In his fascinating book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman writes of “anchoring.”

His and others’ research has shown that when people are given a starting number about a topic they know little about and then asked a question about the topic, they have a tendency not to drift too far from the given figure. The figure serves as an anchor.

An example he uses:

Is the height of the tallest redwood more or less than 1,200 feet?
What is your best guess about the height of the tallest redwood?

Even though 1,200 feet is a ridiculously large number for the height of a redwood, asking question 1 (Is the height of the tallest redwood more or less than 1,200 feet?) ahead of asking the latter question primes the respondent with some information about the topic and this has a major impact on what their best guess about the height of the tallest redwood will be.

The person being questioned may assume that the person asking the question has some knowledge of redwoods and therefore use 1,200 as their starting place. Knowing enough to assume the given number is too high, they would most likely drop below the initial figure, but not too far below. Rather than starting with their own guess, they use 1,200 as a starting place and as they drop below the starting place, they settle on a number before dipping too far into the uncertain zone. The number then ends up far closer to the starting place than were the person to have come up with a guess all on their own.

The implications of this for teaching are immense. We often ask students to share their thoughts on topics they are just forming opinions on. While exposure to others’ ideas is helpful, it is also helpful for teachers to be aware of the priming effect peers’ responses might have on students. The teacher may also wish to help students identify this effect.

Kahneman notes that even after identifying the effect of “anchors” they still have an impact. Choosing when to have group discussions and being mindful of giving students time to find their own starting place is essential.

I’m in the midst of Kahneman’s book and literally enjoying every page. As we strive to thinking-fsteach students to think critically and creatively, learning more about psychology and the way the brain work is important. There are many tools to assist students with evaluating the perspective and biases of others; what is more difficult is evaluating the way we process information and form conclusions.


So let’s be more realistic this time. Did the tallest redwood even exceed 200 feet? What’s your guess?

To Our 2015-2016 Grade 7s, Farewell

We had our year-end assembly yesterday to celebrate the school year but this assembly grade 7s is just for you.

Last night, parents spent time making the gym look terrific, your teachers have written speeches for each of you, the whole school and many family members have come to watch.

This ceremony is a statement that this transition in your life is an important one.

I know the transition from elementary to secondary school is significant because I can still remember my transition to high school 25 years ago.


In June of 1991, I was finishing at Caulfield Elementary School and moving on up to Hillside Secondary School.

I remember my first day: after years of walking, biking and being driven to my elementary school, for the first time in my life I rode the school bus.

I was wearing a white Vuarnet France long sleeve t-shirt that had been given to me by an older cousin. I thought she was cool so figured the t-shirt was too. Cool enough that I also wore it to the first dance we had a few months later.



It bothers me that I remember trivial details of dress; it speaks to me being overly concerned about what others thought of me. How I wish I could have gone into high school not worrying so much, rather trusting myself to be myself. If I had some advice for you, it would be to be yourself but I am not here to give you easier said than done advice.

Little I say now is going to affect your attitude in this transitional period so I am simply going to summarize some key themes that I know have been a feature of your experience at BICS, things you’ve learned already.


Your education is partly about skillset – writing skills, reading skills, being able to make use of numbers to solve problems.

Your education is also about mindset – how you approach change, how you think about new situations, meeting new people and how you greet opportunity.


So I will now share some long-learned lessons, likely begun in Kindergarten and earlier with your family , which have hopefully inspired in you a confident and optimistic mindset for making the most of the many opportunities that lay ahead.


Lesson Number One: You are special but no more special than anyone else.

Yes, that is possible – special doesn’t have to mean better or only. The quantity of special people in the wold does not devalue your uniqueness and worth. Soon your teachers will describe your unique strengths and possibly even a quirk or two. Be proud of who you are.


Lesson Number Two:  Be confident in yourself. Confidence is believing in yourself – not just your abilities but your potential. You may be good, very good or even exceptional at certain things. But you are also 12 or 13. You very likely have a long way to go until you reach your peak. Your education has been designed for that purpose, for the long haul.

Your experience here at BICS, and I know your next school will be the same, is designed to be a virtuous cycle, one where the more you learn the greater is your capacity to learn more, to be able to do more.  This is education inertia – when we learn, we become better learners and more capable people. So I encourage you to be confident, particularly in your potential.

Lesson Number Three, and following from lesson two: set ambitious goals for yourself.

Confidences allows ambition.

Be aware that committing to ambitious goals guarantees hard work and challenging times ahead. Help may be needed. Failure may occur. Fortunately you have the capacity to learn from both so hopefully you will have the modesty and confidence to do so.


You don’t need to remember the words I say, I hope these lessons have been learned and earned growing up with your families and attending BICS. I think you are well prepared for what lies ahead.


Whether you have been at BICS for one year or eight, it has been wonderful having you in the school Grade 7s. You will certainly be missed but as you venture East on your future academic endeavours and in all kinds of directions on your many adventures, know that we will be thinking about you, rooting for you and wishing you all the best wherever your passion and purpose takes you.


Good luck.

Subtle Summer Learning

I recently heard an advertisement on the radio from a tutoring service that in my mind attempted to elicit fears in families that their children would lose their learning over the summer months and that attending the tutoring service would not just prevent that problem but allow a child to “get ahead.” I was bothered by the ad because it presented summer holiday as a problem that needed fixing and it played upon the very fears and worries that some students and families might need a break from, such as comparisons to others and the need to “catch up” or “get ahead.”

In my view, summer holidays are an exceptional time for learning but they can be framed more positively for children than learning to “catch up” or “get ahead.” With two months off, it’s a time to travel to new places, meet new people, increase physical fitness by being active outside, develop work ethic by doing chores around the house, and find new interests and hobbies. There is a lot of subtle learning inherent in each of those activities.

And without framing it as “keeping up,” “getting ahead,” or even worse, “not falling behind,” there are some things families can seamlessly do together to help students work on their foundational skills. What follows are some suggestions for subtle summer learning. Teachers will have articulated “Ways to Support Learning” in report cards or “Supporting Student Learning” in Kindergarten reports and for students receiving learning support in reading, our learning support teachers have very carefully shared some suggestions for reading over the summer.



If reading is to be seen by students as a hobby rather than work, students should continue to read throughout the summer and they should see their family members doing the same. Reading can be even more beneficial when you ask your child about what they have read: What happened in the last chapter? Is there something you wished the main character knew about? Would you have made any decisions differently than any of the characters? What do you think is going to happen next? Why? The Bowen Public Island Library’s Summer Reading Program is a great motivator and resource for books.


Some students will gladly keep a summer journal that details daily events; for others, certainly for me when I was in elementary school, this was not something I wanted to do. An alternative is to keep a nature journal. A nature journal is something that can be used NJ.pngoutside and done in conjunction with activity (i.e. a hike in the woods) rather than as the activity itself. A nature journal is a mix of drawings and writings and many students who are not keen to keep a log of their daily events are keen to describe all of the plants and animals they might see over summer. If you are interested in learning more about Nature Journaling, consider this exceptional resource.



Playing Board and Card games often reinforces key math skills such as number recognition, counting, adding and subtracting, and even using fractions to determine odds and games can be seamlessly woven into a summer day. More information on Card Games can be found here. Asking students to estimate value at grocery stores can also be done regularly.



Curiosity may not be a foundational skill but it is a foundational element of learning. I have often encouraged families to visit TEDEd. The site is less about a student researching their existing interests and more about sparking other interests. It encourages openness to new ideas by showing that there are many more things to be interested in beyond current interests. TEDEd contains short videos introducing a topic and then links to additional resources to learn more.


You may also wish to look into how West Vancouver Schools Summer Learning and Bowen Island Community Recreation offer programs to keep students physically and intellectually active over the summer. I wish all students and families a wonderful summer holiday full of fun and exciting adventures, rest and relaxation, and interesting learning.

Bigger Ideas: Connecting the Dots of BC’s New Curriculum

In BC’s Know-Understand-Do model, the “Do” is very clearly connected from grade to grade. In each grade and in various subjects within each grade, students will further develop their abilities to communicate and think. The grade three teacher can rest assured that teaching students to read is something they are carrying on from previous grades.KUD

But how about with the “Know” and “Understand” aspects of the curriculum? What is it that students know and understand that is to be carried on from year to year?

How is the teacher to know what students know and understand from previous learning experiences and how is the teacher able to connect what is being taught to what is already known and understood?

It seems a bit much to expect BC teachers who continue to transition to new curriculum to also take note of each of the Big Ideas and concepts and content from previous grades. Even if they were able to do so, students, even those coming from the same class, have vastly different experiences and interpretations from their year, particularly when given opportunities for self-directed inquiry. Nevertheless, beyond simply asking students what they know about a topic, there are at least three ways to connect learning from subject to subject and grade to grade.

Firstly, teachers can, despite challenges, connect Big Ideas from grade to grade. In fact, many Big Ideas repeat. For example, in Language Arts, the Big Idea, “Stories help us learn about ourselves and our families” is used in Kindergarten to Grade 3, with the addition “and our communities” in Grade 3. Clearly, that is a big idea that can connect several years of language arts together, and students will develop a deep understanding of the concept and importance of storytelling.

Secondly, the curriculum has been redesigned so that certain topics that were once found in just one subject and grade – for example structures and functions of the human body systems – are now found in two or more grades.

Thirdly, there are bigger ideas than the “Big Ideas” identified in BC’s new curriculum.  These “bigger ideas” can connect learning from grade to grade by offering a concept to which learning can be anchored. When I first heard the term “big idea,” it was in 2007 when a cohort of West Vancouver Schools teachers met with pro-d guru Sue Elliot to discuss Grant Wiggin’s and Jay McTighe’s Understanding By Design. This approach to teaching/learning suggested big ideas were “broad and abstract,” “represented by one or two words,” were “universal in application” and “timeless.” They present a “conceptual lens” for any area of study.

In my twelve years of teaching, my early years looking mostly at Grades 5-7 and my latter years as an elementary school administrator looking at K-7, one “big idea” meeting the criteria above sticks out more than any other, the biggest idea (in my mind!) of them all: relationships. Much of what students learn about develops this very idea: cause and effect, systems within systems, interacting with each other and students understanding who they are in the world. In using the Curriculum’s Search Tool and typing in “relationships,” the concept comes up in dozens of Big Ideas, and hundreds of content phrases and curricular competencies.

When I shared my thinking with other educators, some agreed and some had other big ideas – change, systems, integration, conflict and identity are all big ideas with the potential to unify curriculum.

I don’t know if there is a biggest idea in BC’s curriculum, but I think an overarching concept that unifies learning from subject to subject, and grade to grade, can help students make connections between what is known and what is about to be known.

In doing so, I hope that students see past learning as helping prepare for what is being learned in the present; and, as importantly, what is being learned as enriching what may have been learned long ago. If learning, past and present, can be mutually reinforcing, how powerful it would be for a student to leave their elementary school with an inter-connected story of their learning.

A Survey of Student Learning

The maxim, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts,”* holds much truth when it comes to “report cards,” but what teachers are mandated to report and also choose to report suggests to parents what many of the priorities are for student learning at each grade. Similar to the way a school’s blog reveals what is important to the school, so does the report card reveal key areas for student learning.

What follows then, is both of those things: a blog post surveying some of the learning outcomes found in reports ranging from kindergarten to Grade 7.

Prior to the conclusion of each term, I review each report, something I have done enough times now to be impressed by the extraordinary diversity and depth of learning at BICS but not surprised by it. The reports capture just a little of the remarkable experiences students have in their classrooms and beyond learning about interesting and often complex things and using what they’ve learned to, among other things, learn more.

In reviewing reports this term, I’ve pulled one learning outcome from each grade as well as an outcome from our wonderful music and learning assistance programs. My hope is that it offers the reader a very brief look at the breadth of what is learned at BICS.


Kindergarten – Speaking and Listening

  • use speaking an listening when engaging in imaginative play; such as problem solving and working co-operatively


Grade 1 – Attitudes, Effort, Work Habits, Social Responsibility

  • consistently models respectful behaviour and acceptance of others’ differences


Grade 2 – Fine Arts

  • began to use simplification effectively, to create artwork in the styles of Lawren Harris & Ted Harrison


Grade 3 – HACE/Physical and Health Education

  • describes practices contributing to healthy living (e.g. exercise, healthy eating, friendships, sleep)


Grade 4 – Thinking Competency

  • reasons and uses logic to explore, make connections, predict, analyze, generalize and make conclusions


Grade 5 – Language Arts

  • recognizes oral traditions in First Peoples’ culture and identifies how story connects people to land


Grade 6 – Socials Studies

  • evaluates how geographic challenges and opportunities affect the development of societies


Grade 7 – Math

  • competently uses mathematical operations to determine a monthly budget


Performing Arts – Music

  • can create, notate, and perform rhythmic solos while following a musical form


Learning Support reports

  • Segmenting, manipulating, and blending vowel and consonant sounds in words


In selecting the learning outcomes above, I tried to pull diverse outcomes – math, language arts, performing arts, etc. In reviewing the reports, however, I looked for some patterns that might reveal how our school is doing with some key priorities identified in our School Growth Plan and Aboriginal Education Plan: inquiry-based learning, self-regulation, critical thinking and aboriginal education. There are far more effective ways of determining how the school is doing in these areas – visiting classrooms and speaking with students being one of them – but what did the general scan of K-7 reports reveal to me about these priorities?

Learning outcomes about timeless and transferable concepts and references to “Fascination Time,” “Genius Hour,” and “Passion Projects” made it clear that students were pursuing inquiry, whether it be teacher-led or open inquiry, often. In opening comments and in various sections, it was obvious that not only is self-regulation a key feature of each classroom at BICS, it is also being reported on frequently. Whether it be found in socials studies or explicit references to the “Thinking Competencies,” it was obvious that developing students’ skills as critical thinkers and asking them to uses these skills is a key area of learning. Lastly, students are learning about Indigenous Peoples frequently. Whether it is in Language Arts learning about oral stories teaching about the land, or learning about cultural characteristics and traditional ways of life in Socials Studies, the many references to Aboriginal Education found in BC’s new curriculum were also obvious in the K-7 reports.

I am proud of our School’s progress. And in reading reports, I can’t help but feel a strong sense of satisfaction in knowing that each of the many bullets on a report card, simple words on a page, had some powerful learning experience behind it – perhaps a beautiful work of art, a field experience to a National Historic Site, a memorable visitor, help from a dedicated staff member, or simply a student’s persistent effort – and that each of these experiences provided a sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction of learning.


*This quote is attributed to both Albert Einstein and the sociologist, William Bruce Cameron.

How many times can a problem be solved?

How many times can a problem be solved?

If the answer is available to everyone, can it be solved more than once?

Is there any point in asking students to solve problems where not only has the answer been found but it is available to anyone with digital access and the skills to find it?

Should efforts in education be directed more towards students developing their skills to locate previously found answers than to solving problems for which solutions already exist?

Surely students should be problem solvers too so should students spend their time solving problems that already have available solutions or apply these solutions to the next step of the problem or to some unique situation?


These are the questions I was left with after listening to Daniel Pink’s keynote address and Alan November’s session at the FISA BC 2016 Convention.

Pink suggested that problem solving is a useful skill but that problem finding is a more useful skill.

November suggested that internet tools exist to share not just information but knowledge and more of students’ time should be spent using this knowledge to solve new and unique problems rather than simply rehearsing the solutions and steps identified by previous learners.

November spent much of his presentation discussing the power of the knowledge engine Wolfram Alpha which doesn’t just access information as stored (as a search engine does) it re-sorts it, remixes it. Essentially, November suggests, it turns information into knowledge.


So with such tools as Wolfram Aplpha, the question arises: What aspects of the knowledge base are suited toward archiving and accessing when appropriate and what aspects are essential for students to know and understand so that they can understand themselves and the world?

In other words, what learning should be repeated, generation after generation, and when is it appropriate to simply start with what is already known and go from there? Is it necessary for students to always start at “square one”, or is it possible to enter the subject at a later point and find the knowledge that has been created before and take it further.

The question is directed more towards content than foundational skills. Each generation needs to learn to read and write; there is no mechanism to pass that on through the internet. But when there is a mechanism, the question of whether what is being learned is actually helpful must be asked.

For years, not just in the Big Ideas of BC’s new curriculum, a shift has been underway to develop understandings, not just acquire knowledge. But with the development of tools to access the learning of others, and more importantly the ability of students to, in Daniel Pink’s phrase, curate this information, the speed of the shift may accelerate.

So beyond inquiry-based learning and developing understanding, what does that look like?

November suggests that students should spend less time solving problems and more time learning about topics that involve a concept or idea. He notes this idea has been foundational to the teaching of the US Military Academy at West Point for decades. The difference is that instead of solving a problem related to volume, the student creates their own problem that involves volume. Doing so allows the student to take what is already known to both create and solve a unique problem, essentially building on the knowledge of others rather than simply repeating it. More time is spent applying knowledge; less time is spent recreating it.

Clearly a level of general knowledge is needed to understand the world. Nevertheless, as we become increasingly confident in the internet’s ability to store information and knowledge (think about Gmail and Outlook archiving emails instead of deleting them) and students develop greater abilities to access information and knowledge, educators may become increasingly comfortable with students using what is already known to solve new and unique problems rather than simply repeating the steps established by others to solve a problem.

In the age of the knowledge engine, the question, “Do students really need to learn this?” has become even more complicated and pertinent.

Who’s the Boss?

With the title, “The collapse of parenting: Why it’s time for parents to grow up,” it is no surprise that this Maclean’s article is getting a lot of attention. In it, the author Cathy Gulli, often citing the works of psychologists Dr. Leonard Sax and Dr. Gordon Neufeld, argues that while guided by the best of intentions, many parenting styles are doing children no favors.

The article is worth reading but I will do my best to summarize it as follows:

(Common) Parenting beliefs and interests

Parents want…

  • the best for their children.
  • their children to feel listened to and respected.
  • their children to be independent and think freely.
  • to avoid conflict and be liked by their children.
  • their children to be assertive and able to stand up for themselves and others.

Parenting behaviour

Guided by the beliefs above, parents…

  • ask their children to make decisions over major and often seemingly minor things (to finish eating green beans) which become significant things (parent’s control, child’s nourishment).
  • negotiate with their children; e.g., “If you finish your green beans, you can have dessert.”

Response of children to parenting behaviour above

The result of this parenting behaviour is role confusion: children question whether the parent is going to make decisions and as a result take on this responsibility. Children begin to see themselves as the decision maker and take on the “alpha” role in the family hierarchy.

Consequence of role confusion

  • Children will make decisions on important matters such as food choices and thus, despite often having limited experience or information, have control over their nutrition and physical development.
  • Children control access to technology and may, due to lack of understanding and/or discipline, not prioritize sleep over screen-time.
  • Same age peers will become more important and influential to children than their parents and other adults.

The crux of the argument is that the world is becoming less hierarchical but hierarchy is still needed in families, and classrooms too, where the relationships involve people with vast differences in knowledge and experience.


I feel quite lucky as a teacher and now principal that prior to becoming a parent myself I have seen a tremendous amount of remarkable parenting. I have also seen that sometimes small moments – a child throwing his backpack at his parent as he runs to the playground whilst barely acknowledging them – are really big things but could quite easily be overlooked by the parent who has just been at work all day and wants nothing more than to see his son play on the swings rather than telling his son to take care of his own backpack. In that instance, who is in control?

And issues of hierarchy are not exclusive to parenting. An example in schools: Self-regulation has been a major focus of BICS and many schools for several years. Self-regulation differs from regulation in that the goal in self-regulation is for the student to take control. Parents regulate a child with a scraped knee with a kiss on the cheek or a hand on the shoulder. Self-regulation involves the student identifying their emotions and self-regulating so that their behaviour matches their environment and/or activity. Dependence is therefore a key element of regulation while independence is the key for self-regulation. This is a worthy goal: parents and the school have an interest in students becoming independent and self-regulation is about self-control, not control of others.

But how about when self-regulation includes taking a break from the classroom and learning activity? Most schools have self-regulation spaces in classrooms or rooms where the student can take a break from the busyness of a classroom. The spaces are great: they are usually quiet, with subtle lighting and comfortable furniture. As classrooms are potentially the most stimulating learning or working environment most people will ever be in, it makes sense that students might need a change of environment at times other than scheduled (and often stimulating) recess and lunch times.

However, like a child avoiding their greens with the result of malnourishment, too many breaks from the classroom may come at the cost of learning. One might argue that the dysregulated student who feels they need a break won’t be learning anyway, but what happens when student decisions take precedent over reasonable expectations from the teacher. If the student feels the expectations of the teacher take precedence over their decisions to need a break, might that student be more likely to rise to the occasion? Balancing authority and control with honouring student/child voice and independence is not easy but is important.

The key element in who should have most control of decision making is whether the decision is best informed by personal preference or life experience. For example, if it is a matter of a child wearing a red or blue sweater to school on Thursday, it is a matter of personal preference. If, however, the question is about wearing a sweater at all, the parent’s life experience, knowing that the child has soccer after school at 4:00 PM and that the temperature outside will drop when the sun goes down, trumps. Clarity and comfort as to who is in charge and why is essential for parents, educators and of course children/students. A child’s trust that the parent or educator has their best interest in mind when applying their life experiences to a decision is essential.

This balancing act is not easy and the article concludes with the idea that it is OK to make mistakes; in fact, it has to be OK as mistakes will be made. Ideally, awareness of who is making decisions and why will be helpful in the relationships so that students/children feel heard and so that adults can look out for the long-term interests of students.