Politics and Climate Change Info

My views on our environment, sustainability and the politics of it all

Content Area Literacy Assignment 3 October 30, 2011

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The Link Between Reading and Writing

Reading and writing are intrinsically linked together, both possess similar cognitive and socio-cultural characteristics, and require that the individual utilize their skills to compose or interpret meaning (Vacca et al., 2005).  Skilled readers and writers are both involved in the development of ideas, activation of prior knowledge (schema), working with purpose and commitment, revising or rethinking meaning, and being aware of the audience you are addressing and the content you are conveying (Vacca et al., 2005). Therefore, connecting reading and writing activities, whether it is before, during or after reading, assists students to explore the ideas they have encountered, and think more deeply about the underlying meaning of the text which resultants in greater learning of content material, deeper understanding of the material and increased knowledge retention (Vacca et al., 2005).   As outlined by King (1995) if  we desire that our students do not simply memorize materials, but actively engage in their own learning, we as teachers, must provide assignments that foster this type of thinking and learning.  The key to critical thinking is an enquiring mind, which means a learner is always asking questions, and trying to understand the world around them.  King (1995) suggests that the role of teachers is to help students, through a variety of techniques, to develop the skills needed to ask relevant questions, and therefore become effective critical thinkers.

School and Classroom Composition

Grade 8 Science

The class consists of two students with dyslexia, two ESL learners, and six second generation Canadian students from various cultural backgrounds (China, Germany, Brazil and Vietnam) who speak English fluently.  In total there are 29 students in the classroom, which is laid out in a horseshoe shape, with various work stations and sinks along the border of the classroom. There are four long desks that make up each horseshoe shape and three students can sit at each desk. The school is located in a less affluent neighbourhood in an urban setting.  One of the greatest challenges faced by the teacher is repetitive absences.

Today we are addressing prescribed learning outcome C4 – explain how human vision works.  In a previous class we diagrammed the components of the eye, and students have taken the time to know the parts that make up the eye. Today’s lesson will be to understand how our eye receives and processes light.

Introduction of Lesson       

Teacher: Yesterday, we looked at the different components of the eye, and took the time to draw a representation of the eye in our journals.  In class today, having built upon the information associated with the eye, and how its components enable us to see, we will take about 8 minutes before the end of class to write in our journals about what we learned.   As you may recall, we watched a short video clip pertaining to the way the eye functions and also worked in jigsaw groups to understand and teach specific information on how the eye works. If you get stuck for ideas when writing in your journal, I have posted some questions on the board that you can  think about to develop more thoughts on the topic.

  1. How could you explain to a younger sibling how your eye works to see?
  2. Is there any additional information you would like to learn about for the parts of the eye and how they function?
  3. What do you feel you understand best about how the eye functions?
  4. Is there any aspect of the function of the eye that you can relate to other information you already understand well?


Student: Do you have a journal for me?

Teacher: Yes, of course Dan.  I have one right here.  Since Dan is new to the class, can anyone briefly outline for him how we use our learning logs?

Student:  Well we write about how we feel or think about something, like the eye and how it functions, after having learned about the topic.

Teacher: Can we write about anything relating to the eye?

Student: Well, yeah, but I think the goal is more to give us a memory of what we learned in class and how we understood it at the time.

Teacher: Very good.  Yes, try to write about your understanding of the topic.  It’s important to  remember with our learning logs, that though we sometimes share out writings with the class, or further develop our ideas to create some to hand in to the teacher, your learning logs will never be marked.  The key idea behind a learning log is for you to develop ideas and how you understood the ideas presented it class.  It’s not about the spelling or grammar. Are there any questions before we begin?

Student: Do we have to write like we would in a standard journal?  Sometime I like to draw pictures in my journal and it helps me remember things better.

Teacher: That’s also an excellent question!  I am content with you drawing a picture of the eye, to help you to understand how it functions.  Sometimes, it’s harder to draw a picture that relates to what we’ve learned in class, but today for the eye, I definitely think that’s a possibility.

Sample Journal:

Light enters the eye, passing through the cornea.  It passes through a bunch of liquidy layers (called humours?) until eventually reaching the retina.  The retina is the important part because it’s the place where light is detected.  It can do this because it’s lined with a substance called melanin that makes the retina black – like the inside of a camera.  The retina detects light in the blackness with two different types of light receptor cells – rods and cones.  Rods are for low light vision and cones are for colour and details, which is why we have many more rods (100 million) than cones (7 million).  When light hits the rods and cones they create a bunch of chemicals that then send electrical impulses along our optic nerve to the brain.   The part of the brain that receives the signal is the visual cortex, and it interprets the images that have been sent.

Analysis of Strategy

The benefits of learning logs can be experienced by all students within the class, no matter culture, language or ability level.  The is because the use of learning logs is an effective way of allowing students to reflect upon the material they have learned in class, in a concrete manner.  It allows students the freedom to express “what’s on their minds, clearly and without pretence” (Vacca et al., 2005), in a manner that is personally relevant, and helps them to realize where their knowledge is lacking without fear of making mistakes or exposing their difficulties to their peers.  Journaling allows students the time to reflect on the experiences they have had, creating organization of sometimes messy events and generates greater understanding and retention of information through this process (Boud, 2002).  Students should be encouraged to place emphasis on returning to the event in their minds, examining what happened and identifying the feelings we may have had in this process.  These key elements will facilitate the re-evaluation of the experience they have just had, and help to make the experience more personally relevant (Boud, 2002).

When using learning logs, students should be encouraged to use any method that works for them to represent the information they have acquired.  This might be in the form of a story, a drawing or a step by step list of how something occurs.  Allowing students the freedom to describe information in a way that makes sense to them, is how learning logs can reach such a wide range of students, including students with dyslexia.  Dyslexia is not simply an issue that affects a student’s ability to read.   Dyslexic students typically have handwriting challenges, difficulties spelling, and often experience difficulties when composing a written product, or when trying to acquire meaning from a written article (Pollock et al. 2004).  Dyslexic students often become discouraged by their perceived prior failings or inabilities, leading to more inattention to written words, and less overall engagement in the classroom (Berninger et al., 2008). Therefore, it’s important to foster social acceptance, hope and the value of perseverance in the face of adversity in order to keep student desire for learning higher.  In the attached video they discuss some of the challenges faced by dyslexic people, reasons to preserve in the face of dyslexia, and ways of addressing dyslexia. 

Unfortunately, mild to moderate dyslexia issues are often ignored and students feel as if there is a great deal of pressure upon them to perform at the level of their peers.  Therefore, providing students with the opportunity to write in a journal, or allowing concessions, such as using a blog or a laptop in class, can help dyslexic students to overcome some of the challenges of messy handwriting or spelling and help them to express their own ideas in a relatively low pressure situation (Pollock et al 2004).  In the instance of ESL learners, Winebrenner, discusses how the continued practice gained through journaling, can help the whole language process and improve fluency (1996).  This is not only true for ESL learners.   There is repeated emphasis that learning logs are most effective when used consistently for an allotted period of time (approximately 5-10 minutes) at the end of each class, (Vacca et al. 2005), because all “students need varied and frequent experiences with writing as a tool for learning”(Vacca et al., 2005)
The teacher also plays an important role in the usage of learning logs.  Teachers should be routinely reviewing the items students have written in their logs, in order to identify student misconceptions or lack of understanding immediately.  The awareness of knowledge that journaling facilitates allows both teachers and students to undergo a process of identifying where knowledge needs to be developed further – assessment as learning.  Teachers gain insight into where students are weakest, and can tailor subsequent lessons to review or further address these topics, while students are able to better identify their own problems and where they need to improve (Vacca et al., 2005).  Further, the teacher can assist students to develop more in-depth knowledge of ideas by initially asking students to write in their logs to address specific questions that refine and identify important information from the lesson. The teacher can also help students to build up their own note-making skills through individual feedback on written articles, comments or additional questions, that get students thinking more in depth on a topic.

At times, because they are not receiving a grade for their work, students may feel that learning logs do not play an important role in the classroom.   It is important to remember when faced with a challenge such as this that until recently, the effectiveness of journal writing on improving student learning had mainly been evaluated qualitatively through teacher observations (Connor-Green, 2000). Yet, quantitative studies conducted on three university classes of psychology, have also shown that using journal writing not only significantly improved student grades, but also received positive feedback from university students indicating a higher level of learning due to increased interaction with the topics studied (Connor-Green, 2000).  In order to develop student accountability for learning logs, it is sometimes useful to inform students that some responses will read out to the class, or further developed as a graded article.   This techniques  makes students feel more accountable for what they are writing and more inclined towards creating a thoughtful article to the audience of their peers (Levine 1985). However, if this strategy is being used, it is more effective to give students the freedom to choose from a range of articles to develop or share, firstly because students can choose work that they are proud of, and secondly because they can choose a writing that has meaning to them, which makes it more likely they will put in greater effort and retain the material more effectively.  The process of developing a written article also has the additional benefit of  guiding students who have weaker writing skills, through the, pre-writing, writing, revising, editing, publishing process, in order to develop a finished product for grading (Winebrenner). Dyslexic students specifically, have shown significant improved writing abilities when exposed to explicit writing instruction writing (Berninger et al., 2008).  This is evidenced in one method found effective in developing spelling skills for dyslexic students where 6-8 key words are placed on a card, which the student can refer to as they need when writing spelling.  As the student becomes more proficient at remembering the spelling, these words can be replaced by others (Pollock, 2004).  Additionally, the idea of accountability and use of learning logs can help to increase learning despite student absences.  The teacher can request that absent students review the materials on their own time and develop a learning log entry for that topic.  As learning log entries are usually short, and rarely focused on grammar or spelling, it is within the capabilities and time constraints of many students to write up a few notes on their own pertaining to the lesson that was learnt the day they were absent.


No matter culture, language or ability, students, through journal writing, will be able to diagram, describe or take notes on the concepts they have understood from a lesson.  The freestyle nature of the writing allows students to express themselves in ways that are relevant to themselves and therefore retain and understand a greater quantity of information.  Students from alternate cultures can incorporate aspects of home life or alternate learning that may reflect on their knowledge of the topic, while dyslexic students do not have to fear that they will be graded poorly for bad spelling or messy handwriting.  ESL students can use simple sentences express themselves and still gain further English writing practice to develop fluency, and students with weaker writing skills can benefit from classroom development of ideas into written assignments.  Journaling in all its forms can help students of differing abilities, cultures and languages to develop their own ideas, critically interact with the materials being taught, and retain and understand lesson topics.  Journaling also helps teachers to reach a wider range of students, by giving students freedom to express themselves individually, understanding where topic comprehension is lacking, and providing an easy but effective tool to address absentee-ism.


Berninger, V., et al.  (2008) Tier 3 specialized writing instruction for students with

Dyslexia. Reading and Writing, 21(1-2), 95–129

Boud, D. (2002).  Using journal writing to enhance reflective practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2001(90), 9-18.

Connor-Green, P.A. (2000). Making Connections: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Journal Writing to Enhance Student Learning. Teaching of Psychology, 27(1), 44-46.

King, A. (1995). Inquiring minds really do want to know: Using questioning to teach critical thinking. Teaching of Psychology, 22, 13-17.

Pollock, J., Waller, E., Pollit, R. (2004). Day to Day Dyslexia in the Classroom – 2nd Edition. RoutledgeFalmer, New York.

Vacca, Richard T., Vacca, Jo Anne L., Begoray, Deborah L. (2005) Content Area Reading – Literacy and Learning across the Curriculum. Toronto, Canada: Pearson.

Winebrenner, Susan. (1996) Teaching Kids with Learning Difficulties in the Regular Classroom: Strategies and techniques every teacher can use to challenge and motivate struggling students. Free Spirit Publishing, Minneapolis.


Moral Relativism December 18, 2010

I love watching TED, because it gives you all this amazing food for thought!  Today I watched a talk by a man named Sam Harris on the topic of moral relativism and how science can in fact explain and describe moral behaviour.  Although some of his prejudices regarding various religious belief systems were patently related to social conditioning, I thought his argument on this topic was very well thought out and articulate and I would not disagree with 95% of the ideas he conveyed.

It is a very interesting phenomonon, as he discusses, that although in almost every other area of our lives we will conceed to there being “experts” in various arenas (ie. there are experts at football, and experts in chemical engineering, experts in nutrition and experts at knitting) yet for some reason we feel that all opinions are equal when it comes to morality.  How are there no experts in morality?  I think in order to address this question, you need to identify where morality stems from, and it clearly stems from actions an activities that benefit society as a whole.  Many years ago there was no birth control and so having sex before marriage was morally reprehensible.  Making this action morally wrong protected women from having to raise children without  any assistance.  However, should the behaviour of consensual sex now be considered morally inferior?  We are led to believe so in our Christian society, yet there is no moral deficit in having sex with someone in a consensual manner.
So, by addressing morality as the optimal conditions for society to flourish and individuals to have peaceful and meaningful lives, there must intrinsically be experts in morality!  Jeffery Dahmer is not someone whose opinion we would consider when discussing morality, and conversely the Dalai Lama is someone to whom we would listen.

Although I don’t agree with Sam Harris’ opinion regarding veils and muslim dictates in the way that he expressed himself, I do agree with the underlying attitude he is trying to express.  All people, regardless of race, religion or gender should be provided with the opportunity to chose their actions for themselves.  If that means that people wear burkhas or conversely walk around town wearing bikinis, that should be their choice.  The world is getting very small very quickly and may well continue to do so over the next 100 years if we are to survive the coming climate change crisis.  Addressing moral behaviour in such a manner that morality is promoted as the best way to benefit society, and science can give value to this, is a very interesting concept in our current time of religious uncertainties.


Green School December 9, 2010

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My friend (whom some of you know) Lars, recently posted this as a place he would like to teach.  I watched this presentation on TED and was so moved that it made me cry.  This is why I loved living in Asia – because you can make your dreams come true.  The Green School is what I envision for the future of schooling, and what I would love to teach as a teacher!  Although, now that I’m curious how to pursue something like this in Canada, I can’t possibly imagine how difficult it would be to set up a school like this here.

Initially, I thought about returning to Taiwan after completing my teaching degree, but if this is even possibly an option, I will likely consider going here instead.  It seems that they are just this year starting grade 10 sciences, which means that in a year or two, maybe they will have positions available for a high school science teacher with an incredibly interest in permaculture practices!

And it has made me re-think my plans for the summer.  Maybe instead of going to France to study French, I could stay here, study French and help out at the sustainable farm in the Cowichan Valley.  Will consider this more in the coming months.  I am so grateful to my friend Lars for showing this to me!



Connectedness and our Social Participation Today November 28, 2010

I watched a Ted Talks presentation on youtube today, and was blown away by how true it seemed.  It’s incredibly interesting to me to see the motivating factors for people in todays societies, and what the results are of these motivators.

In the presentation, Brene Brown discusses her research into connections between people.  Connections are the reason that we are all here and what makes life meaningful.  Her question was “why is it more difficult for some people to achieve this connection than others?”, and “what personal qualities are necessary for connection?”.  I found her explanation of these ideas extremely insightful.

After watching these two videos it made me curious why this has only become a crisis in the last 40 years.  I have my own theories, but am interested what others might think on this topic? After watching these movies, why would you think that the perception of  ‘meaning of life’, connectedness and vulnerability have changed so dramatically? Do you think these perceptions play a role in our opinions regarding the environment, being socially active or politics today?



Dachau – How Does it Relate to Today’s Political Issues? November 26, 2010

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So the other day I was iunich, which happens to be right next to the original concentration camp – Dachau.  I didn’t know this upon arrival to Munich, as I had only really heard about BEEEER!, but was definitely interested in seeing what it was like, especially after having visited the Bomb Dome in Hiroshima.  Turns out the Dachau trip was a very different take than the Bomb Museum in Japan, and without the tour guide we had (who was awesome – thanks to Gordon), we wouldn’t have gotten even 1/100th of the info and insight that was did from the visit.

There are so many misconceptions that we seem to have in North America about WW2 and the concentration camps.  Apparently a vast quantity, but not all of this misinformation stems from the movie Schindler’s List, which while a great movie, is not entirely accurate.  So let’s start at the beginning of our misconceptions:
1. We have the impression that the Aryan race was supposed to be an entire populace of blonde haired, blue eyed ppl.  Such is in fact not true.  The Aryan race was simply people who could trace their Germany ancestry back 3 generations.

2. Dachau was the first concentration camp and some say it was not a “killing camp”, which is also not true.  Dachau was the first stage of creating the entire system of concentration camps.  All the training for all personel who worked at all the concentration camps was conducted here.  It was where torture techniques were developed and perfected.  It was where all of the psychological warfare techiques that were conducted throughout the nation of Germany and occupied territories were perfected.  They had a gas chamber and it was used, more for testing various combinations of gases to see how they killed, but it was used nonetheless.  Many many people died in Dachau, both from disease, deliberate gassing and torture.

3. Only Jewish people were in concentration camps.  Again, simply not true.  Concentration camps exsisted 6 years before WW2 even started.  They were used as a method of keeping “political disidents” quiet.  When Hitler first came to power, he declared a National State of Emergancy because the economy in Germany was so horrific.  This gave him power to arrest anyone he so choose, stating that they were an enemy of the state.  The first 6 years of concentration camps only contained German citizens, most of whom were not Jewish, but instead were the entire liberal elite who opposed Hitler and his tactics.  With his state of emergancy, Hitler managed to successfully cull out any voice of opposition that would’ve been raised again him in his own country.  It was only much later, after world war 2 started that Hitler also sent the Jewish people to concentration camps.

4. Anti-Semitism was only a thing in Germany, and Germany was the only country that supported Nazism.  Again, not true.  In fact, in the 1930’s, most of the world was anti-semetic, and it was the popular thing to do.  Most politicians actively and vocally supported Hitler in his anti-semetism and the largest Pro-Nazi demonstration in the world actually took place in Times Square, NY.

5. People and other nations didn’t know what was happening in concentration camps.  AGAIN, WRONG.  Dachau was in fact used for TOURS!!! Can you believe this?  Many nations, include the USA, France and England all came to see these concentration camps that Hitler said would purify the nation.  They saw that there were many facilities for the inmates and that things were very clean (which they were in the beginning) and so supported the fact that all these people were imprisoned without trial or any charges being filed against them.

6. All concentration camps were disgusting and dirty.  Also not true.  At teh start Dachau was pristine and you would be tortured if you were in any way dirty.  The prisoners all had beds, they were showered regularly and provided a tolerable level of food.  However, this level of cleanliness was used a method of fear, because if anything was out of place, you or anyone else could be tortured or even killed due to your oversight.   It was only in the end of the war, when there were too many prisoners being sent to concentration camps from the occupied territories and there wasn’t enough coal to burn all the gassed bodies, or enough food, that things started to get really gross and disgusting.

NOW, the thing you probably didn’t know at all:  When entering a concentration camp, the state would take a. your passport, b. your bank accounts, c. all property and items belonging to you.  In this way the state gained great wealth, because they had a constant source of income.  Then they put the inmates to work in munitions factories in order to re-arm Germany.  Hitler marketed his “slave labour” idea to big business and they thought it was a great idea (including companies like BMW and Mercedes), so used these political prisoners to build new war machines.  Hitler re-armed Germany from NOTHING to what he fought WW2 with, in the course of 6 YEARS!!! This includes tanks, airplanes, submarines and a navy!  Hitler was initially hailed as a HERO for bringing his country out of economic depression.  OF COURSE you could bring any country out of depression by taking all the land and assests of the people and turning them into slaves!

It’s really downright fucking scary to think how similar all of these ideas sound to things that are being thrown around today about how Muslims are bad and how Europe needs to be cleansed of their Turkish illegal immigrants. How people are being held in Guantanamo Bay without being charged, and how the economy is depressed and something needs to be done, even if it infringes on the rights of the people.  Living in a fear based society was the way that Hitler controlled first his own nation of Germany and then the countries that he invaded.  And the craziest thing – the Gestapo tried for almost 12 years to acquire all the info on people that were in their country… info that we just post now on Facebook for anyone to see!

I have to say that visiting Dachau was probably the most eye-opening and insightful thing I have done in probably the last 2-3 years of my life.  It was incredible!  Certainly much more interesting and amazing than the drinking of beer in Munich could ever be! 🙂



Permaculture April 25, 2010

Recently, I completed a Permaculture Design Certificate.  Everyone I mention that to, says “what’s Permaculture?”.  Well to answer their question, it’s a design strategy used to conserve resources intelligently so we can maintain habitat for human sustenance, and in so doing ensure conservation of wild lands for the earth and animals that also reside here.

I love the concept of Permaculture, because it gives you the tools to make a difference, and not feel helpless, and all the while you are able to sustain yourself, and potentially many others around you.

I watched this presentation, from TED, the other day where a man was trying to save Orangutan habitat and took a piece of completely devastated land, and not only created habitat for Orangutans, but also food for people and his system now supports 1000s of local people.  It used to be that the people living in this area were the poorest in Indonesia, but with this system, they now have food, clean drinking water, and jobs, their land is regaining health, and there is now habitat for the Orangutans.  If this isn’t a perfect description of how things can be, then nothing is.

Here is the video: Willie Smit’s 20 Year Tale of Hope


The Hoax of Climate Change January 17, 2010

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Since I have made it well known to people that I’m quite interested in the topic of climate change and how to take care of the earth/environment, some people have sent my way movies or youtube links that act to discredit the “myth” of climate change.

While I feel that everyone should make their own decisions, and should carefully weigh the data provided before doing so, the idea that climate change is a hoax  is simply preposterous.  I have watched some of the movies that say they “debunk” climate change.  Some of these series or movies actually go so far as to manage not to be cheap rip offs of Zeigeist.  However, the main question I think everyone should ask themself when it comes to climate change is WHO STANDS TO GAIN THE MOST if climate change is “not real”?

First lets break it down into terms everyone can understand:

1. Who has money?  Corporations or Non-Profit Organizations?

2. Who has a vested interest in seeing climate change not be real?

3. Who controls the vast majority of government interest in the United States? (hint hint – it’s probably the people with the money)

4. Who most wants the status quo to remain the same?

5. Who will do whatever it takes to make this happen?

6.  If you still haven’t figured out the answer, maybe you should ask yourself and the George W. Bush administration where ARE the weapons of mass destruction that were supposedly in Iraq?  Why DID the USA go into Iraq? It couldn’t possibly have been because of OIL, now could it?  Of course, it was because of the weapons that they never found.   Who stood to gain what from this situation?

I have watched some of these asinine “debunk climate change” programs and have to say, I’m not convinced.

One scientist argued “well, climate and weather has always been changing.  We can’t know that what we are doing right now to our environment is what is causing the change”.  While what he says is true, can we really afford to be wrong?  Look, for example, to the dinosaurs.  They were in no way responsible for their climate change, yet it happened, and it killed them all.  Is this what we want to do to ourselves?

If you went to a doctor and he told you that you had cancer caused by smoking, and after visiting 20 other doctors for further medical opinions, you came up with 18 doctors telling you that you had cancer, and 2 doctors who were paid by SMOKING COMPANIES saying that you did not have cancer, who would you believe?

This is the exact same thing that is happening with the “hoax of climate change”.  Scientists, who are paid by coal, oil and car companies (who don’t want to limit their CO2 production) make movies in which they tell you that climate change isn’t real.

The flip side is that there are non-profit organizations, many of whom work for free or make very very little, and scientists who make a living on government grants, who are telling that climate change is real, so that they can achieve what exactly?

a. That they can beg the government for a little more money so they can try to broadcast their message to the ignorant masses?

b.  They are all communists, so they are secretly trying to undermine corporate stability and bring down the government?

c. They have nothing better to do with their time and therefore waste it working for free?

d. all of the above?

WHAT EXACTLY do the people who are saying that climate change is real HAVE TO GAIN?????  Absolutely NOTHING!!! NOTHING!!!!

So, no matter what the asinine argument put forward, shouldn’t one question the motives behind the people who are telling you “the truth”.  It seems to me, that in our society, the ones who have the most to gain or LOSE are the ones who are going to do whatever necessary in order to sow confusion and doubt.  Whether there is accurate data supporting their theories is irrelevant.