Mac or PC

photo from

photo from

I’ve always been a PC girl and rode the upgrades from black screens to, well, black screens (less power hungry, right?).  I’ve lived through many blue screens of death and marvelled at how Microsoft Office has evolved.

Then a couple of years ago, my daughter went to high school – a mac school.  She strutted around the house with her uber-cool white macbook while I remained chained to my PC running Windows XP (with SP2, ok?) and dual processors which took 10 minutes to boot. It was time to upgrade. I said no to macs. “I know PCs, it’s what I use at work and I have to stay good at it.”

First came the iPod Touch – a birthday present. Nice.

Then came the iMac – a Christmas present. Nice squared.

Then, finally the iPhone – a Mother’s Day present. Nice cubed.

The upgrade is now complete. I cannot deny the generosity of my husband but I know that deep down, this was his way of tipping me over to the i side (so far no sign of iPad…yet). I still have my PC (laptop) at work and really loving my mac products and how well everything integrates….who knew?

So, what has all this got to do with my learning blog?

There’s a lot of talk about students driving curriculum and student-centred learning and pursuing student interests, etc. (you get the drift).  I wasn’t interested in having Apple products at all though the interest did grow as I got a taste bit by bit.  Having been exposed and challenged to learn them, I find myself finally a convert. I did not know I could like these things; I’m sure the Apple guys predicted this result but really, it could have gone the other way!

The full curriculum especially in secondary schools is full – and more things get added – because curriculum designers put in things that students might never hear about otherwise.  This is almost as bad as saying “one day you might find it useful”, I know.  The reality is, most teachers feel powerless to change the curriculum, accountable as they are to deliver content.   )Fight for change, by all means, but until then….)

The point really is not to view education in a utilitarian way – not everything we learn is useful or fun – but that education is about opening eyes to new things, ideas, experiences, places, people, etc. and in so doing, grow.

As educators (parents and teachers alike), we have to help students view their education as such.  As learners ourselves, we model what it means to learn.  Sometimes it’s useful. Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes it’s painful or embarrassing.  Learning is becoming better than if we never learned at all.

Mac or PC? It really doesn’t matter all that much. That I’ve learned both and someone cared enough to push me, now that matters.

On Bliss and Passion

A week ago, I read this post on living a bliss-centred life by Hugh Macleaod ( a cartoonist, photo is one of his creations). It was the first time I heard of Joseph Campbell and  his “Follow your bliss”. Macleod said that seeing for the first time was an “aha” moment, and in answer to the question of how, he says:

You just decide to do it, and then you go and do it. Or not. Whatever. It’s your call. It’s your path….Nobody can do it for you. Nobody can go there for you….

This echoes the same themes mentioned by Sarah Kay and discussed in my related post describing one’s journey.

One of the comments on Macleod’s post alluded to the accessibility of “Follow your bliss”, in contrast to the almost-cliché, “Follow your passion” (who hasn’t heard of that?).  Is there really chasm between these two? is the question I’ve been mulling over in the past week.

I tend to agree with Macleod’s  interpretation of bliss as “that mysterious place where the central energy of being finds it source”, particularly since Campbell purportedly hit on the idea from the Upanishads, with bliss juxtaposed with being and consciousness. I would interpret bliss as that state when you are really true to yourself and you feel fully alive.

How might I follow my bliss or passion? First, I have to answer what it is I need to follow.


I can still remember when I first realised that the reason I love drawing was with a few pencil strokes, what once was a blank piece of paper is transformed into art (in my eyes, anyway). Or that with a few melodic or hamonic touches of the piano (or guitar), music is created. Or with a few words I can form a tweet and with a few more, a post. Or from a multitude of resources on the internet, I can craft something coherent and engaging to facilitate learning.

When I create, I follow my bliss.


I love change and wondered if it constitutes following my bliss. Truth is, I love change when I see it as an opportunity for improvement. What I love, then, is the challenge to do things better and not change for change sake.  A challenge is an opportunity to create and innovate. Challenges are how I push the boundaries of who I am and who I am not, what I can do and what I cannot.

When I face a challenge, I follow my bliss. Failing a challenge, while disappointing, is part of the journey and I gain from what I learn anyway.


One of the hardest things since I became a parent is to claim some “me” time. That said, I have this need to connect with other people: family and peers either face-to-face or via technology.  People are so interesting and they are a good source of challenges and inspiration to create.

When I connect, I follow my bliss. That I’m dis-connected sometimes heightens this bliss.

What of passion?

I am passionate about learning and the main driver to setting up this blog over a year ago.  My pedagogical principles revolve around facilitating learning. I admire those who share the same passion as both affirming and challenging. By connecting, I am able to learn whenever, where ever and often from people I will most likely not meet face-to-face.

“Follow my bliss” is how I follow my passion. Equally, “follow my passion” drives me to follow my bliss in new and innovative ways . There is no chasm between these two as far as I’m concerned.  A good personal example is my one-off stint years ago to join the hundreds-strong choir along with the Sydney Philharmonia Choir at the Sydney Opera House to perform Handel’s Messiah. It was a challenge. It was connecting with others. It was (music) creation. It was a time of much learning on my part.

Do you follow your bliss and/or your passion? Do you know what constitute these? How can we help kids follow their bliss and passion?BLISS

Why teach Simultaneous Equations?

Questions?photo © 2008 Valerie Everett | more info (via: Wylio)…a Critical Thinking exercise…

Tom Barrett asks the bigger question: “What is the purpose of education?” My limited scope is an attempt to distill many ideas, often incongruent, in a hopefully comprehensible post; I could fail in this attempt.

A bit of Context (optional background info)

I am not an expert on Philosophy or Psychology and often struggle to understand the technicalities. However, wrestling with ideas does not preclude appreciation of nuggets.  These are some I’d like to use as a context for this post.

I like the ideas behind Glasser’s Choice Theory wherein actions (or in-action) are products of choice/decision-making to suit our basic needs: survival, love and belonging, freedom, power and fun.

I also like the ideas of David Seedhouse in his book Ethics: The Heart of Health Care. I have only read Chapter 2 as a necessary background for the Values Exchange Program (also by Seedhouse) I’m involved in. Seedhouse posits that ethics provides a theoretical framework for practical decision-making in professions that affect lives of other people (health care certainly, but easily applicable to teaching). Seedhouse makes a distinction between everyday – what we “use” regularly, sometimes without conscious thought and with inconsistencies – and technical ethics – ethical theories, including utilitarianism, designed by moral philosophers to provide a foundation avoiding the “vagaries of everyday ethics”.  I find most intriguing this idea of deliberative ethics, considering the best ways to achieve the potential of oneself and others.

I have also previously posted on the usefulness of Philosophy in teaching and learning, in particular creative and critical thinking.

Teaching as a practice of deliberative ethics

I follow many educators on Twitter and blogosphere.  The admire the passion voiced by these people who choose to learn, educate, facilitate learning, prepare students to become positive contributors to society, etc. (you get the drift).

With the framework of everyday ethics, contradictions eventually arise as my recent Twitter conversation with Matthew Campbell and Josh Stumpenhorst. I am definitely inclined to think of technology as a tool (a means to an end) just as these guys do. Yet, I argued in this conversation that for some, technology is an end in itself stating as a really good example (I think) Jack Dorsey the co-founder of Twitter – for him, technology is an end to pursue…ok, so it can be used as a tool (re: Gary Stager’s blog post). Notwithstanding my debate with Matthew and Josh, this is a very good illustration of how I contradict myself using everyday ethics as a framework. If I keep using this framework, I’ll drive myself up the wall asking questions like I do.


With the framework of deliberative ethics, however, educators unite in the desire to draw out the potential of learners in our care as well as of ourselves. (I am not going into drawing out “the best” as I have issues with that – subject of another post).  Our own unique deliberative processes – subject to our values (what we hold dear) – inform not just what we teach but how we teach it.

Many issues plague education making educational reform a hot topic, not just in #edchat. Not the least of these are the currency and relevance of the required curricula and focus on standardized testing.  The latter are constraints educators are ever mindful of. To look at it from an everyday ethics perspective is naturally divisive since every sector of society has a different set of values, some contradicting (e.g. every individual is important but not at the risk of maintaining a “good” society).  The point is not to stop the debate but rather to highlight that when we raise our views, we do so in awareness of our deliberative processes AND respect those of others.  Just because we disagree with others does not make their point any less valid than our own.

Why teach simultaneous equations?

Solving Simultaneous equations is part of the required syllabus and included in standardized testing. I can choose otherwise but in fact, I do choose to teach it because I am accountable to teach it – it is the “right” thing to do, as I don’t want my students to miss out.  I have to teach it because one day it could be useful like if some of them end up as engineers.

In short, I teach it because I choose to. BUT, I’ll keep asking why or why not or why else.  Questioning is part of my deliberative process and perhaps one day, it’ll lead to a different answer….or perhaps to no answer at all. I believe @lasic calls that doing philosophy.


Many links have been provided above but many more are absent. Discussions with fellow educators like Bianca Hewes, Mitch Squires, Nathan Hutchings, Tim Milkins, and many more helped me get confused and sometimes understand. Join us in our musings on #42c.

How can we teach critical and creative thinking?

The catalysts for writing this much-procrastinated post are these posts on the same theme by Bianca Hewes (@biancah80) AND this by Giorgio Bertini.

Bianca posed the same question as my title and my immediate answer was – teach them the way you learned to be a critical thinker. Thinking back, I know there were several ways for me though the most influential would be learning Information Systems Analysis and Design and Philosophy (and Theology) – both at college/university level. Let me focus on the latter because G Bertini appears to have successfully used philosophy in his classes.

I did enjoy the content of my philosophical and theological studies, some of which have stayed with me even now (as mentioned in About Me). But, it;s not just the content – largely irrelevant and too abstract for kids younger than 15 perhaps. Philosophy as a study of what is fundamental is a way of learning, so-to-speak.

Here are some practices to foster if we are to teach critical and creative thinking.

It is okay to question

Nothing prepared me when my Philo professor asked, “How do you know you’re real? (differentiate reality to a dream and vice versa)”. I was only 16. Moreover, going to a Catholic university, the last question I expected was “Is God real?”. These are heavy questions to contend with and we did study several discourses to answer them. But for this post, what I want to highlight is that with philosophy, you soon learn it is okay to question. More than okay, it is integral. Questioning is that important to philosophy and critical and creative thinking. Asking “what if” is part-and-parcel of the process.

In teaching maths, I’ve tried to instill in my students that it is okay to question what I say or write – in a polite way, of course. I am fallible.

Adjunct to this is that students must feel safe to question. That involves among other things, no put-downs, follow-up, some fun activities (not all activities must be graded or marked), knowing the kids, teacher as facilitator (don’t let them drown in the unknown).

Find different ways to respond

There’s no point asking questions if there is no intent to find answers. As mentioned, we studied various philosophers and theologians – thinkers. All were logical though I have to admit that in theology, I found the discourses into the existence of God ultimately required a leap of faith.  I doubt that any of those would have convinced an atheist, logical or not. The point is, in order to teach thinking, it must be modeled, preferably in various ways and concretely.

In maths, this can take the form of equations but also of diagrams and reasoning (esp. in Geometry). It is worth showing that sometimes there are multiple methods to arrive at the same answer. I also remember when I told my year 9 class about Descartes (cogito ergo sum***) before launching into a lesson on the Cartesian Plane – they were enthralled; sometimes maths is so abstracted that students forget maths is wrought by human hands, or minds, more like.

Encourage group work

We had a lot of group studies, especially in preparation for oral exams. These group studies showed me how limited my thinking was and how through open discussion my thinking expanded and grew. That was learning with and from others outside of the classroom even.

I find that for younger years, it is easier to assign specific roles to play in group work – especially for assessments. I also like to play around with group sizes; mostly I find 2-3 most workable in maths.


***Descartes said: Cogito, ergo sum.  I think therefore I am. I can doubt everything except for the fact that I am thinking now. Thus, my existence is proven by the mere act of thinking. (my extremely simplified version of Descartes’ philosophy on existence)

Do you think these practices would help?

Parents as partners in teaching

If education serves the purpose of preparing children to be responsible adults then I believe parents have a significant role. Such an education can not practically be the sole responsibility of schools.

Many parents I know, myself included, are interested in what their children are doing and learning. There can be issues that range from language, time constraints and ability levels to just sheer inability of some children to articulate what is going on in a way that parents can connect with. This article from the UK Guardian, Parents struggle to help with homework, have some salient points.

Even anecdotally, I know that Maths is a subject most parents are reluctant to help with. Prior to becoming a maths teacher, I can list a few reasons why: (1) changes in terminology, (2) changes in methods, and (3) what teachers say take precedence over what parents say. There may be a seed of truth in the Guardian article mentioning that parents can do more harm than good. I remember a time when a Year 7 parent asked why her daughter has not been taught the “multiplicative inverse in the division of fractions”. Seriously, in year 7!  For the record, it was taught but without the snazzy words. Apropos, the term we now use – reciprocal – is not necessarily more meaningful.

One of the things I’ve done to empower parents is to create a class website on Weebly. If nothing else, I hope to tell parents a little bit about the terms and methods discussed in class, e.g. I never used pronumerals when learning Algebra, ditto many parents, for sure. How I was taught maths is not how I’m teaching it  (see previous post).

I don’t aim it to be a maths website replicating a myriad of resources but rather a portal into my class with pre-selected resources actually used in class and accessible from home. This does not replace the website we have in the school portal which contains far more detail, especially at the operational lesson-level. This also does not replace the usual channels of communication: phone, email and Parent/Teacher interviews.

Serendipitous to the day I read the Guardian article, I’ve had some discussions with more experienced teachers about the website’s sustainability and value. I have no qualms saying that it is sustainable enough given my vision for it; also, I find Weebly easy enough to use (I recommend it) . I am less sure about the site’s value. What can I say? It is like leading a horse to the water with no guarantee that it will drink. I did have one parent email me to say that he appreciates having it.  That is enough, for now. That and the fact that, as a parent, I see its value as well. A bit of context: parents have limited access to the school portal hence the push for an external web.

Parents can be partners in teaching. Mostly, they want to be. As teachers, here is an untapped resource that, with a bit of help and communication, can help achieve better outcomes for our students. By the way, I am all for parents – and teachers – modelling how to handle being stumped and making mistakes. Perhaps naively, I don’t agree that parents helping can do more harm than good.