Tiffany Poirier on CBC radio discussing Philosophy for kids!


Tiffany Poirier on CBC radio discussing Philosophy for kids!

Tiffany Poirier talks to CBC host Michael Enright about teaching children philosophy

Hey everyone, if you listen to CBC radio (88.1FM) this Sunday, September 23rd, 2012 between 10:00 am and 11:00 am, you’ll catch my interview by Michael Enright on “The Sunday Edition”. We discuss my critical thinking book for children “Q is for Question” and the value and fun in teaching kids the skills for philosophical inquiry!

Click here for a link to link to the interview and/or listen to the youtube player below: 

To order the book “Q is for Question: An ABC of Philosophy”, visit Chapters:

Or find the book on


Challenge: Your Government gives you 1 hour to answer the question of how to make education more Equitable…What do you say?

A couple of weeks ago, I was inside the “big black box” also known as the British Columbia Ministry of Education.  If you know that I am a teacher from Surrey, B.C. you might jump to the conclusion that I was there picketing, slashing tires or doing the ol’ “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” switcheroo.  Well, none of that is actually the case.  My adventure was a little more bland, but I still felt cool like Harriet the Spy.

I guess you could say I was there doing my own research–trying to get my own sense of where the Ministry is angling the new BC Education Plan–but I’d also admit it was a “job interview”.

Students and education are number one for me, so if I thought I could make a larger impact from with in the Big House (you know, Trojan Horse-style), then I felt it was my duty to explore that possibility.

I, like so many teachers, have no idea what really happens behind the very secure wall of the M.O.E. (It was near impossible to get back inside to retrieve my forgotten umbrella–several people including security had to be called).  For some, the Ministry is like Bin Laden’s cave circa 2002 or neo-libralist puppeteering convention.

I’ve got to say, it was a fascinating experience to see first hand the environment, the people that work there, the tone, the types of conversations had in the hallways. Of course, I got the tourist-eye view of things, but I felt what I saw changed a bit of how I view the Ministry.  There are some fabulous, caring individuals who work there, but the Ministry is not the sum of its parts. The thing that troubled me most was that as it is now, from what I gathered through informal conversation, not enough of the decision-makers are very closely or personally linked with real classroom life in a very recent, real way.  (Time to do a new episode of Undercover Boss maybe!?)

As you know, these are very tense times between the government and our teachers’ union, the BCTF.  There are some critical issues that the government must address to improve education for our students and teachers.  I know this.  I feel this.  I want to do my part. And I wanted to gather as much information as I could.

I met with several key figures in curriculum and assessment who I felt were very candid with me about their own perspectives and the direction of the ministry as they see it.

I will be writing more reflections about “the inside” in the coming weeks–I am still trying to make sense of it all.  But let me start with one point:  as a part of my interview, I was given a computer with no internet connection, a quiet room, and one hour to write my response to the question:

How can we personalize learning for all students

while maintaining equity and fairness within the education system?

Great that they chose this question, right?  (Or does this question need more unpacking?)

Understand that I was a little nervous to begin my writing–perhaps somewhat like a fish out of water flopping around at the Cat Show.  Well, not that bad.  But I was still processing for myself other questions like, “Do I want this job?” “Are these people sincere in working towards real change?” “Am I a traitor?”  “Am I in line to become the next straw man?” “Is this the opportunity of a lifetime to offer what I have to make a real difference for students?”

So, basically for the first 20 minutes, my mind was just blank.  Then the next 10 minutes, I was frantic.  I only actually wrote for the last 30 minutes.

Imagine: a genie pops out of a bottle and you have one wish…we always say we would ask for more wishes, but you have to take that off the table this time (Keep in mind I KNOW the gov’t isn’t going to listen to my voice if I just type in 100pt bold font “For Pete’s sake reduce class sizes, support students, and pay teachers properly.”).  I kind of felt like I was a student writing a grade 12 English examination. I had to keep in mind my audience, while at the same time being true to my beliefs and style…but I also wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be writing from my own true perspective or from my imagined voice as a possible future Ministry of Education employee or a George Orwell 1984 character.

So what did I actually write? Well, I was just emailed my copy of the writing sample.  I post below what I wrote, word for word, errors and all, not edited. Here is my answer as I wrote it on Feb. 24th, 2012: 


As custodians, advocates and representatives of public education in B.C., it is our mandate, duty, and deep honour to serve this province, ensuring that all students, parents, and teachers and educational leaders in British Columbia have equitable access to the benefits of personalizing learning.  It is a matter of social justice that the transformation occurs as a result of collaboration with the polyphony of voices in B.C. and that the benefits of personalized learning are fairly distributed to all geographical locations, to every school, to every grade level, and to students of every ability, cultural and socio-economic background, gender, and sexual-orientation. 


Taking a broad perspective, we can identify key areas on which to focus in this task of ensuring a fair and equitable transformation:

(1.)  Relationship Building: Building positive relationships through open communications with all of the various stakeholders ; especially reaching out to under-identified groups.

(2.)  Thorough Research: Gathering input from available current data and supporting new research initiatives in areas impacted by personalized learning.

(3.)  Meaningful, Productive Collaboration: Providing opportunity for authentic exchange and consideration of ideas from the broadest spectrum of voices.

(4.)  Strategic and Balanced Distribution of Resources: Determining where there are existing gaps and working to correct these.

(5.)  New Research & Development: Exploring new technologies and methods that can make the most of existing resources and support personalized learning initiatives for all.


As we move towards personalizing learning, we are mindful that imbalances in each of these abovementioned areas have a very personal, individual face.  When a high school library in Prince Rupert does not have funds to pay for subscriptions to valuable online learning programs that West Vancouver students have been using for over a decade, inequality exists.  When a South Surrey elementary school has mobile icarts, smartboards, and ipads for every class because these were paid for with PAC funds, while an East Vancouver elementary school has fewer than fifteen operable computers, inequality exists.  When some parents are able to attend PAC meetings and parent-teacher interview scheduled midday, while other working parents cannot, inequality exists.  These are the stories we need to hear, reflect on and respond to with supportive and measureable plans of action.


Driven by a desire to co-create change that is meaningful and impactful for all, we can harness new technologies to offer a variety of platforms from which people will be able to share their personal stories.  This has already begun through the BCEDPLAN forums and beyond.


We partner with all stakeholders to code the data that emerges and then present and reflect on findings.  It is an iterative process we engage in as we move towards identifying the scope  and causes of current challenges to providing fair and equitable access to personalized learning opportunities.  We must consult the wealth of knowledge offered by research occurring in our universities, and colleges, through the BCTF, teacher-initiated projects, student and parent contributions and beyond.


In this era of transformation in education in B.C., matters of equity and fairness must be forefront.  Personalized learning comes at a time when we need to put social justice issues at the top of the list.  We need to re-imagine and redefine to ensure a first-class education system, our greatest public good and one that is accessible to all.

Okay, so…?  Not terrible.  Not very groundbreaking.  Mostly rhetoric.  Looking back, I wish I had taken a harder line, been even more direct, had more examples.  You know what irks me the most is that I played it safe and started to sound like a politician myself here.  Sure, there are reasonable important ideas here that could be developed, but it’s not an actionable plan which is what we need right now. (But, hey, I only had 60 minutes and was nervous as a nacho on Superbowl Sunday!).  But really, I could have done better if I was prepared…I believe I will get prepared by dialoguing more with like minds.

Okay, I JUST now realized the BCTF logo is a genie in a bottle? What am I supposed to make of this symbolism?

So the take away lesson from for us all is BE READY!  Be ready for the genie!  Be ready for the microphone because it may pop in front of you at any time!  Be ready!  I have more thinking to do on how I will refine my answer to these and other critical questions.

I would love to hear from you, what would YOU say we can do “to personalize learning while maintaining equity and fairness within the education system?”

Oh, wait, I just picked up on something I never saw before: why did they frame the question to say “maintain” as if fairness and equity were the present state of affairs?!  Hmmmm…

21st Century Education: So Where Are We Now?

I’m a teacher in Surrey, British Columbia, and I wanted to take stock of where we are with regards to 21st century education.  More often that not, I meet teachers and others who are struggling to get a sense of what is going on with new movements, discussions, and controversies in education, and I know it can be very hard to keep up–especially with the incredible demands of attending to students and classroom and school life. I wanted to write something to begin to give an overview of the discussion from what I’ve gathered.

It’s clear that in our province the government’s new “BC Education Plan” and the related issues dominate public discussion of education. This purported “plan of action” driving a “transformation” in B.C.’s education system[1] has been argued by some as an exciting, proactive response to our changing times.  Others argue the plan reflects a neo-liberalist-driven agenda cashing in on a broader global discourse—one that perseverates on marketing “new” pedagogies and technologies (a.k.a. products) branded as “21st Century Education”.

So what is this notion of a “21st Century Education”?  In response to this question I have heard futuristic musings that would appeal to any person’s inner child: envision soaring through school hallways on Marty McFly’s hoverboard[2] or zapping through homework with gadgets inspired by The Jetsons!  As well I have heard expressed by many well-informed individuals that they have a tough time grasping the rhetoric of education for the 21st century.

Although “21st Century Education” and it’s cousin concept “Personalized Learning” have a been much heralded, there is concern that definitions have been obscured on purpose by politicians, bureaucrats and entrepreneurs in effort to maneuver this apparent “movement” towards their own most desirable ends, such as to gain votes or profits (Sims, 2010; Kuehn, 2011).  These 21st century practices touted already by some as “best practices” might at this stage be more akin and reducible to Kenneth Leithwood’s descriptions of bandwagons, slogans, and locally-valued ways of behaving (2008, pp. 72-73).

Still, even without consensus and clarity on the terms, power-players in education are making future-altering decisions regarding various legislation, curriculum design overhauls, budgetary priorities, and corporate partnerships. Because of this—despite the considerable immediate demands in our classrooms, schools, communities and homes—I believe it is our vital responsibility as educational leaders to stay alert in this era of electronic media and social-media proliferation and to tune into the polyphony of voices emerging through this foggy discussion of educating for the 21st century.

On the world stage we have already heard from the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Rupert Murdoch, George Lukas and others.[3]  In B.C. we have heard about education in the 21st century from the government, the BC Teachers Federation, journalists and others.[4]  At the local ground level, several thousand commentators identifying as public and private school administrators and teachers, students and parents have shared their own visions in the “BC Education Plan” forums and in personal blogs and websites, and the dialogue is voiced in many other forms in school staffrooms and classrooms, at school board meetings, in coffee shops and around kitchen tables.

So what conversations are you having with your colleagues, students, family and friends?  Where do we need to focus more attention in this conversations around 21st century education and personalized learning?

Hijacking the Discourse of “Personalized Learning”: Neoliberalists Strike Again(?)

Today I was thinking more about the question of  how who we are affects the kinds of words we choose to use to turn the “Personalized Learning” debate in our favour. How does our social location (for example, as privileged, powerful, disadvantaged, marginalized, etc.) and personal agenda frame how we experience, control or be excluded the “Personalize Learning” debate?

I was in a university class today where two of my classmates presented a thought-provoking article by George Lakoff concerning how we frame the discourses in which we engage  (i.e. how the language and metaphors we choose set perceptual limits on the scope of what can be learned.). For example, consider how one group might express a need for “tax relief” and thus frame taxation as unpleasant, onerous, and harmful, while on the other hand, another group might advocate for more taxes as a way to “pool resources” thus giving a favourable, rights-driven slant. Learning about this notion of “framing discourse” gave me new language tools to use to help understand my thinking and explain what I perceive is going on in education right now.

I think some people may feel that “power voices” (like governments, big business) are hijacking the terms like “21st Century Learning” and “Personalized Learning” from groups like teachers who have been fighting for decades in the trenches to create real support for individual students, despite lack of funding, huge class sizes, etc.  There is a feeling of suspicion looming.

CHALLENGING THE POWERS THAT BE: Today, in this world where the government and big business’s brand of “Personalized Learning” may be seen by some as king, if you attempt any critique of (a.) the definition of terms and (b.) the process by which learning will be personalized, you are at risk of being automatically positioned as opposed to student-centered learning or as harmfully discounting a valuable movement based on “petty politics”.  For example, if you dare to even question the positioning of technology as the education’s saviour , you may be charged being negative and “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”.

“CHECKING OUT” VS. “GETTING IN THE GAME”: It is easy for people who are just catching what is going on in education based on 10-second  media sound bites to fall prey to the biased view presented by the “power voices”.  People are further marginalized when they are encouraged or forced to tune out of the gritty educational discussions happening.  I think everyone, so far as each is able, should try to get in the game and have a voice–this blog is my own attempt.  I don’t want only others to speak for me–I have got to try too.  Democracy isn’t about picking a group leader and assenting to whatever is said.  You have to question your government, businesses, unions, colleagues, neighbours, family, friends…and especially yourself.

HOW AM I FRAMING THE DISCOURSE OF THIS BLOG?: Hmmmmmmm, interesting. I may feel 10% smarter  now that I can express a concern with the possible hijacking of the “personalized learning” discourse, but I know I am just on the tip of the iceberg of understanding the historical context.  Also, the fact that I choose the negative term “hijacking” versus a more positive term like “transforming”. What if the key headline term of this blog post was not “hijacking”–what if instead I wrote, “Transforming the Discourse of “Personalized Learning”?

BARRIER TO ENTRY IN THE LARGER EDUCATIONAL DISCOURSE: And why do I, a teacher with who has spent many hours thinking, researching and debating these issues still feel barely intelligent enough to speak on these issues, afraid that my voice is too plain and coming out of a “real” or “important” context?  If I feel this way, how must others feel?  Also, unless I communicate in the new language of the power voices (with splashy multimedia, videos, sexy news sound-bites), I am left licking the windows as an outsider to the discourse.

WHAT IS THE EFFECT OF THIS BLOG POST? After reading this blog post, some might  (a.) assume I know what I’m talking about, defer to me as some kind of an educational expert and just mentally “check out” and leave pursuing justice in education up to people like me who “get it”.  To that I reply…(Ahhhhh! No! I am an amoeba, don’t trust me!!! I barely understand these things I write, and I only write them to try to get clarity!) Or, perhaps you can see I need more information and to consider a new perspective.  Please leave your comments!

(How does one even get a handle on what is really going on in this debate unless you are privileged to have access to the tools that will gain you perspective! I myself am struggling and that is why this blog exists.)

The New WIZARD OF OZ: Who is Behind the Curtain in Education?

Pearson and Florida Virtual School Announce Agreement.

Some are calling it “Pearson-alized Learning”…

“Orlando, FL and New York, NY, November 17, 2010 –: A private/public alliance between Pearson and Florida Virtual School (FLVS) will accelerate virtual learning opportunities around the world for millions of school students who have grown up smack in the middle of the technology revolution.

The new Pearson Virtual Learning powered by Florida Virtual School will offer schools throughout the US and across the globe more than 100 FLVS courses in all subject areas for grades 6-12, including advanced placement and career and technology courses. The virtual courses will be aligned to the new Common Core state standards.”

When I first saw this article, I was struck deeply by three thoughts:

(1.) Wow, Grandma saw it first!  I saw this article because my Grandma had tagged me in a link to it posted by her friend on Facebook. Now think about that for a minute.  Yes, my Grandma is awesome!  Also, this highlighted for me again the fact of how digitalization improves access to information, that it is an equalizer. New media proliferates in ever new creative ways, and it is intergenerational.  So stop blaming rapid change on “those crazy kids” with their pesky video games!  We are all implicated.  We are all involved.  We all stand to benefit.   We all have something to learn. We are all need to be aware.  We all need to pay attention.  We all need to get in the debate and share perspectives from various vantage points.

(2.) Shucks! I wish we did it first!  And why didn’t we?  Why can’t we be the innovators, the “Apple” of education’s eye? Why didn’t our government or school boards think big time and get there first?  It seemed like only a matter of time before some power player would take the reigns to provide online learning in a widespread way.  I’ll be watching this Pearson-Florida initiative closely.  This will mean more choice and opportunity for students, but it won’t necessarily mean the learning provided is of the highest calibre. There will be bugs to work out along the way, but it will be a beast that can be refined over time if those in charge want to respond to their customers-students. Business has always been keen to do that–public education can be a little slower due to government bottlenecking…a bottleneck where we are pausing not just due to inefficiency and lack of funding but also because, hopefully, we are teasing out the philosophical implications of actions…

(3.) What is the role of teachers in this kind of “21st century”?  Who do we need to be to be relevant?  I don’t see how teachers could ever be phased out, but they may go behind the curtain of technology, Wizard of Oz-style. Or maybe, teachers are the hollogram projected by the  “Wizard”.  In this case, who is behind the curtain?  Who is this new Wizard?  Corporations?  Consumers?  Students? What is the role of teachers in this new era?

Who or what will do the personalizing?

A key question is who or what will do the personalizing of learning?  What level of individual student involvement can and should there be in personalized learning?  What roles will the students, teachers, administrators, school boards, ministries, curriculum designers, private companies, parents, classmates, etc. play in personalizing learning?

Will personalizing learning involve forces external to a student (computers, algorithms, teachers and other people at a distance) making judgments about what constitutes a personalized experience for that student? Can this be accurate?  How will accuracy be determined?  Will this process be just?

What ethical issues do we need to consider concerning the agent(s) of personalization?

“Personalized Learning”–What’s the word on the street?

How are people currently reacting to the notion of personalized learning?  I been doing my own casual research, chatting with my teacher colleagues, university classmates and professors, family and friends to get a sense of where things are at on the ground level.  Here is the range of responses I’ve encountered concerning the broader personalized learning discussion happening in my own region in British Columbia.


For example:

  • Enthusiastic: “I love it!”
  • Relieved: “It’s about time!  This is what we’ve waited for.”
  • Hopeful: “We need change—this could be it.”
  • Curious: “I’m intrigued!  I want to learn more.”
  • Put-off but largely accepting: “This is nothing new, I’ve been doing this for years—they can call it what they want as long as they hop to it!”


For example:

  • Annoyed: “Ugh, Please tell me I’m not going to have to re-write my lesson plans again!”
  • Cynical: “Yeah, fire up the ol’ education bandwagon!  We’ve seen this before.”
  • Critical: “This isn’t being implemented correctly.”  “This is the wrong direction.”
  • Afraid: “This will be the ruin of education.”
  • Morally Outraged: “Those neo-liberalists are trying to privatize education with no regard for class disparity!”


For example,

  • Passive: “I go with the flow.” “Well, I’ll look into it if they bring in some pro-d.”
  • Embedded but detached: “What the media/school board office/ministry says or does isn’t going to change what I do in my classroom.”
  • Disconnected:  “I’m not interested in what goes on in public education.” 


For example,

  • Cautious: “I’ve been looking into this. I’m watching to see how it all pans out…”
  • Academic: “I’m committed to researching more before I’ll make a decision.”


For example,

  • Surprised:  “Oh, what? I’ve been so caught up with report cards/marking/family I haven’t noticed/looked into it.”
  • Confused: “I can’t keep up with or figure out this stuff.  There is so much information out there.”

So how would you characterize your general attitude towards the current personalized learning movement as you’ve experience it? Please vote in this poll and/or share your comments below. Thank you!