Tag Archive | Moral Education

And So It Ends… But Not Really.

I think the stars aligned. Why, you ask? Somehow in the chaos of my final semester, three of my classes all required (well, two required and one was optional) a personal project that was rather open ended. Between my Math Education, Moral Education, and Technology in the Classroom classes, I found a common niche. This niche was in a flipped classroom. Anyone who’s been reading my blog knows that lately, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with them. That is partly due to how awesome I think they are, and partly due to the fact that I’ve had a monster project involving them for the last two months. I elected to do a unit within the Math 9 Curriculum on Polynomials. For more information and a better run down of the project, click here.

So how does this project tie into a critical project for Moral Education? Well, the way I see it, there are two ways to interpret the phrase “moral education:” (1) The act of educating students about morality, or (2) education that is inherently moral. I chose to focus more on the second definition, since we covered the first definition a lot more in class. For my Math Ed class, I created the flipped unit, but at the end of it, I was left asking questions about the equity of using a regular assessment model. How fair was it to assess my students the way that I’d grown up being tested, the way they’ve probably always been tested, and the way that most teachers still test? This, in fact, is less of an assessment and more of an evaluation. How could I build authentic and informative assessment into this unit? I looked at two different ways, comparing and contrasting them with each other as well as with current Quiz-Quiz-Test Model. I came up with a learning contract that uses standards-based grading and an assessment through learning that uses the material covered in the unit to bridge the gap between grade nine and grade ten math, all while enabling me to assess each skill that the student needs to demonstrate in order to fully understand polynomials for the grade nine requirements.

However, I’m not about the ignore the first definition of moral education. Within this classroom, there will need to be a lot of discussion about equity, fairness, and ethics in math education. These conversations need to take place in order to justify why I would even consider challenging the status quo. These conversations could be overtly teaching morals and ethics. Implicitly, I am morally educating my students by treating each student with great respect — so much respect that I want to customize their learning for each of them and give them the opportunity to shine come assessment time, however that may manifest itself. More importantly, I want to provide them with a desire to learn, not just  force them to memorize, material. Showing this kind of respect for their intelligence, effort, and learning is modeling good citizenship for my students.

As for the critical side of my project, I have to say it was really intriguing and fun to start to dig into challenging the typical math classroom. I started off by flipping a classroom — a big change to begin with — then I challenged how the videos were made by pushing for a more inquiry-based approach. Then I got to challenge the assessment of such a classroom. This project has really helped me rethink how I want my classroom to look, and it has certainly made me more conscious of justifying why I would do something in a classroom. Is it just because that’s the way I was taught and it worked for me, or is it because it is truly best practice?

So I sat down in front of a video camera one afternoon/evening and I spoke. I gave myself a list of questions, many of which made the final cut, while some did not. I will apologize for a few things: firstly, I didn’t realize how daunting talking to a tiny lens would be, so I had several prolonged “ums” that I edited out, but not as smoothly as I would’ve liked; secondly, toward the end of filming, I started to get a scratchy throat, so my voice gets a bit raspy; and thirdly, it’s quite lengthy–as in it is over an hour–so you may want to grab a coffee and a comfortable chair. Other than that, I am quite proud of how this turned out. I’m glad I took the chance to sit down and reflect out loud. Even the editing process was quite reflective for me. Listening and having an internal dialogue with myself was a really cool feeling, and it has certainly pushed my thinking further and inspired me to keep thinking about these tensions.

If the video doesn’t play, you can view it on Vimeo here. Special thanks to the Vimeo staff for helping me through my uploading difficulties. They have a fantastic staff that helped me troubleshoot through their well-kept help forum. Much appreciated!

It seems like it is time to say that this project has finally come together, from the practical math education side of the polynomials unit, to the moral side of assessment, to the technological side of making this whole thing (the unit as well as how the project is assembled, researched, and presented). While I can officially say, “I’m done,” I need to add in a “… for now.” This project will never be done. It will always be a work-in-progress. It will always be evolving, and I never want to stop learning about it.


Political Education: No Need for a Class. It’s Everywhere.

Today, Mike asked us to critique Dr. Shor’s classroom as if we were an administrator who got a complaint that his classroom was too political. The anecdote was an excerpt from “First Day of Class: Passing the Test.” I would post a link, but it is only available to me in hard copy.

Time to put my administrator hat on.


Dr. Shor’s class is very political. I don’t deny that. However, education is political—that is the nature of it. Everyone comes into the classroom with their own set of beliefs. It is impossible to dodge that. Regardless of whether you are teaching a math class, a drama class, or an English class, your beliefs are going to seep into your teaching. The same goes for your students; their opinions and beliefs are going to seep into whatever they do too.

Dr. Shor is very wise to not suppress these beliefs. It is impossible to hide from them, so why not engage these beliefs as a platform for teaching the course. By doing so, he can engage all learners—after all, everyone has an opinion—and dig deeper into the curriculum.

Interestingly, Dr. Shor was using the discussion in class to teach the curriculum. Part of being a good writer is an ability to analyze, see different points of views, make a succinct argument, and justify your thoughts. I don’t see any other way to teach such skills other than by raising political issues that clearly have many available views to discuss as a class.

Many of the topics Dr. Shor discussed were controversial, such as abortion, teen pregnancy, etc. I can understand why some students might find this sort of discussion uncomfortable or inappropriate. Some might even find them offensive. A lot of these issues have the potential to be very personal to each student. It is impossible to find a topic with two sides to it that couldn’t possibly have any links or ties to students’ personal lives. However, Dr. Shor never forced any students into a discussion. Yes, he encouraged them, but he never forced them. Part of what makes a good class discussion and debate is that people tend to be emotionally invested in the topics. Having that personal frame of reference enables students to really connect with the topic, rather than doing some superficial research that they don’t care about only to present it one day and forget it the next. I commend Dr. Shor on beginning the class talking about the standardized test–it enabled his students to open up and share in a safe environment. They were sharing about something that they were passionate about and had a personal connection to. Doing so set the stage for his class to be a safe place for sharing.

Being political in class is inherent. Being outwardly political in class has its time and its place. Dr. Shor found that time and place. He created a safe learning environment, and he saw his students succeed. I see nothing wrong with his approaches and I will continue to support him.

What do you think?

Education is Getting in the Way of Educating: Meta-Teaching Within the Curriculum

This week, Mike asked us to read Learning to Divide the World: Educating at Empire’s End for class. He wanted us to dive into Willinsky’s argument, examine our own schooling, and venture to ponder if we really do believe that teachers need to be “accountable,” as per Willinsky’s interpretation.

John Willinsky’s Learning to Divide the World: Educating at Empire’s End  argues that within every classroom, curriculum, and lesson we teach there is an embedded history. This history defines how we teach, why we teach, and what we teach. Largely, this history favours the white privilege. This refers back to the gigantic English empire, from which most of our modern day schooling framework is derived.

Even outside of curriculum, we see an embedded white privilege: Willinsky gives examples of students from Kathy’s class who define their identity. The students who were white defined themselves by their activities, their interests, and their appearance, mentioning nothing about their perceived “race,” while the Asian students defined themselves by their cultural heritage and perceived “race.” This exemplifies Willinsky’s thesis that we need to actively educate our students on the implicit and explicit forms of racial division, stereotyping, and racism.

Willinsky argues that teachers need to be accountable to their students—we owe our students the understanding of the underwritten and denied historical context of everything we teach. It is our duty to bring these issues to the forefront, rather than perpetuating the white privilege within the curriculum we teach. I whole heartedly agree. There is always a time and place to hold a discussion about the “why” within our instruction. Educating students on the fault-lines of our teaching and curriculum will lead to deeper understanding, as well as a safer classroom community and opportunity to explore different ways of learning as presented by a variety of cultures serving more than just the students who were born into a white privilege. Imperialism has taught us how to divide the world. It is our job to piece it back together for our students.

Within my own education, I can recall one instance of imperialism and white privilege that baffled me until about an hour ago. In grade three, we were instructed to do a heritage project. We had to go home and ask our parents what our nationality was. Like a good student, I hurried home and found that I was part English, part French, and part Acadian. The next day, I told my teacher that I wanted to do a project on Acadia (located on the Eastern Coast of Canada), and she said that I had to do a project on England, since Canada wasn’t a good choice for me. I was so mad because the girl who was sitting beside me got to do a project on Canada because she was First Nations.

I am quite proud of my Acadian heritage. I would have loved to learn more about being Acadian. In this case, I feel like white privilege worked against me – because I was white, I couldn’t possibly be “Canadian.” This gave me a sense that I didn’t truly belong as an Acadian. Whenever heritage came up for years following, I never mentioned that I have an Acadian heritage. Now, I am proud to say that I have an Acadian heritage. As Willinsky would argue, I also say that I am Canadian.

In this instance, I feel that my teacher should have taken time to talk to us about Imperialism (maybe not in those exact words), and talk about the difference between heritage and nationality. She perpetuated the divide within our classroom with this project, rather than fostering a sense of multiculturalism.

In my grade twelve English class, we examined colonialism and scratched the surface of white privilege. However, the books we read really characterized African cultures as primitive and barbaric, despite the theme of the book being anti-colonial. We also only explored post-colonialism within Africa. We never even bothered to talk about Asia, South America, or anywhere else. This class had a fantastic opportunity to dive into Imperialism, colonialism, implicit/explicit racism, and beyond, but unfortunately, we had an exam to write and another unit to work through, so the topic was abandoned.

I guess that I am arguing “Education” is getting in the way of educating our students. Curriculum holds so much potential beyond what we are required to teach. We can meta-teach: teach about teaching these things. Willinsky wants all teachers to have a sense of accountability to their students, and meta-teaching will do just that. However, in order to meta-teach, teachers need to have an understanding of the embedded history within the topics they teach, the way they teach, and their own lives.