“Math Wrath”: Are parents pushing for a return to tradition?

January 13, 2014

Recently, Canada’s national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, published, “Math wrath: Parents and teachers demanding a return to basic skills.” The article talks about a movement by some Canadian educators and parents to put greater emphasis on developing concrete math skills such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and less focus on discovery and creative strategies.

I find myself fascinated by this debate. I have long wondered about “creative strategies” in education. At the very beginning of my teaching career I took the Gregorc learning styles test. I came out perfectly balanced between all four quadrants: concrete, abstract, random and sequential. Apparently, that’s not particularly common. What it means though is that I can see and appreciate a variety of different learning styles.

Over the past 20 years or so (about the length of my teaching career), I have noted a distinct shift away from concrete sequential learning. Order, logic, learning to follow directions and getting facts seem to have diminished in value, while experimentation, risk taking, using intuition, problem-solving, learning to work in teams and focusing on this issues at hand all seem to fit with the creative learning strategies that have become popular in recent decades.

There has been a notable shift away from valuing sequential learning, structure, learning to follow precise directions and memorizing. In decades past, educational structures and systems may have favoured the concrete sequential learner. Today’s educational systems favour a more random or exploratory approach.

The debate has become almost vicious in some educational circles. Those who favor teaching methods that are concrete and sequential have been poo-poo’ed or dismissed by colleagues who insist vehemently on the random nouveau. I have known colleagues who have been quietly yet unapologetically exited from their teaching jobs because they continue to insist that their students follow directions, do activities in a particular order or memorize.

I worry a bit about the defiant horror expressed by some educational experts and parents at the idea of memorizing. While I agree that rote learning may not employ the highest levels of our cognition, memorization has its place. Learning to say, “Please” and “Thank you” are largely memorized behaviours. Learning to stop at a red light and drive on a green light is also a memorized response. Memorizing how to do CPR could save someone’s life.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I believe that we need to go back to the days of corporal punishment for an incorrect answer based on memorization. What has always puzzled me though, is how quickly methodological fashions change in education. When a new way of learning or teaching is introduced, old ways seem to be immediately, unequivocally and vehemently dismissed. Really good teachers whose background are more traditional than fashionable are thrown out along with their teaching methods.

Do we need to take a step back and look at models that integrate and value a variety of approaches? Would it be wise to hesitate… just a little bit… before we denounce traditional methods as being heinous and abhorrent, with only newer and more fashionable ones as being worthy?

I wonder if the obsessive focus on creativity, exploration and problem-solving might be doing some harm that we can not yet predict? Perhaps a small dose of memorization, learning to follow specific directions and learning systematically might be helpful?

Personally, I give both children and adults more credit than some educators or policy makers who insist on a singular approach to learning, regardless of whether it is systematic memorization or exploratory problem-solving. Being the utterly complex and capable creatures humans are, surely we can cope with both memorization and developing creativity simultaneously?

It’s the drastic swings of the policy pendulum that should worry us. The unflinching insistence that exploratory methods are the only legitimate or credible ways of learning should make us nervous. Polarized and uncompromising opinions on the singular “best” way to learn should be considered suspect.

There is almost always more than one “right” way to learn.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


21% of employees are Facebook friends with their boss, study shows

February 14, 2012

A recent article in Znet, gives a synopsis of a research study done about employees who are friends with their bosses on Facebook. Here are the highlights:

Sarah Eaton social media speaker Calgary consultant Alberta CanadaThe study was conducted by Russell Herder, who surveyed over 1000 employees in the U.S. in late 2011.

Two interesting points in the article:

Of the 21% of those who are friends with their boss, they are more likely to be younger employees.

Being Facebook friends with their boss leads them to believe it helps them do their jobs better.

In terms of who initiates the FB relationship, 46% of the employees initiated and 38% of the bosses initiated.

Male bosses are more likely than female bosses to connect on social media, the study reports.

The article recommends that companies have a written social media policy governing what the expectations are for all company employees.

Another recommendation from the researchers is for leaders to fight the urge to retreat or over-react to friend requests from employees. Until recently, organizational leaders have often been coached to avoid interacting with subordinates on social media. That is beginning to change as more and more people begin to adopt social medias as part of their social interactions, both on and off the job.

Organizations (that includes companies, non-profits and educational organizations alike) are beginning to see social media for what it is — a means to engage and connect with others.

Are you Facebook friends with your boss?


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Webinar: How to Develop a Social Media Policy

February 14, 2012

Sarah Eaton social media technology speaker presenter webinarThis week’s webinar with Chinook Learning is “How to Develop a Social Media Policy“. Its designed for organizational leaders and managers who have to cope with guiding employees’ use of social media in the workplace.

Social media has changed how people interact with each other on line. Marketers talk about social media strategies, but that is different from an organizational policy that is designed to guide and govern users’ behaviour in social media settings. This course is based on this article “Anatomy of a Social Media Policy” that I wrote last fall, published by Social Media Today.

Participant outcomes

By the end of this webinar you will:

  • Understand the differences between a social media strategy and a social media policy.
  • Understand the basics of social media governance.
  • Know the critical elements of a social media policy.
  • Understand the importance of dialogue when it comes to striking a balance between users’ rights and responsibilities.
  • Gain a deeper understanding of what a social media policy is and how to go about developing a relatively simple, straightforward policy for your organization.


  1. Social media policy – Definition and overview; Differences between a social media strategy and a policy.
  2. Social media governance – What social media governance means for organizations, employers and employees.
  3. Anatomy of a social media policy – Learn the critical elements of a well-constructed social media policy and how the various elements work together to create a fully functioning and effective policy. Learn what they key parts are so you can build your own simple, straightforward policy.
  4. Balancing users’ rights with their responsibility to their employer. Why it is important to dialogue with users in your organization and tips for doing this effectively.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Nelson Mandela’s first language being cut from South African schools

January 24, 2012

Nelson Mandela is a man with a deep commitment to defending human rights. He also speaks English as a Second Language. His first language is Xhosa.

A recent article from the Times Alive in South Africa reports that language classes for both Xhosa and Zulu are being cut in South African state schools. The main language of instruction in South African schools is English. Prega Govender reports that until this school year, students were required to take classes in two additional languages, but this year, that requirement has been changed. Now students are only required to take one additional language.

Most schools in the area are opting for Afrikaans as the additional language of choice for students in that region. The article reports that in one case, the Xhosa language teacher has been re-deployed to teach Afrikaans this year. The decision seems to be driven by numbers:

“Last year, 68455 matrics countrywide wrote Afrikaans as their first additional language, whereas only 10943 wrote Zulu and a mere 1547 wrote Xhosa.”

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am strongly opposed to the removal of language programs from a curriculum.  There are a number of reasons for this:

Benefits of learning additional languages for cognitive ability

Research shows that the benefits of learning additional languages extend beyond language and cultural skills. Learning additional languages also has a positive effect on a person’s general cognitive ability (Kimbrough Oller, D and Eilers R.E., 2002). Specific research has also found that students who study other languages also score better on math tests (Bournot-Trites, M. and K. Reeder, 2001; de Courcy, M. and M. Burston, 2000; Turnbull, M., S. Lapkin and D. Hart, 2001 and Turnbull, M., D. Hart and S. Lapkin, 2003). The benefits of learning additional languages are clear and have been documented time and time again through research. We know that the more languages a young person is exposed to, the more capacity he or she will have to develop lifelong multilingual skills.

When languages are removed from a curriculum, it sends a message that the language is unimportant

It could be argued that students in South Africa will still enjoy these cognitive and linguistic benefits, since they will be studying Afrikaans as an additional language. That may be true, but making the decision to remove Xhosa and Zulu from the curriculum sends a strong message that these languages do not matter in formal education in that region.

While I do not profess to understand the complexity of minority languages or the politics of South Africa, I have studied the concepts of formal and informal education extensively.

Young students who speak Xhosa and Zulu as first languages at home have now lost the opportunity to learn their native language in an organized, formal environment, as a shared experience with peers. Though they may continue to learn the language in the informal context of the home, we know that informal learning is considered the least legitimate and is less respected than formal learning.

By removing these languages from the curriculum, those who have the responsibility and authority to set policies and make decisions send a strong message that these languages lack sufficient legitimacy to be included in the standard curriculum of formal education in the region.

Language abilities are linked to leadership skills

In previous research I have discussed how some significant world leaders, such as Ghandi, leveraged multiple languages to extend their leadership reach. Nelson Mandela’s first language is Xhosa. While not a perfect human being, he has arguably been one of the world’s most influential leaders over the past several decades. What message does it send to teachers, parents, students and indeed, everyone living in the region, that this leader’s first language, which was formerly offered as part of the standard state school curriculum, has now been cut for students in the younger grades?

While the article reports that students may still take the language in later grades, cutting it from the curriculum for children in grades one to three sends a strong message that it is not as important as math, science or even Afrikaans. Those subjects are considered part of the critical foundation of the young learner’s formal education experience. But Zulu and Xhosa… these are superfluous options that can be added later.

I worry when languages are cut from curricula. I worry when students and parents get the message that language learning is not important. I worry even more when they get the message that their first language is not important, as is the case for Xhosa and Zulu for many young people in South Africa. Formally recognizing the importance and significance of learning first languages in a plurilingual society such as South Africa is critical.

As educators worldwide we must do everything in our power to prepare the young people of today to lead the world tomorrow. Learning additional languages will help them do that.


Bournot-Trites, M. and K. Reeder. (2001). “Interdependence Revisited: Mathematics Achievement in an Intensified French Immersion Program.”

de Courcy, M. and M. Burston. (2000). “Learning Mathematics Through French in Australia.”

Eaton, S. E. (2010). Leading though Language Learning and Teaching: The Case of Gandhi. Retrieved from ERIC: http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED508664.pdf

Eaton, S. E. (2010). Formal, non-formal and informal education: The case of literacy, essential skills and language learning in Canada. Calgary.

Kimbrough Oller, D and Eilers R.E. (2002). “Balancing Interpretations Regarding Effects of Bilingualism: Empirical Outcomes and Theoretical Possibilities.”

Turnbull, M., S. Lapkin and D. Hart. (2001). “Grade Three Immersion Students’ Performance in Literacy and Mathematics: Province-wide Results from Ontario (1998–99).”

Turnbull, M., D. Hart and S. Lapkin. (2003). “Grade 6 French Immersion Students’ Performance on Large-scale Reading, Writing, and Mathematics Tests: Building Explanations.”

Related posts

Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning: What Are the Differences?

Formal, non-formal and informal learning: The case of literacy and language learning in Canada


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

30% of people under 30 say “social media freedom” more important than salary

November 20, 2011

While employers are struggling to crack down on employees’ social media behaviour, young professionals are saying “Don’t bother trying. We won’t be controlled”.

In a story called “Great Tech Expectations“, The Province reports some startling statistics about the Millennial generation (those under 30). The article draws on research presented in the 2011 Cisco Connected World Technology Report. The research surveyed 2800 students across 14 countries, all under the age of 30. The findings revealed that:

The study, which surveyed 2,800 college students and young professionals in 14 countries, found:

  • 56%of college students “said that if they encountered a company that banned access to social media, they would either not accept a job offer or would join and find a way to circumvent corporate policy.”
  • 1 in 3 respondents younger than 30 said social-media freedom and workplace mobility were more important than salary.
  • A quarter of college students said a prospective employer’s policy on social media usage would affect their decision in accepting or declining the job.
  • In India and China, more than 80% of respondents said their primary work device should be mobile.
  • More than 70% of college students said they didn’t want to differentiate between “personal” and work-related devices – “company-issued devices should be allowed for personal and business use because of the daily blending of work and personal communications.”
  • 70%  also say they want to be out of the office regularly, working remotely.

Read the whole article.

While employers are fighting to control what employees are doing on line, employees are fighting for their online freedom. This is especially true in education, where school boards argue that teachers are role models for children and often impose strict social media guidelines. It also applies to other industries where companies and non-profit organizations are desperately trying to figure what to do — and they want to do it quickly.

If you’re in Calgary, join me at an event hosted by the Canadian Industrial Relations Association this coming Thursday. I’ll be on a panel of experts debating with a lawyer and an arbitrator about how to deal with social media challenges at work.

How do you feel about employees using social media? Or employers trying to control your use of social media?


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

University’s Proposed Social Media Policy Results in Student Protests

October 27, 2011

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently released an article about an article about how a university’s proposed social media policy backfired on them. Reporter Alexandra Rice reports in “University’s Proposed Social-Media Policy Draws Cries of Censorship” that students at Sam Houston State University didn’t take kindly to the administration having access — and editing privileges — to their social media accounts.

The university released a new social media portal called Social Universe was deemed to be a one-stop portal for social media users at the university. The original policy draft indicated that any department or organization  that joined with a university e-mail account would be required to surrender their account passwords to the university, thus giving the university the right to oversee and edit activity on all accounts.

Essentially, this meant that any student, staff, faculty, department or student club with a Facebook, Twitter or any number of other online accounts that was registered with a university e-mail address could be monitored, edited, censored or even deleted by the university.

The students cried censorship. They staged a demonstration against the policy that included a “free speech wall”. That resulted in campus police citing students for creating a public disturbance… a situation which rolled itself into a second “free speech wall” later on.

In my humble opinion, if this university truly wanted to craft an effective social media policy, it would involve its users. By this I don’t just mean having reps from the student union sit on a committee, but I mean a large-scale public conversations over a period of time with all social media users at the institution.

Writing social media policies is tricky business. As this university found out, social media belongs to its users, not any one service or organization.

Policy makers are used to having all the authority when it comes to developing procedures, processes, and behaviour guidelines. Social media, social networking, flash mobs convened via Twitter and text and other forms of social interaction using technology have changed all that.

Power to the people has a whole new meaning in the era of social media. Policy-makers need to involve people, not tell them what to do. The old ways aren’t working any more, so find new ones that will.

Related article: Anatomy of a social media policy


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

The Anatomy of a Social Media Policy

October 14, 2011

Woo hoo! I’ve just had my first article published on “Social Media Today”. The article is “The Anatomy of a Social Media Policy”. In it I outline all the critical elements of developing a social media policy for both corporate and non-profit organizations.

Go check it out. If you like it, please Tweet about it and share it on Facebook and other social media. I’d love to have your comments, too. Thanks.


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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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