Wednesday, September 26, 2012


One of the best pieces of advice I was given growing up was simply this:  When you're in a hole, stop digging.  As if things couldn't get any more bizarre, Ron Bradley, hapless principal of Ross Sheppard High School has grabbed his proverbial shovel in an attempt to deal with the blow-back.  Apparently immune to logic and common sense, he is trying to defend his school's "no zero" policy.  Actually, it would be more accurate to call it HIS "no zero" policy as we see more and more teachers speaking out on the issue.

The part I find most ludicrous is his assertion that while the school records behaviours with an alphabet soup of different codes and then "go through a series of interventions," the student could wind up getting a zero anyway. So you implement a policy that only serves to frustrate and anger parent and in the end you end up going back on it?  Really, what's the point?

And while I'm at it, I've heard it mentioned in defense of this policy that awarding a zero is a cop out because it says to the student that they can just move on.  Ha!  Are you kidding me?  This principal obviously didn't know my parents very well.  If I got a zero in school, I just didn't move on.  My parents kicked my butt and the assignment got done.  Giving a zero is not a cop out, believe me.

One of the biggest arguments against the "no zero" policy of course is that it doesn't reflect what happens in the real world.  The counter-argument to this being, well, perhaps.  But for many students school is their reality.  OK. But their is still another reality beyond that called real life which lasts a heck of a lot longer then 12 years of schooling.  Give me a break.

I did have a couple of other points I wanted to make but its getting quite late for me and its been a long work day so I'll leave it at that until I can have more time to think and lay those points out more clearly. I will end by saying I'm glad that this issue is getting the attention it deserves.  This is a debate that needs to be had and I'm happy to see parents demanding their voices be heard.

I really do think the principal and superintendent need to stop and listen and think here.  They are already in a big hole and yet they continue to dig.  They better start listening to parents (who pay their salaries) and other teachers as well for this entire mess can only end badly for both of them otherwise.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Heading South

In another sign of the season, another flock of Canada Geese heads off for warmer climes. I've been seeing long wavy skeins flying overhead for over a week now.  I had to fight my way through a rather thick canopy of trees and they are at quite a distance so in the rush to get the camera out and find a big enough clear spot, this shot is the best of the bunch.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Letter From Edgar Schmidt

And the back-peddling begins as the Edmonton Public School Board reviews its idiotic "no zero" policy.  My inner cynic thinks if it weren't for the fact that a long-serving dedicated physics teacher hadn't had the guts to call these clowns out, this issue would have been swept quietly under the rug.

Schmidt sent a letter to parents in a pathetic attempt at reassurance.  After the feel-good language claiming to "[provide a] safe, caring and respectful learning environment", Schmidt cuts right to the chase.

We expect students to do their work.  When students don't do their work, we hold them accountable so that they learn what they need to know.

Wow, it almost seems as though Schmidt took a step into the real world with that gem.  But, how exactly, ARE they held accountable, Mr. Schmidt?  He doesn't go into detail on that.  Care to cite a study on how not giving out zeros is beneficial, Mr. Schmidt?  Can you provide one single, solitary scrap of evidence in support of this policy?  Just one?  Silence.  Indeed, Alberta has standardized testing at grade 3,6 and 9 along with Grade 12 departmental exams.  You would think then that there would be some way of showing how a "no zero" policy helps improve test scores.  But there is nothing.

We have not and will not pass students who do not complete their course requirements.

Garbage.  Really, if few parents are aware of your "no zero" policy, what else are they unaware of?  How do you expect the public to trust your leadership when you've given such a poor showing on this issue?  Of course you pass them.  I happen to know for a fact that this happens.  And I don't see how your board differs from any other.   I'm sure this has nothing at all to do with funding of course.  Now that would be downright silly.

By the way, you can find a copy of the Ross Sheppard School's grading and assessment policy here.  On the fourth page down you'll find the bizarre list of different grading codes you wind up with when you adhere to this senseless policy.  Remember, there is absolutely no evidence of its effectiveness.  Instead, we get an alphabet soup of assessment codes.....MPA, NHI, AMP, LDI, OMI.....OMG, give me a break!

Further details on the review will be shared in the coming months.

Months?  Seriously, how long does this have to be drawn out for?  It takes months to reverse an obviously bone-headed idea?  Of course, I'm sure it's no skin off Mr. Schmidt's back.  This tool will still get paid in the meantime.  Mr. Schmidt, how far do you think I'd get if every time Suncor was putting in an order from the contractor I worked for if I told my boss, "Ya. me a few months to think about it and write a report and I'll get back to you."  Give me a break.  Obviously, you don't live in the real world so I can understand in a sense why this silly policy may make sense to you.

Quite simply, no-zero policies lack and sort of empirical research support, interfere with teacher autonomy and, it goes without saying, are highly unpopular with parents.  This is an notion based more on ideology rather than evidence.  Understandably, the Edmonton School Board won't put this link up on their home page, which pretty much blows any sort of rationale for implementing a "no zero" policy right out of the water.

Mr. Schmidt, you have quite simply shown very poor leadership on this issue.  Evidently, there is no consistent implementation of this policy across this board.   Good grief.  Do the honourable thing, please.  Either admit your support of this policy is a mistake or resign.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Fall Colour

Fall colours here are more muted than what I grew up seeing in southern Ontario. Apparently my front yard trees haven't received the memo yet since they are still quite green compared to most other trees in the neighborhood. Anyhow, as time is growing short I decided to take what may be my last walk along the Birchwood Trail to soak up some fall colours.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Winter of the World

To say I've been over the moon this weekend would be an understatement.  After waiting for more than a year, the second book of the The Century Trilogy has finally hit the book shelves.  Generally I tend to read more academic stuff but since this book fits into the historical fiction genre I'll gladly make an exception. ..and I did get a 30% discount too as it turned out.

Truth be told, I only stumbled across this author by accident and had never even heard of Ken Follett before.  He's been a published author since around the time I started Kindergarten in the '70's....who knew?  Anyhow, it was last year that I noticed one of our summer students reading the first book of this trilogy, Fall of Giants.  A small image of WWI soldiers on the cover caught my attention so I asked her what it was about.  When she told me it involved not only the First World War, but the Bolshevik Revolution and various aspects of social history, I resolved to pick up a copy of my own.  In a nut shell, I read it cover to cover and was taken.  Granted Follett writes in something called transparent prose....very straight forward and understandable language.  It doesn't have a great deal of florid description, which is probably just as well, since the first two installments already run in excess of 900 pages.  Think of the Lord of the Rings....straight forward reading.  Sure, there may not be a lot of character development but the ultimate goal is to tell a great story.

Anyhow, I'm getting off topic here.  I haven't actually started reading this book yet since, after reading his other two historical epics, Pillars of the Earth and World Without End a few times over, I cracked open Fall of Giants to refresh my memory in anticipation of book two.  But I've waited, as I said, for over a year, so a few more days won't hurt I'm sure.

All I know so far is the book takes up right where the last one left off, following the fortunes of 5 families as their lives are caught up in the momentous events from the rise of Hitler through WWII to the start of the Cold War.

I've read some historical fiction and popular fiction before, namely James Mitchener's novels on the Caribbean and Texas as well as a little Pierre Berton (ardent nationalist that I am).  Having taken a history degree I always felt a sort of tension between popular and academic history and yes, for a time, I was one of those who viewed popular histories as not being real history.  Of course, historical fiction isn't real history either, but one of the things it can do (at least I find this the case for me) is that it pique ones interest and cause a person to look into something more carefully, whether it be a particular historical event, person or place.  I have to admit, I even learned a few things about world history by reading Fall of Giants that I hadn't even heard of before. This is one of the great things about historical fiction.

Finally, I'll end by saying that I know that both Pillars of the Earth and World Without End were both made into television mini-series and I made a point of reading the books first before considering the screen version.  I still haven't seen either one of them yet so mom, if you're reading this, consider this a hint for Christmas :)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

It's Coming

It was over the weekend I started noticing the trees in my neighborhood slowly changing colour.  A reminder is slowly starting to accumulate on my front yard although these leaves are pretty much all from the next tree next door.   I've quickly lost track off how many long wavy "V"'s of Canada geese have overflown the area here in recent days and there is a perceptible chill in the morning as I wait for my bus to work.  All signs that fall is right around the corner.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sorry, I Just Can't Stop Laughing Over This One

It must be tough to be Edgar Schmidt these days. He's the genius in charge of Edmonton Public Schools that very recently fired an experienced and respected physics teacher for the dastardly crime of giving students zeros on assignments not turned in. From having to justify a silly grading policy, I'm sure Eggie was on top of the world a few days ago when he was able to terminate the teacher. Fortunately you can't keep a good man down as it appears that Lynden Dorval, the teacher in question has been re-hired by an Edmonton private school.

While Schmidt may have thought he was getting some sort of victory, in the end he's only shown how petty and juvenile he is.  SURELY, there are more important things in education worth spending time and paperwork over than this sad series of events.  This only serves to highlight how out of touch the public school system is with reality in many respects.  Interesting that the school that hired him does allow zeros to be given out for incomplete assignment, exactly how the real world works.  Of course, this concept is totally over the head of Schmidt and Edmonton Public Schools.

Way to go Schmidt!  Good job at making yourself look like a complete idiot in such a public way!

And good luck with the new job, Mr. Dorval.  In the end, the cream always rises to the top and I tip my hat to you sir!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Camp Food

While its true that my job (and indeed many people's work here) involves some long hours, one of the little perks is the free food.  Most mornings before I head out of the lunch room I can usually count on a muffin or a danish (man, I love danishes!) courtesy of some of the guys that stay in camp.  People bring in their extras and I gladly do my part to ensure no food is wasted.  I was getting all sorts of sandwiches and wraps off one of our truck drivers for a goodly part of the summer and when I went a few days without bumping into him I joked I was relieved to see him because I had been wasting away to nothing in the summer heat.

Granted, yes, I know it's camp food and would hardly be considered gourmet.  I've eaten a lot of interesting things in my life, from raw seal meat in Nunavut to rooster testicle stew in Hungary (no kidding).  I'm not saying these things are tasteless (they aren't) to me because my taste buds are dead or anything but I do enjoy and appreciate any type of food I can get my hands on.   At the very least its extra energy throughout the day which I'm sure my muscles (what exists of them anyhow) will be grateful for as the weather slowly starts to turn colder.

Yes, for someone here that doesn't live in camp, I've sure consumed my fair share of camp food.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Disappointed But Not Surprised

I've been following the story of Lynden Dorval with some interest and while I'm disappointed in the Edmonton Public School Board's decision to terminate him, I can say I'm not all that surprised.  I was always taught that you get out of life what you put into it.  One would think that the EPSB Superintendent, having a Master's degree (oooohhh!  ahhhh!) would be bright enough to grasp this simple concept.  But no, according to this sorry excuse for an educator, it's okay to turn in incomplete work, or even not complete the work at all.  I'm not sure what planet Edgar Schmidt (phone number 780-429-8010) is living on, but in the real world, there are consequences for not doing an assigned task.  How disgusting this man sees fit to influence young minds with the notion that you can blow off work and not be held accountable.

(Mr. Schmidt, on the outside chance you read this, I'd like to throw out a challenge:  show me the research and studies that PROVE your moronic policy is somehow beneficial.  I'll read it cover to cover.  Seriously.  But until then I can only conclude that you, along with this outlandish notion of yours are simple full of crap.)

Interestingly, the EPSB website lists 5 district priorities, one of which mentions listening to staff and honouring their contributions.  Um, sure.  Here's hoping Mr. Dorval moves on to bigger and better things as he is obviously too bright to be working for such myopic dimwits in Edmonton.

As an aside, I bumped into a situation like this early on in my teaching career as it turns out.  In my particular case, I was told not that I couldn't give out zeroes, but rather I couldn't give out marks between 45 and 50%.  I'm not sure exactly what people were smoking when they came up with these numbers but anyhow, I had one particular student whose marks ended up being 47%.  I was told that I had two options in deriving a final mark: either issue a 51% and pass the student, or give out a 44%.  In the end, I gave out a 44%.  Harsh?  Perhaps.  Fair? Yes.  Because, this student had also heavily plagiarized an essay.  There are consequences for your actions, quite obviously.  So, the student failed.  But don't worry, Mr. Schmidt.  Did she go on to have a terrible, horrible life?  No.  A couple of years ago I was in touch with this student via email.  She went to college after graduating and is doing just fine.

What Schmidt seems incapable of grasping is that he is a public servant.  He should be accountable to the public.  Here's hoping the good people of Edmonton recall this story when the next school trustee elections roll around, demand the board re-visit this "no zero" issue (at it seems it will), reverse this travesty of an education policy and fire this sorry ass.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hey Let's Demonstrate Against Fort McMurray's Oil Sands by Protesting in Victoria

While admitting I don't entirely disagree with their message, I must admit to rolling my eyes when I came across a news item about a big protest (ok, sit in) regarding a certain pipeline.  I'm guessing having it at the BC legislature rather than here in the heart of the oil sands has nothing at all to do with the fact that Victoria is a major urban centre and has a much bigger media market than Fort McMurray.   Note to's the other major BC metropolis that is the city with the hockey team.  Forgive my cynicism but really, why is it that these people ever have the guts and determination to do a large-scale protest down Franklin Avenue here?

This all reminds me of hearing of major protests in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa against the seal hunt while I was living in Nunavut.  I guess Iqaluit either isn't worth the effort of getting there or these people were unable to read an atlas.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fire in Thickwood

There are a couple of apartment buildings here in Thickwood I pass by pretty much much on a daily basis and it came as quite a shock to learn that one of them suffered a major fire last night.  My bus to work passes right by the building but due to a thick fog and the fact that I was still half asleep, it wasn't until I got to work that I learned about the tragedy.   I recall seeing a couple emergency vehicles parked along the side of the road but thought nothing more of it at the time.  Plus the fire was pretty much out by the time I passed by.   One of my foreman told me last night's flames were visible from her vantage point across the river in Abasand.

Being an older, predominantly wooden structure, its not surprising the entire building is a loss. Additional photos can be found here.  What is surprising, bordering on the miraculous even, since I've talk of fire alarms not functioning properly, is that there were absolutely no fatalities or injuries.  I snapped a couple of stark photos earlier this evening after work.

Temporary shelters have been set up at a nearby church and school and I know there will be mechanisms put in place to help the 40 or so residents affected by the fire. Apparently, there is already a Facebook page set up for this purpose. Despite media portrayals of Fort McMurray as a rough and tumble boom town, I've seen many times how people here pull together in times of trouble and I know this time will be no different.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Arboreal Mystery Solved

A little bit of on-line searching finally led to me figure out what kind of tree I have in my backyard. It had always been a mystery to me and last night it dawned on me to pluck a leaf and use it as a reference when I looked it up online. I discovered the tree is likely some sort of hawthorn tree. I also discovered I was a tad allergic to it since I was hit with a runny nose and a short bout of sneezing after rolling the leaf through my fingers while I searched for photos.

My only difficulty was that there are apparently many many types of hawthorn trees and they are not all definitively classified. So in terms of what specific type I'm thinking its a snowbird hawthorn. At any rate at least I have a pretty good general idea of what it is. I'm not sure how old it is but assuming it was planted when the house was built circa 1981 this guy is a bit on the old side as the average life span is 40 years or more. But I expect I will still be able to enjoy for a while longer at least. I suspect its a tough old tree having survived a freak spring snow storm a couple years ago and my pruning efforts earlier this summer. Everything else I read up about the hawthorn seemed to fit....great shade tree for small backyards, low maintenance (I especially liked this part) and small white flowers (although with all the rain I had earlier this summer they never really bloomed the way I had hoped, likely due to all the rain).

I can also vouch that they make awesome birding trees with plenty of shade and a thick canopy for small songbirds to take refuge under.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sometimes I'm Glad My Son Lives in Ontario...

...because even though there are days when I miss him dearly, it brings me great relief and satisfaction to know that when he eventually reaches school age, at least he won't be attending the Edmonton school run by this idiot principal.

Frankly this principal,  Ron Bradley, is a moron.  "Sir", I want my son to be challenged both in school and in life.    Overcoming challenges builds perseverance  and character.  Passing along any child, whether it be mine or any other, does neither of these.  So please, do me a favour, stay in Edmonton so you won't pollute my son's mind and spirit with your stupidity.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Weather's Plans Differed From Mine

One of the challenges of living here is trying to fit your life around your work schedule. Long work days mean there are a myriad of other tasks that can get put on the back burner...until you have days off at least. With the number of extra days I had been working since May the number of things on my "to do" list seemed huge. Mind you not all of them were urgent, but there were just a few things I felt had been put off for too long and I just wanted them out of the way. Not only was this past weekend a chance for respite, it was my chance to start hacking away at my "to do" list. I suppose I should have realized how fool-hardy it would be to try to accomplish anything on a busy long weekend. Stores were crazy and traffic was, well, probably just normal Fort McMurray traffic, so rather than waste my time off immersed in a shopping frenzy I stuck around the house for the most part. Rainy weather also put a dent in some of my plans but such is life.

On a bright note, I did manage to look at some flooring for my bathroom, although trying to decide on the right colour was more difficult than I thought. No one will ever accuse me of being the most colour-coordinated of people. In any event at least it was a chance to see what was available. I also had some quiet time to tuck into a novel (the first book of a trilogy) I'd been planning to re-read to re-fresh my memory before the second installment comes out later this month. Inspite of the rain, I also spied a visitor I hadn't seen in my front yard before..a purple finch. I have seen them before (back in May) so not very often and I don't recall seeing one this close to the house before. True, it's not the best photo, but I was trying to keep the cat out of my way as she was perched on the window sill and seemed very interested in our little visitor.


 Between rain showers yesterday, a more common visitor arrived.