Oh the education…

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What I told Trevor would happen if he doesn’t do his homework

Did you know that memorizing multiplication tables is not required by Ontario curriculum?

Yes! I say. Good riddance rote multiplication tables and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Alas, not everyone is as relieved about this as me and many parents in my neighbourhood are concerned with the “Discovery Math” approach currently used in Ontario schools. With nothing better to recommend my opinion than having had 12 years of math instruction in the traditional system here is what I think:

Somewhere between grade one and post graduate level, a student with an average brain has to make a shift from “fundamental” (i.e. you have memorized the rules and methods and are applying them to a problem that is obviously calling for these) to “derived” (you have a problem and you have to figure out how to solve this based on what you already know). My understanding of Discovery Math is that instead of having to make this shift in private, as was the case when I was in school, it pre-emptively makes this shift for you by making it difficult to rely on “fundamental” approach to solve problems.

In Discovery math students tend put in much more work and get lower grades. I think this is because in the same period of time they are not only expected to learn mathematical concepts thought through “fundamental” method, but are expected to learn to learn. At our local high school the students are expected to work in teams to figure out solutions rather than have the teacher answer all of their questions immediately. Furthermore, they are given word problems such as “how many balls can you fit in the box of this size” or “here is a picture of a bridge, describe it in mathematical terms”. The parents I talked to are are somewhere between slightly disapproving to outright outraged. The teachers I’ve spoken to are not worried at all. Though I have neither gone though this kind of instruction myself nor had a kid go through it yet, I like the idea – this is pretty much how it was at University. Professors were very rarely available to help and even less rarely of any use therefore groupthink was the most efficient way to learn. Questions on the exams were almost never prepped for in the class and many old exams had to be obtained on the sly (or not at all) with only few of the teachers willing to share them. It is interesting that a high school would create up a mock-University setup. It well might be “too much too early” but the idea of forcing students to deal with situation they are to encounter in a much less supportive environment in a year or two is not unappealing to me.

Though if I had to admit the truth, I think that my inclination towards Discovery Math stems from personal experience. I would say that people use “fundamental” approach for as long as their mental abilities to remember methods and apply them appropriately can measure up to the complexity of the math curriculum. At one point, if you are not streamed away from math and math-like courses, you hit the wall and have to invest more time and effort to do tasks your peers (even those that are not as strong in math as you) are doing with no visible trouble. I would not think it uncommon that “hitting the wall” is usually accompanied by a period of bad grades and severely injured pride along with the hitherto not required mental effort to keep up and get back to begin good at math. For me this happened in grade two and multiplication tables. It took me until grade five to recover.

So let’s say that you had to solve 8×7 and you were not allowed to use a piece of paper or your fingers. A kid that has multiplication tables memorized would simply say 56. I would have to (and still do) calculate the following

– add a 0 behind 7 to get to 10×7
– subtract 7 to get to 9×7
– now I have to subtract another 7 but we only have 3 until the next 0 so actuality subtract 3 and then 4 to get to 8×7

7×10 – 7 – 3 – 4

Also, you have to do this quickly to keep up with the jerks who simply memorized this. To my credit, by the time we got to grade 9, I was able to do calculations in my head using my technique while most other students had to use the calculator because memorization only got them so far. I am not saying that you should not memorize things if you can, but I don’t believe the benefit of memorization is particularly long lasting. For me the “wall” period lasted a few years and was not pleasant. It also happened unusually early – I would guess that most people going into University programs requiring math credits would hit the wall in late high school or at University.

If you go along with the wall analogy, the Discovery Math is essentially artificially creating this wall, perhaps earlier than the student would encounter it in the wild, and teaching them to get over it explicitly as part of the curriculum. I wonder how successful this is, particularly as many people get streamed out of math before they get to make the switch or perhaps choose to stream out of sciences because they are not able to make it.

In any case, I don’t think my kids in particular are in danger from Discovery Math though I can’t vouch for anyone else’s. I think I would have done well in a Discovery Math setting if it was available when I was a kid, but at the end of the day I did fine anyway.

Metric Century – check!

Now that my two weeks of solitude are coming to a close I have to admit that the two things I was expecting to happen did not happen. I did not expect to have no free time and I did not expect to not be lonely. Most of my time was taken up by work on the shed and at the office and I was so very pleasantly surprised to have so many people come over to visit me or invite me over. I don’t think I had a single “not doing anything” day. It was amazing!

This weekend I also got a couple of great second hand deals:

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I love elephants and I love ottomans. Can you go wrong with this guy???

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A neighbour e-mail me to tell me she is getting rid of two boys bikes. I love my neighbours!

Finally, the best part of the weekend – I completed my first metric century!!!

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I have been training for this for over two years and I am so excited we did it. I am so glad Luisa was able to join me – it was so much more fun doing it with a friend.

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Film: Lucy

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Last weekend we took off to Prince Edward County (completely different from that murderous Prince Edward Island). Since there are only so many weekends we have together in reduced numbers and there are so many things we wanted to do we arranged to get camping, biking and wining and dining done at the same time.

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Amazingly enough we were successful on all fronts.

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I expected to be busy since I got back from Cres, but I had no idea just how busy I would be! I did not even get started with that long list of projects I have to get done this summer.

Film – Budapest Grand Hotel

I didn’t want to blog (brag?) about it before I was sure I could do it, but now that April is over, I can reminisce with impunity. We all know about May being Bike to Work Month, but have you heard about 30 days of Cycling? This April I’ve challenged myself to commute by bike at least once every day.

It was not always smooth sailing (and with the April winds it was sailing more often than not), but it was always good fun and I am pleased as punch for doing it.

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Early April was snowy.

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Just as I thought the snow was over, it got snowy again.

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Antarctica performed well over winter, but as I almost overloaded it with a rather minor grocery haul, I knew it was time to bring out the cargo bike.

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As soon as it was warm enough, the boys got on the bikes too though Markus had been riding short trips with me throughout the winter.

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Our first trip was to the barber.

My neighbour Julie snapped this action shot on Easter Sunday as were on our way to Sarah’s to bake an orehnjaca. I brought everything from flower, eggs and walnuts to cutting board and hand mixer with me in case Sarah was running low or using hers for her Easter dinner. It turned out most of it was unnecessary but as there is so much space on the bike it was no big deal to bring it.

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I did bake an orehnjaca and everyone seemed well pleased with it. I was pleased that none of my neighbours had ever had original orehnjaca before so they could not see the obvious imperfections. We ate everything but the first roll as it came out of the oven. The first one had fallen apart while I was making it so I hid it away in my fridge for a few days. After a few days I decided that it tasted too good not to take a picture of the last few slices.

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Alas, I did not cycle the full 30 days. Between the pouring rain and a nasty stomach bug causing havoc in our household I had to miss biking on Earth Day. Sorry Earth, but “not every day, not all the way” is still my motto when it comes to active commuting around here.

I biked just over 200km in April. If it was not for the last August, this would have been my monthly commuting record.

I’ve found that the wind is my biggest enemy and was surprised that there was at least one instance where I had to get off the bike and walk because of the strong wind. Fortunately, on the days that the wind is strong and I have to pretty much crawl back home, I can still make it in time to pick up the older boys from the bus and then pick up Markus afterwards.

One day I was held up in a last minute meeting and did not leave work on time. I was hoping to stop the school bus before it left school because I was not sure I can make it home on time to get the kids off the bus. I managed to see the bus drive by but it I was a few moments too late to stop it safely. I was therefore compelled to get to our street before it did. The bus eventually passed me about 400 meters before the finale at which point the bus driver recognized me and the full complement of neighborhood boys including mine lined up on the bus window to cheer me on as I raced to the stop. Moral of the story – always leave on time!

Now that it is May aka “Bike to Work Month” why not check out this article?

P.S. “Budapest Grand Hotel” is a very enjoyable film.

Preparing for 2014 Cycle for CHEO

We are really looking forward to our annual Cycle for CHEO charity ride. Last year was exciting as it was the first longer ride with our cargo bike. This year Trevor will attempt to dazzle us all by biking on his very own! Not to worry, it is a fully supported ride and I will gladly carry him and his bike on the Edgerunner when and if he gets tired. Let’s hope there’s no rain!

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2013 Cycle for CHEO

I have not had a chance to organize some sort of prize giveaway, but I will gladly bake for donations. If you feel it, our family donation page is here.

Edit: Sadly, we were rained out. Hopefully next year we’ll be back on track!