There are a great deal of possible stressors that we could experience during this pandemic. In the beginning I was concerned less with getting sick, then with how people would react. Would there be hoarding, or would we witness the extreme reactions as in the US, that you see endlessly broadcast on social media? People here have little experience with outbreaks like this but luckily Islanders took it in stride and didn’t see it as some kind of infringement on their rights. Islanders are a hardier bunch.

There is financial worry, as it’s hard to make a living when everything is shut down. And this is made all the more difficult when you can’t leave for places where employment is still possible.

There is the concern that your neighbours, family, friends or colleagues might become sick. Or worse.

And of course there is the very real stress of being inside with family 24/7. We love each other, but conflict is bound to arise when in close contact with people for extended periods of time. This is intensified when you have little space, like we have.

None of these emotions seem to compare to the stress caused by the simple fact that our kids aren’t in school. There has been at extraordinary amount of attention given to not wanting to add stress to children’s lives by giving them learning tasks, but none to the simple fact that the act of learning, of doing work, is in itself a way to keep kids thinking about a better future. Not to mention keeping kids engaged on things more valuable then days filled with Xbox or extreme boredom.

Each letter from the school board is filled with indefinite language, nary a “will’, but instead many “maybes” and at best a “can.”

My son misses the structure, and though I know he won’t admit it, he misses learning the topics that were covered in school. Right now, it’s all review, and no marks are given. Everything is positive, that is, if he receives any kind of interaction with the teacher at all. He sees through this, and feels he is wasting his time. Which in a way he might be, since the math and science topics he is covering in grade 8, he covered in elementary school. This isn’t a comment on his teachers, who I have come to have an incredible amount of respect for.

This is a crucial year for our daughter and unfortunately all her critical classes were lumped together in one semester, this semester. Her marks for the year have apparently largely been decided, though they do send her new material to learn on her own. If she doesn’t hand in assignments it is marked as “not handed in with justification” with no effect on her final score. Thinking like a normal teenager, why would I pay more than a cursory attention to the work? She does, and we constantly reminder her to do so. She has had one test in one of her classes before the closures of school. She did very poorly. The assignments she completes can help her final grade, maybe.

Going safely back to school requires a cultural shift. Masks are most effective when everyone wears them, constant hand washing, social distancing, multiple temperature check points, procedures for when 1 child gets sick, and so on. It’s hard. But what choice do we have? The infrastructure on the Island doesn’t exist for distance learning, even in the city, bandwidth is constrained on consumer Internet. And the teachers don’t become experts in distance education over night.

A semester off isn’t the end of the world but if this continues I have many concerns about how children and families will cope.

Sheryl Sharing Stories

Starting this Monday past at 10am AST (GMT-3) and continuing at the same time all week, Sheryl will be reading some of her favourite story books on the Sleep Tight Stories Facebook page. Suitable for kids in elementary school or older, our hope was that this might prove useful as kids are in isolation at home or may have limited contact with their English teacher. Listening to stories may also help children understand change, and new or frightening events, and also the strong emotions that can go along with them. Also, it can be fun.

Some suggested at home activities to try after listening to the story (or any story):
– draw a picture or pictures representing the story
– tell someone about the story, and/or
– try to write something about the story

Each session will be short and will either be pre-recorded or live. Our first 2 sessions were live, one of which ignored the fact that Facebook forces you to position the camera in portrait mode – so viewers had to tilt their devices or their heads to view properly.

There are a multitude of resources that parents can access to allow their kids to continue learning and using their imaginations while staying home from school, and away from their friends. Perhaps these videos might be a useful addition to their playlists.

Keeping kids busy and educated during self-isolation

I shared this on Slack earlier this am. It’s by no means exhaustive but it might serve as a good starting point.

Podcast recommendations and a collection of resources to keep kids busy and educated during self-isolation.

“children’s book authors are now doing virtual storytimes!”

For those of you with little kids, #OperationStoryTime might be a fun way to fill in some time.

Also, my wife will be reading Childrens stories next week on Sleep Tight Stories FaceBook page at around 10am. Very adhoc and informal but could be a nice break for the little ones.

Sleep Tight Stories is publishing twice weekly now and with 79 episodes their might be something to add to your child’s playlist.

Apple Podcasts:
Google Podcasts:

Lastly, Kids Listen has a great list of kids podcasts and stay at home resources.

The beauty of game design as a learning experience…[is that] it doesn’t feel like learning. It feels like… play… You’re learning the scientific method when you conjure up a game, but you’re also learning product design…Designing a game teaches your kid how to think. And it reminds you how much there is to learn from playing.
Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World

A house divided

Both Birchwood and Rural include in their classwork mock elections, with the requirement that the students investigate the party platforms and form their opinions based on how they feel they address the issues of the day.

It’s a wonderful and essential part of the curriculum.

It’s something new for my kids, as outside of following the circus show of American politics we haven’t had many political conversations at the kitchen table. And, while in Taiwan it felt like we were a family state, or self-ruled, as we were not allowed to participate in local government in any shape or form, and we were so far removed from Canadian life we had little idea of what was happening.

They cast their mock votes with Catriona voting Green, and Camren voting Liberal.

It’s my hope that they will continue to think critically and not fall victim to all the disinformation that is so prevalent today.

It’s like Christmas

Sheryl has the best friends

This came last week.

A testament to the relationships that she was able to build in Taiwan and the quality of her teaching, a parent of one of her former students sent us a large box of our favourite thing. There is enough roast coffee here to get us through the crispness of fall.

Homework is wrecking our kids

A child just beginning school deserves the chance to develop a love of learning. Instead, homework at a young age causes many kids to turn against school, future homework and academic learning. And it’s a long road. A child in kindergarten is facing 13 years of homework ahead of her.

Then there’s the damage to personal relationships. In thousands of homes across the country, families battle over homework nightly. Parents nag and cajole. Overtired children protest and cry. Instead of connecting and supporting each other at the end of the day, too many families find themselves locked in the “did you do your homework?” cycle.

When homework comes prematurely, it’s hard for children to cope with assignments independently—they need adult help to remember assignments and figure out how to do the work. Kids slide into the habit of relying on adults to help with homework or, in many cases, do their homework. Parents often assume the role of Homework Patrol Cop. Being chief nag is a nasty, unwanted job, but this role frequently lingers through the high school years. Besides the constant conflict, having a Homework Patrol Cop in the house undermines one of the purported purposes of homework: responsibility.

One of the reasons we wanted to leave Taiwan was the overbearing high pressure rote methods employed in the schools. But our experience was that this didn’t start until junior high – generally elementary school in Taiwan, especially the private school our kids went to, was great. In many ways a superior experience to what they might have had elsewhere. Homework and studying starts in earnest in 7th grade, and is especially heavy from grade 9 onwards.

It was just today I read on Facebook a friend in Taipei complaining that his daughter started school at 6:30am and didn’t get home until 9pm when she still had homework. Our daughter started at 6. I don’t think my son, outside of a few assignments had any homework at all last year. Which I don’t consider an entirely good thing as I believe there is a time and place for individual learning, but there is no denying both kids are far more relaxed. The only pressure they received last year was from me.

Homework is wrecking our kids: The research is clear, let’s ban elementary homework

Writing … provides students with powerful opportunities to learn about themselves and their connections to the world. Through writing, students organize their thoughts, remember important information, solve problems, reflect on a widening range of perspectives, and learn how to communicate effectively for specific purposes and audiences. They find their voice and have opportunities to explore other voices. By putting their thoughts into words and supporting the words with visual images in a range of media, students acquire knowledge and deepen their understanding of the content in all school subjects. Writing also helps students to better understand their own thoughts and feelings and the events in their lives.
Literacy for Learning: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy in Grades 4 to 6 in Ontario, 2004, p. 79

Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development…a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. ⠀

For everyone, everywhere, literacy is… the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realise his or her full potential.
Literacy Is Freedom

Educating girls: the key to tackling global poverty

Inequality, specifically gender inequality, stifles economies and prevents generational growth. Educated women become empowered and take control of their own lives. Education fosters personal autonomy and creative and critical thinking skills, which provide a wider economy and community.

Educating girls gives them the freedom to make decisions to improve their lives, which has deep social implications. Giving girls access to schooling is a central part of eradicating global poverty, according to the World Bank, which says better educated women tend to be healthier, participate more in formal labour markets, have fewer children and marry later. The UN’s sustainable development goals call for gender equality and a quality education for all by 2030. So what action needs to be taken to overcome the complex global barriers to not only getting girls into school but also providing them with a meaningful education?

Literacy empowers.

Educating girls: the key to tackling global poverty

My daughters weekend

This past weekend was the entrance tests that determine which high school grade 9 students can attend in the fall. The 1 1/5 days of tests are the result of close to one school year of preparation. The short video above is of all the kids waiting to enter the examination room.

It’s a complicated process, one in which I don’t quite understand, picking which high school you want to go to. The school zone you live in has little relation to the result, you could live across the street from a high school, but due to choice, poor test scores, or enrollment levels a student could end up traveling across the county for 40 minutes each day to attend class.

My daughter didn’t have to write the test, as she will almost assuredly be attending high school in PEI in the fall, but being “mean” and wanting to hedge our bets I pushed her to participate.

Taiwan’s education system at the elementary level is quite good, 7 – 8th grade marginal, and from 9th onward largely a farce. The educational outcomes for these years are largely tests, which produces excellent abilities in rote learning, memorization, following orders, parochial thinking and fixed systematic approaches to doing things. It doesn’t encourage free thinking, creativity, collaboration and a love of learning.

A plus is that there are some vocational opportunities for those kids smart enough to realize that an academic education is not for all. Unfortunately these opportunities are largely frowned upon and framed in a failure to achieve mentality.

What is school for

Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers built school to train people to have a lifetime of productive labor as part of the industrialized economy. We are raining kids to be factory robots.

From Seth Godin:

If you get ahead for years and years because you got dealt good cards, it’s not particularly likely that you will learn that in the real world, achievement is based as much on attitude and effort as it is on natural advantages. In the real world, Nobel prizes and Broadway roles and the senior VP job go to people who have figured out how to care, how to show up, how to be open to new experiences. Our culture is built around connection and charisma and learning and the ability to not quit in precisely the right moments.

What if we celebrated the students who regularly try the hardest, help each other the most and lead? What if we fast tracked those students, and made it clear to anyone else willing to adopt those attitudes that they could be celebrated too?

What if you got cast, tracked or made the cut because you were resilient, hard working and willing to set yourself up for a cycle of continuous improvement? Isn’t that more important than rewarding the kid who never passes but still scores a lot of goals?

Before you feature a trumpet prodigy at the jazz band concert, perhaps you could feature the kid who just won’t quit. No need to tell him he’s a great trumpet player–the fact is, none of these kids are Maynard Ferguson–just tell him the truth. Tell him that every single person who has made a career of playing the trumpet (every single one of them) did it with effort and passion, not with lips that naturally vibrate.
The wasteful fraud of sorting for youth meritocracy: Stop Stealing Dreams

Stop Stealing Dreams

Where mindless work habits start

Gadget girl wearing her headphones and Pebble watch (RIP) while vacationing in Sun Moon Lake.

A twitter-like comment on a big issue.

School has started and the letters are starting to come home. Actually, school started for Catriona in the middle of summer because she is in grade 9 and they start school earlier here for that grade. Of course, the reason a test. All grade 9 students must take a test which determines which high school they attend, and it’s very competitive. In addition to starting early, and in fairness they finish a little early as well, they also have the option of supervised study sessions from 6 – 9pm every week night. That was the letter that came home. You pay a fee for dinner and a fee for the privilege. Parents are the supervisors. That means the kids are gone from ~ 7:45am until 9pm everyday. Most parents will willingly participate but I think it’s the stupidest thing I have ever seen. Anybody with any interest, or experience, in learning or getting thngs done, know that this is a complete waste of time (for most).

But I considered it. I considered it because nothing in her school program excites her to learn like her hobbies – reading and music. Few teachers can teach in a way that excites her (or anyone), the curriculum only accommodates procedural learning, not problem solving, research or collaboration, nor does the curriculum encourage self-exploration. Memorisation and being able to follow instruction is important, but the afore mentioned skills are what make for better and more employable people. But maybe that is the point, they don’t want graduates who can think … Because she is an independent child, smart, and unfortunately not always easy to motivate, her test scores have comparatively suffered. I briefly thought that this study prison might help her, luckily I quickly came to my senses.

If you can’t accomplish something at work or at school in 8 hours or less (preferably much less) than there is something wrong with the organization. Putting more time on task has diminishing and often negative returns (see 1, 2, 3). The space between work (or study) is often more valuable than the time spent working itself (1, 2, 3).

Kids Planting Rice

This is a wonderful educational opportunity for the kids and allot of fun. We can give kids books to read, iPad apps to play with, and teach the essential concepts, but nothing beats hands on interaction to gain an understanding of a topic. I’m quite pleased that my kids have the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the natural environment, and grow and eat their own food. So many schools focus on technology initiatives and the latest ‘big thing’, when resources might be better allocated on improving and supporting what they already have, teachers and their learning environment.

Outdoor Kindergarten

Being happy, being outside, and getting fresh air is clearly important for today’s children. We’re competing with computer games and Games Boys. It’s important to give children the desire to be outside & motivate them to be creative outdoors.

Why not give a 5 year old a sharp knife? Or a box of matches? Or let them climb a tree? Are we really helping our children by attempting to remove risk from their lives? The benefits of outdoor preschool education, even in the Arctic north of Norway.

Via Robert Paterson’s Weblog

Art and music are the first things to go in schools. The role of art is disappearing. When we were kids, we learned about bakers and candlestick makers. We learned about cobblers and all these old-school, awesome things that people did their entire lives. They specialized in making one thing. … In archeology, the things that matter most are handmade: ceramics, glass, sarcophagi, paintings. The most valued objects of lost cultures are the things that were made by hand. We need to start making things with our hands again.
Ira Coyne, sign painter.

A new study by the University of Sussex finds that the repetition is important for little learners.

Dr. Jessica Horst and her researchers say that children who were read the same story three times back-to-back, instead of three different stories, actually retain 3.6 of the new words they’ve been introduced to instead of the 2.6 of the “variety” group.

Researchers point to the benefits of reading.

Though the study focuses on children around 18 months old and contrary to some advice I have received, I follow this same routine in my own language learning. I think it works.

Skipping Out On College And ‘Hacking Your Education’

The cost of college can range from $60,000 for a state university to four times as much at some private colleges. The total student debt in the U.S. now tops credit card debt. So a lot of people are asking: Is college really worth it?

“One of the great myths of the school system is that we tell people that everyone should learn exactly the same thing and exactly the same way, at roughly exactly the same speed. And that’s just not true. People learn in different ways, at different speeds, at different times. And so hacking your education allows you to learn what, when, how and where you want.”

Dale J. Stephens, author of Hacking Your Education and founder of

More at NPR.

Do Kids Need Computers (or iPads) to Learn?

Computers of various shapes and sizes, and ubiquitous network connectivity, are the siren song of those wanting to improve whatever education system they are involved with.

One is that most parents, school officials and politicians see children’s familiarity with computers at an early age as desirable – nay, imperative – for successful individual careers and for society’s prosperity in a “knowledge economy.”


… some of the top technology experts at Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard and other such firms send their children to a private school where computers are off-limits until Grade 8 (when even then their use is limited). The school believes computers reduce attention spans, inhibit creative thinking and interfere with face-to-face interaction.
Says one father, who holds a computer-science degree, uses an iPad and smartphone and works at Google: “The idea that an app or an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that’s ridiculous.” He also notes, “At Google and all these other places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible. There’s no reason why kids can’t figure it out when they get older.”
His daughter’s fifth-grade teacher introduces fractions by slicing apples and cake into halves, quarters and sixteenths. (“When I made enough fractional pieces of cake to feed everyone,” the teacher says, “do you think I had their attention?”) Knitting socks teaches problem-solving, co-ordination and math.


Heidegger wrote at a time when our only electronic distractions were television, movies and radio. Their entertainment content (as distinct from news reports and documentaries), he suggested, present an artificial world that disconnects us from the real world. It’s like the light pollution that prevents from seeing the reality of the stars.

Do Kids Need Computers to Learn? (.pdf)

Architects of Learning

An important and interesting perspective exploring the ‘perilous’ intersection of technology, pedagogy, and the future of education. Tablet airdrops aren’t the answer that almost everyone thinks they are.

The information age has produced an exhilarating array of pedagogical ideas and tools, yet despite all the revolutionary talk about computers and constructivism, the monolithic lecture is still the norm. We know this is wrong. Students have diverse interests and motivations and learn in different ways. The one thing they share is a 15 minute attention span. The lecture has value, but it must be short and is just a part of the whole. Teachers must weave conversation, inquiry, and performance into “architectures of learning” that meet the needs of each class.

This act of synthesis is hard. Technology won’t save the day, and teachers can’t cross the chasm alone. Designers, developers, publishers, and librarians are just a few of the folks needed to build these cross-platform services and structures for learners.


Information literacy – the ability the find, evaluate, create, organize, and use information from myriad sources in multiple media – is the basis for lifelong learning. It’s increasingly important in every aspect of our lives from shopping and entertainment to healthcare and finance. And yet, most people, young and old, lack the requisite skills and understanding.

Let’s explore one tiny example. Our girls often ask for help with their homework, yet I’m easily stumped by middle school math. When I go to Google, they tell me they tried that, but I always find what we need. I’m not better at math. I’m better at search. And that’s why I’m able to help. But not all parents are librarians, so many kids must stay stuck.

Architects of Learning by Peter Morville

The collapse of the music industry and the future of higher education

Once you see this pattern—a new story rearranging people’s sense of the possible, with the incumbents the last to know—you see it everywhere. First, the people running the old system don’t notice the change. When they do, they assume it’s minor. Then that it’s a niche. Then a fad. And by the time they understand that the world has actually changed, they’ve squandered most of the time they had to adapt. It’s been interesting watching this unfold in music, books, newspapers, TV, but nothing has ever been as interesting to me as watching it happen in my own backyard. Higher education is now being disrupted; our MP3 is the massive open online course (or MOOC), and our Napster is Udacity, the education startup.


The possibility MOOCs hold out isn’t replacement; anything that could replace the traditional college experience would have to work like one, and the institutions best at working like a college are already colleges. The possibility MOOCs hold out is that the educational parts of education can be unbundled. MOOCs expand the audience for education to people ill-served or completely shut out from the current system, in the same way phonographs expanded the audience for symphonies to people who couldn’t get to a concert hall, and PCs expanded the users of computing power to people who didn’t work in big companies.

Those earlier inventions systems started out markedly inferior to the high-cost alternative: records were scratchy, PCs were crashy. But first they got better, then they got better than that, and finally, they got so good, for so cheap, that they changed people’s sense of what was possible.

In the US, an undergraduate education used to be an option, one way to get into the middle class. Now it’s a hostage situation, required to avoid falling out of it. And if some of the hostages having trouble coming up with the ransom conclude that our current system is a completely terrible idea, then learning will come unbundled from the pursuit of a degree just as as songs came unbundled from CDs.

Napster, Udacity, and the Academy. Clay Shirky on what the collapse of the music industry teaches us about the future of higher education.