Curricula as Permissive Documents?


“What purpose should schools serve?”

This question is the dark matter of debates in education: it’s rarely detected, yet it makes up five sixths of the conversation. The debates themselves take many forms: traditional vs progressive in math ed; inclusion vs separated special ed; strict academics vs teaching for social justice. However, underneath, they are all asking some version of this question: what purpose do we want our schools to serve? What are the priorities of education?

I was discussing graphing bias and provincial elections with Alec on Twitter and, as inevitable as gravity, the purpose of education drew close to the surface:

See the full conversation here

See the full conversation here

I always ask, when people say things like this, “well then, why don’t we change the curriculum to include these important things?” It’s a naïve question – there are so many reasons. Political will, disagreement on priorities, cost, etc. However, this does raise fundamental questions about the nature of curricula.

In the Canadian Forces, we have the concept of a permissive document – a document that gives permission, and without that permission, actions are verboten. A great example are the military dress regulations – if an article is not listed as permissible for wear, you cannot wear it, no questions asked.

Are curricula permissive? In my experience, most teachers don’t think so. We have no compunction about doing things outside of the curriculum, if we believe them be beneficial to our students. In that sense, we treat curricula as baseline, and we teach beyond them at our own discretion.

Note: some teachers complain that curricula are so full, they have no time to do anything extra. In most cases, if these are math teachers, they’re conflating curriculum with a textbook.

This is not curriculum - it's a resource. Adjust your complaints appropriately. (Image from Pearson)

This is not curriculum – it’s a resource. Adjust your complaints appropriately. (Image from Pearson, w/o their permission)

I believe in centralized organization as a genuinely efficient system, if implemented well. I have an issue with teachers presenting whatever additional education they choose, without guidance, despite my faith in their professionalism. So here’s my proposal for redesigning how we think about curricula:

  1. We release baseline, academic curricula. These are very similar to current curriculum documents, in which teachers are mandated to cover certain academic topics, but are still given flexibility in how they approach it.
  2. We also release guidance curricula for things like behaviours, social justice, citizenship, leadership – whatever social norms we as a society decide to promote. These documents require teachers to promote positive social norms, but are much more flexible about approach and how much material needs to be covered.

The reality is, teachers already do the second part. Denying that is futile. Many, many teachers do a great job, and it’s important that centralized bodies don’t decrease their efficiency. However, providing guidance and support for teachers who struggle with this part of their job (you could call it the dark matter of the teaching profession) is the role and purposed of centralized agencies. So why don’t we own up to our own realities and support our people in meeting these goals?

Did I make you angry? I would love to read your critiques below.


Social Media Campaigns: A Diatribe

This week in class, we looked at social media campaigns. Summary: I am extremely cynical of them. Here are my (personal, subjective) reasons:

  1. They are abundant and their frequency is annoying
  2. I see little evidence of their effectiveness
  3. I have a general distaste for message control and PR Spin
  4. Many are just advertising couched inside positive action
  5. The overlap between campaigns and my contacts is very limited

I’ll expand on each:

  1. They are abundant and their frequency is annoying. The internet is busy. Digital integration means I spend a lot of my time multitasking, getting distracted, and looking at smaller devices.

(xkcd of course)

As a result, I filter. Things that pop up frequently are more annoying, and more likely for me to filter out. Frequency=noise. However, social media campaigns depend on frequency, depend on annoying people enough to break through their filters and be noticed. This is a bad strategy for me as a consumer. If you want to get my attention, post something meaningful, researched, and well developed – but only post it once. If I miss it, too bad. But if I catch it, I’ll pay attention.

2. I see little evidence of their effectiveness. Social media campaigns are everywhere. And the results? Much harder to see. This comes down to slacktivism. I care about things, and I will do hard work to achieve goals that matter to me and to people I respect. Social media campaigns are not effective, hard work.

3. I have a general distaste for message control and PR Spin. This one doesn’t need much expanding on. Message control, and PR spin in general, make me gag. It’s a particularly slimy way to communicate. Social media campaigns are all about spinning messages to their advantage. Often, the underlying causes are worthwhile, but the presentation style makes me want to retch. Soft piano music used to evoke sympathy in me. Now, when it plays in the background, I ask what the video is trying to sell.

4. Many are just advertising couched inside positive action. #BellLetsTalk. Dove® Campaign for Real Beauty. The causes are good. There are some positive results. The companies may even believe in what they’re doing. However, the fact remains – they’re running these campaigns for their own benefit. To support the campaign, I need to support the company. I am opposed to that level of consumer-brand bonding.

5. The overlap between campaigns and my contacts is very limited. I made a Venn diagram for this one:

Made this here

Made this here

I’ve noticed that, with some small variation, the people I know who support one campaign support many campaigns. So! Either a) these people are morally superior, or b) there is a fixed subset of the population who actively participate in social media campaigns. I know many of these people well – I don’t believe them to be morally superior. Therefore, I think it’s option b), and I can choose my level association with this subset. I choose not to associate.

Inception Cooking Part II – Barbecue Sauce

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

This is where we left off. I told you there were special plans for those 2 cups of homemade ketchup, and here they are. The second level of inception cooking is to make homemade BBQ sauce.

Before (L) and after (R). I think I needed a pot with higher sides.

Before (L) and after (R). I think I needed a pot with higher sides.

This sauce was very easy to make – take ketchup, add spices, simmer for over an hour. Voila.

However, one ingredient, Worcestershire Sauce, I decided to buy instead of make. It takes anchovies, tamarind, and you’re supposed to ferment it for a year or so. I decided I didn’t have the time for that. Same reason I didn’t use a different BBQ sauce recipe that called for liquid smoke – I didn’t want to order it online.

Here's the finished product. A bowl (for Inception Cooking Level III), a little bit for the fridge, and two mason jars for the freezer.

Here’s the finished product. A bowl (for Inception Cooking Level III), a little bit for the fridge, and two mason jars for the freezer.

Difficulty: Very easy. The half tablespoon of pepper  was annoying to grind though. I recommend using a mortar and pestle (or two rocks)

Cost: low-medium (Again, many spices. Same ones as ketchup though)

Time: Medium (1.25-1.4 hours)

Pros: Delicious, can control spiciness to your taste.

Cons: A little bit splattery on the stove.

Future Implementation: Yes. Without a doubt.

Inception Cooking Part I – Ketchup

This is the first  in a four part series on Inception Cooking. The first layer – making my own ketchup.

These are the ingredients needed. Except the lemon. That's just there.

These are the ingredients needed. Except the lemon. That’s just there.

The recipe called for a slow cooker. I had a pot. Same principle.

Mix it all up and simmer for a few hours

Mix it all up and simmer for a few hours

Recipe calls for straining it, after a quick immersion blend. I did so, but I don’t think it was worth the effort and mess.

I got this chunky stuff left over, but I think I could have pushed it through. Post-strain ketchup didn't seem much smoother than pre-strain.

I had this chunky stuff left over, but I think I could have pushed it through the colander. Post-strain ketchup didn’t seem much smoother than pre-strain.

Here’s the result:


From (R) to (L): Ketchup for the freezer, ketchup for the fridge, ketchup for Inception Cooking – Part II

Difficulty: low-medium (Takes frequent attention [on the stove], and messy to clean up)

Cost: low-medium (Have to buy a lot of spices if you don’t have them. Though fresh ingredients would also work)

Time: High (3-4 hours)

Pros: Quite tasty, less plastic, avoid high fructose corn syrup

Cons: Time consuming and messy

Future Implementation: Yes. Next time, probably a double batch and with a slow cooker. No need to strain. Maybe reduce sugar a little bit.

Listening, Not Speaking

On Wednesday last, my ECMP class was cancelled for the express purpose of attending Justice Murray Sinclair‘s lecture on the legacy of Residential Schools (recording here). That idea is outside the scope of your average university professor – what could be more important than their lecture? –  and it’s one of the reasons I’m taking my Education degree at UR: as a faculty, it cares about reconciliation.

When someone says it better than you, don't fret. Just quote them.

When someone says it better than you, don’t fret. Just quote them screenshot their tweet.

The Justice was an excellent speaker. He was warm, funny, clear, concise, and meaningful – all the things I hoped for. However, while I went to the lecture to hear him speak, I left thinking about how he listened. As a justice and as the head of the TRC he has spent a great deal of his professional life listening to people, and does a spectacular job.

I couldn't help thinking about this comic at the end of the night, from The New Yorker.

I couldn’t help thinking about this comic at the end of the night, from The New Yorker.

Justice Sinclair spoke for less than an hour. He was preceded by three layers of introductions, and followed by question-speeches from the audience. Throughout the evening, he was patient, conscientious, attentive, and never once interrupted – no matter how meandering a question. He had an air of empathy, he made each speaker feel welcome, and he ensured each knew how much their individual stories mattered.

So often, when we try to advocate, we speak for a person; what we need to do is get out of the way and let them speak for themselves. Justice Sinclair is an exemplar of allowing others to speak, and letting their voices be heard. One day, I hope to be able to listen as carefully, and with as much empathy, to my students.

The Right Way to Internet

This is a classic from xkcd. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently.

As a professional digital citizen, there are wrong ways to use the internet. Some examples:

  • Anything illegal
  • Oversharing personal life choices
  • Publically displaying things that, as a professional, you would not discuss in person
  • Bringing discredit on yourself, or your employer

As a proficient digital citizen, there are useful competencies when using the internet:

  • If you want to share a cat photo, don’t put a link like this:
  • Don’t change your font and style meaninglessly.
  • Don’t embed broken links with poor placement.

However, as a professional, proficient digital citizen, there is no right way to internet. ECMP 355 teaches useful skills but also pushes certain ways of using the internet. There’s social nuance here, there’s peer pressure, and there’s a lot of norming. Some areas that are norms, but are not essential to proficient, professional internet use:

  • Having more followers than followings on Twitter. (Ego based norm)
  • Actively sharing yourself vs lurking. (Extroverted norm)
  • Proliferation of apps and tech that you use. (Specialization norm)
  • Click-bait style publicity. (Audience norm)

I’m sure there are others. I’m also sure you may disagree with me. I welcome that debate – please help me refine this idea below.

A Reading Week Smorgasbord

A smorgasbord from Photo Credit: Average Jane via Compfight cc Do you want to eat everything here? Of course you do. Should you? Probably not.

A delicious smorgasbord from Average Jane via Compfight cc.
Do you want to eat everything here? Of course you do. Should you eat everything here? Probably not. I guess.

It was reading week, so I read a lot. Not textbooks, or things for school. Just musings from around the internet. I’ve compiled them all here. However. It’s too much to eat all at once. Don’t try. Treat it like the smorgasbord above – pick and choose what looks tasty and move on. No regrets.

To help you out, I’ve organized a bit:

Appetizer: Education Articles

Main Course: Math Education Articles

Dessert: Miscellaneous Articles (spoiler alert: we’ve got a mathematical proof of how outstanding you are, an exceptionally voiced post on the realities of living in our patriarchy as a woman, and a l’il Ted Talk explaining how too many choices (like this smorgasbord) is detrimental to your life. I thought we’d end on a depressing, meta-cognitive note 😀  )

Education Articles


Cognitive Load Theory is Wrong??

I’ll pick up where my last article summation blog left off, with CLT. Another blog from Bryan Penfound, who frequents the topic. He’s offering a summary of a new article suggesting a re-conceptualization of CLT. What’s beautiful about CLT is how unattached it is from pedagogy. Most pedagogical arguments are between people so fixed in their viewpoints, they won’t even consider alternatives. Some of these people use CLT to defend their perspectives. However, the actual researchers in CLT are not so fixed, and as empirical evidence changes, they change their theory to adapt. It’s wonderful seeing science instead of ignorance at work. This blog shows how CLT can still be accepted, but a strict, traditional instruction style is not essential at all times.

Learning is Liminal

This article does a lovely job exploring why education (for learners) is a scary, unknown world, and why students seem to forget things between classes. It also gives a strong image of an inexorable tide of knowledge rising, that can be very comforting for a teacher. I do want to problematize that image a little bit. If it’s accurate, the students have very little control – they’re going to be overtaken by the waves, by the tide. So we’d best be certain we’re teaching the right things – because the ocean is dangerous. We can drown our students by teaching the wrong things.

Howard Gardner: ‘Multiple intelligences’ are not ‘learning styles’

There has been a lot of anger flying around Twitter this week, decrying the villainy of Learning Styles. Allow me to summarize (instead of linking, because I believe our lives are better off without reading vitriolic attacks): Learning styles don’t exist, they’ve been disproven by science, please stop teaching them in school/teacher education programs. It’s true, Learning Styles don’t exist. However, a lot of people are taking that to mean: teach everyone without differentiation, and the best way to teach a topic is inherent to the nature of the knowledge. I was in a discussion with Cameron Mohan about this when Katia Hildebrandt directed us to this article. It’s written by the developer of Multiple Intelligences Theory, and distinguished MI from Learning Styles. He offers a nuanced, calm discussion based on empirical evidence, rather than just attacking Learning Styles as evil.

Term papers? These science students write Wikipedia pages instead.

The title says it all. Undergrad students are writing Wikipedia articles under the supervision of their prof, rather than term papers. ECMP 355/455 talk a lot about building an audience for student work. What could be a more authentic use of research than posting on Wikipedia (also, – building Digital Citizenship anyone?) I want to do this with high school students. I think it would be spectacular. There are several ways to take it. I think a meaningful route would be conducting local research. Pairing with local historical societies and the like to create and edit pages for smaller, localized content.

Off-Task Communication is Spot-on for Collaborative Learning

Education has often put a lot of focus on “on-task activity.” It’s the measure of classroom management and productivity. It’s how you tell a good teacher from a poor teacher. In the States, it can help determine a teacher’s salary. And, just as everyone who has ever worked in a group knows, the conversations you have off-task are essential to your collaboration. It builds trust, respect, and a desire to collaborate. It helps children develop socially. This article summarizes these thoughts because a recent study has given evidence to support what we all already knew – you work better, especially long term, if your team has strong dynamics, and those are built through off-task communication.

Math Education Articles


London maths teacher on shortlist for million dollar teaching prize

Like flipped classrooms? Love Khan Academy? Want to earn 630k quid? Colin Hegarty has got you beat. London math teacher has made 1000+ math instructional videos and put them online. I haven’t investigated too deeply, but I believe they’re open to the public, so you can use them in your classroom if you choose. For North Americans, pro-tip: math=maths.

Ed Begle’s First And Second Laws Of Mathematics Education

These are so good, I’ve gotta repost them:

  1. The validity of an idea about mathematics education and the plausibility of that idea are uncorrelated.
  2. Mathematics education is much more complicated than you expected even though you expected it to be more complicated than you expected.

I’ll just leave them there. Genius.

Visual Patterns – Who Needs Them?

This post by Michael Pershan is a bit too dismissive of visual patterns imho. I’m all for providing multiple points of access into a math problem – and a visual, relational pattern is one point of access from which a lot of students can enter the math. So, are recognizing visual patterns a goal? Yes! Are they the end goal? No. But that doesn’t devalue them. Every actor on a stage matters, even small roles with few lines; visual patterns are part of pattern recognition in general, and they have intrinsic value.

Miscellaneous Articles


Theorem: You Are Exceptional

Keith Devlin has opinions – he calls them his Angles, because, you know, he’s a mathematician. In this post, he makes an argument about human exceptionality based on the ratio of perimeter hyper-volume to total hyper-volume in a 200 dimensional hyper-cube. Sounds thrilling right? It is to me, and if it doesn’t sound so to you, try it out anyway. He explains his logic very clearly, even to a mathematically lay person. As for its accuracy? I think it’s neat. I’m not sure it’s mathematically sound (I question the assumption of independence, and thus orthogonality, of the 200 human performance characteristics.)

To Men I Love, About Men Who Scare Me

Read it. If you’re a woman, it won’t be a surprise, but you’ll appreciate the clarity of expression. If you’re a man, don’t put up your defences. Don’t try to make excuses. Read it, and try to accept it. Try to get inside it, and let it get inside you. Try to understand the message that’s here. It’s very important.

The Paradox of Choice

A TedTalk to finish up this smorgasbord. He suggests that Choice and happiness follow a parabolic structure, like this:

Doesn't this graphical representational help it make more sense? I think so. Doesn't mean it's my Learning Style though.

Doesn’t this graphical representational help it make more sense? I think so. Doesn’t mean it’s my Learning Style though.

I can connect with this. I’m happier when I leave my phone at home, and go do things without it. I have fewer choices, and I enjoy the ones I make more. I’m going to see if I can adjust my lifestyle in some small but meaningfully ways according to this principle.

Making Mayonnaise – Magnificently Manageable

**Warning: If you don’t like raw eggs and other jiggly things, this post is not for you**

We’ve all been there. You have a super important event to get to, you need to have a sandwich before you leave, and, bam! You’re out of mayo.

Why now mayonnaise, why now!?

Don’t Panic. There’s an easy solution: make your own mayo. You just need these things:

  • Immersion Blender
  • An egg
  • A Lemon
  • Dijon Mustard
  • A cup of canola oil
  • Salt

Let’s take stock of what I had:

Immersion blender, bam!


Egg yolk, bam! (Don’t want the white, so used a little shell separation technique. Save that white for later. some tasty omelette)


The recipe says dijon mustard. You have $3, Ukrainian mustard (Probably? You can’t read it) that expired 5 months ago. What can go wrong?


It says lemon. You have lime. Basically the same right?


Nice, fresh, Saskatchewan canola oil….apparently from Tennessee. Probably still great.


Pour it all into your blender receptacle…or a bowl.


Look at that! 15 Seconds of blending, no big deal.

Bam! Mayonnaise!

So, of course, the taste test. It’s absolutely terrible. I blame that on the expired, maybe mustard, the lime, and the American canola oil (in that order). Here’s my rating:

Difficulty: low

Cost: low

Time: low (2, 3 minutes?)

Pros: I had mayo available like that! It was super easy. I didn’t have to waste a bunch of plastic buying more.

Cons: Atrocious flavour.

Future Implementation: 100%. Next time, I’ll follow the recipe with fresh ingredients, and probably it’ll be awesome.

Any recommendations/ requests for DIY, saving the environment, and eating good food project pieces? Very open to suggestions. “Share your thoughts” textbox is riiiiight there

Learning Project: Repurposing Kitchen Scraps

My first step in this learning project was to stop tossing usable food scraps in the garbage. So I started freezing them. Once I had enough wilted celery, carrot ends, and assorted vegetable detritus, I threw them and a couple chicken carcasses in water to boil.

Frozen scraps ready to be boiled

Frozen scraps ready to be boiled


After a couple hours of simmering. Apparently, if you never let it reach the boil, you get a clearer broth. I did not follow this advice.

After a couple hours of simmering. Apparently, if you never let it reach the boil, you get a clearer broth. I did not follow this advice.

Here comes the gross part. I had to strain and keep all the delicious broth and get rid of the now much less nutritious veggies and bones.

Bones and scraps and fats oh my!

Bones and scraps and fats oh my!


Two large bowls of roughly strained broth

Sometimes you don't own a fine meshed colander. When that happens, you make do with a loose tea strainer.

Sometimes you don’t own a fine meshed colander. When that happens, you make do with a loose tea strainer.

The grosser parts disposed of, this broth is ready for fresh vegetables to make into a soup. Also, since there’s a whole lot of it, I needed a way to store the soup. Luckily, mason jars are the (hipster?) solution to everything!

So much tastier than the wilted, frozen veggies.

So much tastier than the wilted, frozen veggies.

Cleaned up and ready to go

Cleaned up and ready to go

The outcome. There was more than this, but I ate a bowl and gave a few jars away.

The outcome. There was more than this, but I ate a bowl and gave a few jars away before I managed to pull out my camera.

I’m going to score the efficacy of each element of my learning project:

Difficulty: low

Cost: low

Time: moderate (3-4 hours)

Pros: Didn’t throw out nearly as many scraps for a few weeks. Got several delicious and healthful meals out of it

Cons: Apartment smelled like soup for awhile.

Future Implementation: Absolutely. I’ll need to adjust a bit though. Maybe do a pure vegetarian stock, or a beef. I’m kinda tired of chicken soup.

Learning Project: ill-defined but underway


By J.G. Parks – Cassell’s universal portrait gallery:, Public Domain

I remember being in Primary, so probably 1996. I was at Dawson Elementary in Pictou, Nova Scotia (named after this fine fellow. I find it neat: he was born in 1820; we went to the same high school).

It was an exciting day for a five year old. The mayor was coming to talk to us. He wanted to explain Nova Scotia’s new recycling and compost system. For waste disposal, Nova Scotia has been ahead of the curve in Canada and, as I recall, Pictou County was a bit ahead of Nova Scotia.

So there I was, a five year old learning how to sort garbage, recycling, and compost. We did it at home (we had had a backyard compost, but public composting meant we could compost more things, like meat and bones). It was great! I loved recycling too, especially refundables. Taking those down to the depot and getting money for them? A kid’s dream.

So I moved to Regina in 2014 and discovered that, starting January 1st, 2015, apartments and duplexes would have to have recycling provided. Public composting? Might get here by 2020. The city does run backyard composting classes though, and publishes a guide on how to do it, so there’s that.

There's a whole section in the guide on vermicomposting, backyard or inside! Just need to like worms.

There’s a whole section in the guide on vermicomposting, backyard or inside! Just need to like worms.

I’ve found it very difficult living here and throwing so much away, not sorting recycling, and generally feeling like a terrible human being (environmentally speaking). So, my learning project is going to be an attempt to correct that.

Here’s where the ill-defined portion of my title comes in. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to be learning during this project – that will be part of the learning. However, I want to reduce my environmental impact, and I see myself focussing on things I can do in the kitchen/around my apartment to accomplish that. We’ll see how it goes!