Friday, January 29, 2016

Matt Pearce

I thought I'd post a couple of things I've written lately about the passing of Matt Pearce, the well-known Prince Georgian. The first bit I wrote on our local union folder and also submitted as a letter to the PG Citizen.  Matt was fond of writing letters to the editor, so when a friend suggested I do the same I reckoned it would be a good idea. The second bit I posted somewhere on the The Facebook in response to a "My PG Now" article about how the Prince George District school board recognized Pearce with a moment of silence and some comments from the SD57 Board Chair and current vice-president of the PG Teachers' Association. 

Sent to the PG Citizen:

The news that teacher, husband, father, and P.G. Sports Hall of Famer Matt Pearce has passed away leaves me with a knot of disbelief and dismay. He often wrote letters to the editor, and so I thought I would do the same. I loved how Matt could "speak truth to power" without losing his cool; how he advocated for public education. He normalized advocacy as a way of being for teachers through his many speeches at board meetings, submissions to the media, local committee work as member or chair, provincial work, and P.G. Teachers’ Association presentations. He had a highly developed B.S. detector and paid attention to aspects of interpersonal and organizational dynamics that many others ignore. Because of this, and his integrity, he had fantastic insight into what was worth fighting for and how to do it, commanding as much respect from adversaries as from allies. Those that got to work with him at the Teachers’ Association office and executive meetings saw how deep this water ran. In a few words, he could cut through confusion and present resourceful solutions to complex problems. I loved coaching or watching basketball games when Matt was reffing; I can't think of anyone more consistent and positive with players on the floor. I loved his keen wit, well-placed sarcasm, and wicked sense of humour. I admire his tenacity, his balance of life, work, and health (which makes his passing that much more difficult to process), and his desire to give back to the community as a leader in the union and a coach/ref for multiple sports. I will treasure our conversations about life, politics, education, personality types, etc. on our walks along Ferry & Hwy 16 during the last teachers strike. He had great stories, and loved to talk about his children. During our last conversation a few weeks ago he spoke with tenderness and pride about how his daughter, a former student at my school, was doing. It was also clear that some of his happiest and most fulfilling recent moments came from coaching his son's teams. He was an amazing role model and natural leader in so many ways, and his eccentricities were harmless and endearing. A difficult stretch lies ahead for Matt's family, friends, colleagues, and students. I hope this will also be a time of mutual comfort and the start of some peace.

Reply to "My PG Now" article mentioning moment of silence held for Matt Pearce at the Jan 26, 2016 Board Meeting.

That's a nice gesture from the board. I know that past boards respected and appreciated Matt's work, even when it was directed towards them, because of the passion, thought, and virtue of his approach to educational issues. I am somewhat disturbed, though, to hear from many folks that that the school district administration declined the request to hold a memorial at a school facility. There was a time when schools were considered part of the whole community. I believe there is a strong role for grief and remembrance for schools, and value in students, staff, and community using schools as more than just a daytime learn-house. Memorial involves sadness, coming apart, and anguish, but it also involves storytelling, warmth, and mutual comfort. I think schools are the perfect place for these themes to develop, just as much as they are for sports events, theatre, craft fairs, and polling stations. This strange decision should not take away from our collective sorrow in Matt's passing - as a former student of our schools, as a teacher and someone who visited every school in our district, and coached or refereed kids from almost every school, who was known by virtually every district employee through his role as union president, and spoke out tirelessly for public education -- in many ways he personifies our schools. Wherever the memorial is held, it will be about those things and many others, and not about the building itself. The decision, however, does suggest that our school district should look for the "heart" and "mind" behind its agreements on use of facilities.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

UNBC/CNC/SD57 Joint Feedback on proposed BCED Geography 11/12 Courses

Last fall I put a call out for interested teachers and post-secondary Geography faculty to meet and discuss the Draft BC Curriculum: Human Geography 11/12 and Physical Geography 11/12. Here are the results of that discussion

Joint feedback developed and submitted by:
  • Sinead Earley, Lecturer in UNBC Geography & PhD candidate in Geography (Queen’s University), Prince George
  • Dr. Greg Halseth, Professor, UNBC Geography, Community Development Institute, CRC Chair, Prince George
  • Dr. Neil Hanlon, Professor, UNBC Health Sciences, Prince George
  • Chris Jackson, Senior Lab Instructor, UNBC Geography, Prince George
  • Dr. Peter Jackson, Professor, UNBC Environmental Science, Atmospheric Science and Engineering, Prince George
  • Alex Koiter, lecturer, UNBC Geography, Prince George
  • Mark Lafleur, secondary teacher, Duchess Park Secondary, SD57 Prince George
  • Dr. ZoĆ« Meletis, Associate Professor, UNBC Geography, Prince George
  • Dr. Catherine Nolin, Associate Professor and Chair, UNBC Geography, Prince George
  • Steve Porter, secondary teacher, Kelly Road Secondary, SD57 Prince George
  • Stephanie Powell-Hellyer, Sessional Instructor, UNBC Global and International Studies, Prince George
  • Cliff Raphael, Instructor, Geography and Leadership, College of New Caledonia, Prince George
  • Glen Thielmann, secondary teacher, D.P. Todd Secondary, SD57 Prince George
  • Dr. Roger Wheate, Associate Professor, GIS Coordinator, UNBC Geography, Prince George
Meeting location
Held at University of Northern British Columbia, November 30th, 2015, 4-6pm, Admin Bldg 1069

Meeting agenda:

  1. Orientation to curriculum change in BC K-12 Education system
  2. Overview of the new curriculum framework and role of geography in Social Studies courses
  3. Defining and contextualizing big ideas, competencies, and content
  4. Feedback groups and sharing out (see five questions below)
  5. Wrap-up discussion on geography education and opportunities to connect K-12 teachers with post-secondary faculty and the UNBC Geography Program
“Social Studies: Proposal for Grades 10-12 Curriculum,” BC Ministry of Education, retrieved Nov 20/2015 from

Group activity questions:
  1. What is the point in studying Geography? Put another way, what are some of the “Big Ideas” in Geography?
  2. What are some competencies (skills/processes/ways of thinking and expression) in the study of Geography?
  3. What areas of study, key concepts, and topics are important for students to learn about in a well-rounded and interesting introductory course in Human Geography?
  4. What areas of study, key concepts, and topics are important for students to learn about in a well-rounded and interesting introductory course in Physical Geography?
  5. Anything else to add?

General comments:
  • Why two courses (plus environmental studies, plus earth science)? Wouldn’t a general, interdisciplinary geography course with flexible content have more appeal to both students and teachers?
  • Content and competencies should use the heading/bullet approach used in the draft Earth Science course - allows differentiation between main ideas and lesser ideas within each category
  • One course: human-environment interaction and process
  • The draft competencies are for the most part about history education and not geography education
  • How about a holistic geography course with options for students to get credit for human vs physical based on the projects the complete?
Feedback from the group activity

1. What is the point in studying Geography? Put another way, what are some of the “Big Ideas” in Geography? (this section also includes general statements about the draft curriculum)

More about Human Geography:
  • environment
  • spatial learning
  • place
  • inter-relationships (local to global)
  • based on data (observations | measurements
  • human-environment interactions (also expressed as the human-environment dynamic)
  • geography is about the study of space, place, and identity (these are core concepts, prompts for inquiry)
  • why do people live where they do and how do they interact with the environment
  • 3rd and 4th Human Geog “Big Ideas” are too similar
More about Physical Geography:
  • measurement of space
  • earth’s surface as a place of interactions
  • systems
  • understanding our world
  • location, maps,
  • patterns, trends
  • purpose of (physical) geography includes understanding of basic composition and structure of the earth, forces that share the surface of the earth, and biomes
About both Human and Physical Geography:
  • patterns
  • understanding humans on Earth
  • data-based measurements, observations, pattern recognition
  • Geography is applicable to all fields - emphasize where geography takes you, e.g. experience-based learning
  • systems thinking; scales - local to global
  • cycles and interactions
  • location, location, location
  • make the relationship between humans and environment more interactive, less deterministic
  • integration: knowledge of physical and social dynamics shared across both courses
  • if they were one course, they should focus on human/environment interaction/process
  • geography is an integrated science, interdisciplinary
  • focus on underlying processes
  • local-global interdependencies (a key-component in geographic thinking
  • climate change
  • linking human and physical processes
  • globally connected world
  • understanding connections/reciprocal relations between land and life
  • how/why people live where they do
  • basic geographic literacy (various definitions)
2. What are some competencies* in the study of Geography?
* “competencies” is the term used in BC Curriculum documents to describe skills, capacities, practical abilities, and habits of mind. Some are discipline-specific, some are interdisciplinary, while others are meant to apply generally to “critical thinking” and “inquiry.”

More about Human Geography:
  • critical thinking
  • isolating what we’re thinking about (metacognition)
  • levels of “Why?”
  • ability to express in a variety of means (e.g. photo essays)
  • reasoning
  • recognize patterns in the world that relate to people
More about Physical Geography:
  • experiential learning (mentioned multiple times)
  • clear expression from qualitative through to quantitative
  • basic geographic literacy
  • ability to spatially represent and interpret data
  • basic mapping skills
  • inquiry
  • analytical tools to use/interpret geographically referenced data
  • integration of different geographic understandings
  • chain of explanations: be able to explain things that are interconnected
  • transfer and translation of geographic knowledge
  • capacity for interdisciplinary research, thought, and expression
  • refer to for competency ideas
  • problem-solving
  • ability to discuss and make chains of explanation (e.g. Syrian Migration)
  • concept maps/mind-mapping
  • writing/expressing thoughts clearly (qualitative and quantitative thinking)
  • integrative; interrelated thinkers - knowledge transfer - discussion - linkages (mind maps)
  • explain “so what”
  • visual representations of space; patterns, meaning
  • see the “Big Picture” when presented with geographic data and phenomenon
  • identify key factors as explanation
  • ability to trace interconnections
  • knowledge translation - from science to policy and back (bridging)
  • data management
  • spatially integrated data - interpretation of multiple data sets
  • make predictions and apply conclusions to geographic evidence
  • find and assess geographic data
About both Human and Physical Geography:
  • math skills
  • recognize patterns in the world that relate to physical characteristics
  • ability to work with case studies
3. What areas of study and key concepts are important for students to learn about in a well-rounded and interesting introductory course in Human Geography?

One group summarized their work as such:
  1. Settlement - urban/rural/mega-city/migration
  2. Culture - conflict/change
  3. Environment - climate change/environ. degradation
  4. Economy - globalization/eneven development
  5. Geopolitics
  6. Colonial Legacies
One group created themes of content:
  • class, race, space, place, identity, gender, diversity, patterns, trends, locations, processes
Other submissions:
  • identification of…, applicability of…, interrelationships…
  • dynamic relations between humans and the environment and human-human relationships
  • scale - interdependence of scale from local to global (e.g. commodity chains)
  • nominative values
  • case study learning
  • inquiry and project-based learning
  • spatial literacy
  • how applicable geography is to all disciplines - interrelationships
  • different kinds of spatial analysis
  • representing the world visually (e.g. animations, maps, art, writing, photography)
4. What areas of study and key concepts are important for students to learn about in a well-rounded and interesting introductory course in Physical Geography?

One group summarized their work as such:
  1. Atmosphere
  2. Lithoshpere
  3. Biosphere
  4. Hydrosphere
    ... interaction and spatial distribution
A second group summarized their work as such:
  • Earth’s systems - and thinking about these systems:
  • Atmosphere
  • Hydroshere - Cryosphere
  • Lithosphere
  • Biosphere - Anthroposphere
    ... for all: processes and flows of energy and matter in each and between each system. Details within - refer to competencies and concepts
And also a third:
  • The Four Spheres (atmosphere, lithosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere)
Other submissions:
  • processes: glaciation, water erosion
  • structure/framework: tectonics, rocks, volcanics
  • systems: equilibrium, open/closed (e.g. watersheds), emergent properties
  • history - past events and conditions, current processes and landforms
  • multiple layers in landscapes
  • significance of physical features (e.g. as resources)
  • earth systems
  • linkages (e.g. between biosphere and lithosphere)
  • organization of phenomena
  • use more inquiry-based learning and media-based learning: offer examples and cases for investigating concepts and themes in geography
  • sources to be included: census data, maps, photos, images, government docs, northern BC archives
  • integration of knowledge
  • local physical geography (integration and experiential learning)
  • local interaction of the spheres
5. Anything else to add?
  • Suggestion: replace language in competencies — replace “assess the significance of…” with “appreciate the diverse nature of our world and patterns within it”
  • The Physical Geography draft does not mention the biosphere — exploring the spheres without the biosphere or ecology does not make sense
Facilitator’s notes :
  • The responses to both Question 1 and Questions 3 and 4 contain many items that the Curriculum Team will recognize as potential competencies in addition to thoughts about big ideas and content.
  • The list of suggested competencies related to Question 2 have great integration of human and physical — it seems likely that a single set of competencies could emerge for both geography courses
  • Most of the feedback group agreed that having a single integrated geography course would have more appeal to students — high schools in northern BC already have a hard time getting a single course of geography going, and might have a harder time trying to sell two courses, or one at the expense of the other