Handshake Problem

To be fair, we probably spent more time working on the Handshake Problem than was entirely acceptable, but I enjoyed the time we spent on the project immensely.

The problem asked how many hands one’s spouse shook at a party of people in couple groups, where everyone shook a different number of hands. For our class, it was a perfect way to engage in discussion and work together to find some sort of a solution.

I think the biggest reason I enjoyed the process so much was that it was a great example of how effective problem solving can be, and what ways we can modify and change a question in order to help students come up with an answer. For us, the problem was all about assumptions. You were given very little information, and, as such, needed to make assumptions in order to know where to start with the question. The two common assumptions were that one could not shake their spouses’ hand, and one could not shake their own hand. Using those two assumptions, we attempted to use a chart to solve the problem. We came up with an answer that was almost correct, we just had two individuals shaking the same number of hands. But we only came to the conclusion when we disregarded the assumption about spousal handshakes. The other group got a better answer because they made another assumption we had not – people were allowed to shake an individual’s hand more than once.

I still don’t know the exact answer for the question, but it does bring about many issues when you try and solve the problem. In class, we talked about how the entirety of how you approach solving the problem comes from what assumptions you make. For example, you could say that a person shook the hands of twelve people outside before they entered the party, and then shook ten hands inside, and so shook 22 hands. Basically, the question can have infinitely many solutions if you do not stipulate what is and is not acceptable.

The technique applies to all problem solving. If you make a question for students that is based on them coming to the correct conclusion, then there must be guidelines in place that ensure that students do not stray from the path too drastically. But, if you want to encourage discussion, and deeper thinking, perhaps having an open ended question is better, because then students have to think, and the answer that each group or individual comes to is dependent on their own creativity and mathematical process.

Both ways of problem solving, guided and open ended, I think, are very useful for very different reasons. A guided problem solving approach is useful for helping students learn a unit, or better their skills with a particular topic, while open ended is useful for creativity and enjoyment in the classroom.


The word of the day to day is efficiency, so I’m going to try and cut out the middle man, forget the small talk and get down to business. Serious business. The business being assessment.



This was put in for comedic purposes to lighten the mood. Now we’re serious.

I agree with a lot of the points being made by the two readings assigned for the week. Mainly, I believe in on-going assessment, and less standardized testing. In fact, I have gotten to the point in my education journey that I don’t really believe in tests at all anymore. I don’t like the way we set up assessment as a silent room, no talking, no helping, make sure you studied the day before and learned all you definitions and/or formulas, the teacher can’t help you, so don’t bother to ask, no you can’t go to the bathroom again, so don’t bother to ask, etc, etc. I am a strict believer in the fact that school should be preparing you for life, and in life, no one is going to ask you to put away your notes and your calculator, because it’s time to get serious. The important thing isn’t if you remember the exact definition of what a molecule is, what’s important is that you know what to do with the information. I can ask student to give me the formula for the area of a circle on a test, and I can ask them to do simple calculations with the formula, but real understanding, and actual learning comes from more challenging questions, more applicable scenarios and deeper, complex thinking requires some help, some notes to look at or access to the internet and/or research books.

The book Our Words, Our Ways talks about issues that Aboriginal students may have with formal assessments, but I think that a lot of students have problems with formal assessment, because of the stress it brings. I always did well on tests, partly because I can understand information well, but also (and maybe predominately) because I have been an actor for upwards of eight years and have memorized over 30 scripts. I am very good at memorizing information, and I can parrot back whatever you ask me. But that doesn’t mean I’ve learned anything. If you asked me to tell you anything that I was tested on in my Law 30 class, I would most likely not be able to answer it. Except that a subpoena is a summons to appear in court. I remember that because there was a question on a test that I couldn’t answer, so I wrote the definition of subpoena in the space instead, in all capitals and with an exclamation mark. I didn’t get any points. I totally deserved points, I was being hilarious and insightful. The fact of the matter is, the only information I retained was the information that was interesting to me, or that had some relevance in my memory.

I liked the fact that the readings discussed the fact that assessment can be as simple as observing a class discussion, or speaking with a student about a topic to see if they are understanding what is being taught. Assessment shouldn’t be about setting students up to either pass or fail, and it shouldn’t bring into account outside factors besides the knowledge. If a students is shy, they can’t be expected to participate in class discussions as well as a student who is confident and knows that they have the correct answer. If a student is working a full time job and has extra-curricular activities outside of classwork, they can’t be expected to do an essay in only a week without any class time.

It seems to me, that both readings are encouraging the use of multiple methods of assessment, and changing them with the learners in a class. If you have a class of visual learners, perhaps allowing group presentations, or power points would be a good way to see if the student’s are learning what they should be.

I do believe in a dialogue with students. Which is why I still don’t believe in the concept of no late marks. I agree with the notion expressed in the book that instead of taking 5% off a day, it should be a smaller amount, but I don’t think there should be no penalty. In my High School English class, my teacher didn’t give late marks. Every semester, he’d receive all of the assignments for the entire semester on the last day of class. The only ones he got on time were from a few students, like me. The problem was, that the other students who had the extra time could then ask me to edit their assignments and then they would receive a higher mark than me on the assignment. The reason that this bothers me is because of the fact that if you give any amount of wiggle room to students, they will exploit that. If you give no late marks, you will have most assignments in late. Which is why I want to work on a basis of allowing late assignments for specific students. If a student comes and talks to me, and tells me that they are working full time, I will allow them as much time as they need for assignments. If a students tells me that they can’t write an acceptable paper in two weeks, I will do like was mentioned and allow students to hand in incomplete work, and help guide them to finish the assignment. I don’t want to make it impossible for students, and I want to be an understanding teacher, but I also don’t want to teach them that it is acceptable to always miss deadlines. When a person is employed, they are expected to do the tasks assigned to them, and to do them within the deadline. A boss will not tolerate lazy workers, so teaching students to not work hard is setting them up for a surprise when they join the workforce.

The last thing I want to touch on is student evaluation. I think that it is a nice concept in theory, but I don’t think it works particularly well in practice. Whenever we were given the ability to self-evaluate in class, it was less a test of how well we though we did, but rather, a test of our self-esteem. I was a 90s student, but I always marked myself 75-80 on my assessments because I didn’t want to come across as if I was bragging, or thought better of myself than I should. And when I marked my peers, I always gave them 90-100 because, well, they worked hard.



And I know that the same went for many students in my class. Either they marked themselves higher than they deserved because they hoped it would bring their mark up, or they marked too low in the hopes that the teacher would pity them and give them more marks. It was always about playing the teacher, seeing what they wanted you to put down in relation to what you actually believed you deserved.

This is the part where I have to write a beautiful conclusion. But….it’s 8:00 in the morning, and I forgot my granola bar at home. I am hungry and tired and that’s just too much to expect from me at this time. But let’s hope for the best anyway, hoping for the best has never steered me wrong.

Assessment is integral to being a teacher. In order to gauge how successful your teaching is or what you should be focusing on next, you need to know where the students are, and what they know. Assessment provides the information required for teachers. But assessment does not necessarily need to be accomplished in the same way every time, it can be done simply by observing. Assessment does not need to be a set of requirements for passing or failing, but can instead be a mark of where everyone in the classroom is, and can guide the teacher into ensuring the success of all the students in the classroom.

How did that go? I think I got my point across. Ten points for me, y’all go play outside. Get some exercise. I went through my entire High School career spelling exercise wrong. I learned how to spell it last year. See? Learning is a never ending journey, what a lesson I’ve just taught you all. You’re welcome.

Lesson Planning

Whenever we discuss lesson plans in an education class the notion is broad, sweeping over all subjects, and not going much deeper than scratching the surface of what it means to create a lesson plan. The method is very useful and helpful in our primary ECS classes, because we have no idea what we will be teaching in our futures and so it is best to be prepared for anything. There is still something to be said, however, for allowing yourself to learn more deeply for what you truly care about because if  you want to teach a subject like math, it is best to know how to create an insightful and helpful lesson.

As has probably been noticed, I quite enjoy talking about a few specific points that I found interesting in relation to summing up an entire class of learning. The reason is that the points I talk about are what stuck with me, resonated and gave me pause. They are either new things I learned, or old things I had learned before, but were now being talked about in great detail. For our lesson planning debut in EMath, I found two suggestions to be very helpful and interesting.

I taught drama in my hometown for about four years before I graduated, and I continually return to teach workshops and sub classes. Whenever I go, I always have a very bare bones lesson plan, usually submitted to the studio owner so she knows what I will be teaching. But when I used to teach my own classes and direct monologues and plays, I never wrote out my plan, I had it all ready in my head, and I reviewed and changed the plan as needed. So that had always been my negative view of lesson plans. That lessons needed to be changed and modified so often that it simply didn’t make sense to create a super organized, in depth learning assessment when you would need to strip it down and reteach anyway. I still firmly believe in the existence of improvisation in the classroom, but I now understand the use of lesson plans as well. Lesson plans allow one to have a clear objective in mind, and an idea of how to reach the objective.

We were also taught about the importance of review and assessment as a part of a lesson plan. Writing down what worked and what didn’t, what the students’ learned and what they were still struggling with. The implementation of the assessment part of a lesson plan I think is excellent, because it give you incentive to have a lesson plan and have it detailed, so you can clearly see what methods the student’s are susceptible to, and what should be used sparingly. For example, doing problem solving in the classroom brings about the fact that the students may not discover what you are trying to teach. With an assessment of the activity, you can review the assignment and see that it was the language you used to explain that confused students. Or perhaps they were not at that level of learning yet. Using the assessment,  you can make new lesson plans and opportunities to problem solve with the students’ strengths and shortcomings in mind.

The most interesting part of lesson planning to me was the way in which information should be presented. I have been taught in many math classes in my life, so it would seem to be common sense that math classes are taught simple to complex, concrete to abstract, etc. The concept is the way I have always been taught in math, but never noticed it before. Starting with the basic building blocks of a unit, a teacher can help expand students’ learning by adding more layers to the mix. Bloom’s Taxonomy is also useful in moving from the simple learning to complex teaching. Beginning with basic repetition and moving to creation, a teacher can allow students to feel comfortable and confident before challenging the learning of students. Problem solving should occur after basic understanding is given, so students are able to know where a starting point is for the lesson. If students don’t know the basics for understanding a unit, then they will not know what the questions are expecting of them.

The method of simple to complex is also how we teach math throughout the years. We teach students the basics of math, and then expand upon it. A student learns to multiply before Grade Five, but is still leaning multiplication in High School, with factoring and learning how to multiply logarithms and such. The journey of math is something that I have always enjoyed – it leads to many “aha” moments for students, and I am excited to explore how lesson planning can be integrated with the problem solving methods we have already learned.


Insight and Creativity

The third EMath class I attended moved from the class being focused on the difficulties and conflicts which arise when dealing with problem solving, and instead brought to light many positive approaches to problem solving as well as why the practice is useful to students and teachers alike.

The first activity we did involved many brain teasers and questions, like where we had to draw four straight lines through the box of nine dots without lifting our pencil, and completing the magic square. The activities involved a lot of free thinking, and discussion, as we worked on the activities in groups. The questions were simple and straight forward, we understood what was expected of us, but we were encouraged to come to the conclusion on our own, and through our own devices. For example, the first activity we did involved finding numbers in the boxes at the top of the page, and counting them off in order. The event was timed, and we were required to record and plot our data. The process was ended when the instructor could see that frustration levels were beginning to outweigh our enjoyment. The activity brought up the fact that problem solving in the classroom doesn’t always have to come to a definite conclusion, and student’s don’t need to complete an activity if the discussion and journey are enough to help the students develop. If an activity is going to put strain on the student’s happiness, sometimes it is better to reconvene than try and force the students into completing an activity they cannot focus on, or is perhaps too difficult to accomplish. In an instance of extreme difficulty, a class can pause the activity, and the teacher can provide guidance to help the students in accomplishing the set task. As it was, our activity did not need an end, as we were merely testing  ourselves on our ability to remember and recognize the placement of numbers.

One of the other tasks assigned, the dot problem, also raised interesting comparisons to problem solving in the classroom. When we completed the problem, I had a different answer than the other people in the class, but it was also a correct answer. I had just gone about the question a different way. Problem solving allows for the circumstance of different outcomes and processes, as long as the integrity of the question is still intact, and the discovery at the end of the process remains the same. For example, a teacher could assign students to explore areas of objects and come up with ways to write out universal formulas for shapes. Students may use different variables or put *1/2 in comparison to ÷2, though both mean the same.

The final problem we worked on that I want to discuss is the handshake problem, because it brought about one of my favourite things about problem solving. When we were faced with the question, asking about the number of handshakes given, we never actually came to a conclusion. But we spent our time discussing the scenario and ways in which to figure out the problem, and positing different factors contributing to the question. The discussion flowed naturally and it was a way to enhance our ability and understanding even though we didn’t come to a conclusion at that time. With problem solving, allowing for free discussion and group work is an excellent tool. Students have the ability to learn from each other, as well as teach their other classmates, and gain a deeper understanding of a topic. As well, group work and discussion can be fun and engaging, putting a positive spin on to a math class.

In our class, we were taught about the critical factors in the problem solving approach being tasks that require the use of a specific method that is being taught, as well as tasks that inspire creativity and intrigue. The examples we worked on in our class were excellent examples of the creative thinking process as well as the questioning process. As a class, we worked on problems together, discussed solutions and had to stretch our minds in order to figure out some of the brain teasers. The application of the knowledge allowed us to see that critical thinking is the key to success and that problem solving allows students to be involved in the teaching process, not simply be taught at.

Conflicts in Word Problems

In my previous post, I discussed some of the difficulties that are present when dealing with word problems. And, as luck would have it, the exact issue of word problems was tackled in the next EMath class. We dealt with problems such as the difficulties of language, as well as other glaring issues associated with some word problems that make it difficult to form what could be considered a ‘perfect’ word problem.

I find the difficulties of word problems to be particularly significant, because a poorly worded problem is one of the most unfair challenges a student has to deal with. In non-word problems, the formula and question is clearly outlined and straightforward, and the only limitations a student will have will be related to their understanding of the formula and the steps required to solve the problem. In a word problem, a student must be able to translate the words into mathematical formulas or terms and often times also bring in prior knowledge in order to effectively solve the question. A successful word problem is one that identifies the age range of the students and can also utilize only knowledge that the students will have. For example, the first word problem we did in EMath required knowledge of the normal temperature of a human. If we didn’t know the information, then the graph we had decided to draw would not have been accurate.

Then again, the graph was not all that accurate anyway due to gaps in the knowledge presented by the question. The gaps in information led to an abundance of assumptions being made, which is also a significant factor in word problems, and difficulties students encounter when attempting to solve them. When a question does not specifically state a key fact or information, the person solving the problem has to make an educated guess on what the information should be. Like when we did the word problem about Keisha’s temperature. The question did not state key information, like how much her temperature was decreasing by, or even if the temperature was increasing or decreasing. Without the information, we had to make a lot of assumptions and therefore our graph was not accurate. If a teacher were to give that question to a class of thirty children, they would most likely receive thirty completely different looking graphs. Some may not even be graphs at all, as the question only requested the information be represented “symbolically”, which does not always immediately make a student think of a graph.

Another word problem that was looked at involved calculating the circumference of a wagon wheel when only being presented with a piece of the whole wheel. Again, many assumptions are made. We assume that the spokes all meet in the center of the wheel, and so extending the lines will lead to an intersection at the center. We assume that the wheel is indeed a circle, and one of our groups assumed that picture showed half of the wheel, as that is what the diagram seemed to imply. Allowing students to make too many assumptions based on information will lead to many incorrect answers to a question, and then it is not fair to the students to count the question as a proper assessment of their knowledge and skills.

One of the most important things that problem solving allows is for student to be able to use different methods to come up with a solution. With allowing for a level of freedom and exploration, I feel that most problem solving in a classroom should be done as a group, to allow for discussion, as we mentioned in our EMath class. Discussion enables the students to voice their ideas and see if they will work, as well as receive other opinions or perspectives from their group members. Allowing students to work together also breeds familiarity and friendship. One can hopefully limit the drawbacks of group work by making sure the students don’t work with the same people every time, and observing to make sure that everyone is contributing.

I have always like word problems and problem solving as a part of the learning process, but have never really liked the idea of using word problems too much on a test, because of the fact that there are many difficulties associated with writing a clear and concise word problem. If a poor word problem is featured on a test, then the stress of the students writing the test will increase, as they may be unable to solve the question, due to language difficulties, not due to skill level. I guess learning how to write better word problems is a way to still utilize word problems on tests without fear that students will get the question wrong due to lack of information, or misinformation.

Problem Solving as a Constant

As quite the fan of all things math related, it has always been a struggle for me to understand and empathize with those who struggle with and absolutely despise math.And I have definitely been around many people who share the anti-math sentiment. By the time I reached Grade Twelve, there were eight of us in my advanced math class, and maybe three of us actually enjoyed math, while the others were only there to get the credit.

So it really should come as no surprise that, out of the group of friends I have, I am the only one who enjoys math and loves to learn more about what math entails. Having a core group of people who do not share one of my key interests slowly allowed me to have more experience understanding why math is not people’s favourite thing in the world, and why they struggle so much with it.

In all of my discussion about math and the wonderful world of math, there has always been a constant. My math hating friends all absolutely hate problem solving.

So, going into our first EMath class, which is all about problem solving and the use of problem solving in a classroom, I was going in with the thought that people absolutely hate problem solving, and so why would we make people do something that they hate? Won’t that just make it so that they antagonize math even more?

I am happy that I was given three very key lessons in my first EMath class that have made me understand and change my mind about problem solving as a whole, and the use of it in the classroom. Most, honestly, seem pretty self-explanatory and straight forward, but I guess I’ve never had problem solving explained to me in-depth as a teaching tool.

  • The first surprise was the fact that problem solving does not simply mean word problems. Problem solving is all about giving meaning to what one learns as part of the math class. A student shouldn’t simply be taught the formula for something, they should be led through a process of discovering the formula and why it is applicable. Problem solving involves deeper thinking, group work and discussion, leading students to discovery and learning without a teacher simply giving them notes to copy from.
    I find that I like problem solving as a whole a lot more, because it relates to things like science experiments in my mind now. You can be told over and over again that the three states of matter are solid, liquid and gas (let’s not talk about plasma), but a lot of students won’t connect the learning to real life until they do experiments, such as freezing water, or throwing boiling water into the winter air and seeing it evaporate instantly. The same applies to math.
    When I was in my Grade Nine class, we did a project wherein we were required to build a roller coaster out of straws and tape. We learned about budgeting, as we were only permitted to use the amount of materials we requested and all materials came with a price, and estimation. As well, we used our geometry unit to construct ways to make the structure sound, safe, and fast. The project was a helpful way for us to learn, but to also see how simple math can be useful and fun in a way none of us expected. That”s the essence of problem solving I really enjoy, allowing students to see real world application without making it seem shoehorned, or not as honest as it could be.
  • The second lesson I learned was that problem solving should not be only taught as a unit, but instead used as a tool to help with all math units. Whenever I was taught problem solving, it was always as word problems as the last unit in a class, or the last “bonus question” on a test. In EMath, we have discussed how problem solving should be incorporated into the entire unit, and used as a device to allow students to come to their conclusions, or use different methods to come to a concrete, similar answer. I have not done much problem solving using that method, so I am excited to look at ways it can be implemented.
  • The final piece of information I took away from my EMath class was that the issues that my friends have always struggled with in word problems and problem solving are also being examined and discussed in class. I know that one of the big reasons people I know struggle with math is because the unit on problem solving is always so daunting, and they are never taught strategies to solve the questions, or formulate a math equation from the words that are being presented in the question. And language often becomes a problem, which is one of the difficulties we learned about in EMath.
    In my ECS 200 class, I had a teacher discuss how one of the questions on a test he’d seen once asked students to find the size of the wake coming off of a speed boat. He mentioned that many students didn’t get the question right because they didn’t know what a wake was. Making word problems that don’t assume prior knowledge of information non-math related is very difficult, and always something to consider, because you never know when a student will not know anything about a deck of playing cards, or not know what a loonie is.

I am excited, honestly, for the EMath course if not simply because it is nice to receive education on how to teach and be a teacher from a professor who actually enjoy and has taught math, but also because I will be learning to like something I always had thought was going to be of little use to me, seeing as no one cared for problem solving. Perhaps they were all being taught in the wrong way, and were not given the correct methods to expand their learning.

Learning From Our Students

Upon finishing the reading that was required for the ECS 300 class, I was filled with so many points and questions and inspirations that I had to take a moment, eat a piece of the chicken tenders my sister left behind when she drove back to Yorkton, and then drink a glass of milk, because those chicken tenders were way spicier than anticipated. After that glorious break, I made myself sit down and compose a grouping of topics I wished to discuss relating to the article that pretty much made me think way more than I was comfortable with. Which isn’t fair – it’s Sunday and I should be allowed to disregard thinking in favour of playing video games and wearing pajamas.

But, I digress. Let’s get this show on the road.

  1. Learning From Students

Being as I am a second year, 19 year old [almost 20!] University student, I have limited experience with learning from my students. I have only just left high school, and though I have been teaching drama for almost six years now, acting classes in small town Yorkton are not very conducive to developing a curriculum and teaching based on the interests of the students. All of the students I taught were there because they enjoyed acting, so teaching about acting pretty much made their days and that was that. Job well done, Sarah. So I won’t use any examples or discuss my time spent “inspiring the future societies to bigger and better acting dreams”. Instead, I’ll talk about my experiences tutoring last semester wherein I actually did quite a lot of learning from my student, however limited it actually was in the grand scheme of things, seeing as it was only last semester.

When I was told to volunteer my time last semester, I had no idea that I would be putting in so much time and care into something I was not really looking forward to. The class I graduated with was kind of weird in the way that we didn’t have many “delinquents”. We were all just exceedingly lazy. So, me putting in extra work? That’s borderline impossible, some would say. And yet here I was, making worksheets at home, emailing and meeting with previous teachers, and doing math over the Christmas break. Working! During a break! The reason for the extra work was because I was trying to tutor a student in PreCalc 30, which I’d never taken. He had also never taken any of the prerequisite courses, so he was starting back in Grade 9 algebra, and I had to take a lot of my direction from him.

I see the experience as an example of learning from students, because, as the reading discusses, teachers have to look at the abilities and interests of the learners as well as what the curriculum is trying to enforce. We spent an entire  week just learning the basics of factoring, and now we’re moving on to SOH CAH TOA before we can even move forward in his assignments.

It has been an interesting journey for me because I have been forced to take the lead of the learner and go where his skills and abilities lead me. We are fortunate to have the ability to loosely follow the curriculum instead of only doing examples from the book and completing his assignments, and I find that he is enjoying the process much more and learning more than he was previously. At first, when we were just going through the curriculum, he was only learning how to answer questions on assignments, and he had little to no grasp on the bigger picture. Now, we are not quite at the level of aptitude required for the course, but he is doing much better, and is enjoying the process infinitely more. He is not being forced to do work he does not understand, and he is improving at a more natural rate. I know that this process is not perfect, and cannot be implemented as effectively with a larger group, but perhaps something can be said for taking a step back, and learning from where the students are, in relation to where the curriculum wants them to be.

2. Grade Point Average

Something that I have always struggled with is the concept of grades, and of getting good grades. When I was in High School, they gave out the award for the highest average to one student in every grade, and I won it for all four years. I was obsessed with my marks and with keeping my grades up to my standards. I remember complaining that I only had a 99% in Calculus because my teacher refused to give me 100%, and being so glad when I could finally drop Phys Ed, because that dreadful 75% was reeking havoc on my GPA. To put it simply, like the example used in the article, my GPA took over most of my life.

It’s not all a bad thing. I mean, I did pretty much have no life going through High School, but part of that was the fault of my extra curricular drama I did at the local studio, where I would go to classes and teach every day after school from 4 – 10 and on Saturdays anywhere from 4 – 13 hours. So, if I wasn’t doing homework, I was memorizing lines, or planning lessons. And I actually really enjoyed it. Because I was so determined and put in a lot of effort, I was able to have a very simple Grade Twelve year, and, after all my AP classes were over, I only had one class for the last two months of school.

I’m not going to sit here and type and pretend that I hate that I did decent in school, or that I kept myself busy, because I didn’t. I actually really enjoyed all the work I did, and I wouldn’t have tried so hard if I didn’t want to do it for myself. But I will say that the obsessive way I handled my GPA has had definitive impact on my life as it is now.

I have severe test anxiety. I’m the weird kind of person who coughs when they get nervous, so I’m pretty much coughing non-stop for days before I have a test because, oh the horror, I could get a 60% on the test, and what would that do to my GPA?

And a lot of the effort is for nothing. I was the co-valedictorian for my school, yeah, but like the article says, AP tests and grade honours don’t really mean as much now as they used to. I don’t really think my grades in High School are impressive anymore, and I don’t really view my valedictorian[ship?] as an accomplishment as much as I used to. It’s something to put on a resume, I guess, but I sometimes doubt that I really deserved it, because, as some people believe, teachers are marking too easy nowadays, so it’s not like I could really fail. And it hasn’t really done much in my University career. Marks are not insanely strong incentives for hire. Employers look for experience. If you had an 80% average in University, you aren’t going to get hired over the 70% student who ran a summer camp and has volunteered as a tutor for six years. Because most of education is theoretical, and not implemented. I know, in theory, how to change a tire, but I have never done it myself, so would I rather change a tire myself, as an University educated individual, or would I ask my Dad to do it, who never went to University? The answer is my Dad, in case you were confused. It’s always my Dad, I’d probably set the car on fire if I attempted anything.

3. Pass/Fail

This all brings me to my final point from the article. That’s a lie. I have like, six more points I outlined, but I’m getting tired of writing, and it’s dubious at best if any of this really makes any sense, so I should probably quit while I’m ahead.

Eagle eyed readers will also notice that I referenced this being a Sunday, and I have indeed finished my post on a Monday. It takes me a long time to get my thoughts to resemble something actually legible. That may not be the correct word, but we’re going with it.

I was against the pass/fail system when I was going to school, mostly because I always felt intensely gratified to receive a good grade on something I put so much effort into. And while I I am not completely sold on the idea of pass/fail, I do find myself coming around to the idea a lot more than I was previously.

I like the idea of eliminating the need for competition and division in students, and it does also eliminate a lot of the stress that comes with grading and testing. When I was in school, every marked test was met with choruses of “what did you get?” “did you beat _____?” I like the idea of eliminating the need for competition, and it will lessen the gap between students who are “book smart” and those who struggle with memorization and the like.

But I also struggle with the idea of eliminating competition entirely. When I was in Grade Nine and Ten, my math grades were around 95%. I was doing decently in my math courses, but not as good as I could be, because I knew that 95% was all I needed. But then, in Grade Eleven, one of my close friends transferred into our AP class, and she had a 99% in all her math classes. The push from her to compete to get good grades is what made it so that I had a 99% in Calculus and so on. And it was never mean spirited competition either. We were very good friends, and we got such similar grades that it wasn’t a problem. At the end of the year, we were co-valedictorians together and we did probably the worst speech that was ever given. And I don’t think that competition is bad. We live in a world of competition. When we all graduate, we’ll all be competing for jobs. Our society is simply predisposed to comparing ourselves to others. Now, whether or not that is a good or bad thing is a deep dark rabbit hole I’d rather not ever delve into, because I can list as many numerous examples of positives as of negatives, but the fact of the matter is that I believe teaching your children that “everybody wins” and that competition doesn’t exist is a very hopeful, beautiful view of the world that is simply not true. I don’t think that one should call those who fail “losers” and inspire resent, but instead should teach how to take constructive criticism, and look at a “failure” as an opportunity to learn instead.

When I play games with children, I never just let them win. I don’t think that does them any good. But that’s just me.

Circling back around for my final point here, I want to talk again about the pass/fail, and my last point on why I still struggle with accepting it.

As I stated earlier, my graduating class was inherently lazy. We were so lazy, that most of our extra curr teams had less than ten people because no one cared. The only reason effort was put in was because it was expected of us. Like, the only reason people sold magazines for the campaign was because we could get a hypnotist visit out of it. If my class were to be given a low bar to meet, we would just meet that bar and go no further. Because there is no incentive for doing any better than that. So if a course is pass/fail, naturally, we would only learn enough material to pass and nothing more. I still don’t know if that is entirely a good way to teach. And now I’m stressing myself out, because there is no perfect way to teach and what if everyone just decides to sit on the floor and not move for an entire day, I mean, what are you supposed to do with that?

Well I think I am sufficiently rambled out. I apologize for any confusion you may experience. Feel free to dispute, refute, whatever you’d like, any of my opinions. They are, after all, just opinions, and chances are, some of them read quite differently than I intend and I actually believe something a little different, it’s just simply lost in translation. I love learning, and I love education, that is why I have decided to choose this profession, and I love that I have the ability to constantly change and adapt, which is why a lot of my opinions are so different and varying. I have a problem where I like to see both sides of every opinion and then I have trouble remembering which side I stand on. Except about hippos. My opinions on hippopotamuses are pretty solid. They’re awesome herbivores. And way tougher than me.

Sarah Kirschman