Academics & English

Just read a very interesting article about the use of non-English words in Academic writing. I have to admit, it is not something that I have considered before. English is really a polyglot of languages

After all “we don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary” (James Nicoll)

So what is the differentiation between “new” words in another language and “old” (i.e. accepted) words in another language? When is is appropriate to indicate with italics or to provide a translation?

It isn’t as simple as you’d think. I encourage you to have a read:

Transformative Moment

This week I attended the Vancouver Island University Teaching and Learning Conference and had the pleasure in attending many workshops & presentations. Once workshop that I want to focus on in this moment was by Janet Sinclair & Brain Walker called “Telling our Story: Indigenous Portfolio Development” about IRLP 100 (Indigenous Learning and Recognition Portfolio). I was interested in this workshop as I have many students who are taking this, while taking classes with me. Students come out of IRLP 100 transformed. They become confident in self, supportive in others & have a clear vision of their future.

Janet & Brian gave an overview of the course of the course and had the participants do ‘mini’ versions of some of the activities that are in the class. Once in particular stuck with me. They asked us to think of a transformative moment in our life and then determine what we learned from it. I have to admit, I panicked a little at the question, but was quickly able to think of a moment in time. When I was 16, I traveled to Switzerland with my cousin to visit family. The whole trip changed me, moments throughout the trip are etched in to brain & soul but there was one experience that has continued to define me.

At the end of the trip, when it was time to go, my family said “you’ll be fine” and sent me on my way home. Alone I had to catch a tram down the mountain they lived on, caught a train to Paris, walked from the train station to my hotel, overnight-ed at the hotel, caught a cab to the metro, the metro to the airport & flew home all by myself. There were challenges along the way – my bags were heavy, but some kind people at a pub(!) held half my bags for me till I checked in to the hotel – I had lost my plane ticket & my french is poor. Somehow, it all was fine. It did all work out. I took one step at a time, and fixed any problem that I encountered.

I was left with a feeling that I could do anything that needed to be done. While I happily accepted help from others (the kindness of strangers can be a wonderful thing) I was fine on my own. I could and did survive & succeed.

Interleaving – Weaving my Math Topics

One effective self-regulated learning strategy is interweaving course content or interleaving. Interleaving is the practice of switching between ideas while studying as this strengthen  understanding on topics previously learned while creating links and connections between topics. I have been using, demonstrating, and teaching this concept in my math classes. As I am not with my students when they are studying I am demonstrating the usefulness of interleaving in three ways:

  1. As homework suggestions
  2. During regularly scheduled class activities
  3. During instruction time

Homework Suggestions:

The easiest change to make were homework suggestions. While students had standing instructions to practice the topics explored that day, I made a point of recommending other previous topics to look at. Thus my new instructions each day were, for example: “Try practicing what we learned today, factoring using the difference of squares, but also try 1 questions of graphing and 1 simplifying an algebraic radical”

Class Activities:

Changing class activities & assignments took more time to prepare. Each new group activity/assignment now included one or two questions on a previously learned topic. While it was nice when the previous material had a strong link to the new material, I wasn’t very worried about always finding a strong link as mixing up old and new allows students to find their own links.

As one student noted, testing has material all mixed up, so why not activities?

Instructional Time:

During instruction I made an effort to remind students of previous material and how that related to the new material. Math can be ‘silo-ed’ if not careful. I also made a point of choosing questions from other units to solve, mixing up the new with the old which keeps everything fresh in the minds of my students.

Changes in a Math course

My math class looked like: teach, student practice, teach, student practice, teach, student practice, teach, student practice, teach, student practice, teach, student practice, teach, student practice, review, test. Also, I had taught similar concepts as unique, separate entities. For example, there are 4 different chapters of binomial factoring. I taught one, after another, over 2 or 3 days.

I changed my thinking in how I approached math class to incorporate ‘clumping’ of similar strategies (Nilson, 2013). Now, for example, all four chapters in binomial factoring were taught in 1 day. Students could now see similarities and differences in similar material. This left SPACE in my teaching schedule. I decided to incorporate activates on those days. Activities would be done in groups of 2 – 4 and help students master aspects of the course.

Within the activities, I would embed Self-Regulation learning strategies. Initially the strategies were implicit, as the term progresses I changed my thinking and made the strategies explicit. For example I said “A great learning strategy is called Dual Coding. Dual Coding means combining words and visuals. Essentially you look at visuals and explain them in words or take information and draw a visual.” Then I got the students to use that strategy in the activity. My goal was to have students understand why I was doing something.

I believe that test corrections are very important in math. Thus, once I have returned a math test, I ask students to make corrections to their test and hand it back in for marks. To expand and enhance test corrections, I created a ‘test wrapper’. Students would answer a few simple questions before the test, a few simple questions after they completed the test corrections and I would be able to have a conversation with them about how they approach studying math, their motivation for being in the course, and their confidence level with the material. I saw it as a simple way to have a conversation about their learning in a math course.

One unexpected benefit with the test wrappers was the 2 or 3 simple questions at the beginning of the test really grounded the students. It gave everyone a simple starting place, essentially the first couple of steps on the test journey. I forgot the wrapper (once) on a test and students immediately asked where it was – I had to promise to put it there for the test corrections (and for the next test)

Overall I am pleased with the changes to my course


I am currently working on my paper to go with my Master’s Project for my M.ED at VIU. I am interested in the topic. I am teaching the course that I am writing about (FNFS 103. Succeeding Online: Tools and Technology for Learning) in September. Thus my Masters will really prepare me for my students in September. The problem? The weather is beautiful, things need doing, the ocean is calling, Facebook is distracting…. In short everything and nothing.

Heck, right now I am updating my blog rather than working on my Masters…..

What are you procrastinating doing?

Digital Learning Conference

digital footprintI recently had the pleasure of attending the 2015 Digital Learning Conference ()put on by Randy LaBonte (@rlabonte).

Charlene Stewart (a colleague & OLTD cohort member) attended with me. We were also fortunate enough to see two other instructors Mary O’Neill (@maryjoneill) and Avi Luxenburg (@aluxenburg) and several other OLTD students. It was wonderful to meet so many people that I had only connected with online. It definitely felt like meeting with old friends.

The keynote speaker Dave Cormier (@davecormier) spoke to us of Rhizomatic learning. Learning like Rhizome plants, does not come from nothing but is rather part of a large, complex, underground root system that is the sum of our being. It is a new way to look at the idea that student are not empty vessels but have experience & knowledge and are linked to a wide community. Curriculum is not the content of the course but is other people and your connection to them. My favourite Quotes: Learning for uncertainty in the age of abundance & Divergent thinking is much more important than convergent thinking.

My theme for the conference was community building. So I attended a fabulous lecture by Avi and another by Avi and Mary on building community. For all the details, check out this site: Some key thoughts (in images):

4D learning wordleJo Axe & Samantha Wood from Royal Roads presented all about tools for student engagement. They shared this wonderful resource with a list of terrific digital tools: (really, check it out).

The presentation that Charlene and I did went fabulously well. I am very proud of us that we presented at a conference FOR THE FIRST TIME. Our topic was Mind Mapping – Harnessing the power of student collaboration (link below)

Other Links:

Family Time in Korea

Someone who I am in Korea with observed that Sunday is definitely family day in here. I reflected on why this may be the case. Here is what I came up with:

I notice that I see moms & dads (separately or together) with little wee ones all the time through the week, but not with school age children. Only on Sunday are they seen together. I think this is due to the high time demands of work and school in Korea. A person is expected to work 14+ hours a day. Many women stop working after having a child because of the high demands. Students, especially those in high school, routinely do not come home from school until 9 – 10 pm as they are in additional study classes after school. Elementary students come home on a sliding scale, quite early when young, later when older. There is no opportunity to have time with family during the week because of work and school..

That leaves Saturday and Sunday. If you are in high school, you attend additional classes to prepare for the very difficult university entrance tests – without an amazing score you will not be attending a ‘good’ university. Elementary students have the day filled with group activities, such as going to the museum or other outing (these places get quite packed on Saturdays I noticed). Parents also often work on Saturday’s.

Now, we are left with one day, Sunday, for family time. Why Sunday? Well, the religion with the largest number of followers is Christianity (Buddhism is second). Sunday is the traditional day of rest and worship for Christians.

When I think about my family, and the family time of friends, we spread out together time. Sometimes we go out for dinner on a Wednesday or Friday. Maybe we go to the beach on Saturday. And yes, sometimes we visit family on Sunday. We eat dinner together most nights. We can do this because school does not have the same demands on time in Canada as Korea.  When I spoke about this with Korean university students, they said in high school they ate dinner at school and saw their parents very little during the week.

Which is better, one concentrated day of family time or spread out togetherness? I know what I prefer, but I would be intrigued to hear from others.

Korean Education

I learned two very interesting things about Korean education and I thought I would post them while they are fresh in my mind.

Firstly, one reason why study and memorization is so highly prized and emphasized is due to the history of Korean writing. Prior to 1446 there was no Korean writing system. Any writing was done in Chinese. Korean is a distinct language, unlike others. So speaking is Korean but writing in Chinese would be like speaking in English but writing in Arabic – very tricky. This meant that only about 10% of the population was literate. It took a lot of work and study to be able to read and write.

in 1443, King Sejhunminjeongeumong the Great, developed a writing system based on the way Korean sounds – The characters represent the sounds of Korean. However this new writing system, Hangeul, was not used for official purposes and was only used for some pop culture and for women and children. So study continued to be highly prized and necessary for educated people. It wasn’t until the Japanese occupation (and forced Japanese as the official language) in the twentieth century that Hanguel emerged as a source of national pride and was used.

So for hundreds (10th century onwards) of years the only way to be educated was through intense work and memorization. Expecting that to change in less than a hundred years (the occupation ended 1945) seems unrealistic.

Secondly, I asked a local university student here, if what I had heard about the high school system was true. We had a fantastic talk about the South Korean Education system. Students, in high school, don’t pay very much attention to their teachers it seems. I inquired why and she said because the teachers were “no good”. I pressed further and she said it was because teachers knew that students go to additional school after school and do all their learning there, so they don’t need to pay attention in regular school. They go to this additional school in the month long summer and winter breaks. I said that this didn’t seem very fun, and she agreed. Students usually eat dinner at this second school and can see their family very little. They look forward to University which, in comparison, has waaay less studying and waaaaay more fun. She says some students struggle with the freedom.

I asked her if the quality of teaching changed in school, would students pay attention and care? Would they then not do the other school? She said that she personally, would have payed attention and been happy about it, but many of her friends would not. Change, will be slow in coming.

I feel like the two are linked. Study is valued, so there is extra school, so the teachers & students of the actual school stopped caring because ‘Why learn twice?’. Points for me to ponder…

South Korean Education on North Korea

Today was my first lecture. It was about North Korea. South Korea is separated from the rest of the continent by the North. Essentially it is an attached island. You can really see this separation at night.

korea at night
Image from:

The explanation about why and how the split happened and what that meant in terms of economics, freedoms, prison camps and how the average person lives was fascinating. What shocked me was how little the South Korean students knew about what was happening just north of them. The lectured shocked many of them and they had lots of questions.

The Lecturer, Dr. Yoon Yeosang, Director of North Korean Human Rights Archive, repeatedly said that South Koreans just don’t care about what is going on north of them. He mentioned the book Escape from Camp 14, about a person who escaped from a political prisoner camp, which became a best seller internationally and made in to a film, yet only sold 10 000 copies in South Korea. Why don’t people care/know? Maybe too may threats and incidents? I’m not sure. I decided to investigate further so at dinner I asked about what South Korean students learned about North Korea in school.

It turns out not much! They know lots about the 5000 year history about the Korean Peninsula but nothing about the human rights violations that occur there. I expressed surprise about this and asked if they learned anything about it in high school. Collectively they said very few teachers talk about it. The situation in the North is mentioned, but only briefly. Only a few teachers talk more about it. Most were unaware what was happening.

How much of a responsibility do educators have to tell about what is happening in the world? Should students not be made aware of what is happening? It seems unbelievable that South Koreans do not know what is going on in a country that was until recently a part of a large country that they belonged to. I was told that if students, or people, here want information on North Korea they must listen to English language stations like BBC. Without being taught, the future educators will perpetuate the lack of knowledge.

Teaching must be about more than the ‘content’. We are part of a global community. I believe that we have a responsibility as educators to connect what students are learning with the world around us.

Dr. Yoon Yeosang offered to share his PowerPoint with us. He wants people to become more aware. There are a few translation errors, but it is worth flipping through. As the PowerPoint is too large, I have copied it to a PDF. Click the link here: North Korean Society

A Time for Reflection

Picture Today I realized something, when driving alone in my car (listening to CBC for those who wonder) and I had a bit of an epiphany. When I was going through my teacher training 15 odd years ago, I never reflected on how I teach or how I even learn. I had to develop a philosophy of education but I didn’t think any further.  I also realize that over the past year taking all the course for OLTD that I have spend a lot of time reflecting how students learn and how I teach.
When I thought back to my practicum days teaching Science in a high school I realized I only had ONE reflection on my teaching. Yet, that one moment has shaped who I am as a teacher. My practicum evaluator was concerned that wandered around to much all class. I was in constant motion. He was worried that I would not be able to sustain that. As I valued his opinion and advice I thought about that, and how I wanted to teach, for a couple of days. I realized that the energy and movement was important to me and how I wanted my class to be. It was important for me to be who I naturally am as a teacher in the class. I feel like a switch is being flipped on when I teach so I need to be true to that.
This moment of reflection has profoundly affected the way I am in the class. So why haven’t I reflected for the last decade and a half? I am not sure. I don’t remember being taught, or maybe I didn’t pay attention. I never thought about that moment and how it affected me. I am now though.