Pippin’s First Day at Doggie School

September 20, 2010

Dear Fans,

Pippin started school today with a big bang – literally.  He saw what was happening inside the glass door and went crashing into it in an effort to get through it faster.  But his bravado was short-lived.  With puppies ranging from a lab and a husky, to a Dalmatian, he soon saw that his macho demeanor didn’t stop the bigger dogs from sitting on him, biting his ears and boxing with him.  Finally put in his place, he soon went after the Pomeranian, who was more his size.

It was hard for him to concentrate on his lessons, but he was one of the few who didn’t have a toileting accident, and when we heard about some of the problems others were having with their dogs (eating their poop so they wouldn’t get in trouble for doing it inside, or biting their owners) it began to feel like we’re pretty lucky to only have the problems of our thumbtack eating, cigarette smoking mascot.

Thanks for your interest in Pippin’s educational adventures.
Have a good weekend, everyone,



Cell Phones in the Classroom?

July 8, 2010

Believe it or not…

some teachers are incorporating cell phones into their classroom activities.

Here’s a bit about how they are being used:

“I integrated the phones into everything we did,” says Cook. “I could have students draw solar system orbits on their devices, and then animate them to show them in real orbit.” In math, Cook’s students used animations to change number values by moving around decimal points. And for joint research projects, they used their smartphones to take pictures, explore relevant Web sites, fill in spreadsheets, and compose Word documents that they shared by pointing the devices end-to-end and beaming the information to each other. From District Administration

Let’s cut to the chase with a list of pros and cons:


  • Real world technology
  • Includes texting, Web browsing, and game playing
  • Part of “anytime, anywhere” learning
  • Reduce “the digital divide” as cell phones are relatively inexpensive (compared to computers)


  • Some find cell phones distracting
  • Small screen size
  • Requires wireless


What do you think?

Local Schools in Thailand: A Personal Account

February 5, 2010

By Liz Perelstein, president of School Choice International

“I was delighted to see caring teachers,

motivated and happy students.”





In early January I had the extraordinary opportunity to take a cycling trip in Northern Thailand and Laos. Although I travel whenever I can, this experience was unforgettable for me. We rode alongside people working in rice paddies, tackled dirt roads (with only one set of broken ribs) that lead to remote villages consisting of a handful of shacks, and stopped our bikes at factories where manufacturing took place laboriously, by hand.

The poverty we encountered among hill tribes in both Thailand and Laos was eye opening. We observed people who still live without electricity, cook over an open fire and brush their teeth and wash their hair in the Mekong River. Children as young as three years old knew enough English to beg for money, reminiscent of Fagin’s gang in Oliver.


Girls dancing at a local school

For those of you who read Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, we visited Hmong villages and found the Hmong tribe to be extremely entrepreneurial and pragmatic. The women, who customarily marry around age 14 and have as many children, are responsible for making and selling their exquisite handicrafts. Sadly, too often men spend the days in their huts without windows, smoking Opium while young children parent those even younger than themselves.


“Of greatest concern was the absence of

uniform guidelines for safety or sanitation.”


I visited many local schools and found them surprisingly similar to local Western schools in certain respects, although they were as different as can be imagined in others. Of greatest concern was the absence of uniform guidelines for safety or sanitation. But I observed many lovely practices such as children growing their own vegetables and taking them to market. We had the good fortune to come upon children preparing for a dance contest between schools and were treated to a demonstration of local dances and tribal costumes. I was delighted to see caring teachers, motivated and happy students, and classrooms equipped with desks, books, musical instruments, and at times a computer, revealing that education is valued even in relatively poor communities.

Warm Holiday Wishes

December 18, 2009

Report Cards from Around the World: Ontario, Canada

December 12, 2009

For the next several weeks, we’ll look at report cards from around the world.

~ Report Cards, Eh? ~

~ 8 th Stop ~ Ontario ~



The most populated province in Canada, Ontario has a multicultural background with relatively high immigration rates. The largest minority groups in Toronto include South Asians, Chinese, African Canadians, Latin Americans and Aboriginal peoples. Unlike most other national public systems, Ontario has four publicly funded school systems: English-language schools, French-language schools, English-language separate schools (“separate” refers to the inclusion of religious studies), and French-language separate schools. The Canadian educational system has a great reputation all over the world.


Report Card Basics

  • Type of School: English-language local public school
  • Academic Year: Current model
  • Class: Primary School (Years 1-6)

Here’s the report card! The blue numbers highlight a few interesting aspects of the report and the numbers correspond to notes below the image.

1. A Standard Format for Report Cards

Students in Ontario public (secular) schools receive the same report cards, which are available on a government website. The system creates a standard which makes transferring schools easier, but also some rigidity. On the other hand, the report card includes lots of space for teacher comments and individualized assessment.


2. Promotion Status

This is a first for us! This section tells the child and parents whether students are progressing well towards promotion. Each child receives one of the following: progressing well towards promotion, progressing with some difficulty towards promotion or promotion at risk.

3. Expectations… What does an A- means anyways!

This report card clearly explains the meaning of each letter grade… An A isn’t just better than a B; a B suggests the child has required knowledge and meets provincial standards, while an A represents knowledge and skills that exceed provincial standards.


4. English, Second Language and Mathematics…

A half page (of two pages total) is dedicated to English, the second language (French or the native language) and mathematics. This illustrates the importance of the three fundamental subjects. Each subject is broken down into a few components (for instance, English is composed of reading, writing and oral and visual communication). Notice that half the grading space is dedicated comments from teachers. This shows some flexibility in a relatively rigid reporting system.


5. Learning Skills

Besides, class and subject grades, students receive grades on skills they should be learning throughout the curriculum: independent work, initiative, homework completion, use of information, cooperation with others, conflict resolution, class participation, problem solving and goal setting to improve work. This list reflects provincial values as well!


6. Response Form

We haven’t seen this before! The Ontario report card has a whole page dedicated to responses from parents and students (I condensed the page for ease of viewing). Parents and students can write about student achievement, goals and support. This page can be an excellent venue to communicate with the teachers.


See Report Card from: Mexico City, Mexico;    Zomba, Malawi; Sydney, Australia, week 1;    Sydney, Australia, week 2;   Dalhousie, India; Kathmandu, Nepal;    Soro, Denmark

Report Cards from Around the World: Mexico City, Mexico

December 4, 2009

For the next several weeks, we’ll look at report cards from around the world.

~ Habla Español! ~

~ 7th Stop ~ Mexico ~


Mexico, with 111 million people, is the 11th most populous country. While Mexico can be seen as a powerful country, with the largest GDP per capita in Latin America, issues with income disparity and drug violence continue to plague the country. With a rich and ancient history, Mexico remains a popular tourist destination (for more than the sun and lovely beaches!).

Note ~ This is an international and NOT a local school as some other countries.


Report Card Basics

  • Type of School: British International School
  • Curriculum: International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (PYP)
  • Academic Year: 2008-2009
  • Year: 3


Here’s the report card! The blue numbers highlight a few interesting aspects of the report and the numbers correspond to notes below the image.

1. The Five Parts of English

A large portion of the report card is dedicated to assessing English, illustrating the importance of the language at this school (English, rather than Spanish), as well as language acquisition. The assessment has been broken down into five core parts: speaking, listening, reading, writing and handwriting.

2. Look, Hear! ~ Units of Inquiry

Rather than set subjects or courses, this curriculum includes Units of Inquiry, which allow flexibility in teaching and learning. This differs greatly from educational systems that have concrete course expectations and teach to a national, standardized test. The Units of Inquiry this semester are “Look, Hear!” and “Exploration and Encounter.” Sounds fun to me!

3. A Big Old for Effort!

How age appropriate! Rather than assign a number or letter assessment of effort, this report card uses smiley faces, which can be understood regardless of age or culture. Colon, Capital D for a great practice!

4. A Descriptive Grading Scale

This report card has a slightly different grading scale than other assessments we’ve seen: good, very good and excellent, as well as reaching expectations. Reaching expectations seems to be given when a mark of “good” might be subjective, for instance, what is “good” use of information technology or  “excellent” in music at 9 years old?

5. Spanish and Social Studies… Get Numbers Grades

Though I’m not sure why (and I’ve scoured the internet!) Spanish and Social Studies get numbers instead of “descriptive” grades. Hm… I’m stumped. Any suggestions?


See Report Cards from:    Staffordshire, England;    Zomba, Malawi; Sydney, Australia, week 1;     Sydney, Australia, week 2;    Dalhousie, India; Kathmandu, Nepal;     Soro, Denmark

Report card analysis to look forward to: Palestine, Canada and more!

Report Cards from Around the World: Zomba, Malawi

November 6, 2009

For the next several weeks, we’ll look at report cards from around the world.

Lake Malawi

~ Safari Time! ~

~ 5th Stop ~ Malawi ~


A landlocked country in southeast Africa, the Republic of Malawi is home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites, Lake Malawi National Park and Chongoni Rock Art Area. Another impressive geologic formation, the Great Rift Valley, runs through Malawi like a vein. Malawi gained independence from the British in 1964 (only 45 years ago), though examples of colonization remain, such as British standard schools. Unfortunately Malawi ranks as one of the least developed and most populated countries in the world. With a population of about 14 million, low life expectancy and high infant mortality, Malawi relies on foreign aid to develop.

Note ~ This is an international and NOT a local school as some other countries.


Malawi MapReport Card Basics

  • Type of School: International Primary School (British Standard)
  • Academic Year: 1996 – 1997
  • Year: 6



Here’s the report card! The blue numbers highlight a few interesting aspects of the report and the numbers correspond to notes below the image.

report card, part 1

1. Performance, Effort and Teacher’s comments

This school has a relatively short report card (1 page, as opposed to the 11 page report card from Australia). Using space allocation as a measure of importance, teacher’s comments constitute the main aspect of the report, followed by performance and, equally as important, effort. Note the use of letter grades, as opposed to number or percentages that are popular in some other areas.

2. Enjoy, Good, Able… Positive reinforcement

The teachers use positive reinforcement in their comments, detailing the student’s capabilities, rather than areas for improvement (assuming the Bs indicate at least a little room for improvement).

report card, part 23. It’s a Matter of Effort!

For music, drama, design and physical education, this school only gives grades for effort (and not participation). This indicates a slightly different value system in regards to extra-curricular classes… This may help develop intrinsic motivation, but also indicates that these subjects are less important than the core academic curriculum.

report card, part 34. On a Personal Note…

At the end of the report, the teacher includes a personal note to the parents, and thanks them for “your kindness and support over the years.” This personal connection indicates the relatively small size of the school but also the closeness of the school community. (The music teacher also includes a “thank you note” in her comments!)


See Report Card from: Sydney, Australia, week 1; Sydney, Australia, week 2; Dalhousie, India; Kathmandu, Nepal; Soro, Denmark

Report card analysis to look forward to: Palestine, Canada, Mexico and more!