Do your children make their own lunch?

During a visit to a public school in Vancouver, a week before classes started, a discussion regarding those students who had an internal drive to push themselves, be accountable to themselves and others, and those who had a natural desire to help the classroom community as whole ensued. Then from across the room I heard a teacher talk about students who made their own lunches. This teacher was recalling an impromptu survey that she conducted with her students last year: “How many of you make your own lunches?”  What she found surprised her. Those students who made their own lunches were more aware of the needs of the class, and were also the students who naturally and happily helped out with classroom chores. They did not have a sense of entitlement, expecting others to do their work. When I challenged her regarding her observation, she very adamantly stated that there was a direct correlation.

Often the advice that is given to parents to help their children succeed in school revolves around how to help their child with homework, and how to keep up with the work focusing on developing their knowledge in different subject areas. This is important, however, our children will be the world’s future leaders and they live in a world that is already very different than when we were young, and will be massively changed by the time they reach adulthood. Today, technology has provided a whole new approach to impart knowledge and skills to an individual. The development of the interactive, social platforms has allowed for collaboration, nevertheless, the skills that are required for a rich collaborative experience have yet to be developed enough in young children for them to participate and learn in a meaningful way. Part of that collaborative experience requires the ability to determine what is needed for the group as a whole, and to give what a person can to the group, without looking for something in return. So how do you teach this to your children? It needs to start in the home and be strengthened by the rest of the community.

There are many things that parents can do to strengthen this, and it has to be consistently supported with a clear way for the kids to personally experience the results. One example is what our family decided to do. When my two children were in high school, the family shared the responsibility of making supper. Each of us had a specific night to make supper for the entire family. Kirsti chose Monday and Nathan chose Thursday. Darrin and I had Tuesday and Wednesday. Each person decided what they wanted to make each week and were responsible for creating a shopping list with a budget in mind, making, serving and cleaning up from the meal. It was an interesting and fun experience. I can remember once when it was Nathan’s turn to make supper, when at 9:30 at night he announced that he was hungry. We all replied with “we are hungry too!” He had not made supper and we were not going to make supper for him as it was his to do. He very quickly realized that he had to do something about it as his decision to delay making supper was affecting more than just him. Teaching this insight is based on fundamental values that focus outwards. Imparting and modelling these values cannot be done by one group of people alone: it is a responsibility of all members of the family, of the education community, of politicians and the community as a whole.

The future of our world depends on the ability of our future leaders to see and understand the needs of their communities. They will also have to figure out what the solutions are and be willing and able to help with the process of providing the solutions. Knowing their math will be important, but those who will rise to the top who will make a difference, will be those who have developed a higher-order compassion for others. Those are the people who I would like to see lead our world into the future.

It starts at home.

Do your children make lunch for themselves? Do they make lunch for you?


Math Score Results: It’s Time to Stop Blaming Others

The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) in December released the results for the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment results (PISA), which showed that while Canadian students rank 10th among their international peers in mathematics, Manitoba is once again lagging far behind, ranking above only Newfoundland and Saskatchewan. With Canada scoring an average of 492 in math, Manitoba is 30 points behind the nation’s provincial leader of British Columbia which scored an average of 522. With any provincial ranking system, there is always a first place and a last place. The issue here is the gap. A 30-point gap is big: Manitoba still has a problem.

These results are sounding like a broken record, as are the commentaries regarding the reasons for the results. Over the last 10 years, the debate over mathematics education in Manitoba has resulted in an all-out war with people blaming others. Those in mathematics education are citing the problem as a problem with educational practices that don’t align with their own one-sided educational philosophies, while those who have not had a direct contribution to mathematics education are pointing to the problem with curriculum, teaching practices and child poverty. This debate has been very black and white: it is either because of “this” or “that”. It is time to stop pointing fingers, and to start looking at what is working, using evidenced-based results. It is also time to look a little deeper.

Changing the scores of mathematics does not mean that you must simply change to a different type of learning: it requires a huge overhaul. Teaching mathematics is not the same as any other subject, and therefore, must be treated very differently. The discussion/debate regarding whether the constructivist approach or the traditional methods work is only a small piece of the troubled puzzle. A much bigger issue now is that the public, and our educators on the front lines have lost trust in the bulky education machines at the provincial levels. We also have teachers who don’t know the math themselves.

The Winnipeg School Division has taken a huge bold and courageous step to address this situation. They have teamed-up with an independent Canadian organization, Spirit of Math, to initiate a brand new program in which teachers from grades 4 to 8 are strongly encouraged to take a year-long mathematics course on numeracy and have had several years to choose when to take it. They also complement this course with monthly half-day or full-day pedagogy workshops for teachers and principals. In addition, a standard for developing a fluency and automaticity of number facts using Spirit of Math drills and a system for problem solving has been integrated into the classrooms, along with a variety of other resources. This is a massive project, and there have been changes even in the inner city schools. The improvement that the students experienced has positively affected their belief in themselves, and has allowed them to take greater risks in mathematics. The superintendents, directors, consultants, principals and teachers have put forth an extraordinary effort to make this possible. This is an outstanding story and should be known to all school divisions and boards throughout Canada. But still, some teachers in Winnipeg have pressured the union to stop the initiative, and very little has been told in the media.

The seriousness of the lack of good mathematics education cannot be stressed enough. We should not be hearing “I was never any good in math” as if that is okay from any adult in this day and age. The future of this world is dependent on our children being able to do the math – not just the arithmetic – not just exploring and creating – but taking the risks to think mathematically. The solution does not just rest with just changing the way math is taught, but because of the intense discipline and rigor, a strong commitment to helping children must be made by their parents. This will take a whole community working together looking to help, not to blame.