is such a fantastic school.

I encourage everyone to vote these next few days. Online voting is open until 6:30pm on the 24th at www.utsu.simplyvoting.com .

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Exercise your right to vote and get ready to say hello to a UofT that says hello back!

5 Reasons To Make Your Bed Every Morning

There are two kinds of people in our universe: people who make their beds in the morning, and people who do not. For the latter category, mornings are the worst. We barely have enough energy to get out of our beds, let alone make them. As a kid, whenever my Mom told me to make my bed my instincts would kick in and I would reply ‘Why? I’m getting back in there in a few hours anyway’.

Besides the fact that your mother told you to do so, there are 5 good reasons to keep your sheets neat:

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  1. It gives you a feeling of accomplishment.
    Simple as it may seem, keeping your sheets neat first thing in the morning gives you a kickstart to being orderly and efficient. These two minutes of work set the tone for the rest of your day. It may be small, but it’s mighty!
  2. It keeps you motivated.
    Keeping your sheets neat gives you a feeling of success. This in turn keeps you motivated to take on other challenges over the course of your day. Quoting Emmet Fox, “a small spark can start a great fire”.
  3. You learn to manage your time more efficiently.
    Making your bed literally takes two minutes. By squeezing in this simple task between the time you turn on your kettle and the time it starting whistling, you learn to become more efficient with your time management skills overall, getting you used to accomplishing smaller tasks between your bigger ones.
  4. It keeps you healthier and happier.
    Unappealing as it may seem, every minute your skin sheds over 30,000 dead cells; over 50% of the dust at your place is actually dead skin. By straightening up your bed in the morning and giving it some air to breath, you prevent dirt and dust from joining you under the covers at night. You are in control of your own space, how it looks, and therefore how it makes you feel. A tidy space is very calming and can help you create your own soothing sanctuary at home.
  5. It’s a minor commitment.
    For those of you who, like me, are not big fans of commitment, making your bed is a small morning ritual that builds momentum for a greater positive change. Picking one little task to improve your life, and doing it regularly, will help you get in the habit of progressively dedicating yourself to smaller, and gradually bigger, commitments.

If I haven’t convinced you to make your bed already, watch this short video by Admiral McRaven, who claims that changing the world starts with making your bed!