Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Applications to GOLD from outside the Vancouver School Board

Recently, word has been passed that David Thomson GOLD Program and Prince of Wales GOLD Program could consider students for intake who have home addresses outside the boundaries of Vancouver.

I believe that this sort of application would be the exception, and that all in-District students interested in placement in a GOLD program would need to have been cleared from the wait-list. In addition, the host school (DT or PW) would need to be able to create a timetable for the student.

Creating a timetable for a student is a complicated process, and requires a delicate dance with class size and class composition rules set out by Bill 33 and the teacher's collective agreement.

An opportunity to fill a vacant spot at Grade 9 recently arose in one of the GOLD programs. A student living in a southern municipality seemed to be an appropriate fit for the program. His current educational situation is going very poorly. All educators, adults and the student agreed that the GOLD placement might be the perfect fit--however the school discovered that they would not be able to create a workable timetable without forcing overages in several classes.

Given that the student was applying for admission three weeks into the school year, was applying from outside the VSB, and carried the "Q" (Learning Disability) designation, the school just wasn't able to accommodate the student.

Although this particular attempt didn't pan out, the fact that the application was not rejected out of hand because it came from a non-Vancouver family, should be kept in mind.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Videogames & Emotion

This week, a TED talk that generated some energetic and thoughtful discussion was that of game designer David Perry ( His presentation included some thought-provoking insights into the minds of some designers--that many of them are looking hard at questions such as "Can a video game make a player cry?"

Now, many of you older cynics will be saying, "Of course, when I (parent) take it away from my screen-addicted kid." However, in the GOLD room, this question was viewed as a statement of desire--that the game designers are looking to increase the range and depth of emotional responses to their products. They, of course, want to create "fun" games--but they also want to create the sort of artistic, aesthetic, and emotional impact that a feature film can elicit.

Perry then presented a short, student-made video piece in which the creator, Michael Highland, discussed his experience of the world as being profoundly impacted by his immersion in video gaming. At one point Highland says, "my own car has 25,000 miles on it, while the sum total of miles I've driven on various driving games is 37,000 is a strange thought--that more than half of my experience driving is in the virtual world." He continues by suggesting that his reactions, knowledge, and appreciation of driving have been influenced strongly by his virtual experiences.

Highland asserts that his perception of reality has altered due to his gaming experiences. He recognizes the power of this influence and warns that games could become powerful tools of manipulation and control--more effective than 1984-style propaganda and torture.

I asked the students to discuss the following questions following watching Perry and Highland's presentation:
  • Have you noticed times when your interaction with reality was blurred/overlaid/or heavily impacted by experiences you had through gaming?

90% reported that they had--ranging from physical reactions to sudden noises that seemed to stem from a combat game--to experiencing deserted parkades, dark and quiet city streets, or confusing crowd situations as snippets of various game settings. A few pointed out that classwork, such as reading about WWII, had been heightened through their memories of playing games such as "Battelfield 1942."

  • I then asked, "how would this be different than the influence "Jaws", "Saving Private Ryan" or "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" had on my life, my perception of reality?"

The GOLDies, in general, seemed to have no trouble seeing that movies can change our perceptions of reality, and touch us emotionally--however, many of them feel that good video games have far more potential to involve and influence than a three hour movie.

  • "Are you, as players, concerned about the potential to control or change people-populations through games?"

Not much consensus among the groups on this issue--most felt that they take their cues on morals and ethics from real-life adults and institutions in our society--and are savvy regarding manipulative techniques.

  • One senior student shared the following scenario: his brother had been called by his parents to joing the family for dinner, and the brother refused on the basis of being "in the middle of a raid' (in World of Warcraft). This apparently led to some heated debate in the household. The brother explained that he held an important role in a team of people working cooperatively on a difficult and intense challenge. He acknowledged that his time-management had been faulty, but there would be no way for him to withdraw without endangering his teammates.

When I asked the kids to pass judgement in this scenario, many quickly asked "how often is your brother in this sort of situation? does he do it all the time? If so, your parents were right." (So, many of your kids do acknowledge the primacy of family and real-world over game-world.) But Kelson then asked, "what if your brother was playing a basketball game that was going into overtime when your parents wanted him home for dinner?"

Many of your kids see the team and the mission of an MMO (massively multiplayer on-line game) as being as valid and worthy as a school sports activity--there are real-world associates behind the on-line game team-members--people to whom they feel loyalty.

This got me thinking: strategic planning, resource management, communications, committment, team-work, interpersonal psychology, coordinated action--all appear to be essential ingredients for success in MMOs--aren't these some of the skills we (educators, parents) are hoping to instill in our children?

Could games be tweaked by altering the rules regulating how one could achieve "success" in the game world to encourage pro-social and ethical behaviour (with one's team-members at least)? Would this lead to greater real-world social awareness? "It would lead to a boring game that no one would play, Bromige."

Below I include a portion of the discussion that has arisen on the TED site regarding this presentation:

Norman Bearrentine – October 12 2008

Video games are not the only source of virtual reality in town. As Highland said in the video Perry showed, a good insurance commercial can create experience real enough to bring tears to those of us who become easily immersed. The same is true of books and movies.The difference between these kinds of virtual reality and physical reality is that we can step away from the video game, movie, or book, and become aware of the technology that produced the experience. It is impossible, however, to step away from the brain, which is the technology producing our experience of "physical" reality. All our experience happens in the brain, and the only difference in the varieties of experience is the kind of technology that provides the brain with its material--books, TV, movies, video games, or none of the above.Our experience of the physical world is as virtual as anything else; the only difference is in the kinds of constraints involved. In a novel, we're constrained by the author's skill and our own past experience--the emotional and physical repertoire we bring to the book. We're constrained by the technology and programming of the video game and movie as well. In our everyday virtual experience, we're constrained by the limitations of our sensory apparatus, and by the stimuli the physical world gives our brains to work with--we can't see magnetic fields; we can't see through walls.Although we can never experience reality directly, we can become more aware of the technology that produces the virtual reality that we live in--our brain. We can become more aware of its limitations--optical illusions can baffle it--and we can become more aware of how our history has programmed our brains. Our parents, schools, friends, culture, etc. have instilled ideas about what is real and important. The sciences of sociology, psychology, and neurology can help us gain perspective on the forces that have produced our current reality, and offer ways of enlarging on prior programming.

Highland – October 12 2008
(snip) I agree with you to a great degree that both academics and game developers are really just beginning to deeply understand how the ways in which video games generate feelings/emotions in players. Despite that fact, I believe video games today are already offering a ' uniquely powerful experience' whether the creators fully understand that potential or not -- I think it's up to players to be more self aware in their gaming, and to begin to think bigger about the experience of gaming. I don't think the paradigm shift you speak of is going to propagate from the established game development community but from gamers who are able to understand their own virtual experiences well enough to lead in the synthesis of virtual worlds that achieve the same universal potency as popular films. To be a great film maker I think one needs to be more sensitive than the average person to the filmic techniques that effectively communicate experience. The same can be said of game players/designers.

(to) Norman Bearentine - I'm glad you made the point about the virtuality of the 'real world'. I think we often forget that our whole lives happen between our ears, and that arguably our experience of the real world is no different from virtual experience apart from the constraints of the respective interfaces.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Studying & Homework

Through Googlebooks, I've been having a look at Dr. Glenn Hirsch's book Helping College Students Succeed: A model for effective intervention (2001).,M1

One important aspect of Dr. Hirsch's approach is that those who aim to assist students in improving their performance at college or university is that they must help the student identify their own goals and desires--as opposed to those of parents or society. If, through this process, it becomes evident to the student that improved performance at school is integral to achieving personal goals, the necessary motivation for change and improvement will have been discovered.

For GOLD students, I feel that it is very difficult for many of them to see why they need to work hard at tasks they see as painful AND pointless. Dr. Hirsch, working with a population that has presumably exercised some level of choice by deciding to enter post-secondary, probably has less distance to cover when he sees students struggling with motivation. "If lack of motivation is the primary cause (of poor academic performance) then this must be addressed first..." (p145). At the secondary school level we have students who have been told "you must go to school--all kids go to school--this is the ONLY path to health and happiness."

Putting the coercion and pain aside for a moment, and assuming that the student has some motivation to work at succeeding, I believe that Dr. Hirsch has some valuable advice for students struggling at school at any level.

Keeping in mind Dr. Hirsch's caution: that the helper must very carefully watch the student when he/she is suggesting changes--watch for signs of immediate rejection, anger, or interest. "Students can often listen to the advice of the professional offering study skill suggestions and even give nonverbal indications suggesting interest and approval of what the professional is saying while internally rejecting the study strategies being offered" (p146). These points of departure--where the motivated student is rejecting suggestions--should be carefully examined by both parties. The reason a suggestion has been rejected may contain a clue to what a more effective intervention might be.

Here are some of his suggestions:

  • Set goals per session: # of pages read, # of questions answered, # of facts memorized
  • Try to personalize the material--spend time trying to draw connections between the material and the student's interests
  • experimenting with time and setting--each person has their own energy cycle--some are consistently tired between 4 pm - 8 pm, then alert and energetic from 9 pm-midnight. Some students need isolation and minimal environmental distractions, while others require occasional interaction and background stimulus.
  • Proper materials -- some students respond positvely to certain sorts of pens, highlighter colours, grades of pencils--these preferences should be (within reason) indulged--as they can lead to greater energy and engagement.
  • Break it up -- use a timer or set goals that allow for frequent breaks--15 minutes of reading followed by 5 minutes of videogame or loud music--high interest and activating breaks will improve efficiency for many during the "work" sessions.
  • Stand up, walk around, punch the air - sitting still can be deadly for some--getting up, moving around while studying, acting out parts of the material can all be extremely helpful in preventing mental shutdown

In a separate blog entry, I will try to deal with the whole issue of music and studying, but I'd like to do more research into the topic. In the meantime, I want to relate my personal experience of using Bruce Springsteen to power my way through 3rd and 4th years of my English BA. I eventually stumbled upon a formula that worked for me when writing essays--blasting songs from Springsteen's great albums--"Darkness on the Edge of Town", "The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle", " The River", "Greetings from Ashbury Park", and "Born to Run"--kept me awake and motivated--screaming the lyrics aloud as I finished a paragraph--seemed to help me power through late nights with looming deadlines like no other methods I'd experimented with. This method would appear to be counterindicated by many professionals in the field--very few recommend music with lyrics.

The "Springsteen method" I used wouldn't work for me as I read 18th century novels--it was only effective when I needed to write or when I was trying to memorize large amounts of material--I needed the little breaks and the mini-adreniline rushes provided by the music in order to keep going.

So, if we are working with a MOTIVATED student, we should be willing to offer many different techniques that some people have found to be effective. In addition, we should be flexible to the student's preferences and makeup--be willing to help them experiment to find what works best for them. Paying attention to what works for what type of academic task is very important--an isolated room with few distractions might be what is necessary for one type of task, while group discussion and 1:1 might be a requirement for another type of task.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Film and Book List

I've put together a list of books and movies that I recommend to some of my students, with the proviso that the parent(s) should make the final decision about what is appropriate for their child. There are movies and books on this list that contain depictions of violence and sexuality.

GCABC Conference October 18th

Just passing on the information:

The Gifted Association of BC Conference - October 18th

Theme: Science and Understanding
Presenters: Dr. Melinda Meszaros and P. Susan Jackson
Location: Theatre, Magee Secondary School 6360 Maple St. (near West 49th)
9:30 - 10:00 Registration for parents & children
10:00 - noon Melinda Meszaros & childrens program
12:01 - 1:00 Lunch together
1:00 - 1:30 AGM - separate program for children
1:30 - 3:00 Sue Jackson & childrens program Programs are provided by-VSB, Silbury, Madrona, BrainBoost Tutoring, Old Schooling, High-Touch High Tech, and Academie Duello (Sword Play)

Many specialists - vision, sensory, audiologist and psychologists
Resources - Odin books, Osborn Books
Gifted schools, VSB and tutoring services.
Fee: $95.00 - includes 2008-09 family membership ($35.00) and buffet lunch
Parking: No charge
Registration info: See separate attachment for detailed registration info for both parents and childrens programs, and for membership renewal. We thank the VSB for supplying the location - Magee High school

Sign in and sign up here!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Engrave that equipment

Just a word of warning: many GOLD students are now bringing their laptops (many of them new) to the GOLD room. Not one of these laptops has been engraved or permanently personalized.

Many many things are stolen every year at Prince of Wales--from cell phones to ipods, leather jackets to cash--I think that there will be individuals in the school that will look on a shiny new Acer Aspire One as 4 one-hundred dollar bills lying on the desk.

Please ensure that the laptop is easily traceable to the original owner (you). Have it engraved, or engrave it yourself--use a permanent pen if you don't have an engraver.

Discussion from last week-10th Dimension

Last Friday, we were honoured to have A.C., a grad from last year, drop in and take over my Grade 8 GOLD block (last thing on Friday).

I asked Alex to show them two segments of an animation that attempts to explain dimensions 1 through to the 10th dimension.

Part one of this animation can be found here:

Alex then led a spirited discussion regarding how these theories regarding infinite possible realities and universes connect with current research on subatomic and interstellar levels. This occasionally drifted, as such discussions will, into areas of metaphysics and science fiction.

Friday, October 3, 2008

GOLD Room Goes Wireless

Our room just got wireless--students should now be able to access the internet without hooking their mobile devices to the wall. Norm Chudley and Andrew Staehling came today and installed the wireless termination point.

UPDATE September 2010

How naive I was then--the VSB was hit shortly after that post with a vicious worm that ransacked the entire network. Following this, the LIT (Learning Information Technology) department sent out a directive that all equipment hooked to our network had to be owned and maintained by the VSB. So much for student wireless access on their own devices. So much, it turned out, for access for the netbooks I'd purchased that use Linux--the LIT folk can't figure out a way to install the VSB's antivirus on them. I now have a $350 useless WAP on my wall.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ross Liard on Technology and Addiction

On Friday, September 26, Dr. Ross Liard came to talk to the Prince of Wales staff about technology and addiction. He is a fascinating and dynamic speaker with experience in a wide range of fields including, but not limited to, writing, mythology, counselling psychology, fine woodwork, and addiction.

He shares the concerns of some parents in regard to the pull of various electronic technologies on adolescents. He feels that overinvolvement in gaming culture, for instance, can lead to serious consequences if the child becomes addicted.

However, rather than a blanket prohibition or overreaction to electronic diversions, Liard recommends trying to see what developmental need the individual is seeking to fulfill, and with that understanding, seek ways for those needs to be met in the "real" world.

Meeting the needs of the adolescent will involve a parent or some other adult mentor in the process. This mentor will spend time engaged in these real world and virtual world activities.

Vastly oversimplifying, it seemed that Laird's message was "balance"--that electronic diversion can play a developmental role leading to healthy adult integration, but that it should be balanced by real world activity (such as running, swimming, skiing, rock climbing), and positive role modelling by at least one adult in the young person's life.

Sir Kenneth Robinson talks on Schools Killing Creativity

This video (best viewed on the TED site) has met with almost universal praise from GOLD students:

Moments when spelling could be important

Monday, September 29, 2008

On Homework

Although it is true that homework completion may lead to better understanding of the material and will certainly lead to better marks, and while it is true that all students should be engaged in regular review of concepts, I'd like to remind parents that too much time and energy spent on homework may contribute to DECLINING performance.

For example, if your child is spending 10 hours on a map for Socials that is worth about 15 marks/300 for a term, this is not a sustainable or appropriate use of time. A kid with no learning output issues will take about 1 hour to complete that map for a 13/15 mark. A motivated kid with no learning output issues might spend another hour (neatly colouring in all the coastlines, drawing whales swimming across the seas, finelining all the labels) and get a 15/15. Having your child spend 3 or 4 times longer on the map in order to earn 10/15 because it will end up looking like something that he spent 15 minutes on is not a good use of time.

These kids need to sleep--going to school is exhausting for many of them anyway. They need to expend time and effort learning core concepts and skills--math, science, english and socials--on elements of curriculum that will build on foundations they are laying down now--how to add negative numbers, chemical vs physical change, what motivates Hamlet (or how to figure that out).

We will try--if we know about the issue--to help the student advocate for an altered assignment--to be allowed to verbally prove to the SS teacher that he can point out the Volga River on a map of Europe for instance--or to find out how much time/effort the teacher feels is reasonable for a particular assignment. Sometimes, even with appropriate advocacy and with a clearly stated reason based on a childs' learning profile, we are unable to reach an arrangement with the teacher--but, if it's over something worth .5% of a year's mark, we (parent, student, and GOLD staff) might decide that the battle just isn't worth the trouble.

Related to the danger of exhausting the student, there are concomitant issues that may arise, such as:

  • deceit ("it's done, I handed it in")
  • school avoidance ("my stomach hurts")
  • cheating
  • aggression
  • anxiety disorders

I am not saying that students shouldn't be working hard. I do believe that many GOLD students will find that they must work longer hours than age-peers to achieve the same results as their age-peers. The GOLD student should be carefully monitored for signs of burnout or frustration, and the energy consumed on any one task should bear some relation to the payoff for that task. 10 hours on a "1 hour map" is too long. 30 hours listening to a novel that will form the basis of 4 weeks instruction in an English class IS a worthy use of time/energy.

Friday, September 26, 2008

GLD Handbook

Two years ago, Corinne Bees, the retired founder of the PW GOLD program, authored a handbook to help people understand the unique issues surrounding these kids. Catherine Remedios, the Director of Instruction for the Vancouver School Board kindly agreed to publishing the first and second editions of this resource.

The contents of the Handbook will assist parents, teachers, and young people in their efforts to understand kids with GLD.

This handbook is available in electronic form at this site:

What is PW GOLD?

My quick, and therefore woefully insufficient, quick description of PW GOLD is that it is for students who have extremely high academic potential who, despite AND because of this potential, struggle at school.

A recent grad from the program received 99% on his Grade 10 English provincial exam, struggled to pass math, has incomprehensible handwriting and dreams of winning the Nobel prize for literature. This same student was practically a compulsive skipper of classes, and levelled several WoW characters to 70 over the years he attended PW.

Give this student a computer to write on, an inspiring mentor to guide him, and time to focus on his art--he will delight and profoundly affect people with his insight, humour, and sensitivity.

The program has other students who are years ahead of their peers in math, yet struggle to compose a paragraph. In fact, one of the most common issues for this group is some sort of impairment of output--they frequently don't get much down on paper. While they know more and reason at a higher level than many of their age-peers, many of these young people struggle to prove these strengths on paper.

Compounding the problem around "learning output", many of the GOLD students struggle with the issues around being highly able in an academic world that is frequently moving too slowly, moving too shallowly, or not teaching anything new at all. Being intellectually gifted in a class of thirty can lead to extreme boredom and frustration.

The program is intended to help these kids survive the experience of secondary school. The word "survive" is carefully chosen--despite the hope that the program will help students thrive and enjoy their five years at the school. The sad truth is that the majority of the GOLD students begin to conceive the secondary school experience as marking time until they will be free to follow their passions--whether through higher education, a trade, music, or sleep.

Students in the program have been on the honour roll, have played on the school's sports teams, starred in stage and music productions, have written plays, won service awards, held elected student office, and been selected Class Valedictorian.

History of the Prince of Wales GOLD Program

Towards the close of the 1980s, Corinne Bees, an energetic, idealistic, and visionary teacher realized that she was seeing many very intelligent and incredibly creative adolescents struggling with school due to difficulties in matching their unique learning needs to the school system. She created a program at Prince of Wales Secondary, which she called "GOLD". GOLD stood for "gifted over learning-disabled".

Under her leadership over the following fifteen years the program flourished, eventually enrolling 30 students from grades 8-12.

Corinne was a strong advocate for her students--tirelessly active in her efforts to try to help people (teachers, parents, students, administrators, GOLD students) understand the unique profile of the individuals enrolled in her program. This is a role she has not relinquished to this day, as she continues, despite her retirement from teaching, in her efforts to increase acceptance and understanding.

As Corinne eased into retirement, she shared the position of GOLD Teacher with Suzanne Amenta, who eventually assumed the reins in 2003-4. Suzanne held the position for two years, until taking maternity leave in 2004-5.

Chris Bromige, who had worked for three years with the GOLD program under Corinne as an assistant, assumed leadership as the GOLD Teacher in September of 2005.

In the spring of 2006 the Prince of Wales GOLD Program celebrated the birth of the second program hosted by a public secondary school designed around the needs of the "twice exceptional" or GLD population--David Thompson GOLD helmed by Janet McCarron.