Framing Understanding

Sheep on grass

Yesterday we got a lot done at home, thanks to the help of great local companies like:

  • Whatcom Gutter to replace broken roofing gutter (important since we get non-stop rain from November to May!
  • Lynden Sheet Metal to correctly the bathroom fan outside instead of into the attic and replace 3″ dryer vent with 4″ dryer vent;
  • Kulshan Veterinary to “band” some mature ram lambs and do routine hoof trimming. The lambs will be slaughtered in October (roughly 2 months after castration.)

Today I want to tackle school preparation and hope to achieve a similar amount of progress. I have laid out the prescribed outcomes for each course that I am in charge of (two courses I am teaching developed curricula) and now I am trying to set up larger frameworks in which to achieve those goals. I turned to Understanding By Design, some resources I have from my days at the highly professional Gyeonggi Suwon International School in Korea.

UbD has a page in one of their books about “Big Ideas” which is helpful but leans heavily on narrative courses (like history) rather than quantitative courses like math and science. So I want to pull together some “Big Ideas” for quantitative courses, starting with selections from their list: balance, correlation, creativity, cycles, environments, interactions, invention, order, patterns, production / consumption, symbol, systems, technology. What are other “Big Ideas?”

  • systems: feedback, equilibrium, games as closed systems, algebra as a system
  • structure: function (in biology this is part of studying organisms and ecosystems and in chemistry this is an essential part of atomic theory and understanding molecules and compounds)
  • technology: creating products (surfactants, soaps, non-corrosive but dense solutions for cooling cars or electrical transformers)
  • design
  • human ingenuity (thanks IB for this one!)
  • representation (making images of data, like graphs, to interpret information with the goal of finding principles or patterns.
  • complexity: describing natural events can require “complex” equations

Ok, I am struggling a bit to nail the principle of a “big idea.” Here a few more possibilities:

  • Function (how things work; closely related to systems)
  • Emergent properties: how are complex “things” different than their constituent parts?
  • Scale: what happens when you “zoom in” or “zoom out?” This seems similar to emergent properties
  • Science is a way of knowing (a kind of knowledge, has its own limitations)
  • Communication is necessary to build knowledge and accomplish tasks cooperatively.

Ok … now to use these to generate “Essential Questions” for the units…



The Reincarnation of Ozymandias

I think I can stay out of talking politics in general, but I just have to say something as I endure the barrage of Primary coverage.

As a teacher who cares about building people’s capacity to think clearly as well as to care for and empathize with others, I am incredibly disappointed in most of this election to date. What saddens me is the degree to which strategy and rhetoric is about “winning” and not about people.

The Democrats, the Republicans and their media Descriptors:

  • maneuver,
  • adjust,
  • tweak,
  • downplay,
  • spin,
  • and re-interpret

… with the singular goal of WINNING.

I am disappointed – but not surprised – we have come to this place. We no longer care about people, about doing good, about building citizens and society as much as we care about entertainment, narcissism and “winning.”

“Look on my Works, ye Mighty and Despair…” Really? Really we don’t need a King or a Queen or a new Kingdom. We need communication instead of rhetoric. We connection instead of alienation. Does Capitalism mean “capitalize on the weaknesses of others”? Does Democracy mean “gather the common people into a mob?”

We are broken, stumbling people who need connection with other human beings. We need to encourage and support one another. We need to build community and connections rather than build kingdoms (or kings or queens).

Like Red Green said many times on his very earthy TV show: “Remember: we’re all in this together!”


May I Have a Book?

Recently I have held, as happens every year, a meeting with several parents who are requesting: “May my child have a textbook so that they can study and do well on the test?”

I hear the question to be, “I want my daughter/son to earn a higher grade” and this is assumed to be dependent of having explicit knowledge printed on pages. The question is always interesting because we all have access to the internet (at this school) and therefore we can look on Wikipedia which is, intentionally, “the sum of all human knowledge.” Parents are usually not excited about the prospect that their children must wade through the “sum of all human knowledge” to determine what to learn so we naturally proceed to “learning goals” or “objectives.”

In this class we write the explicit learning objective in our class specific notebook every day: “We are learning to [WALT] discuss the history of the atomic model by describing the evidence used by scientists [Democritus, Dalton, Thomson, Rutherford and Bohr] and the conclusions they made from their evidence.”

Unexpectedly, to me anyway, the students reported, “We never look at the objectives when studying for the test.” To me this meant students needed training in learning strategies. To parents this meant that “objectives” were not a useful strategy for learning.

Outcome? Textbooks.

I am saddened. They have a book, but this is not the same thing as learning. Today, in discussing atomic theory I learned less than 10% of my students in grade 9:

  1. … have used magnets and wire to explore the relationship between e- flow and magnetism
  2. … map magnetic force lines around a magnet
  3. … made an electric motor with a cell and a magnet and a wire
  4. … used a battery to break water into H and O gas

So today students read about the history of atomic theory. The text reads, “Thomson determined that cathode rays were charged since they respond to magnets.” Students inferred that magnetic force “had a + and – pole” and “is basically the same thing as electric force.” A relationship? Certainly! Integrally connected? Absolutely! Same? … uh, nooo; not the same.

To my mind, the principle missing piece is practical experience with material like batteries, wires and magnets. Learning abstract principles from text is not as easy as learning by participation and activity. Seeing material and observing an action (effect), can lead to discussion about

Guest Blog: Canadian & Korean Differences (Lina)

Lina ESL 2016I had a lot of experience while I was in Canada. Also I felt many things. First I realized the difference between Canada and Korea. I think Canada is filled of individualism. I’m not saying it is not bad, but in Korea, we are so different to Canada, so I had a lot of time to used to it. When I was in the hotel, the young kids were singing, screaming and running, so some people who was in the hotel called cop. When I heard of that thing I was so shocked.

Second thing that I experience was Canada education makes student comfortable and understand easy. Mr Reimer and Mr. Dueck was good listener to us. And if we speak wrong sentence or speak lowly, the were always good listener. And they knew the way that how to make a class mood good and active.

I learned lots of things in Canada and I want to study more in Canada. And one more thing: the Canadian guy is so handsome!

Guest Blog: Santa and P-K (Tony)

Tony ESL 2016I’m in Canada. I don’t take English but now I like English because I have good masters name is Mr. Reimer, Mr. Dueck. Mr. Reimer like my grandfather. First impression like Santa. He is very kind and he is very funny. Next Mr. Dueck. Mr. Dueck is like P-K because he is very handsome. And he is very sporty.

I’m have many lunch is delicious or taste it so bad. My favorite lunch is hanburger because it is very delicious and so good. We are make board games: Catan and Taboo. I like Catan because it is so funny. Come in to a chance I again go to this camp.


Guest Blog: Canada’s Good Points (Daniel)

Daniel SeoI’ve lived in America, but not in Canada. It seems like the two countries were almost the same, but they are very different. In Canada, there are kind people. People in Canada treat you with their best. An example is when you just saying hi to each other when going past a stranger. In South Korea, that is very rare. People ignore you. Second, there are so many awesome wildlife adn deers run around. Lastly there is so much beautiful nature. There are splendid lakes and hundreds of trees everywhere. I believe that every country has a good point and these are the good points of Canada.

Guest Blog: Hamburgers? No! Canada? Yes! (Tina)

Tina ESL 2016We went to Canada on 7/20/2016. We went to Canada to learn English and evangelize. I went to many attraction include Vancouver. We went to swimming pool, too. I though that Canada had many swimming pool. There were hotel, Mission and Mill Lake area.

Also, I ate lots of hamburgers and Coke. At first time I had stomachache often. I loved hamburger at Korea, but I hate hamburger right now. Sometimes I ate Korean food include rice, black bean noodle and kimchi soup.

We saw many beautiful scenery at attraction. One of my favorite things is that the sun is long. If sun is long we can play more! because its not dangerous. I learned many things here. My view =point changed after I went here. I met good friends and teachers at here. At school I met Mr. Reimer and Mr. Dueck. They taught us and loved us. I don’t want to go to Korea back. I want to live in Canada.

Guest Blog: Tae Kwon Do in Korean & Canada (Ted)

Ted ESL 2016When I was in Canada, I could have an opportunity to visit Tae Kwon Do (Korean martial art) gym. On the day of visiting, I wore my Tae Kwon Do cloth (called do-bok) and got on a car. About 30 minutes later I arrived and met the grand master. Then I did wasm-up exercise and participate in a class.

After I finished the class, I felt differences from Korean Tae Kwon Do. First thing is thinking of “black belt.” Black belt is the last level of Tae Kwon Do (of course there are levels in black belt, from Dan 1 to Dan 9.) However, in Korea, everyone have learned when they’re children and have “black belt.” So Black Belt is common in Korea. In Canada, not only is black belt uncommon, but also it takes long time to get it. Only people who make efforts can get Black Belt.

Second one is language. Some work are not translated to English but many words are done. It took some time to get used to the words.

Last, Canadian Tae Kwon Do emphasize mental power. Also it separate mental and physical power clearly. In Korea, parents usually send their children to make theirs strong. For this reason, the gym often teach physical power only.

I think if you want to learn “Tae Kwon Do,” properly, Canadian gym will be better for you. Those differences make Tae Kwon Do more attractive.


Guest Blog: School During Vacation? (Ben)

Ben ChienWhen I was in Korea, I was excited to go to Canada. However, when I was in Canada I was so tired so I just wanted to sleep.

Actually travelling was not fun much, but to see a huge nature of Canada was good. It was very good experience when I started ESL. I felt annoy about that I got to school during vacation. However, it was quite fun because we talked a lot and played board games. It’s little stressful (maybe), but it’s quite fun. Also it will be one of the best experience.

Demonstrating Understanding


[Image from]

One of the things about interviews is that there will be some unexpected questions; by design.  “Expect the unexpected” is a clever axiom, but, of course, it is inherently self-contradictory.

Today I had a great interview question, “What would you do for projects if you did not have a 3D printer?” I was asked. I suppose I enthused so much about the interesting things my kids were creating and producing that it sounded like I was all about 3D printers. “They designed and printed…” “They came up with an interesting way to …” This caught me totally off guard because I am all about using junk to make neat projects. I intentionally include in requirements that students invent or re-purpose all the parts of their tangible artifact.

You see, if I give you a diagram and give you the parts shown in the diagram then show you how to assemble the parts like the diagram … well … what are you learning? To follow instructions?

I believe you show evidence of understanding when you can take information and use it in a new context; when knowledge can be applied to novel situations.

[ASIDE: Curiously, interviews rarely tax this domain of application. Interviews are a lot like tests: you need to prepare then you will be asked questions you are largely prepared for, the unexpected notwithstanding. There is not often “application” questions. Although I did have one in my first job interview. Denny Clark handed me a piece of cement and said, “What kind of rock is this?” Then he asked me – on the spot – teach a lesson impromptu on something in biology (the position I was interviewing for.) That was just one dimension of his extraordinary leadership.]

Anyway, the question caught me off guard because the interviewer could not possibly see the context of my 3D printing – and that was my fault for not providing it! I use the 3D printer, not because it is a secret weapon, but because it is one of my currently available tools that kids enjoy and tap into. And that is what we always do. We use what is at hand (prepared by me scrounging stuff up usually). In Korea we used laptops and Youtube for kids to make up words to familiar songs – thanks Stephen Taylor! We use heaps of Costco cardboard boxes – thank you Costco! We use paper clips – thank you TOP Science! We use dollar store “party favor” tops as mousetrap wheels. We use hot glue (by the mile) though the real adhesive is the creativity of kids that holds things together.

And I love this crafting and creating because it is unique to each student. I just point them in one direction and then I watch them branch off as far as they creatively can.

[In fact, you could make a case for objectively measuring creativity by the degree of “recognizable” variance from the intended target. Hmm… that might me a way to objectify creativity … I need to think about that some more…]