Friday, March 12, 2021


So the weather was sunny today and a little bit windy.  We had a large pile of cuttings (3m in diameter and 2m high) that needed burning, so I stuffed paper into the pile and lit it with my propane torch.  I looked over at my neighbour's farm and they were burning as well.  I saw that the flames were about 3 metres high and about 10 metres wide, but I couldn't see the base of the fire very well.  Then the neighbour was calling me over.  I asked him where his fire break was.  He said the fire jumped his break and he had no source of water; not good.  The fire was about 13 to 20 metres from our property.

I said that I would get our hose but it wouldn't reach the whole fire.  Our connected hoses was 45 metres long.  I gathered 3 more hoses to make it 90 metres long.  This took about 3 minutes and the fire had quickly crossed onto our property!  To make a long story shorter, I put out the fire on our property; it was about 4 metres in and about 40 metres long; we had short grass so it didn't spread very much.  I put out the fire that was heading towards their house; it was about 10 metres wide and was within 8 metres of their house.  The volunteer fire department arrived 5 minutes after connecting our hoses and they put out the rest of the fire; it covered about an acre.  Their property is 100 metres wide and the fire covered 80 metres of that width.

The neighbours hadn't managed their farm for a few years, so the grass was very long but not standing up, so this really contributed to the fire spreading.  It's funny that some of the fence posts were burning yet the blackberries lining the fence didn't even get singed!  So I got to play firefighter for a day!  Fortunately, there was no real damage to the neighbour's or our property.  Warning, very little water comes out of 90 metres of hose; need way more water pressure!

These pictures were taken the day after:

Guess what the neighbours did a couple hours after this picture.  Yep, they started a fire to burn more stuff!

Monday, February 1, 2021

Tests and Grades

It's time to talk about the necessary evil; we'll call it assessment.  Some people love them; some people hate them; and some couldn't care less.  Ideally, assessment should be used to determine the level of learning to let families decided whether more work needs to be done to improve learning so that the student can progress to the next level.  That's it.  However, as with most things in life, assessment has been politicized, socialized and monetized.

With that said, is there value in assessment?  Of course there is.  We need to know that many occupations have qualified people for the safety and welfare of society.  You know them (not a complete list by any means):  physicians, surgeons, dentists, nurses, firefighters, police, truck drivers, engineers, bus drivers, realtors, trades, lawyers, pilots, veterinarians and teachers.  Personally, we will have to do tests for driver's licenses, hunting licenses, boating licenses.  Although not tests, we do have to fill in a lot of forms correctly such as tax forms, identification forms, wills, insurance forms, many application forms, government forms and financial forms.  So, it's a good idea to have some proficiency with testing.

Believe it or not, assessment has been politicized, socialized and monetized, and continues to be.  In BC, we have FSA (Foundation Skills Assessment) that measures the reading, writing and numeracy skills of students at certain grade levels.  The BCTF (BC Teachers' Federation) has argued against the use of FSA.  The Fraser Institute has consistently published the results of the FSA; ranking the schools for their results.  What do the rankings show?  The private schools score better; this allows the private schools to justify the tuition costs to the parents.  Are the private schools actually better at teaching?  There is no solid data to prove that yet.  There is some justification that because private schools take the better academic students, they will naturally score better.  Also, private schools do not enroll as many students with learning disabilities.  At this point standardized assessment doesn't do much other than politicize, socialize and monetize schooling and marginalizes poorer performing schools which can disincentivize learning at those schools (called learned helplessness).

Even within a school, we see that assessment is politicized, socialized and monetized.  We've seen cliques being formed around academic and athletic levels.  We've seen scholarships being awarded to top academics and athletes.  We've seen students who are "teacher's pet."  All of these can result in demoralizing poor academic students.  Which is why there has been a push by some educators to eliminate summative assessments.  However, some students aren't motivated to learn unless there is some pressure or prize which means summative assessments are necessary.  This is why summative assessments are a necessary evil; there is no solution that works for all students unless we have the ideal teacher, ideal student and ideal parent.

So if we need summative assessment, it should at least be realistic and accurate.  Although we don't want standardized test, we do want assessment to be accurate with standards.  This is important because it will help make decisions.  If teachers gave "A"s to every student, it wouldn't be fair to the student or parent because that student may enter post secondary into a program that they aren't really qualified for; they would probably fail and waste a lot of money on tuition, books and other costs.  Summative assessments should be realistic; that is, not just a multiple choice or fill in the blank.  These tests don't allow the teacher to evaluate the thinking of the student.  When tests are essays or showing solutions, we get a true picture of the thinking involved.  In real life, we solve problems by thinking, not by multiple choice.  To be fair to teachers, it is time consuming to mark tests or essays, so some portion of multiple choice on a test should still be sufficient.

When my boys were younger, they were enrolled in a martial arts school.  The teaching was good, but the assessment wasn't accurate.  This was probably motivated by collecting fees.  Students were advancing their belts even though they didn't do their moves very well; this was to prevent them from dropping out is my guess.  There was a kid who had a brown belt (one below a black belt); yet he couldn't do one proper pushup.  How long do you think his parents will keep him enrolled after he is unable to defend himself in a real fight (not that the school believed in fighting)?  It is important that teachers give students and parents realistic and accurate assessments because false confidence can have financial, safety, and other effects on the students.  And THAT concludes this post.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

USB Flash Drives Review

Just did some testing on old and new USB flash drives.  All drives were freshly formatted as exFAT to ensure maximum transfer speeds.  I only did write tests and caching was turned off.  I will update with more flash drives as I get them.  The test is writing a single 4.21GB file.

Flash drive total time MB/s
ADATA S102 32GB (old) 00:02:22 29.7 USB3
ADATA S102 32GB (new) 00:03:37 19.4 USB3
ADATA S102 128GB (new) 00:01:39 45.5 USB3
ADATA UV128 128GB (new) 00:05:14 13.4 USB3
Kingston DTSE9G2 64GB (old) 00:04:39 15.1 USB3
Patriot Xporter Rage XT 16GB (old) 00:03:58 17.7 USB2


The old ADATA S102 32GB drive writes at a steady 29.7 MB/s.  All the new ADATA drives write with large swings in write speed and results in a slower write; maybe to make the drive more reliable?  However, my old S102 has been used extensively and has remained reliable.

The Kingston drive also writes at a steady rate but it is pretty slow.  It has been very reliable.

USB3 may provide faster reads, but the write speed don't exceed USB2 limits except for the ADATA S102 128GB drive.

Most manufacturers don't seem to publish write speeds.  ADATA does and the tests don't come close to except for my old S102 32GB and the new S102 128GB.  I don't recommend the ADATA UV128 128GB as that is slower than my Patriot USB2 drive.

The Kingston DTSE9G2 is not fast, but it is convenient being cap-less and having a nice key ring hole.

Update - 2021-02-06

Kingston DT101 G3 16GB USB3 (old) - 5.9 MB/s

Sunday, January 24, 2021


Last post, we looked a memorization; when we fully memorize something, it goes into long-term memoryWorking memory can be thought of as thinking memory.  When we want to learn or solve a problem, we bring in facts or concepts from our long-term memory and try to arrange them to learn or solve a problem.  I believe my memory, working and long-term, are good; but it takes work to use them.  If I am not concentrating, I can be just as absent-minded as anyone else.  Knowing how your memory works should help you study more efficiently.

Our working memory is very finite; some estimate it to be just a single digit, so 3-9 chunks.  It is difficult to precisely state because the number of chunks changes depending if we are using digits, letters, words, sounds or images.  Understanding this, we can train to increase our working memory; we do this by chunking.  Chunking is grouping separate things together so that exists in one working memory slot.  For instance, trying to remember a phone number.  Living in BC, we have 5 area codes:  236, 250, 604, 672, and 778.  10 digit phone numbers normally exceeds our working memory, but I only need to remember 7 digits because I can think of the area code as 1 to 5.  If the next 3 digits are the same as someone that I know, then I treat that as a chunk; and I only have to remember 4 digits.

Working and long-term memory are theories until scientists find better ways to measure how the brain works at a finer level.  Just speculating here - experts seem to have larger working memory in their fields of expertise vs the novice.  Rather than have more working memory, I would guess that they are able to bring in memories faster than the novice so that it looks like they have more working memory.  In a similar vein, experts also utilize heuristics to quickly eliminate unreasonable paths to solutions; you will see chess masters use faster memory recall and heuristics so that they can play chess simultaneously against many opponents and still win.  We will discuss heuristics in the future.  I suspect they are able to chunk more than the novice thinker.

So how do we go from novice to expert?  Usually it's through repetition.  Most teachers assign only enough homework for students to achieve some proficiency - teachers understand that students take many courses so they assign a reasonable amount of homework.  I always told my students that they have to do extra work to achieve expertise.  Is this going to be "some" or "a lot" of extra work?  Well, it depends on how each students' memory works.  If a person is savant, it might not be any extra work.  I have not been fortunate enough to meet a savant although I had 2 friends in university that were very very good if not gifted in math.

There are many techniques to get thoughts into long-term memory.  Some of them don't work for me, this is how I learn student names in less than a week, sometimes I get it after a single class.  This worked well for my grade 8 computer class - we had 3 terms at Carson and I would get a new class of grade 8's (usually 22-26 students) every term so learning names quickly was important; it helps with class management.

  • I take attendance
  • Every student gets seated at a computer in alphabetical order
  • They get some instructions and are assigned a writing task that takes more than 80 minutes to complete
  • I go alphabetically and introduce myself to each student saying their name out loud and looking at the face (making an association) and looking at my class list; I say their name silently two more times
  • As I go, I silently repeat all the names as I go; I try not to read the list
  • When I'm done, I help any student that needs it then I walk around alphabetically again and say their names out loud and look at their face for confirmation; again I try not to read the list
  • I repeat the process again, but I go through the list in reverse alphabetical order
  • Then I do this one more time
  • Next, I ask the class to sit at tables instead of at the computers for a verbal review of the task.  Students must raise their hands to answer questions and I try to recall their names out loud before they answer
  • When the class is dismissed I verbally say their name as leave for a final confirmation
There is a lot of repetition but this works well for me.  It takes more than one class when I have the first class on a Thursday or Friday because there are too many days between classes to refresh my memory using the Spacing Effect.  Admittedly, it is much easier to recall student names when they are sitting at the computer; it takes about a week and a half to recall student names in the halls.  Besides repetition, the tip is not always memorize things sequentially.  Try recalling memories in a random order to confirm that it is memorized.  This is why making study groups is a good idea.

There are other ways of improving memory.  These are things affect the way the brain actually works rather than techniques for memorizing.  Two of the methods that I regularly tell students is sleep and exercise.  Exercise does not have to be weight lifting or running marathons; moderate exercise will do - exercise will deliver more oxygen and nutrients to our brains.  This is one of the reasons why we need to take breaks after working for a while; it literally clears our heads!  Remember, it takes effort to use our memory, so clear the distractions when we study.  And THAT concludes this post!

Saturday, January 23, 2021


Memorization AKA rote learning or rote memorization has been an evil phrase in education for over a decade.  The paradigm has shifted from memorization to thinking or problem solving in all subjects in BC; this has been motivated by Bloom's Taxonomy where a student moves from simple thinking to higher levels of thinking.  Rote memorization is memorizing through repetition; this is the basic level of thinking in Bloom's.  It's unfortunate that some people (like the BC government) have unilaterally removed memorization without any kind of analysis.  Some believe that the Internet is available, so memorization is not important.  However, if we don't know certain facts exist, we can't possibly know what to search for.  The brain is actually capable of memorizing a lot, some would argue that there is no limit.

If we want to maximize memorization then we would do it formally by taking advantage of the Spacing Effect which was mentioned in a previous post.  This is refreshing the memory at recommended increasingly set intervals.  Bloom's taxonomy states the knowledge (knowing the facts) is the first level of thinking.  The second level is comprehension (understanding the facts).  I would argue, as some people have, that you can't get to the second level if you miss the first level.

I do agree that not all things need to be memorized.  For instance, if we wanted to discuss the possibility of World War 3 occurring, it is not important to memorize the dates of World War 1 and 2.  But it would be necessary to learn why World War 1 and 2 started and ended.  If we wanted to discuss Romeo and Juliet, we don't need to memorize every word in the novel, but we would take notes of the major characters and events.

Many kids learn to read before entering school by having parents read to them at home.  They are taking advantage of the Spacing Effect by making reading a daily habit.  They probably read the same favourite books over and over again, this is repetition at constant intervals rather than increasing.  They are learning the sound and spelling of words (facts).  In order to have a discussion about the story, the child has to memorize the plot of the story.  So memorization is happening, Bloom's level 1.

Now, how can we have an understanding level (Bloom's 2) discussion in an art class if we didn't know about shapes and colours?  We would end up talking in circles trying to come up with definitions that already exist and wasting an awful lot of time.

Similarly, in a music class, do we tell the children to go to the box with strings which could mean piano or guitar.  Go to the cylinder with holes which could be flute or clarinet.  No, we would show them what a guitar and flute are; we are giving them definitions.  Do we tell them to make this sound with the device.  No, we would explain the music staff, how to read the notes, then play a particular note.

So what kind of analysis can be done to determine what needs to be memorized in the curriculum?  From an economics point of view, we can attempt to do a cost benefit analysis.  This means we measure how much effort is needed to memorize something (the cost) vs how much usage we get from the memory in the future (the benefit).

I remember in grade 3 (over 50 years ago) that my friends asked me who my teacher was; I said Mrs. Hodgson.  They all went "ooooooo" and said she was a hard teacher.  Every week, we would learn 10 words for a spelling test.  During the spelling test, she would say the word in a sentence so that we knew the context.  Every week, we would learn a new row of the multiplication table.  I concluded that Mrs. Hodgson was one of the better teachers I had in elementary school.  I can't remember the words that we learned to spell (it would be amazing if I did!), but I gained an appreciation of using and spelling words correctly from then on.  And of course, I use the multiplication table every day.  That means the benefit vs cost of memorizing spelling and the multiplication table is a huge number and growing every year that I keep living!  If it takes 10 repetitions to memorize something and that something is used 1000 times, the benefit cost ratio is 1000/10=100.  I wouldn't be surprised if the benefit cost ratio of the multiplication table for me is over 100,000!

In the BC Curriculum Guide for math from K to 6, memorizing the multiplication table or addition and subtraction of single digits are not in the curriculum.  There are strategies for adding and subtracting, and treating multiplication as repeated addition but that's not the same thing as memorization.  There are many concepts taught from grade 8 and up in math that require quick mental calculations so that they can try to learn higher level concepts such as prime factorization and factorizing a polynomial.  If we can't do the mental calculations, we will overload our working memory and not be able to grasp the higher level concept as easily or at all.  Unfortunately I witnessed students struggling in grade 12 math because they never learned mental math well and YES I offered them help to improve their mental math.

Using another analogue, let's look at reading a sentence:  A geometric series is the sum of the terms of a geometric sequence.  Let's say we didn't know certain words and had to look up the definitions: sum, term and geometric sequence.  This will require temporarily memorizing 4 sentences just to understand 1 and it will probably be hard to make a picture of the concept.  Let's look at another sentence that is longer:  This breed of working dog is medium to large size, and has medium to long tan and black hair, and has ears that are large and erect, and was originally developed to herd sheep.  Because you know all the words, it will not tax your working memory and you should be able to picture this breed of dog, a German Shepherd.

I don't teach English, so I don't know exactly how to interpret the BC Curriculum Guide for English.  Most of it talks about creating stories and structures but doesn't specifically address learning words and spelling.  The closest directive I found is:  Communicate using sentences and most conventions of Canadian spelling, grammar, and punctuation.  Because of lack of specificity, I had some students unable to differentiate:  there, their and they're; or to, too and two.  Writing stories with a limited vocabulary is not teaching students to think at a high level in Bloom's Taxonomy.  Another teacher told me that a student submitted a resume with "hear is my resume."

It's egregious to have an education system that graduates students that don't look intelligent enough.  Education tends to swing with the latest trends without fully evaluating the effects.  It's not hard to do a cost benefit analysis; we see that we are limiting learning at the higher grades by cutting out spelling, vocabulary, and math tables from the earlier grades.  Teachers can only go so far to limit the changes that government wants; so parents need to question and evaluate their child's progress and ask for changes from the government if the progress doesn't meet expectations.  Right now, it might be parents that have to teach their kids the multiplication table, spelling and vocabulary so that their kids have a more complete education.  Sadly, THAT concludes this post!

Friday, January 22, 2021

The Ideal Parent

"It takes a village to raise a child."  Student success relies on teachers, the student and the parent(s) or guardian.  It is possible for a student to achieve success without good teachers or parents, but it becomes significantly more difficult.  The title of this post is likely to get some parents feeling defensive; that is not the goal; it wasn't the goal in the previous posts about the ideal teacher and ideal student.  I doubt many people have formally taken a course on how to be a parent because it's not offered in schools.  I have had parents asking about what to do with their kids in parent-teacher interviews.  If there is something that parents can do to make their kids lives better, isn't that a good thing?  The goal of the ideal parent is not to become the teacher so let's discuss this.

This is important so it's worth re-iterating:  proper sleep is vital to learning well.  Parents need to make sure that kids get the proper amount of sleep and get to school on time.  Unfortunately, it's not surprising to have to wake sleeping students up during class; it's not a good feeling to be embarrassed in class.  If parents are working hard to support their family, doesn't it make sense to also support their learning.  Some parents may not be able to physically take their kids to school, but they should have some way to make sure their kids get to school on time.  Showing up on time makes the student feel that education is important, that the parent cares about education and that it is important to be responsible.

Nutrition is also an important component to learning well.  It starts with a good breakfast.  It doesn't have to be a big production, but it should certainly avoid high sugar content.  The high cost of living and low wages in some areas may make proper nutrition difficult for some parents.  Many schools are able to provide breakfast and/or lunch for students but parents have to ask.  It may be uncomfortable for parents to ask for help, but if it's a choice between a parent's pride and a child's education, I think it should be an easy choice to make.

The ideal parent is not a helicopter parent.  It may seem that being deeply involved in a child's life is a good thing but it can cause problems.  The first is loss of independence which means a loss of responsibility; this can lead to difficulties as an adult where they may feel overwhelmed when taking responsibility.  In the extreme where a parent prevents the child from making mistakes; this can create anxieties for the child.  Quoting Miss Frizzle from The Magic School Bus, "Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy"; it's how we grow and learn.

Homework is something for students to complete.  Parents can help by checking if there is homework and that progress is being made.  Under no circumstances should anybody else complete the homework; this will delay student learning and hamper future learning.  Parents can help by explaining concepts (if they have the background), explaining where to get additional resources, booking extra time with teachers or getting tutors that know how to teach (schools may have free peer tutoring).

Parents want to provide tools for our kids to succeed in education and life such as cellphones and computers.  How do they ensure that technology is used properly?  It has been shown that lack of technology is detrimental to education, but unchecked use of technology can be just as bad.  This is a battle for teachers and it is most likely a battle for parents.  There is no one solution since technology is always evolving.  Is it ever too late to start controlling technology use?  It certainly is easier to manage when they start using technology.  Provided that living conditions allow, technology should be kept in the open areas of the house and not in the bedrooms.  Another option is to limit screen-time by setting hours.  If parents are tech savvy enough, parental controls can be added to cellphones, computers and/or routers; it's still a good idea to physically check once in a while to see that the controls haven't been circumvented.

Lastly, parents who want everything for their children may over-schedule their children.  Children need downtime, this means no screen-time.  Downtime gives children the time to reflect on what's been happening in their life and they may even ask parents questions on how to handle things.  Downtime also gives children time to relax and de-stress.  After-school activities that appear fun such as dance, sports or music is not considered downtime because it can cause stress.  How often do people say "I need some me time" and why do they say this?

Parents and teachers may or may not see education the same way; but if they do, education will be easier for the student to accept.  The only way to find or confirm a common view is by communication.  Hopefully, reading these posts and links will allow both parties to articulate their views in a productive manner.  Being a parent is a big responsibility.  Some parents may need to do more and some may need to do less to find the happy medium.  If we can get children to be more responsible so that parent may have less responsibility, it would be time well spent.  And THAT concludes this post!

The Ideal Student

Time to turn the tables by defining the ideal student.  Of course, not everyone is going to have the same picture in mind, but let's start somewhere.  Saying my kid is the sweetest isn't going to get us anywhere because it's just a persuasive definition.  We must use concrete qualities.

We start with respect.  Respect encompasses many things.  Students need to learn that to get respect, you need to give respect.  So respect starts with showing up on time for class - that goes for teachers as well!  Students being late is a big pet peeve for many teachers that I know - parents can help out a great deal by making sure their kids get to bed earlier so they can arrive on time and are ready to learn.  Here are 2 references on how much sleep do kids need:  Today's Parent and Healthy Children.  Class management is the teacher's responsibility, but students can make this easier or harder; students can show respect by not interrupting when others are talking; everyone deserves their time to participate.  The more respect that is shown; the more time everyone will get to participate.  Respect is something that students are not fully aware of, so it is incumbent on the teacher to explicitly state them.

"You get what you give."  Teachers are like performers.  When performers get feedback from the audience, the performance gets better.  It's the same with a lecture!  If nobody asks a question during a lecture, it's tough for the teacher to be excited and keep going.  It never hurts to ask "why?"; it usually leads to more personal answers rather than something out of a textbook.  Here are some questions to try but make sure that it's applicable:

  • "Why are we learning this?"
  • "Who discovered this?"
  • "What can we do with this?"
  • "Is there another way?"
  • "How has this helped you in life?"
  • "Sorry, I don't understand."

One caveat is to be genuine when asking the question.

The other pet peeve for teachers is cellphones. If the school has a no cellphone policy, then this isn't an issue.  No matter how disciplined we are, a cellphone will likely distract and impact the learning.  Here is an article that states the impact:  CNBC.  Breaking the cellphone habit early will help when we keep a job later - employers don't want to see their employee on their cellphone while on the job!  And for when we get our driver's license, it will also help us avoid distracted driving.

Some students will argue with teachers about marking; this is generally not a good direction (unless it's multiple choice) because this implies the teacher is not correctly doing their job.  It is okay to ask how to answer a question better or what can be done to improve understand or to make arguments clearer.  If your answer is correct, then the teacher will notice their own mistake.  I have had a few professors who have told the class that if they ask for a mark correction that they will re-mark the whole test and the mark may go down.  In reality, for high school, a couple of marks out of probably hundreds of marks is going to be less than 1% and most teachers will boost the letter grade if it is on the boundary.

Of course students have time pressure like everyone else, but ideally work habits need to be consistent.  Students need to start the assigned work as soon as possible after a lesson is delivered.  Firstly, it will verify that the lesson is understood.  Secondly, it will verify that we can apply the lesson.  Lastly it will help with learning/memorizing; it's called the Spacing Effect.  There may be temptation to complete the assigned work, but RESIST; save some it for the next day to utilize the Spacing Effect.  If you complete the assigned work, it is almost as bad as cramming because your memory needs to be refreshed until the lesson is completely learned.  If something is learned, it will always be there ready to use.  If something is crammed, it will always have to be re-crammed in order to use.  It is a fallacy to think that cramming is more efficient than learning; learning will save you more time in the long run.  Also, teachers want students to learn and not to cram.

Being the ideal student is not magic; it's just doing the things that help learning.  If there is difficulty making studying a habit, forming a study group is usually helpful as long as it is not just a social gathering.  And THAT concludes this post!


So the weather was sunny today and a little bit windy.  We had a large pile of cuttings (3m in diameter and 2m high) that needed burning, so...