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


New Trends in Education: Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning – Implications for Evaluation and Assessment

June 9, 2011

Thanks to the Ontario Literacy Coalition (OLC) for inviting me to be part of their webinar series. In case you missed the program this week on “New Trends in Education: Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning: Implications for Evaluation and Assessment” you can watch the recording here:

Here’s the link to program, too: http://youtu.be/6iH_ikNmn9I

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.

The 3 C’s of 21st Century Learning and Leading: Creativity, Collaboration and Capacity-Building

April 13, 2011

What are the skills needed for 21st century leaders? I’d argue that they’re the same skills needed for 21st century students and learners. Why? Because the students and learners of today are not only the leaders of tomorrow, but also the leaders of today. Notions of leadership are changing. The component of leadership that involves wisdom gained through life experience will always rest with those who have more of that experience. But young people are pushing the boundaries of technology and social change. Here are the three skills leaders of today – and tomorrow – need…

Sarah Eaton - blog - iStock photo


Leadership today need to be creative problem solvers. The issues that are arising challenge all that we know about the world and how to make it right. Authoritarian or cookie-cutter approaches to problem solving simply won’t work in the 21st century. Even the ability to “think outside the box” won’t be enough. Instead, learners and leaders will need to be able to say, “‘Box? There is no box.”

If you’ve seen the movie, The Matrix, you may remember a scene with the small boy who bends a spoon with nothing more than his mind. When Keanu Reeves’ character, Neo, asks him how he bent the spoon, the boy replies, “There is no spoon”. A similar idea of thinking beyond what we currently know to be possible will be a common characteristic of 21st century leaders. A creative and open mind will drive that ability.

Sarah Eaton - blog - group of children


Young learners and senior leaders alike need to know how to play well with others. We accomplish more when we work together. There needs to be trust, appreciation and a willingness to join forces and collaborate. Phrases such as, “Trust me… just do it my way.” or “Because I’m the boss and I say so!” just won’t cut it in this century.

In this century, everyone has the ability and capacity to be both a follower and a leader. Those who try to exert authority over others without their consent will not only be questioned, they’re likely to be shunned. Learning to appreciate others’ strengths won’t be enough… Learning how to leverage each other’s strengths will be a key to working together, creating new work, solving problems and achieving new goals.

Geographical boundaries have been almost completely transcended in the first decade of this century. In a few more decades, people won’t think twice about working with someone at a distance on a collaborative project. Those who don’t partner and collaborate effectively will be left behind. In a century driven by technology, people skills are – and will continue to be – more important than ever.


Twenty-first century leaders will have the ability to look at those around them and help them build their capacity in order to help them grown personally. That growth will add to the organizational growth. In addition to leveraging one’s current strengths, there will be a drive to explore and learn by doing.

This century, more than any other period in history is passionate about – even addicted to – creating new knowledge using technology, to inventing new and visionary projects and making things happen on a large – even global – scale. To do so, a dedication to lifelong learning not only for ourselves, but also for our colleagues, partners and team members will become the norm. Learning in a traditional classroom has already been extended to the Web, to podcasts, to television… Learning, professional development and continuous self-creation will happen almost any place, any time.

Wonderous things await us in this century… for learners and for leaders. Each of us is both a learner and a leader in the 21st century. I, for one, believe in our collective potential and look forward to what we can create together.


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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.

Live Internet Video for Language Learning

February 24, 2011

Web-based video is a hot topic in 21st century language education. The Internet offers a cornucopia of options for language students to include video and television in their target language in order to help them learn the language. Researcher Elizabeth Mejia points out that “video” can mean a variety of things including popular films, documentaries, television advertisements, materials produced by textbook companies to accompany their books and accompany classroom instruction, educational broadcast and amateur videos made by teachers and students.

Sites such as YouTube and Vimeo offer educational videos, as well as “how to” videos produced by language teachers and students alike. Students can get tips, study strategies and answers to question through such video sites.

In addition, news sites such as CNN, Deutsche Welle and the BBC offer multilingual live, real-time news casts, available both on television and via the Internet. At the time of this writing, for example, Deutche Welle offered current news in 30 langauges. The BBC has an entire section of its website dedicated to language learning that includes courses, testing and activities all centred around real world news.

Web-based, live video has become an valuable augmentation, and may eventually replace, static video that is stored on tapes and DVDs, as a means to offer studetnts exposure to relevant and current information and content in a multilingual context that connects them to real issues of pressing concern around the globe.

Live Internet video provides a means for language learners to make sense of the world around them, while making sense of the language they want to learn.


Mejia, Elizabeth. Video in Language Education:  Making News Broadcasts Work for You. Retrieved February 23, 2011 from http://lookingahead.heinle.com/cnn/mejia.htm

Ten Trends in 21st Century Education

December 2, 2010

Learning in this century differs greatly from education of the 20th century in some ways. As the first decade of the new millennium wraps up, we can look back and see these trends that have emerged and are likely to continue in the coming decade.

  1. Increased use and integration of technology.
  2. Globalized approaches to learning.
  3. Awareness of economic factors affecting education.
  4. Need for a highly skilled, competitive workforce.
  5. “Borderless” and cross-border education.
  6. Increased student and faculty mobility.
  7. Individualized, customizable, learner-centred approaches.
  8. Strategic partnerships and alliances among governments, school boards, schools and individual educators.
  9. Emergence of non-formal and informal learning, driven by technology
  10. Frameworks, benchmarks and other asset-based approaches to assessment.


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If you are interested in booking me for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.

Global Education Conference

November 16, 2010

The Global Education Conference, November 15-19, 2010 brings together educators from over 62 countries. Over 300 general sessions are being held, all on line, during a variety of time zones. There is no formal registration required for the conference, as all the sessions will be open and public, broadcast live using the Elluminate platform, and available in recorded formats afterward.

Presenters are sharing their slides on the conference’s Slideshare site.

Today I gave a session on Global Trends in Language Learning in the 21st Century. I’ve posted my slides there, too. Here’s a quick link to them, too.


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7 Global Trends in Education in the 21st Century

September 9, 2010

The Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration invited me to give a Spotlight presentation today via webinar. I took the research I’d done on Trends in Language Learning in the 21st Century and expanded it, examining trends in education as a whole in the 21st Century. The main question I wanted to answer was:

What trends are occurring in education in both developed and developing nations, at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels, as well as in adult education regardless of whether the education is pubic or private, on every continent of the world?

The research is still in progress and so far, 7 main trends have emerged:

  1. Technology use and integration – Technology will not only enhance education, it will drive learning of all kinds.
  2. Expansion of mobile technology – Technology will become increasingly mobile, meaning that opportunities for learning will – and already do – exist everywhere, all the time.
  3. Asset-based approaches to evaluation – At the classroom level (through the use of portfolios), at the regional or national scale (through the use of benchmarks) and on a multi-national or international level (through the use of large scale frameworks).
  4. Increased creativity – Knowledge will be created and co-created, not simply “imparted” by teachers. Students are not just taking in facts, they are creating new knowledge.
  5. Global approaches to learning – Shared interests, curiosity and a hunger for learning are driving us to reach beyond our own borders.
  6. Global mobility – Teachers and students are experiencing more of the world, more often, starting from a younger age.
  7. Borderless education – The barrier of geography is being transcended by technology, creativity and a desire to “go global”.

Check out the slides for the presentation here:

21st Century Global Trends in Education (2010)


This is what participants said about this webinar:

“The webinar on Global Trends in Education in the 21st Century was very informative.  The easy-to-understand format presented developing trends in the field of education with a focus on how technology is impacting learning.  I highly recommend using these webinars as a means of keeping abreast of an ever-changing field.” -Debbie Fontenot

“Dr. Sarah Eaton’s informative presentation on Global Trends in Education reflects all of the current research on best practices for teaching/learning. I applaud her vision as we navigate  a new mindset in education. I would like to think of my colleagues and I as 21st Century Teachers Without Borders.” -Deborah Gavin, The Haverford School, Conshohocken, PA, USA

APA citation

How to cite this for your own research:

Eaton, S.E. (8 September, 2010). “Global Trends in Education in the Twenty-First Century”, presented online at the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC).


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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.

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