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The Curiosity Test

I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

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This post is the second in a series highlighting the work of Ken Coates and Bill Morrison’s book What to Consider When You’re Considering University.  The first post introduced the book and highly recommended that all high school students, struggling early year university students and parents pick up a copy right away.  The moral of the story is that a university education is not for everyone and that there are many other highly attractive options including college, polytechnic and trade educations that may better align student’s (or is it really their parent’s?) goals with desired outcomes.

Throughout the book, the authors argue that far too many high school students chose the university route when they are either ill-prepared or ill-suited for the quest.  The quick and dirty measure Coates and Morrison use to assess a student’s suitability for university is the Curiosity Test, which is presented in Chapter Two, the “Know Yourself” section.  This test asks five straightforward questions.

  1.  Do I like to read?
  2. Do I read high-quality non-fiction?
  3. Do I watch foreign films, art films, CBC documentaries, or thoughtful PBS programs or series?
  4. Am I troubled or excited about world affairs?
  5. Do I enjoy learning?

Let’s explore the questions…

The first two questions are closely connected but distinct enough to warrant separate queries.  If a student doesn’t like reading much at all, even if we’re talking about the latest People Magazine or a Twilight series novel, the chances of that student surviving, let alone enjoying the volume and nature of university course reading is minimal.  Let’s say that a student does enjoy reading for pleasure but the scope of materials has been limited to what would be considered “low-quality” works.  Under this scenario I am optimistic that the student could handle and possibly even enjoy university course reading materials.

University courses require a lot of reading (and writing, but we’ll get to that later).  If a student doesn’t like reading or can’t handle the quantity of reading necessary, the chances of success and enjoyment are low.

The third and fourth questions explore a student’s interest in the world around her.  Have you ever turned to the internet to Google information about an issue, situation, world leader, or even a country you didn’t know about just because you wanted to (and not because it was assigned work as part of a research project)?  If you heard about the 50th anniversary of the Selma march on the news or through Facebook posts, did you look up what it was all about?

An orientation towards exploring issues, ideas, situations and seeking understanding and meaning from them is what drives learning and is the core of the university experience (and what relates to the final question of the test).

So, what is the likelihood of a 17 year old you know acing this test?  Probably fairly low.

Does this mean that those students should throw in the towel and write off a university career?  Not necessarily.

Even though most high school students may not take an active interest in world affairs, choose CBC documentaries over Netflix and actively subscribe to many news sites, not all hope is lost.  The early years of university are a time when students are presented with the opportunity to explore various topics and learn more about the world around them to figure out what piques their interest.

Even if a student doesn’t arrive at university innately curious but does begin her studies with an open mind and a true desire to learn and grow, there is still hope.

The key to success is for that somewhat curious student to immerse herself in the university experience by:

  1. Doing the work (read, prepare for discussions),
  2. Being an active member of the class (show up, listen and engage with professor and fellow student points of view), and
  3. Participating in as many of the amazing campus activities (student clubs/teams, “celebrity”/alumni talks, student government) as possible.

If after the first or second year, a student does not find herself truly interested and engaged in her program of study, it is a pretty good sign that it’s time for a change.  That change may involve a program shift, a change in institution or even a withdrawal from the post-secondary experience for a period of time.

Either way, parents need to be open to that possibility.  I’m directing this portion of the post to parents because far too often they do not recognize the consequences of pressuring a child to “stick it out” because “that’s what we do in this family”.  If the environment or program isn’t a good fit the whole experience is bound to result in bigger debt, more stress, strained relationships and overall unhappiness.

As a parent, that’s the last thing I want for my children and I’m sure others feel the same.  This doesn’t mean I’m going to let my children off the hook for commitments and responsibilities throughout their lives but it does mean that I am aware that university might not be the best fit and I will genuinely listen to my children’s account of what is working and what isn’t working to help support them when the time comes.

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The Best Gift for High School Students

Where has “What to Consider if You’re Considering University” by Coates and Morrison been all my life?

In my opinion, this book should be required reading for every single grade 9 student and her parents from coast to coast.

What, you may wonder, has got me so excited?

It’s real. It’s honest. And the information is absolutely relevant to the swarms of graduating high school students seeking direction on what to do next.

Coates and Morrison use the term swarm to describe the large majority of university bound students who have been “influenced by the over-selling of a university education”. These are the students who don’t necessary enjoy reading, probably won’t engage entirely in what a university has to offer and who seriously lack in the curiosity department. Swarm students are less likely to succeed at university and if they do manage to scrape together the grades required to graduate will probably be no further ahead (just further in debt) then they were after high school.

It’s no surprise that I have encountered a number of students from the swarm over the years. In extreme cases, swarm students have admitted that they just want to “get through” the next four years and it would be so much better if I would just get on with it and tell them what I want them to do and how they should do it to make the process as painless and expedient as possible.

That’s sad. And the individuals I described are not the type of students for which the university system was designed.

What many soon-to-be high school graduates and parents don’t realize is that there is more to life (and post-secondary education) than universities. In fact, other post-secondary options might be a much better fit for both the student’s learning style and desired outcome.

This post is the beginning of a series of four that will delve into the key takeaways from Coates and Morrison’s book.

I encourage all high school students, students struggling through first or second year university and parents of said students to pick up a copy of the book.

Unfortunately many students and their parents were mistakenly led to believe that a university education would somehow automatically line them up for a great paying job so if they could just “get through” the next four years, all will be well in the world.

Reality check – a university education does not equal job training (unless you are in a professional program like nursing, medicine, engineering, teachers college and possibly some business programs). If a specific job is the desired outcome, one of the other options might be better for you.

Let’s explore…

Colleges

Coates and Morrison describe college as the road to employment. If you are interested in a particular career then a college program might be the right choice for you. Colleges typically offer a range of programs (most often diplomas) in the areas of social service, health care, paraprofessional, and trades. Colleges tend to be regionally focused and do a good job adapting to the changes in local and regional economies (which is rarely on the agenda of universities). Not only do colleges train students in high-end facilities using the latest technologies, but they offer a direct pipeline to potential employers who often have longstanding relationships with the institution.

Polytechnics

Most people don’t even know that polytechnics exist or how they are different from colleges or universities. There are similarities and differences.  Polytechnics can offer certificate (typically one year programs), diploma (typically two to three year programs most like colleges) and degree (three to four year programs) programs.  Polytechnics are informed by advanced applied research and offer practical, hands-on training, often designed in conjunction with employers. If you’re looking for a direct connection to work upon graduation, the polytechnic choice might be the right one for you.

And what about universities you may ask? I will leave that to the next post where I explore Coates and Morrison’s Curiosity Test as a measure of university readiness.  In the meantime, share this post or order a copy of the book for that special high school student in your life.

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What’s Your WHY?

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Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting a high school class to speak about the university experience and of course to put in a plug for my institution.  Instead of starting my presentation by asking standard questions like “How many of you have applied to university?” and “How many of you know what program you want to pursue?”, I started by asking “WHY?”.

WHY do you want to go to university anyway? 

The classroom stayed silent.  It was very uncomfortable.  Most students stared at me blankly.  Apparently they hadn’t been asked or hadn’t thought about this question before.

Eventually one brave soul raised his hand and reported that he wanted to go to university and get a degree because that was simply what you had to do to eventually get a job.

I was disappointed.  If the only reason you are planning to pursue or are in post-secondary studies is to get a degree, leave with that flimsy piece of paper in four years, then you are really missing out.

There are so many other reasons to attend university and although I can rhyme off building your network, developing transferable skills (that yes, can be beneficial when it comes time to seek employment) and gaining new knowledge, YOU need to identify your personal WHY in order to make the most of your experience.

If you don’t know your WHY then how are you going to make decisions?  What courses will you take?  What clubs will you join?  What relationships will you pursue?

The students who get the most out of their post-secondary experience are those who begin with the end in mind (which happens to be Stephen Covey’s second Habit of Highly Effective People).  Decide what you want at the end and then design your experience around that vision.

Everyone can benefit from periodically revisiting our personal WHY.  Incorporating this habit into our routines to help prioritize and focus time and energy is invaluable.  Unfortunately those always seem to be in short supply.

I’m curious.  What’s your WHY?

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/cybercafe/4414515565/”>markheybo</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>

 

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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Questions

It’s that time of the year again.  Midterm exams and midterm papers have been graded and returned.

What do you do if your result is not stellar?  And by not stellar I mean poor.  In some cases really poor.  Like you are seriously questioning if you are going to make it through the course with a passing grade poor.

Every year I speak to several students who share this same question. It doesn’t have to be the end of the world.  And dropping a course can actually be a positive decision.

All institutions have an official “drop date” (check your institution’s academic calendar for details) for quarter, half and full term courses.  In most instances, if a student drops the course before said date, the course grade and attempt will not show on the student’s official transcript.  On the other hand, if a student continues in a course and ends up failing, this attempt (sometimes shown as “F” or sometimes with the actual number grade) will appear on the transcript.

Before you make your final decision, consider your honest answers to these six questions:

  1. How much effort did you put into the required coursework?  Did you attend class?  Do the readings?  Prepare the review questions?  Participate in the class seminars and discussions?  Seek clarity if you didn’t understand the content?  Etc.
  2. How well do you understand the content?  Do you actually get it but for some reason weren’t able to showcase your understanding through the testing vehicle or assigned paper?  Or do you really have no idea what is going on?
  3. What strategy were you using to learn the content?  Did you keep up with the weekly readings or did you try to cram eight weeks of reading into a 48 hour period?  Did you do the readings before class or after class or never?  Did you think about and document your personal responses to the assignment questions, review problems, cases, discussion questions, whatever, before class or did you just hope to absorb the content by osmosis?
  4. Is this a mandatory or optional course for you?  If it is a mandatory course for your program it is likely a prerequisite for future courses.  How will dropping this course impact the rest of your academic plan?  Will a poor grade impact your performance in future courses?  Should you retake the course at a time when you are ready to give it your all?  On the other hand, if it is an optional or elective course when will you be able to make up this course?  Will that be easy or difficult given your schedule?
  5. What is your grade potential in the course?  By grade potential, I mean what is your projected final grade?  Work out the math using the evaluation breakdown in your course syllabus.  Will it be enough?  Most programs require a minimum average to stay in the program and sometimes a minimum grade for core courses in the program.  Do you risk being removed from the program?
  6. Were there extraordinary circumstances that affected your performance?  For example, were you extremely sick with the flu the day before the exam?  Perhaps you really understood the content but your performance suffered because you were dehydrated, weak and perhaps a little nauseas.  Did you experience a substantial loss that would impact your mental state and therefore your performance?  Will these circumstances continue to affect your ability to perform or are they one-time events that you do not expect to impact you in the future?

Before you make your final decision I highly recommend making an appointment with an academic counsellor to get some answers to the questions above.  If you feel comfortable or if your professor has made it clear that she is willing to talk to students about this issue then by all means, make an appointment and discuss your concerns with her as well.

Dropping a course can free up valuable time for you to put more effort into other courses or to manage other issues in your life.  At the end of the day the decision to stay or go is personal and yours to make.

Do you have enough information to make your decision now?

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/susyna/3643831785/”>susy ♥</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

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New Stage = New Responsibilities

I was inspired to write this post after attending a baptism this weekend.

After the “main event”, the officiant began his sermon on the topic of “House Rules”.  As I listened to the officiant and his partner share their personal experiences, the lightbulb went on when they shared their “stages of parenting” definition.

Light Bulbs

Even though I was hoping to take away some information on how I could be a better parent to my two young girls, all I could think about was how these stages relate to the transition between high school and university.  The transition involves so much more than just moving away from home, meeting new people, finding new interests and studying new subjects.

The transition requires the student to understand the new responsibility that comes with being a post-secondary student.  And that is what many students fail to realize.

I am going to rework the officiant’s “stages of parenting” into my definition of the stages of education.

  1. The first stage in the process is the disciplinary phase.  I consider children from nursery to pre-school age to be in this stage.  The student’s responsibility at this stage is to listen to and watch the teacher model appropriate actions in order to learn the standard rules of acceptable behaviour.
  2. The second stage of the relationship is the training phase where the teacher lets go of some of the control (a little at first and more later on) and the student’s responsibility is to start using the skills, tools and knowledge she has acquired.  Students from kindergarten all the way up to about grade 8 would be in this phase.
  3. The final stage is the coaching phase.  This is the best stage and why I love my job.  In this phase, it is the student’s full responsibility to figure out what needs to be done and how best to do it.  This stage starts in early high school and carries on all the way into post-secondary studies.  At this stage the teacher trusts that the student is capable of formulating a plan and making decisions.  The teacher is there to encourage, advise, support, motivate and guide the student.  You know, remind them of the “game plan” every now and again.

Students in the coaching phase are responsible for:

  • Attending “practices” – classes, seminars, labs
  • Completing “training” workouts – readings, assignments, exercises
  • Analyzing “post-game” – seeking and applying feedback

And so much more.

Do yourself a favour and before you attend a post-secondary institution be ready to take on the new responsibilities that come with it.

Photo Credit:  photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/zetson/3036254720/”>zetson> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a>

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It’s Ok to Ask Questions

For some reason students feel like they shouldn’t ask their profs questions.  Why is that?  Do you think that how to amortize bonds payable using the effective interest method of amortization is common knowledge?  No, it’s not.  It’s a difficult concept and so are many other theories, processes and formulae you will cover in all kinds of courses ranging from anthropology to zoology.

Most professors are happy to answer your questions for these three reasons:

  1. Asking questions demonstrates that you care.  The fact that you are concerned enough to ask a question shows us that  learning is a priority for you.  We really like to help those students who are interested, passionate or just plain curious about a topic.
  2. We genuinely want to help our students succeed.  We enjoy facilitating discussions and grading papers where students “get it”.  Believe me, it’s no fun grading a failing paper.
  3. We like interacting with our students.  Those of us who teach large classes don’t get to do this very often.  When we respond to questions in a one-on-one setting it can be a great opportunity for us to find out what students are struggling with so that we can make changes to content delivery.

Before you approach your professor with an “I don’t understand” statement, be clear that we do have some expectations.  We expect that you have done some preliminary work and have made some effort to familiarize yourself with the concept/topic/process.  Use this list of questions as a checklist and only approach your professor after you can answer yes to all of them.

  • Have you completed the reading?
  • Have you attempted the review questions/demonstration problem?
  • Did you pay attention/take notes/get notes to the lecture/discussion on the topic?
  • Have you attempted to discuss the concept with other students in your class or study group?
  • Have you actually thought about the concept?

Here’s a question for you.  Does this help?

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