Archive for October, 2013

A Temporally Impossible Space in Canada; Thanksgiving at the Farm (TheByteWeek Issue 17)

Date: October 25th, 2013




A Temporally Impossible Space in Canada; Thanksgiving at the Farm (TheByteWeek Issue 17)


It’s 8:00 in the morning and I’m awake. As I remember that it’s the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I realize that I’ve spent the majority of my weekend alternating between studying physics and playing Pokemon. I smile to myself, wondering which avenue was better spent pursuing, before the gravity of time pushes down on me. I shower, and get myself ready for the day, keeping in mind that I need to be done by 9:00; if I’m late I’ll never hear the end of it. I fell asleep on a long drive before – once – and I’ve learned the importance of an awake, if not alert, front-seat passenger.


Clean, and barely awake, I eat my breakfast.


The drive from the city to the country is a commentary on the state of developed nations. Every piece of road is divided between modern design sensibilities and rustic throwbacks to a bygone era. The highway is new but the forest is old; the trees are looked after by various municipalities but the ground has been here for countless generations, through impossible lifetimes, and infinitely changing histories echoing sentiments of the natural past.


Roadsigns are meant to better the road but the drivers remain as reckless as when Ford first introduced his Model-T. There’s something to be said about the consistency in which vehicles throttling at over 27.8 m/s (100 km/h) manage to avoid total disaster.


As we drive out of the city, I introspect on the subtle shifts in architecture. Office buildings that belong to large multinational corporations staking claim to foreign and local markets turn into large suburban homes filled with similarly happy and differently unhappy families turn into farmland and enough agriculture to feed the majority of the country. Fourth largest out of 13 doesn’t mean very much until I remember that the fourth largest province in the second largest country in the world is still significantly larger than many countries in total. Ontario is large – large enough that it’s distinctions are noticeable and land is able to retain its architecture without giving into modernity.


I’m going to the farm today.


It’s not just any farm, of course, and it’s not my farm. It’s belonged to a Canadian family for over 40 years and it’s a reflection on the nature of change and the nature of change in Canada. We perceive time as linear when it’s really more like a series of random shifts in particle movement that somehow collides into something coherent that we categorize as forward motion. Time doesn’t move at the farm; it’s always a sunny Sunday morning even if it’s a rainy Wednesday afternoon.


The farm shouldn’t technically be possible; it’s a perfect amalgamation of pre-World War 1 agricultural Canada and post-Information Revolution 2013.


It’s Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables if those two things had the same setting but took place in modern times. The farmhouse is old, and it creaks and gives way like every good childhood memory, but it’s strong and reinforced with a tensile strength found only in machined titanium. The sink is old, but the bathtub is new; there’s a modern washer and dryer powered through modern AC/DC electrical technology in a bathroom that’s decorated with larges splashes of pioneer dreams. The kitchen is filled with toys that once belonged to the now fully-grown children still doing the dishes after dinner; the kids aren’t just alright – they never left to begin with. They got an education, live their own lives, have their own families, but once they’re back home time ceases to exist for them too.


There were also actual pies and tarts cooling in a window sill next to an espresso machine out of Star Trek, which I thought was charmingly anachronistic.


We’re completely out of the city now. I’m awake – against my desire to not be – and the sun has decided to acquaint itself with the forest. It’s autumn, of course, and the natural cellular respiration cycles of any non-Boreal tree is coming to an end, and they do so love putting on a grand show. I imagine directors would enjoy working with trees if trees had the capacity to act out Shakespeare; trees have bit roles in a large planetary drama, yet they enter and exit each scene with such panache. On-stage, they only attempt to better the scene, never trying to take away from what any other actor does. Now it’s time to bow out, but they’re leaving in style, and we’re the ones who will clean up after them thank you very much.


Driving through another small town, there’s a nonsensical welcome sign – as we leave we’re told to “Please call again.” Paved road soon becomes gravel which quickly becomes dirt. Farms are on all sides. There’s a bridge overlooking a creek, and enough passing-by pick-up trucks to shoot a Jason Aldean music video. Things seem familiar even though I don’t entirely remember them, but that’s only because of how familiar everything always seems when you’re seeing it for one of the first times.


Finally, we get to the farm. At least, we get off the main road that leads to an inroad that leads to the farm. We get to the farm and it looks the same as I remember it, except this time it isn’t winter so there’s corn growing. I know how I’m going to spend Thanksgiving weekend. I’m going to do exactly what you’re supposed to do on the second Monday of every October. I’m going to be with family, and though I can’t possibly lay claim to any members of the families I’ll meet, I’m going to be treated like family. I’m reminded of Marc Cohn’s trip to Memphis as I step through the front door and greet the men who I’ll call uncles, the women who I’ll call aunts, the children who I’ll call nieces and nephews, and the elders who I’ll call grandparents.


The farm isn’t mine. Neither is the hammock in the backyard, nor the shed filled with supplies. The kitchen, dining room, bathrooms, living rooms, solarium, bedrooms, and piano will never be mine.


I’m not a Christian child either, but man I am tonight.


As always, this has been your Admin, the Avid Blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!



A Different Kind of Test-Taking Standard; The Multiple Retake-3/4 Model

Date: October 7th, 2013


A Different Kind of Test-Taking Standard; The Multiple Retake-3/4 Model

It goes without saying that Canadian schools, are in dire need of reform. The two loudest arguments blame teachers for not teaching properly and parents for not letting them teach, but I believe that one of the real problems lies in the grading and prescribing of tests. The current test-taking system, in which students are given a single chance at writing an assessment to gauge how much they remember is flawed because it leaves many students mindlessly memorizing and regurgitating facts for the sole purpose of getting a good grade.

I believe that a greater understanding of course material can be given to students by simply allowing multiple attempts at quizzes, tests, and exams.

In the new test-taking model, the concept of grading remains unchanged. When students write a test for the first time, their papers will be graded normally, but after receiving their letter or number grades, students will be given a three day grace period to consider retaking an exam on the same material. If students choose to retake a test, 3/4 of the exam will be old questions from the original test while the remaining 1/4 will be new questions to gauge whether or not students truly did take the time to review the material and prepare again. If students choose to ignore the opportunity to retake the test – because they were satisfied with their initial grade, or otherwise – their grade for that particular examination will remain the same.

For each subsequent retake, students will be given three days to weigh their options, and the 3/4 distribution will continue to take effect. Eventually, I expect the grade of the student to approach a near perfect state, while simultaneously leaving the student with a firm understanding of the material.

With this model, less emphasis is placed on achieving a good grade, and more emphasis is placed on doing well and understanding the course material.

Instead of forcing students to memorize an arbitrary number of facts and details in the hopes that their preparation pays off, students will be expected to understand their course material in order to constantly do better. For the argument that students will simply memorize answers from the initial exams to take with them to the next ones, I make the case that real learning is the result of constant repetition in addition to understanding.

Mathematics and the physical sciences prove this. Word problems in math, chemistry, physics, and biology enforce the need to understand subject concepts and the need to know how to solve the problems that are given. Purely memorizing the solution of a single kind of word problem in any of these disciplines only works for other word problems if the questions are the same but the numbers are changed. The so-called “Plug-and-Chug” method of problem solving, where a question is solved by simply plugging numbers into a formula, ceases to be a legitimate problem solving tool the instant a differently worded question is given. It’s simply not enough to know what the variables refer to, but also how to mix, match, and reconsider variables in different situations to work towards an answer.

Pure memorization is harmful because it leads to students dumping out information and knowledge at the end of each assessment in order to fill their minds with more information that will eventually be dumped out. Simply put, pure memorization is to the mind what bulimia is to the body; a rapid, morbid intake that concludes in nothing more than a harmful purge, leaving the individual wanting, unsatisfied, and worse off than before.

In this way, the “Multiple Retake-3/4” model (MR34) of test-taking takes the best lessons math and physical science can teach: The best way to learn is through constant repetition, understanding, and a wide question bank to practice from. By literally allowing every student an equal opportunity at achieving a perfect score, grades – wide ranging number values – stop serving as an indication of a student’s intelligence. The MR34 method adds an additional benefit: Instead of having certain students who excel in certain subject while struggling in others, all students are given an equal chance at excelling at all of their subjects.

Despite these benefits, there are issues to be addressed beyond the time and effort teachers would need to add to their schedules and classrooms.

Chief among these issues is the argument that schools aren’t designed to give every student an equal opportunity at success, and that having a large pool of intelligent students over-saturates the job market. However, the MR34 method allows the best and brightest to maintain their spots, much like the current test-taking standard. Students aren’t forced to retake their tests, they are simply encouraged to do so; just because the opportunity is present to every student, that doesn’t mean that every student will choose to take advantage of it. That is to say, the best and brightest will remain the best and brightest, but those who aren’t faring as well have a chance to do even better. Instead of having the “Smart kids,” the “Average kids,” and the “Not-Smart kids,” classrooms will be filled with the “Really Smart kids,” the “Smart kids,” and the “Kids who didn’t take advantage of the benefits that the MR34 offers.”

Furthermore, the students who have “One bad day,” or who suffer from test-anxiety, will have an opportunity to make up for their temporary misfortune.

Another concern lies with post-secondary acceptance, post-graduate acceptance, and job-searching: How do universities and other such institutions determine whether a student is worth accepting if every student has good grades? In these cases, extracurricular activities, teacher referrals, interviews, and a more intensive round of selection must take place in order to determine an applicant’s aptitude.

Obviously, it goes without saying that the MR34 is completely useless if post-secondary and post-graduate institutions don’t adopt similar reforms. If students accustomed to retaking tests ad infinitum are forced to adapt to a system where a single test is the difference between success and failure, I hypothesize that a noticeable drop in attendance records, class GPA, and entrance numbers will occur.

Furthermore, there are professions that are specifically designed to avoid the possibility of a redo. Medicine, engineering, law, and other such backgrounds place employees in pass or fail situations on a daily basis; a single incision is the difference between a successful bypass and death, one wrong calculation can result in an entire suspension system failing, and a single unprepared argument can be the difference between freedom and life in prison.

Understandably, a strong argument can be made against the MR34 on this basis alone.

However, I argue that the surgeon who measures 10 times to make a single cut is less likely to make a mistake than the physician who immediately prescribes ACE inhibitors without running diagnostic tests first. For medical colleges, engineering programs, and law schools that adopt the MR34 model, it’s the job of the teachers and instructors to insure that every student they pass has the necessary skills for the field they have studied.

The MR34 doesn’t make it easier to do well; I propose that teachers maintain their exams’ level of difficulty. Instead, the MR34 model forces students to review their notes, and engage in constant testing to gauge their level of understanding in a way that could potentially reduce the anxiety of passing. In fact, the MR34 doesn’t even make it easier to get into a specialized form of education. In the cases of med school or law school, the respective standardized tests will remain unaffected by the proposed model; the MCATS and LSATS already follow a similar model to the MR34 anyway, with an exception being that test-takers are not given 3/4 of their old exams on their next attempt. Neither are test-takers given three days to consider retaking the exams with the 3/4 rule in place.

I propose that a strong step towards a more efficient, and well-informed student body is by taking test-taking reforms into consideration. I believe that the Multiple Retake-3/4 model of test-taking, though merely a rough idea now, can prove to be highly beneficial to both students, society, and the future of this country. By reducing the emphasis on answering a question correctly, and increasing emphasis on understanding why an answer is correct, I believe that students will be able to gain a better understanding of their studies, in addition to acquiring a wider, farther-reaching skill-set.

I believe the MR34 can be the future of education in Canada. Education and knowledge, after all, are the two most important tools for a well-informed and confident electorate.

As always, this has been your Admin, the blogger; comment, subscribe, and criticize, and DO remember! Always look on the BYTE side of life!