Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas 2009

Yesterday, my mom, my younger child and I dropped off several boxes of food and supplies at the Airdrie Food Bank. It is important to our family to discuss and be aware of wants and needs, and to act on our responsibility as neighbors and citizens to help those in need. At the same time, dropping off food raises a few mixed feelings; while I feel good believing that our small contribution helps a few people in need, it also troubles me that so many people are hungry in our rich nation, in our rich province, in our rich city. When I start to think about the needs world wide, the problem of balancing the wants of the rich with the needs of the poor seem overwhelming, especially when I know that enough food is produced to feed everybody on this planet. So, as we get our children ready for Santa's visit, I am pondering what more our family can do to balance the scales locally, nationally and perhaps even internationally.

My child asks me, "mom, are we rich?". Compared to the majority of people on this planet, I answer "YES". For Christmas Eve, the four of us enjoyed a great family day at home today. After a hearty breakfast, we played with toys, baked some banana bread, mixed and baked a sweet potato casserole for tomorrow, and broke apart the gingerbread house for dessert. We put a few extra presents under the tree that people dropped off. I sewed a few holes in hockey socks while the two kids sewed some designs on some fabric scraps. We wandered over to the store to pick up a few last minute items for tomorrow. We played Yahtzee and video games. My sister dropped over for a visit. The kids and I visited my dad and wished him a Merry Christmas -- we will visit him again before lunch tomorrow. Overall, a great Christmas Eve -- we do not worry about our next meal, heating our home, keeping our bodies and minds healthy, clothing our bodies, educating our minds, staying safe -- we are so very blessed, safe and secure compared to so many in our community, our province, our country, our world who struggle and suffer.

As I reflect on the many blessings that we enjoy as a family, I sent our a wish to everyone for a Blessed and Merry Christmas.

One of the ways that I like to celebrate the birth of Christ is to listen to my favorite Christmas Carol - What Child Is This? There are many different versions - I love it when my husband plays Greensleeves on his guitar.

What child is this who laid to rest
On Mary's lap is sleeping
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping

This, this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing
Haste, haste to bring him laud
The babe, the son of Mary

Why lies he in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding
Good Christian fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh
Come peasant king to own Him
The King of kings, salvation brings
Let loving hearts enthrone Him

This, this is Christ the King
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing
Haste, haste to bring him laud
The babe, the son of Mary

Friday, December 18, 2009

Skepticism lies at the heart of real science

Where is the SCIENCE in today's economic-religious-political battle over climate change?

A lead story at CBC: "Climate Summit Hangs in the Balance" - Political leaders will try to break the log-jam at climate talks today. Money, not science, is the biggest variable: "it appears the rift between rich and poor nations appears to be as wide as ever".

Another Lead Story, "Authoritarian Propaganda", James Taranto, Wall Street Journal
"... what is clearest from the University of East Anglia emails is that climate science has become more political than scientific. Researchers have been abusing the scientific process in order to produce support for an ideologically predetermined outcome. And global warmism has strong religious overtones too, as evidenced by this headline in London's left-wing Guardian: "This Is Bigger Than Climate Change. It Is a Battle to Redefine Humanity."

An earlier article by Taranto, "Gore Brushes Aside Evidence of Scientific Misconduct"

From George Monbiot's, "anti-US", Guardian article, "A new movement, most visible in North America and Australia, but now apparent everywhere, demands to trample on the lives of others as if this were a human right. It will not be constrained by taxes, gun laws, regulations, health and safety, especially by environmental restraints. It knows that fossil fuels have granted the universal ape amplification beyond its Palaeolithic dreams... Economic growth is the magic formula which allows our conflicts to remain unresolved." The Nature article that Georgie cites uses data from 1900 - 1920 in its predictive computer model... (BTW, "self-styled climate change expert" George Monbiot has authored an anti-capitalist book, as well as investigative travel books).

IF any kind of deal emerges today it will be a miracle -- IF a deal emerges, it should be a flexible draft that is subject to critical analysis and sharp skepticism by citizens in every country.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Professors Keep Secrets and So Should Our MPs

Just a brief post today, because I am still doing my marking (and enjoying every minute, let me assure you). ;-)

As one might imagine, professors keep many, many secrets. An important part of teaching is designing great tasks and then assessing the quality of student work. My assessment is a professional judgment based on defensible criteria drawn from established criteria and external standards. While I provide a summative assessment of performance over a semester to a student and to the Faculty of Education, I do not, can not, and must not broadcast my professional assessment of an individual student's performance to anyone else - it is not my secret to tell, and it would be an unforgivable breach of privacy.

So, professors keep secrets. In order to carry out my teaching, research and service work on various committees, I interact with student teachers, graduate students, academic colleagues, school teachers, school principals, school boards, fellow researchers, university administrators, and individuals from across organizational and industrial contexts; I serve on examination committees for masters and doctoral students; I observe students and teachers carrying out the educational work of learning and teaching in classrooms; I serve as an external examiner for tenure and promotion decisions; I blind peer review articles for journals; I peer review research proposals for provincial and national funding agencies; I serve as an expert advisor on various faculty and university committees; I bear witness to excellent teaching in classrooms in schools and on campus, and I also bear witness to many things that can be improved. Therefore, in my role as professor, there are many things that I SEE and DO, but do not TELL, TALK or TWITTER about. Professors keep a lot of secrets, and so they should.

Therefore, I was interested in this newspaper article and the question:
Should elected Members of Parliament have the right to know every secret in Canada?

This question arises in the context of the uproar over how Afghan terrorists were handled by the Canadian Military in 2006. However, the request by one political party for completely unfettered access to any type of information at anytime should worry all Canadian citizens no matter what political stripe they wear.

According to a Liberal back bencher, cited in this CBC story, "the government is obliged to supply to the committee whatever information it requests in the performance of its mandate from the House". Defence Minister Peter MacKay has said the material [about Afghan detainees] needs to be checked by the Justice Department to ensure nothing is disclosed that could pose national security risks. Levant writes that Canada’s laws about state secrets are clear: the Security of Information Act (the successor law to the Official Secrets Act) makes it illegal for a Canadian diplomat, soldier or spy to tell a state secret, even to a curious MP. TWOOPS: the same liberal backbencher calling for open season on state secrets broke the law and was caught TWEETING about confidential house meeting information. So, some MPs could learn a thing or two about keeping secrets.

"Whatever information" a tweeting MP requests, eh? Do I want MPs to have unfettered access to my professional and personal secrets? Do I trust politically charged and rabid back benchers with provincial and federal secrets that may pose a security risk and put Canadian citizens in danger? I have to say, I agree with Levant on this one: "That's nuts". Giving Curious MPs access to state secrets can turn them into "omnipotent snoops, destroying privacy in every field from military affairs to international trade to criminal convictions". That is just too Curious George Orwell for me.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Has the Climate Debate become a Climate Monologue?

Thanks to my friend John for these links:

Mike Flynn, "UN Security Stops Journalist’s Questions About ClimateGate" I have to wonder, why has UN security been sent in to stop a journalist from questioning a Stanford professor about ClimateGate?

In this video, PJTV Bruce Bawer reports on Copenhagen's climate nonsense, and the "climate political correctness". This isn't Copenhagen its Hopenhagen, more about politics than science.

The number of polar bears has increased.
"Cut the mic!" in, Al Gore and the Death of Journalism, first Gore's inexpert stickhandling about "errors" in the movie that will be shown in schools, the attempt to deflect a debate about polar bears whose numbers are increasing, and then cutting off the journalist's questions entirely. Is this what Al Gore meant when he said "The Debate is Over"? Here is another perspective on the same question and stickhandling about polar bears - "Daring to question Gore".

Friday, December 11, 2009

ClimateGate: Two Canadians Stickhandle Corrupt UK Scientists

The optics on "ClimateGate" are very, very bad for climate scientists, and for science: One bad apple rots the entire barrel. However, on the up side, the increased scrutiny and fact checking may restore high standards of blind, peer review and bring new integrity to the scientific method and publishing process: Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

From the 13th issue of the 15th Volume of the Weekly Standard, "Scientists Behaving Badly: A corrupt cabal of global warming alarmists are exposed by a massive document leak", by Steven Hayward: "What they reveal is something problematic for the scientific community as a whole, namely, the tendency of scientists to cross the line from being disinterested investigators after the truth to advocates for a preconceived conclusion about the issues at hand." Hayward is clear in that the CRU documents / emails do not in and of themselves reveal that catastrophic climate change scenarios are a hoax or without any foundation. However, the text of over 1000 documents and emails "expose scandalously unprofessional behavior" by trusted paleoclimatology scientists who built their careers on the notion of human caused global warming.

The entire article is worth a read. My favorite part is about "'two mild-mannered Canadians, retired engineer Stephen McIntyre and University of Guelph economist Ross McKitrick, [who, in 2003,] began making noises about serious problems with the by-then iconic hockey stick graph". As a result of McIntyre and McKitrick's persistent questions about the "hockey stick graph depicting rising temperatures", an investigation was conducted by NAS, and part of their conclusion was about sharing data: "Our view is that all research benefits from full and open access to published datasets and that a clear explanation of analytical methods is mandatory. Peers should have access to the information needed to reproduce published results, so that increased confidence in the outcome of the study can be generated inside and outside the scientific community."

More damning than the letters is the shoddy state of the data set that is about to be shared. "the climate policy process contemplates trillions of dollars in costs to economies around the world based partially on this incompetent work".

So, in Hayward's words, there are a "lot of unbiased scientists trying to do important and valuable work" who will be overshadowed and damned along with the rotten apples, the "utterly politicized scientists such as Jones, Mann, and NASA's James Hansen".

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"Top Drawer, Remarkable Canadians" advise Minister on Climate - Where are the scientists?

17 prominent Canadians to advise Environment Minister during Copenhagen Junket - and not a climate scientist among them. And all on the TAXPAYER's dime. Typical. Sorry, I just have to say, what the f**k does the owner of Superstore, Gaylen Weston, know about the SCIENCE of climate change? Here are the rest of the 'consultants':

- Gary Doer, Canada's 23rd ambassador to the United States
- Mike Holmes, Host and creator of the popular television show Holmes on Homes
- Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations
- Mary Simon, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a national Inuit organization
- David Emerson, former federal liberal cabinet minister, business man, politician
- Nancy Southern, president and CEO of utility giant Atco Ltd., Spruce Meadows
- Galen Weston, the executive chairman of Loblaw Companies Ltd (incl. Superstore)
- Jacques Lamarre, former SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., executive, engineering and construction
- William Lahey, Director of the Dalhousie Health Law Institute (lawyer)
- Elyse Allen, President and CEO of GE Canada
- Charlie Fischer, Former president and CEO of Nexen Inc.
- Daniel Gagnier, Chairman of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, former chair of Alcan, and Chief of Staff to Quebec Premier Jean Charest in 2007
- Linda Hasenfratz (Newton), CEO of Linamar Corp
- Robert Prichard, President and CEO of Metrolinx

At least there are a few researchers & post-secondary leaders on the junket as well:
- Dr. Steve MacLean, President of the Canadian Space Agency, and laser physicist
- Dr. Heather Munroe-Blum, President, vice-chancellor and senior officer of McGill University (professor in Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health)
- Dr. Indira Samarasekera, President of the University of Alberta (metallurgical engineering)

The Honorable Jim Prentice, environment minister, is missing direct input from Canadian CLIMATE SCIENTISTS. At least in the US, they pretend to consult the scientists, says Barbara Oakley, in "Take this paradigm and shove it". There is a saying about patronage politics in Alberta: "Hogs at the trough" (look in comments).

In spite of the few researchers invited along, the optics on this 17 person, tax dollar funded junket of "top drawer" Canadians to Denmark stink. While I enjoy watching Mike on "Holmes on Homes", and the horse jumping at Marg Southern's Spruce Meadows (Nancy's mom), many of these highly paid, CEO consultants should just back away from the climategate buffet.

Let the scientists, the kind Rex Murphy talks about in ClimateGate, who are the "humble servants of the facts of the case", inform the climate science debate.

Take the Macleans.ca "Is Canada Shirking is Responsibilities" poll - You will be surprised by the result. It is likely the only input that TAXPAYERS will have, other than footing the bill for patronage junkets like this one, on issues of climate change.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Rex Murphy on Climategate - Corruption is No Joke At All

As a researcher, I was interested in this "take" on the role of science in society: "humble servants of the facts of the case". In this overview of "Climategate", Canada's Rex Murphy reminds us that the science on climate change is anything but "settled". A few quotes:
  • Climate science and global warming advocacy have become so entwined, so meshed into a mutant creature, that separating alarmism from investigation, ideology from science, agenda from empirical study, is well nigh impossible.
  • Climategate is evidence that the science has gone to bed with advocacy and both have had a very good time.
  • That the neutrality, openness and absolute disinterest that is the hallmark of all honest scientific endeavour has been abandoned to an atmosphere and dynamic not superior to the partisan caterwauls of a sub-average question period.
  • The stink of intellectual corruption is overpowering.
According to Murphy, climate science = climate politics, at least in part. Read the emails, Rex challenges the viewer, and you will never look at climate science the same way again.

UPDATE: There is a great article by Mark Steyn in the Dakota Beacon, entitled "Climate science and the peer-review consensus forgery"

A few favorite quotes:
- if you take away one single thing from the leaked documents, it's that the global warm-mongers have wholly corrupted the "peer-review" process.

- Pressuring publishers, firing editors, blacklisting scientists: That's "peer review", climate-style.

- Andrew Revkin... served Mann's words up to impressionable readers of The New York Times and opportunist politicians around the world champing at the bit to inaugurate a vast global regulatory body to confiscate trillions of dollars of your hard-earned wealth in the cause of "saving the planet" from an imaginary crisis concocted by a few dozen thuggish ideologues.

UPDATE: Mark Steyn has written another good essay on climategate in Macleans, entitled "The Science of Global Warming: These leaked documents reveal the greatest scientific scandal of our times—and a tragedy"

Key Points:
1. The Settled Scientists have wholly corrupted the process of “peer review.”
2. The Settled Scientists have refused to comply with Freedom of Information requests by (illegally) deleting relevant documents.
3. The Settled Scientists have attempted to (in the words of one email) “hide the decline”—that’s to say, obscure the awkward fact that “global warming” stopped over a decade ago.
4. The Settled Scientists have tortured the data into compliance with political requirements.

"Science is never “settled,” and certainly not on the basis of predictive models. And any scientist who says it is is no longer a scientist. And the dismissal of “skeptics” throughout the Jones/Mann correspondence is most revealing: a real scientist is always a skeptic."

UPDATE: Editorial in Nature, "Climatologists Under Pressure", aside from the name calling, "denialists", which is unworthy of a scientific publication, one quote stuck out in particular: "global warming is real... human activities are almost certainly the cause". Almost certainly? Is that like "almost pregnant?" For shame. The editor focuses on slandering critics rather than bringing the science to the forefront. For shame in a peer-reviewed publication that toots its horn as the "world's most highly cited interdisciplinary science journal". "Nature" has betrayed its nature.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Free Speech Justice in Alberta

I have written about the politically correct chill on expressing one's religious beliefs and "certain" political perspectives in the Alberta press here, and here. The following offers a brief update on the outcome of Boission's appeal against the ruling by the Alberta Human Rights Commission:

From Colby Cash: The Boissoin case: Freedom gains a moral victory, Macleans.ca . Specifically, Judge Wilson tossed out the Boissoin human-rights panel ruling. The Judge notes that the Alberta HRC had NO statutory warrant for ANY of the punishments it levied against Boissoin - which included public shaming by apologizing for his views, a cash fine to be given to his accusers, and a restraint on future speech.

From MBrandon8026, Freedom Through Truth site, ...Stephen Boissoin Wins In General: Not a Total Victory But a Reasonable One. Specifically, the application of the provisions by the Panel was not within the acceptable limits of the legislation itself". IOW, the panel went beyond their legal mandate in drafting a punitive set of judgments against Boissoin. MBrandon8026 writes further about the Stephen's LETTER, based on his original post back in September, the LETTER.

Will we see the story "break" in the mainstream media? Will other writers build on the story published by Cash in Macleans.ca? Hmmmm. Let's wait and see.

The bottom line for me is the free speech victory for Boissoin, which is really a free speech victory for all Albertans -- citizens can voice their religious opinions, and even write letters to the papers, citizens can voice dissenting opinions and views, without fear of being shamed, fined and muzzled.

Clearly, it took a team of Real lawyers and Real judges, like those in Court of Queen's Bench, to come to a reasonable and logical interpretation of the legal rights of an Alberta citizen to write a letter to the editor about his views. If we leave important decisions like "who has the right to say what when" to government 'human rights = activist' bureaucrats, such as the former divorce attorney who tendered the decision in the Boissoin case, we are all in deep, deep trouble.

UPDATE: By Mark Steyn, Canadian Lifetime Speech Ban Lifted; Mark quotes from the Judge's ruling: "The direction to cease and desist the publishing of "disparaging remarks about gays and homosexuals' is beyond the power of the Panel. "Disparaging remarks"were not defined by the Panel. But clearly, "disparaging remarks" are remarks much less serious than hateful and contemptuous remarks and are quite lawful to make. They are beyond the power of the Act to regulate and the power of the Province to restrain. (emphasis mine)"

UPDATE: by Ezra Levant, Rev. Stephen Boissoin's conviction overturned; Having fought his own battle against the Alberta 'human rights' commission, Levant knows that the process is the punishment, 'more than seven years later, and Rev. Boissoin has finally been acquitted. Rev. Boissoin had seven years of his life wasted -- seven years in which he bore the stigma of being called, by the state, an illegal "hater". And Rev. Boissoin had to bear the enormous legal costs -- first, of his kangaroo court trial, then of his appeal -- on his own'.

UPDATE: by Deborah Tetley, Calgary Herald, "Judge overturns hate ruling in Red Deer Case: Allows anti-gay remarks", Judge "Wilson ruled Andreachuk made many errors in her ruling and that her order for Boissoin to pay Lund $5,000 and to refrain from making "disparaging remarks" about gays was illegal and unenforceable."

UPDATE: Winnipeg Press, breaking news, "Alberta Judge rules anti-gay letter not hate speech, overturns ruling".

UPDATE: Canadian Constitution Foundation, "Partial victory for free speech in Boissoin court judgment". From a real lawyer, “I am pleased that the Human Rights Panel Order against Reverend Boissoin has been overturned,” stated John Carpay, lawyer and Executive Director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation". And then, chilling: "“In spite of today’s court ruling, Albertans need to continue to exercise extreme caution when speaking about public policy issues, lest they offend someone who then files a human rights complaint. No citizen is safe from being subjected to a taxpayer-funded prosecution for having spoken or written something that a fellow citizen finds offensive,” continued Carpay. (emphasis mine)"

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sitting Ducks and Guardian Angels

Maybe we were crazy to attempt a trip into the city in blizzard conditions. However, Mom and I do love Stuart Mclean; the last time we attended the Christmas concert was 2007. Ever since my husband gave me tickets in September, Mom and I have been raring to go to the Vinyl Cafe Christmas Concert. Today, Southern Alberta was hit with the second big blizzard in a week. Last Friday, instead of driving 40 minutes North to take our son to a hockey game, we snuggled in at home with a movie. We soon learned that the highway was closed. The next morning, we saw cars in the ditch; there had been several accidents, and one man died.

With prairie determination, Mom and I set off to the city. It took us about an hour to get to the auditorium. We took the secondary highways and experienced a few white-outs and close calls on our way in. Arriving more than an hour early, we rejoiced at the great parking spot near the front doors. Shoulders hunched against the icy wind, we hustled into the Jubilee. We unfolded in the warmth of the lobby, took off our coats and made our way to the bar. As we enjoyed a drink and thawed our feet, an appealing looking man approached us and reached out to shake our hands.

"Thank you for coming to the show", Stuart Mclean said in his trademark, gentle voice, "Especially on an evening like this one." Yes, he has warm hands.

Starstruck, I could barely mumble, "We are really looking forward to your show. Thank you!"

Mom and I grinned and marveled as Stuart Mclean greeted all of the people who were in the lobby an hour or so before his show. What a genuinely classy gesture of goodwill and gratitude from a busy man.

Before the show we had time to spare so we wandered around enjoying an uninterrupted conversation. About ten minutes before show time, we settled into our seats. Five minutes later, Stuart ambled on to the stage, and greeted the audience. He thanked us for braving the trip to see the show, and offered to answer a few questions. A young boy asked Stuart who inspired him to write; another asked him which of his characters he most resembled. W.O. Mitchell and E. B. White and Sam were Stuart's answers, given as part of a delightful introduction and back story. Stuart told us how the show would start and that we were welcome to break into enthusiastic cheering and clapping whenever something moved us.

From beginning to end, Mom and I enjoyed our Stuart Mclean's Christmas Concert excursion. The musicians and singers were great. Jill Barber has a voice and style from the 1940s and 1950s and her singing sent a thrill through the crowd. A young man from New Brunswick, Matt Andersen, is clearly an upcoming Star - his soulful voice is a thing of rare beauty. Of course, Stuart's stories made us laugh out loud and his warm nature and enthusiastic appreciation of the musical artists won us over again. Stuart Mclean's Christmas Concert is a superb way to spark the spirit of the giving season.

The drive home through a prairie blizzard was perilous. It shook us to our boots. Mom and I snaked through the city and made our way to the major highway north. The roads in town were okay and there were fewer than usual cars on the road. As we left the city, the traffic thinned; the road consisted of two narrow sets of double ruts in caked snow. I was able to manage speeds of 50 - 60 km until we hit the construction zone where a major interchange is being built.

After the overpass, it became a whiter, eerier and lonelier trek north. There were only a handful of vehicles and most of these had their hazards on. A few pickups flew past, and the two of us clucked about driving without a brain. We inched north single file; cars traveled at speeds of 30 - 40 Km. Mom and I kept chatting about the road conditions, where the other cars were and the power of the wind as it howled and whipped snow across the highway -- anything to keep our growing unease at bay. "Just keep moving forward," I chanted under my breath.

Just past the mall, we experienced the first of several whiteouts. Thick gobs of snow pelted the van; we could not see far in front or behind. It was hard to tell if we were in the right or the left lane. I hoped we were in the center lane. We slowed right down and tried to follow the tail lights of the vehicle ahead of us. Soon, this vehicle was able to pull away and we were left alone. I slowed right down to 10 Km and then stopped. We were all alone in a howling, whirlwind of snow.

It is terrifying to sit like an exposed duck out on a prairie highway surrounded by a swirling blizzard. All you can hear is the howling power of the icy wind as it rocks your vehicle and seeps in through cracks. So many things can go terribly wrong when you stop on the highway in a blizzard, from running out of gas and having to walk in the wind & snow, to getting hit by another vehicle whose driver is blinded by the snow but kept on moving, or getting out of your car to help someone else and getting hit yourself.

After a few minutes, the windshield was covered in wet, chunky slush balls that the wipers could no longer move. I had to get out of the van to crack the slush chunks off of the windshield wiper blades. As I stepped out of the car, I sank into snow covered grass.

"Okay, we are on the 'left' side of the highway", I thought, oddly relieved to have this little piece of knowledge.

I was only able to dislodge the slushy ice from the left wiper as icy wind whipped through my hair and down my back. It was too cold to be in the bone chilling wind, so I skipped the right. I dove back into the van and tried somewhat successfully to clear the windshield. Luckily, we could see a few headlights from on-coming traffic, and a quick look behind revealed a car approaching us. We waited until the car passed us, and then slid in behind to follow this car like it was a mother duck. Soon, another car was following us, and eventually we made our way slowly into our city like several sopping wet and frozen ducklings.

With city lights and a few cars around, it was much easier to navigate. We wheeled through town, and I dropped Mom off at her house where she had to stork step through 2 foot high drifts up to her front door. I promised to call when I got home, as is our custom.

The 5 minute trip from Mom's to my neighborhood was relatively uneventful, as were the final few blocks towards home. In my eagerness to get to my family, I turned the final corner, looked for my house, and ploughed the van right into a 2 foot snowdrift. I tried forward, reverse, forward, reverse. No go - the tires were covered. I tried to dig the front tires out, but there wasn't much I could do with a windshield scraper. Just as I was ready to leave my hazards on, turn the van off and head home on foot, three fellows showed up with two shovels and big hearts. These men had just dug another car out of a snowdrift.

It took about ten minutes for the four of us to get the van out of the snow drift. One fellow drove my van, and the other two dug out the front tires. A few pushes from the diggers and me, and the fellow drove my van a dozen yards down the street into another small drift. He back up, we caught up to push, and then he drove forward. After a few such forays, the man was able to get the van out of the drifts. He pulled ahead and waited so I could jump in. Then, he drove me home.

I would never have gotten out of the snow drift tonight without the help of these good neighbors. I feel bone deep gratitude for these good samaratins who helped me get the final 200 yards home. Thank you to the three guardian angels who pushed and drove my van out of a snow drift tonight. I appreciate your kind and generous hearts.

Thank you to the other drivers on Deerfoot for using your hazard lights and driving slowly and carefully. Thank you, God, for Stuart Mclean and for seeing my mom and I safely home.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Academically Rigorous Digital Work by the Net-Generation

A colleague of mine, Mark Bullen, has created a "Net Gen Skeptic" blog that I follow -- his aim is to debunk the myth, largely created by "hire a keynote" speakers like Don Tapscott, that this generation is born "digitally native" and can magically do anything with technology from the time they emerge from the womb. More specifically, Mark and his research team aim "to provide a balanced exploration of research and commentary on generational differences, particularly the net generation discourse and impacts on learning, teaching and the use of technology. Mark's goal is to expose the hype and promote an informed discussion of evidence-based strategies that postsecondary institutions can use to harness the power of Web 2.0 and other learning technologies". Bullen's blog makes a lot of sense by taking a research perspective, an evidence-based view, on the 'net-gen' concept.

While I do believe, based on 16 years of teaching and research in educational technology and a vast research literature that supports this view, that children of all ages CAN and often DO accomplish amazing things with technology, I have also learned that amazing digital work by children usually emerges in response to a rich invitation into meaningful and engaging inquiry - a big question, an enduring idea, an wicked problem to solve. When children do amazing work using digital forms, it usually involves reliable and robust hard/software and networks, and occurs in a strong culture of inquiry, expectation, pressure and support, and is guided by knowledgeable teachers and parents.

In the many classrooms that I visit, teach and conduct research in, kindergarten to university students complete high quality projects, create rich and diverse online portfolios, collaborate and create knowledge online, and stun me with creative and beautiful performances using technology -- I have seen these achievements occur Most Often When (MOW):
  1. Students are asked to do work that is authentic, meaningful and interesting, and gives students an opportunity to express their unique character and diverse strengths;
  2. Students are asked to do work that is academically rigorous, work that is deeply connected to a discipline, or to several disciplines, that represents work that historians, mathematicians, artists, authors, scientists, DO;
  3. Students are connected to experts and rich sources both within and beyond the school, both in person and online;
  4. Students have a role in designing assessments of high quality work and students receive regular feedback on their work, formative assessment is focused on continual improvement, and reviews of their work come from several sources (i.e., teacher, peers, parents, experts in community);
  5. Students use technology appropriately, which means building knowledge more effectively, efficiently or differently with technology, and even better, that the technology enables teachers and learners to do something new, something they cannot do without the technology.
High quality academic work, whether it results in digital or physical artifacts, emerges and evolves within a culture and context of inquiry (i.e., disciplined research and ongoing questions about what is worth knowing), expectation and pressure (i.e., a belief in every child's ability to meet high standards and expectations for the quality and nature of discipline-rich work), and, importantly, support (i.e., from leaders, parents, teachers, peers). So, like other kinds of deep learning, acts of creativity and bursts of imagination, I believe there is a great deal more "in play" than a savvy generation of kids in the same room with a bunch of computers.

For authentic images of the learning and creation that children are capable of when they learn with technology, I encourage you to take a trip through some academically rigorous, inquiry-focused, technology-enhanced projects completed by students and teachers at the Galileo Network's Inquiry Exhibits site: classroom exemplars.