BCeSIS Must Die

**Summer 2014 update: BCeSIS has finally gone! A new program, Aspen, has been selected to take its place. Teachers everywhere smile.**

BCeSIS is a nightmarish grade-reporting program mandated for use in all BC schools. When droves of teachers began to report problems with the program, the British Columbia government spent over $50 million to fix it, with basically no results. It’s buggy, heavy-handed, and reminiscent of software from the early 1990’s. This is what we use to create your children’s report cards that attempt to guide them through the formative years of their lives.

bcesis ss

Any business would quickly ask why anyone would use something so pathetic across the province. There are twitter accounts and YouTube videos dubbed over old German WW2 movies (see below) dedicated to mocking and berating the existence of this digital problem package. In private industry, an agile, user-friendly, service-oriented competitor would have quickly pitched their platform and earned the contract. Alas, red tape and provincial mandates.

And today, in the middle of report card writing season, BCeSIS won’t even open on any of my internet browsers, since it was built on an old version of Java and the update renders it inaccessible.

It’s bitter, ridiculous irony: a report-writing program designed to “support student achievement” has done so little towards that goal; I would go so far as to say BCeSIS has negatively affected reporting in British Columbia. The space it provides teachers to summarize the total personal, intellectual, social and emotional learning of their students is an inadequate three sentences. The amount of headaches caused to teachers during report writing weeks and weekends have been enough to begin the next week of teaching exasperated and grumpy. This software is supposed to make our jobs easier, not harder.

And with the incredible amount of great tech start-ups even right in Vancouver (like the world-class Hootsuite) almost anyone could have done it better. Imagine a beautiful, local solution we could be proud of. But somehow, in this stupid catastrophe, we have ended up with a worthless and meaningless platform produced by a technology company whose work in general has been less than superior; technology which makes us feel like we’re doing data entry on lab rats or testing out retro software that feels like you should have accessed it using MS-DOS prompt.

Government of British Columbia, I implore you. Quickly axe BCeSIS as suggested in 2011. This living nightmare has lasted long enough.

Managing School Stress: An Insider Perspective

This article was originally published on Libero Network. A big shout-out to my friend Lauren Bersaglio, founder. Libero is a non-profit online magazine and resource site that brings awareness to and offers support for those recovering from eating disorders, depression, addiction, anxiety & abuse.

So why is school so stressful?

I’ve been teaching for three years. Before that, I was a student, and still am. I see education from both sides: student and teacher. Let’s talk about how to manage school stress.

I have to start with a disclaimer: School is just one part of your life learning – all that information about the world that you’ve been collecting since you starting sensing stimuli in the womb. We all know learning is a good thing – I mean, kids love learning – and we love learning about things we care about, whether that’s keeping up to date with the newest music, learning some quirky fact about our best friend, or flipping through faded photo albums in grandma’s musty attic.

So why is school so stressful? Maybe because school isn’t simply learning in an way that’s always comfortable or even interesting. It can be, but it falls short.

It’s a flawed human system. Many great people did not do well in school. Thomas Edison’s teacher gave up on him and sent him home to be schooled by his mother. Albert Einstein did very poorly in high school math. Assessment isn’t always done well. Learning styles and teaching styles can differ.

I’d say three major school stressors are peers, grades, and time management. I can’t do anything about your peers (except to recommend that a casual “hi” and a smile goes a log way to say, “I’m not out to get you; you can relax around me”) so I’m going to focus on grades and time management:

1. You are not defined by your grades.

You are a person of infinite value, hidden talents, and incalculable creativity. When a teacher hands you back a piece of paper with a red mark on it, that’s not a reflection on your worth. It might be a measurement of your progress in one particular area. But it is also in the past. Whether bad or good, your assessments do not define you in the future; they provide you with a starting point from which to continue in a positive trajectory.

When a toddler falls down trying to walk, her parents don’t throw their hands up and say, “Oh! We might as well give up – she’s failed!” No. They keep encouraging the toddler to try until she can walk with confidence. Your failures will scare you less when you see that failure is not a final destination, just another learning opportunity. This is the growth mindset. For more on how your mindset might be the thing holding you back, and how to break that, read New York Times Bestseller Mindset by Carol Dweck.

Getting used to short-term failure is key to finding long-term success.

2. Ask for help when you need it.

You understand you’re not defined by your grades, but you still want to do your best in school. Great! Do you ask for help? From a young age we are taught to be independent, but really we are inter-dependent. We need each other. A good place to start is to admit that there will always be someone better than you at a particular skill.

Not asking for help can be a sign of unresolved pride. It says, “I don’t need you” to people whose expertise, wisdom, and guidance could be the exact key we need.

3. Ask for help even before you need it.

Why wait to run into trouble? The best kind of education is when we have a consistent feeling of growth. Schedule a weekly drop-in to your teachers at a convenient time for them and ask them how you can do the best you can. Make sure you understand the week’s concepts by explaining them back to your teachers and asking if you got it right.

Make a habit of studying by doing it with your friends over snacks before there’s a huge test. If you review your notes at the end of class for 5 minutes, then review them again that evening, your retention rate rockets.

4. Make the most of a calendar.

I’ve stayed up way too late finishing assignments. In university a friend gave me a good tip: on a calendar, mark the due dates of your major assignments with a D. One week (or three days, or whatever) before each is due, make an advance completion date (C or X). Then give yourself an estimate of how many days it will take you to finish it (a week, three weeks) and mark the start date S.

You can colour code your classes or figure out your own system. You will never turn in an assignment last-minute or late ever again, you will have enough time to edit all your assignments, you will feel less stress and more proud of your work.

5. Talk it out.

The worst thing is to bottle things up. If you are stressed about school, do talk to someone. Not just your friends. Griping to them might make you feel better momentarily, but it won’t help resolve the root stressor.

Talk to a teacher preferably, or a guidance counsellor, a mentor, a youth leader, or someone in your faith community. Ask them to hear you out and ask them for their advice. Ask them how you might approach the person, class, or project that is causing stress.

6. Stop trying to multitask.

The latest brain research tells us that we really misunderstand multitasking. It’s not as effective as we are led to believe. Instead focus. Say no to new distractions. Complete one task at a time. This method is less stressful and develops our powers of concentration.

7. Don’t get stuck halfway.

The worst place to be is halfway. Not fully working and not fully resting. I catch myself doing this, flipping back and forth when I need to make my mind up. Right now, decide whether you are working or resting. Then make that time clear. Are you going to watch TV for 30 minutes? Watch it guilt-free. When 30 minutes is up, be honest with yourself, turn it off, and start working until you’ve accomplished what you set out to do.

This requires discipline, and there’s only one way to achieve that. Just do it. You can. I believe in you.

Rethinking Letter Grades

Rethinking letter grades: a coherent argument put forth by Darcy Mullin.

On Learning

As mentioned in an earlier post our school is planning to move toward a “no letter” grade policy next year.  I am excited about the possibility and believe it will enhance learning in our school for both students and teachers.  That said, we certainly have some work to do.

Letter grades are easy.  Effectively and accurately reporting on learning is a much harder process.

It is easy to create an assignment, or an assessment and assign it a value.  Students complete the work and hope they get they highest mark possible…maybe even full marks.  It is easy to quantify and it is a system we (teachers, students, parents) all understand.  It’s a system that has been in place as long before I ever entered the school system. As educators we could continue this practice until the end of time – it would be comfortable and for the most part people…

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Education Pays

For all the naysayers who speak against the value of further education, it appears that having post-secondary actually does pay off. See this graphic.
For me, education is more than just the money you can make with your degree (I did study English and Social Sciences, after all), and I also find I have more options at my fingertips because of my degree.

Teach and Create

A friend of mine shared this lesson idea with me, and I think it’s just fantastic, especially if you have students in your class who are inclined to doubt the value of a having a high school education/diploma…

In my friend’s class (which is in a NYC public high school), she showed her students the following chart, which indicates the median weekly earnings as well as unemployment rates in the U.S. in 2012, broken down by education degrees earned:

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She discussed and interpreted the chart with her students and asked them to identify patterns.  Then, she had her students create a monthly budget based on the average income of an individual who has less than a high school diploma.  They used this chart to create their budgets:

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Needless to say, the kids quickly saw something wrong with this picture.  “This isn’t enough money to live on!” many began to exclaim…

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The 7 Powerful Idea Shifts In Learning Today

Classroom Aid

by Terry Heick, TeachThought.com : Shift_Learning: The 7 Most Powerful Idea Shifts In Learning Today

digital learning

So we’re taking a stand here. This is all incredibly subjective, but so are the VH1 Top 100 Hair Bands Videos and those are fun, am I right?

So subjective it is. Let’s make a list. A list of ideas that are truly transformational. Not just trends or buzz, but substance with the potential for lasting change–and stuff that’s available not tomorrow, but today.

Utopian visions of learning are tempting, if for no other reason than they absolve us of accountability to create itright now, leading to nebulous romanticizing about how powerful learning could be if we just did more of X and Y.

But therein lies the rub: Tomorrow’s learning is already available, and below are 7 of the most compelling and powerful trends, concepts, and resources that represent its promise.

The Challenge…

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Reading Responses: The ISAAC Method

How many times have you been asked to “respond to” something you have to read, whether in school, at work, or in some other scenario? I found at the beginning of the school year that I was expecting my students to be able to respond thoughtfully and deeply to articles that I thought would be naturally thought-provoking (and they likely were, but I wasn’t able to properly evaluate whether my students were thinking about the ideas on the reflective level I was aiming for.) I realized I may need to teach critical analysis more overtly. I designed the following checklist for reading responses. We practice this 2-3 times a week in our high school Planning and English classes.

I made it clear that the student does not need to complete every single item on the checklist, but that they should include at least one item from each section. I evaluate their responses by marking when I see each of the I, S, An, Ad, and C sections, and respond with a comment or two to their writing.

If you’d like to try this in your own class, you are welcome to try this method. Let me know if you have success or suggestions for improvement.

☐Provide context for the big idea of this passage.
☐Introduce significant topics, themes, settings, and characters.

☐Concisely summarize or restate the main points. Don’t restate large sections of the article; keep it brief.

☐Interpret literary devices or poetic devices (metaphor, symbol, personification, allusion, hyperbole, simile).
☐Reflect on the topics, themes, settings, and actions mentioned.
☐State what you believe the author’s intent for writing is.

☐Make connections between the text and yourself, between the text and the world, or between the text and another text.
☐Respond with your own questions about the text.
☐Pose a question of your own.

☐Give an overall recap of the big idea.