top of page

Ep 5. Critical issues in education with Matt Henderson

This transcript was created with speech-to-text software.  It was reviewed before posting, but may contain errors.

You can listen to the episode here: Chalk & Talk Podcast.

Ep 5 Critical issues in education with Matt Henderson

[00:00:00] Anna Stokke: Welcome to Talk and Talk, a podcast about education and math. I'm Anna Stokke, a math professor and your host.

You are listening to episode five of Chalk and Talk. In this episode, we shift back to Canada and I'm thrilled to have as my guest, Matt Henderson, who is an assistant superintendent of the Seven Oaks School Division in Winnipeg. With his extensive experience in various educational roles, Matt brings valuable insights into the challenges facing students and teachers in the school.

We cover some important topics in this interview. We discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education, the challenges of online teaching, the pervasive use of cell phones and social media and ChatGPT and its role in education. [00:01:00]  The conversation then shifts to math teaching where Matt shares his thoughts on the challenges facing math teachers and some approaches that have helped teachers in his school division.

He also shares some practical advice for new teachers, drawing from his own experiences. Matt is an interesting and passionate individual, and I really appreciate his insights into some of the issues facing educators, and I hope you do too. So, without further ado, let's get started.

I am delighted to be joined today by Matt Henderson. He is an assistant superintendent for Seven Oaks School Division here in Winnipeg. He holds a Master's degree in education and, in addition to his job as superintendent, he is currently completing a PhD in education and he also teaches some university education classes.

Prior to his current position, he was a principal and a teacher. He was also awarded a Governor General [00:02:00] History Award for excellence in teaching, and that's a Canadian national teaching award. He is frequently interviewed and he writes pieces on education for local media outlets, and he is a frequent book reviewer for the Winnipeg Free Press.

Welcome to you, Matt. Welcome to my podcast.

[00:02:17] Matt Henderson: Thank you. This is great. Thanks for having me.

[00:02:19] Anna Stokke: Glad you could make it. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can explain your role for our listeners. You're the assistant superintendent for a school division here in Winnipeg. So, can you briefly explain the structure of the school system here? So, for example, how many school divisions are there in Winnipeg and, and how many schools are in your division, how many students, et cetera.

[00:02:44] Matt Henderson: Sure. So, no, that's, that's a really good question because I think education systems, just in terms of how they're structured vary in Canada because obviously education is a provincial affair as opposed to a federal one. So, in Manitoba, we still have [00:03:00] elected boards school boards. So, you know, people, everyday people, elect the, the boards of school divisions.

In Winnipeg we have about six metro divisions that serve about 100,000 students. Seven Oaks School division being the one that I'm a part of we have about 12, 000 Students in, in about three neighborhoods. So, Seven Oaks comprises of the Maples, Garden City and West Kildonan here in Winnipeg, and a little bit of West St. Paul, which is just outside of the perimeter highway. 

And, and so we have nine elected trustees Their, their job is to, to ensure that learners have everything they need to, to be successful. Now, where I come in and where my colleagues - there's three assistant superintendents here -  and, and our superintendent Brian O'Leary, where we come in is that we act as management on behalf of the board.

And so part of our, our work is, is working with principals and really helping [00:04:00] them think sbout, about how they want to build cultures and structures to support those cultures in, in their school, and how to really ensure that every single child that comes into one of our classrooms is, is, is engaging in powerful learning.

So, my, part of my, my, my enjoyment and my fun and, and, and my privilege is to be able to work with a number of schools. Each of us take a, a family of schools that we liaise with. So, I'm in schools every single day connecting with principals and teachers and just uh, yeah, just, just ensuring that, that the needs are being met of all of our kids.

 [00:04:35] Anna Stokke: So, let's talk a bit about your career path. So, you're, you're an assistant superintendent now, but you were a principal and a teacher before that. So, starting off from university, what  academic subjects did you specialize in and why did you decide to become a teacher?

[00:04:52] Matt Henderson: That's, well, it, that's, it's interesting. I'm, I'm one of those people that came to, to - I'm using air quotes – “came to education late.” [00:05:00] So I didn't, I didn't become a teacher until my early thirties and, you know, I was doing other things in, in my twenties and enjoying life and, and I think being relatively productive and contributing to society, some may argue different, but uh, but the, the, it sort of struck me with one critical experience um, that I needed to, to really be working with kids.

And, and I was at the University of Winnipeg. I was actually working at the University of Winnipeg, but still volunteering for CKUW, which is the, the campus radio station there, campus community radio station. And one of the things that I noticed – and in education, we always talk about noticing and wondering, you know, we notice something and then we ask questions about it as, as academics do at the University of Winnipeg.

And, and I noticed that there weren't, a lot of kids and community members from the local community that were coming and volunteering at CKUW, that it was mostly folks who have had some connection who didn't live in the Spence neighborhood in the downtown core, who [00:06:00] were accessing the, the radio station.

And I was, I was sort of perplexed about that to sort of say, well, why is that? Why is it that community members, you know, newcomers, indigenous folks aren't feeling that, that this is a space for them? And so, you know, I tried to pursue answers to that particular question. And, and, and so what I did as part of that was to start a summer camp at CKUW for, for kids in the neighborhood, you know, accessed a couple grants here and there.

And, and what was incredible is that we ran these one-week camps with, with kids whose, you know, second language learners or maybe fifth language learners you know, refugee students or students who had in, you know, massive interruptions in their schooling, that when they were engaged in creating radio and talking about things that had meaning to them, that their literacy skills dramatically increased when we had a final product.

“Hey, everybody, we're, we're on, we're live on Friday. We have to make radio programming.” That there was just sort of this [00:07:00] joy and learning that kind of a rigor and joy converged. When I saw that and I said, wait a second, I'm really interested in playing around with that notion of rigor and with kids and, and, and engaging them.

And so, then I ended up going into education and was, was teaching. And I've taught grade 5-12 in, in all sorts of contexts in French and in English. I've taught maths, I've taught history and in, in the middle years, in the senior years, of course. And then I was asked by Seven Oaks to be the founding principal of the Maples Met School which is a project-based learning school that, that really leans heavily into internships for learners.

We have three met schools that are part of the Big Picture Learning network globally. And on Tuesdays and Thursdays, kids engage in internship. So, they find a mentor who is doing significant work that they're passionate about, and then they're essentially app apprenticed by adults in a, in an area that, that, that is of interest to [00:08:00] them.

And so I, we, we started that little school and then a short while after that, the board asked me to come to the board office and be, be the assistant superintendent for curriculum and programs. So, it's been a very short journey. I've only been teaching for about 15 years. But in that, I made some, made some powerful connections and, and I have been afforded the, some pretty tremendous opportunities.

[00:08:21] Anna Stokke: at the Met schools, you talked about internships. So, can you give me an example? Like what kind of internship would a student be doing?

[00:08:29] Matt Henderson: Yeah. And, and, and it's really, it's really interesting because it, it can vary based on the, you know, I would say the skill, the competencies of the learner. You know, with, with a learner coming into grade nine, we're not suggesting that they're going to be necessarily interning with a chemistry researcher at the University of Manitoba, but that may be something that they work towards.

But we'll, we have internships in, across our, across the universities here in Winnipeg. We have, with game developers, with tradespeople with [00:09:00] educators, you name it, we have, we've, we've had folks in funeral homes. We've had some of our kids interning in funeral homes. What we try to do, especially in grade nine and 10, is ensure that our learners have a variety of experiences so that they can begin to sort of say, these are the things that I like, that I like to do, or I'm interested, or I have questions about, and these are the things that I don't like. So that when they come out of high school and they're going to go into post-secondary, they've really had a wide um, range of experiences so that they're, they're better able to make some of those decisions. When, you know, when I came out of high school, I really had no idea how to navigate what opportunities existed out there.

And, and, you know, as I said, it took me about 12 or 14 years to figure out, no, I, I do wanna become a teacher. And so what we're trying to do is just, it's not, it's not a better way of doing high school, it's just a different way of doing high school where we're connecting um, work in the community to, to the projects and the, and the, you know, the, the powerful learning that goes on on Monday, Wednesday, [00:10:00] Friday as well.

[00:10:01] Anna Stokke: So, I thought that maybe today we could talk about some particular challenges that are impacting education at the moment. And I'm sure you have a lot of insights into these things, so I thought you're a perfect person to ask about these types of things.

So the big one is the COVID 19 Pandemic and the impact on education. And I've read a fair bit about this and so to maybe just tell the listeners about what, how things went here, and you can correct me if I'm wrong. So I think in about March 2020, K-12 schools were moved online and most of them stayed that way for that academic year.

And then the following school year, there were varying school schedules. So, for instance, some high school students were going part-time or every other day. I think the young, younger children were maybe going regularly though. Is that, correct?

[00:10:52] Matt Henderson: Correct.

[00:10:52] Anna Stokke: But at the same time, lots of of things happened, like school clubs and sports, et cetera were canceled in a [00:11:00] lot of cases.

And this year things are pretty much back to normal. But you know, there definitely were disruptions to education. And some of the studies I've read recently, so for example, one and in Nature Human Behavior, they looked at the impact in several countries and it was estimated that children lost about 35% of a normal school's year worth of learning, which is actually a lot. 

So, with the learning loss, greatest actually in math is what I have read, and obviously worse for students who were already struggling or from low socioeconomic backgrounds. So, I'm just kind of wondering what your observations have been in your division and what, kind of impacts you've seen.

[00:11:42] Matt Henderson: Yeah. And, and no, that's a great question and I think it's something that we still need to be thinking about. We're looking at some of our data right now. You know, even though people say the pandemic's over, it's not really over. The restrictions are, are are gone, but we're still dealing with people being sick and kids being away and teacher shortages and um, but we're also still [00:12:00] dealing with the ramifications of kids not being in school, of looking at screens of like you said, all those things on the periphery. 

So, the extracurriculars, the arts, programming, the sports, which for many kids is the reason why they come to school. And, and, and we know from the research that the longer kids are in school just in a day has dramatic impacts on, on their future.

We're still noticing that, that many of our students are struggling, not only just emotionally, but I think mentally and cognitively from from that time. One of the things that, you know, in the last couple of years I had a, I had a big, sort of, a bit of a noticing or a hunch that you know, a lot of our learners, particularly those in grade one, two, grade three, who had school interruptions probably would be struggling um, academic.

And I don't think that was a huge leap to have that kind of hunch. But I, we, we needed some data to kind of take a look at that. So [00:13:00] we, we did a, a, a light sampling of kids in grade two, two to, to eight particularly as it related to mathematics. And we noticed right away that, that our learners were struggling.

And it, and it doesn't, you know, it doesn't take a, a genius to figure out why that for learners who, who can't read very well, or just learning how to read and write to be able to, to learn online on Zoom with 25 other kids is, is, is impossible. And maybe it worked for, for some kids who are in certain households, but, but it, it, it just didn't work for, for those kids.

I mean, it's hard enough being a  grade two teacher in person. And I have all the respect for folks who teach grade two, but to do that online is just outrageous. And so, we started to notice that through that, that data collection that our, that our learners were struggling, but we also knew just some, through some data collection and literacy, that, that, that, that same age group was struggling as well.

[00:14:00] But then in some of our survey work, we were seeing middle year students saying, you know, I don't feel connected to school. I have increased anxiety. You know, I, I, I, I'm not really engaged anymore because for, for many of those kids, those, that school connection was lost. And we know that if they don't have a school connection then, it's harder for them to, to think deeply in a classroom.

And if they're not thinking, they're not learning. And, and so we've taken some, some, some pretty bold steps, I would say in the last, two years to really mitigate that, and as you said, to ensure that our learners have, the confidence particularly as it relates to in, you know, in this conversation around mathematics, the confidence, but also the competencies to really see themselves as mathematicians and say, no, like I, I, I've fallen in love with maths, or I've fallen, I, I, I'm thinking like a scientist, or I can think like a historian and I feel that these, these things matter to me.

And so that's where, that's where we've really started to make [00:15:00] significant moves is how is it that we can really stoke the fires of curiosity and passion in, in these areas? And, and that's, that's where our professional development has, has been geared. But yeah, no, I think this is, this is something that we really need to talk about are the impacts of, of Covid-19, because I think they'll be with us for a number of years.

[00:15:20] Anna Stokke: I think so too. And I mean, I'm not surprised that the gap would be worse in math. Probably one of the reasons is that a lot of parents can't help their kids with math, it's easier to sit down with your child and read, but a lot of times the parents aren't able to do the math themselves, particularly at the high school level.

And so it would be really rough on kids and this is anecdotal. my colleagues are saying that students are struggling this year in university more than they have in the past. And it was hard on us too, we actually were online for, two years, which isn't a place I wanted to be in.

I mean, I wanted, to [00:16:00] be teaching my students in person. And my students are 17, 18, and they were struggling. And a lot of it is, is, just even being around your peers. And, that's, that's a huge thing for young people. they need to be, with their group of peers and, and, talking to each other and, experiencing school collectively.

So, one thing we found out though is, is how online learning goes and, you know, there were some good things and, and some bad things, but I'm curious, what were the biggest challenges for educators, for teachers in trying to deliver classes to their students online?


[00:16:40] Matt Henderson: Well, I mean, how long is this podcast? I mean, like, even, even for me, you know, I was teaching at the University of Winnipeg and having to go online and I, you know, I would say that I'm technically proficient at, at, at, at using technology. But, but it, it wasn't the same, right? I mean, you're an educator, I'm an educator. Part of the thing that we rely on is [00:17:00] that, that minute by minute feedback we can give to learners to push their thinking and learning forward, but also the feedback that they give to us so we can say, oh, wait a second, this isn't working, I need to change what I do. 

And there's so many ways we do that in a classroom when we're in person, where we're, we're, we're watching the eyes of the students, we're watching the, the posture, the hoodies are up, or you know, if, if I'm bombing a, a, a particular lesson that I've designed and I see that, you know, there's frustration or there's disengagement that's not on the students, that's on me. So, I have to, I have to, you know, rejig what I'm doing online. Online, it became very, very hard to do that. And I think, you know, to your, to your question about what were some of the greatest challenges?

I think that depends K to 12, the challenges for a kindergarten teacher. I think were different from say a grade 12 English language arts teacher where you know, there, I think there are equally significant challenges, but just different in their, in their own right. You know, [00:18:00] part of the things that we, we invested a tremendous amount of time in just getting teachers up to speed on, okay, how might we do things online?

How might we kind of hack this so that we're able to have one-on-one time with kids and families to provide the supports, sending books home, sending Chromebooks home, sending everything, because we we know that it you know, we're all in the same storm as they say, but we weren't in the same boat.

And so, making sure that as best as possible, we could try to address the, the inequities that exist in our society. And I think that was probably the, the, the greatest challenge if we're looking at K to 12, is some students being able to, and others just not having, whether that was a technical, the technical ability or simply that they're in an apartment with you know, a two bedroom apartment with a whole bunch of family members and there's just no alone space.

And, and so I think that was the, the greatest challenge for kids. We know what [00:19:00] schools do, schools create community schools create relationship for uh, kids, schools create opportunity. And when you pull the plug out of that there's a, there's a real there's a significant gap in how kids sort of engage with other kids and with healthy adults.

And, and so I think, you know, the, the lack of relationship, the, the lack of ability to provide feedback, the, the lack of equitable opportunities to learn were probably the, the greatest challenges. And I know for lots of teachers being at home trying to teach when they have their own kids, was was equally, you know, I was trying to do that for a little bit, and it was just an impossibility. 

And so, there was, I mean, we could probably write several volumes on the challenges of pandemics present to educators for the next pandemic that comes along. But let's hope that doesn't happen too soon.

[00:19:58] Anna Stokke: So, do you think though, that [00:20:00] there's any place for online learning in K to 12 education? Like do you think there are some benefits to online education?

[00:20:09] Matt Henderson: Well, I, yeah, I, I think so. You know, and, and I've been, I've been a little bit outspoken about the province of Manitoba education’s plan right now, which hasn't been fleshed out. So I, I have concerns around that. Like, if, if we're gonna do it, let's do it. Well, and so, for instance, there are all sorts of rural and northern communities where there are teacher shortages where there, there are transient teachers where they don't, they can't offer the same robust programming that you can in Winnipeg, but that takes significant connectivity within those communities.

And also, you know, part of the, what's successful about online or has been in different pockets of online learning is when you can create a synchronous community where there's larger groups and smaller groups, and some people become quite effective at at that. And so, it's not just asynchronous. You can't ask a 15 or 16 year old [00:21:00] kid to do an asynchronous course by themselves without support devoid of community.

And so I think if we, if, if we're really interested in doing it right, what's the current infrastructure and maybe that's hydro, that can allow for robust connectivity in the north where we can provide meaningful synchronous intentionally designed experiences so that kids are actually learning and not just going through the motions of, of an asynchronous course, submitting things.

And then, you know, we all know the curve of forgetting. If they never go back to it, it's gone. And so, you know, to the, the short, my short answer to that is, if we're gonna do it, let's do it right. But let's ensure that it's impacting the kids that need it the most.

[00:21:45] Anna Stokke: And you and I are on the same page about this. I, think that it needs to be synchronous and at least in mathematics, I don't tend to speak for other subjects because I don't teach other subjects. I only teach mathematics. But for instance, when I was [00:22:00] online and, and most of our department, we all taught synchronously because in math you really do need to be going through the problems with the students.

You need, the students need to be able to stop you and ask questions. And there needs to be participation in, in the class. So, I think, you make a good point though. There, there probably are some communities where students may not have access to courses like pre-calculus and if you don't have an opportunity to take pre-calculus, you won't be able to take calculus, which basically shuts you out of all sorts of things like engineering and, and economics and sciences.

So, so if they could get that right, it actually maybe could be beneficial because realistically, it's probably better for the students to stay with their families when they're young and, have access to the courses. If we can find a way to get the courses there in a good way.

[00:22:55] Matt Henderson: Absolutely. And you know, when we're, you know, if we look at public education and one of its [00:23:00] purposes is to ensure that learners have the means to a decent life. And we can argue back and forth what we mean by a decent life. But, you know, leisure time, you know, fulfillment, security, you know housing, you know um, and so, you know, or do they have the opportunity to engage in the polis, in, in, in meaningful ways.

Then I think once we start closing those doors, whether it's pre-calculus or whatever it is, then we begin to diminish the opportunities for kids. And so, I think that's it. When, when we talk about equity, it's ensuring that all learners have access to, in this case, public education and, and, and what it involves.

I mean, we, let's not even get into the issue that many students up north have to fly to Winnipeg and leave their home communities in a foreign place in, in often large high schools. And that's just, that's a travesty unto, unto itself. But yeah, no, absolutely. I think there's a, and, [00:24:00] and I would even say that there are rural communities in, in other parts of Manitoba, whether it's you know, southern Manitoba where they simply don't have access to maybe the rich course offerings that we have in, in the metro area.

But how is it that we design and, and support that with faculty and teachers? And, and who know really how to design powerful experiences where they now they're bringing experts from all over the world to engage with their learners, and they're designing powerful prototypes of, you know, to address this particular problem.

That's, that's the magic, that's the key. But, but I don't think we're there yet in Manitoba.

[00:24:37] Anna Stokke: So, I'd like to talk a bit about cell phones and social media, whether you have some opinions. On that you would know more about it than I do in terms of very young people. I certainly have experienced this as a university teacher that teaches 17, 18 year-olds. So, cell phones and social media and the impact on learning or just the impact on young people in [00:25:00] general.

I have heard some reports that social media can increase the risk of depression, anxiety, cyber bullying, and then in a classroom setting there's also the possible distraction element and impact on learning. So, do you have any opinions on this and what are your thoughts on cell phones and schools?

Do you think schools have a role to play in limiting cell phone use or social media use?

[00:25:25] Matt Henderson: Yeah. Well, and it's funny, like, do you want me to put my parent hat on now? As well because I've, I've got a 14, I've got a 14 year old daughter who now has a phone and oh boy.  I mean, I, I think like one of the interesting things with, with my own child is that we, we had to engage in a critical conversation about, with her, about this is the most powerful device ever created by our species, and we're giving it to you.

A 14 year old who, whose brain hasn't fully developed. And yet we've given you all these tools. And one of the things and I'm fortunate [00:26:00] to have a great partner and we have a wonderful relationship not that it's been easy dealing with the cell phone issue, is that we've actually had to parent through this and, and sort of trial and error.

But what we've done is, you know, there are limitations as parents that I can put on the, on the phone there, there, you know, there are certain things that I can say, Nope. You can't use it during these times and we're gonna limit what you can use at specific times. And, and you, you know, you can't have this particular app if you want, if you want to have, still have the phone in.

And what I've been doing is just increasingly having more and more conversations with parents in our school division about that, about like, how do you enter into a conversation where you're not alienating the child and saying, you can't, no, I'm banning the phone. I'm taking the phone. Because we know when, when even when we were kids, when somebody took something away from us uh, that wasn't always a, a positive way to, to, to deal with the particular situation.

But, but I, you know, school divisions or schools or even parents saying, no, we're gonna take [00:27:00] them away, probably won't have the effect that we want. And, and more so is how is it that we can educate kids on what are, what are all the possibilities that these little devices offer us, but when is it appropriate to use them?

When is it appropriate to put them away, to turn them off, to not have them in our bedrooms when we're, you know, at a, in a university lecture where, when, why is it inappropriate to text while someone is speaking even if we think that they can't see, or, or, or, or, or whatever that is. Similarly, in a middle school, why, why would we want to ensure that we're only saying positive things to people online instead of negative things?

And I think, you know, as, as a public school division, that's what we've endeavored to do is how is it that we can teach learners to use these devices as best as we can? Cuz the cat's out of the bag. I mean the, the horse has left the barn. They're, they're there. And try telling a teen, oh, I'm not, you know, if you're a parent, I'm not gonna get you a phone, even though all your friends have one.

[00:28:00] That's not gonna go very well for you, I don't think.


So, I think part of, part of our mission has to be how do we use uh, these little uh, technological marvels uh, appropriately, safely uh, productively to create just in healthy societies. I mean, many adults don't use them, I mean, most adults probably don't use them appropriately.

And so, I think it's, we're compelled to do that in the K to 12 system. I was just in an airport sitting in a lounge, and every single person is looking at their screen. Nobody's reading a book anymore. Nobody's talking to each other. 

And so, I think as a society we really have to rethink sort of our addiction to these little devices. And it's, I think it's impossible to ask our young people to, to not engage with them when all they see are like, what do they see the adults modeling all the time is that we're addicted to these things.

So, I think, I think fundamentally what we have to do, and same thing with chat uh, you know, with the AI ChatGPT and how is it that we, we [00:29:00] teach learners to use these for good and, and, and not evil. We teach kids how to use scissors. We teach them how to use protractors and compasses. We teach them how to use power tools really, really safely.

I think we can do it with technology as well.

[00:29:14] Anna Stokke: In my university classes, and I generally teach first year calculus, and it's always kind of surprising to me how addicted students are to their phones. And actually, I have a no cell phone policy in my class. and they're fine with that.

And in fact they probably appreciate it. So, I just tell them, you know what, we're going to be learning calculus and I don't want you to be distracted. I'm not here on my phone, so you shouldn't be here on, they're on your phone either. And yeah, that's just how I've done it.

And, and it's worked fairly well for me, but I don't have to teach them for an entire day, and they're 18. 

[00:29:52] Matt Henderson: But they, they can, they can also be marvelous tools. You know, when I would take my, you know, as a hi high school history teacher, we would go out into the field all the [00:30:00] time. And so, we would be investigating the Alexander Docks or looking at the Arlington Street Bridge and say, Hey, take a photo of this.

Now I want you to write a quick note about this. And, you know, and so they can be marvelous tools when the, when learners are educated on how and when to use them. And I think that's something that we really need to engage in, in our society is, is really around that education. We've lost a bit of that, I think.

[00:30:23] Anna Stokke: and you mentioned ChatGPT, and so I'm curious what you think about chat G P T I mean, we've dealt with these types of things in, in math for a very long time, so this is nothing new.

You know, we've had Wolfrom Alpha and Symbolap, and, and the various things that, that students use to, to try and do their math homework, which in some instances can be helpful and in some instances isn't helpful. So, but ChatGPT is a whole new level, and I would imagine, you know, for someone who, who has taught history, for example, ChatGPT could [00:31:00] literally write you an essay. So how are you dealing with that sort of thing in the classroom?

[00:31:05] Matt Henderson: Yeah. Well, and I mean, first I think it's, it's, I find it interesting. The tech industry, there's many people saying, can we put a pause on AI development right now? Because things are getting, like when ChatGPT came out, it was like, oh, cool, I can make a wrap about this, you know, in a Shakespearean voice.

Or I can, you can write a little bit of code for me, or it can do, isn't that quaint? Or I can have it do a a lesson plan as a teacher and, and then I can, you know, bring other teachers together and we can judge how effective this lesson might be. But I think as things are ramping, you know, there, there were just, there are thousands of AI type of bots and applications that are coming out every day.

And I think, I think like for me, it goes beyond education. I think there, there may, we may need to pause about to what degree are we comfortable with artificial intelligence just [00:32:00] invading, you know, our, our, our, the human condition. And I, I don't think we're we have much consensus right now, so I would just put that out there.

You know, in, in terms of, in terms of education you know, the conversations I have with teachers is around if learners are able to use chatG P T to submit an assignment, maybe that means that. That, that's too simplistic of a thinking task. Not to say that AI is, can't, can't learn to think. But I’d, there are certain ways that humans can think that are a little bit different. And so that's really been interesting. You know, I'm teaching a class right now with a whole bunch of fantastic teachers and part of that is to sort of say how do we design so that the final product or what, what learners are really thinking and pushing can't actually be replicated or can't be plagiarized or can't be submitted, or, or just sort of bought offline there. 

I mean, forget AI. There's all sorts of companies that you can [00:33:00] go online now and buy papers from. It's really quite terrible. And, and I, I just looked at one the other day and I was like, oh my goodness, this is like the people who are writing papers for other people who are so unethical that it, it was, it was really quite disheartening.

But, but I think it provides us with an opportunity to sort of say, okay, if this exists, then how do we, how do we adjust what are our teacher moves? So that we're actually able to assess what the learner has learned, what they can do and then push their learning even forward. I mean, one of the interesting things that I did when, when ChatGPT first came out is that I put my dissertation topic in and it, it had no idea.

It, like, it couldn't because it was just, so, I was using a, a specific. Archive that is just not online. And it had no idea really how, like it spat something out, but it wasn't even close. And so, part of my challenge would be for educators is, okay, well how do we design that then so that students are creating something anew and [00:34:00] something that has meaning to them that can't be necessarily be replicated.

And I, you know, in mathematics that might be different. But, but I think for, for most domains we can be, we can be pretty creative.

[00:34:12] Anna Stokke: And you mentioned that you, put in your, thesis dissertation and it had no clue. So, I actually typed into chatGPT this morning. Who is Anna Stokke? And this is the response: Anna Stokke is a mathematician and a professor at the University of Winnipeg in Canada. That's true. Right?


Sure. She earned her PhD in mathematics from the University of California Los Angeles. This is absolutely not true. Right. I went to, I went to the University of Alberta and her research interests include number theory and algebraic geometry. Also not true. Not at all true. and I have a website that has all, all of my credentials on it.

It could have just. Grabbed the information from the website. So I think, yeah, it seems to, it will insist on giving an answer,[00:35:00] that seems like it could be correct, but you have to be very careful with it.

[00:35:04] Matt Henderson: Well, one of the things that, you know, the example I used the other day uh, with some teachers, some history teachers, we were just kind of talking about chat, G p T and, and ai. And, and I said uh, well, you know, how is it that we can low tech this in some ways when we get kids really thinking and we want them to think historically.

So, when I ask a learner, Hey, who's the most significant person in your life? Well, artificial intelligence can't answer that for them right now. That learner has to think, well, who is the most? So, it might be their auntie, it might be their grandmother, it might be their mom. And then when you ask them, well, what criteria did you use to make that determination?

And when we use criterial thinking, we're thinking critically. And then so now we've got them thinking and there's no tech involved. And we might, we might later say, okay, well, here's a $5 bill, which has Laurier on it. You know, the, the, the Mint is [00:36:00] thinking about replacing Laurier with somebody else in the, you know, if you go to the Mint’s website, there's, there's a whole bunch of nominees for that.

But I might ask a child, well, who do you think should be the, the person on the $5 bill? And why? What's the criteria that you've used for that? In that moment, they may have to think and use their, their previous uh, schema and their experience and maybe talking with each other. To really develop a response to that, but also the, the, the criteria that they used to come to that particular judgment that can't, like in my books, that type of discussion, that type of experience where students are asked to think deeply are, are those experiences that, that get seared into their brain.


And as educators, our job is to see things into the minds of learners forever. And, and that's the task that I bring to classrooms every day is how is it that what I do today will be with these uh, learners for the rest of their lives? Now, can I be successful? All the [00:37:00] time. No, of course not. That's the whole thing about teaching is that we're children don't learn what we teach them.

If they did, they would all get a hundred percent all the time.


But I, but I think that's where we have to really start thinking is in our daily design, whether it's at the post-secondary or it's in the K to 12 system, are we providing opportunities and experiences for, for, for learners to think in all sorts of domains, across domains, using in transdisciplinary transdisciplinary ways meaningful ways to think deeply about the, the universe, the role within that universe and to, to really begin asking significant questions.

[00:37:36] Anna Stokke: So, let's shift gears a little bit. let's talk a bit about math teaching and that sort of thing. So, first of all, I just wanted to ask, in terms of hiring teachers who hires teachers, is that principals or, or superintendents.

[00:37:54] Matt Henderson: Well, at the end of the day, it's the board. It's the Board of Trustees who approve, approves all, all, all [00:38:00] hirings. You know, I think in our school division, we ask principals to interview candidates and that they make recommendations to the board and then the, the, the, the board approves that.

But certainly principals you know, for instance, at at, at the University of Winnipeg, we get our principals who interview all candidates who, who are interested in, in, in coming to Seven Oaks to not only provide us with some insight, but to provide you know, experience an interview experience for, for teacher candidates.

But, but, but principals, you know, when when they, when they need a, a, a teacher in their schools, they all interview candidates. And then they'll make a recommendation to the board and the board will, will approve that. So that's, that's a bit of the process. And, and, and we, you know, as a, as a team of superintendents, we really trust our principals to, to get the right people in their school that, that really cuz they know their schools and they know, they know what that big puzzle piece is.

[00:38:54] Anna Stokke: And then in terms of math background, so a high school math teacher normally has [00:39:00] maybe a math degree at least, right? And then, yeah. And then the, elementary and middle school teachers, they're more generalist though, right? They teach all the subjects, so they don't necessarily, some of them might have math backgrounds.

[00:39:14] Matt Henderson: Yeah. No. And that, and that's, that's, and, and in Seven Oaks, our Middle years, like we, we have a pure middle year's philosophy, which means, you know, in grade six to eight the, the kids are with one teacher to provide them with with those opportunities to kind of blur the lines between domains.

[00:39:30] Matt Henderson: Sometimes the do the, those domains are straight up like, Hey, today we're learning about, you know, the properties of matter. And, and we can't necessarily read, you know, read fiction about that today, or today. We really have to really focus on our foundational skills around mathematics. And so those, there are clear boundaries around that.

But there are times where just like adults, just, you know, when you and I work, we're blending all sorts of skills and competencies together, and we want to give learners opportunities to do that. So for us, yeah, K to 8 [00:40:00], they are, there are generalists and some of them may have some, some, one of their majors or minors might be mathematics, but it, but it may not.

[00:40:08] Anna Stokke: So, what are some of the biggest challenges, facing teachers in your division when it comes to teaching math?

[00:40:16] Matt Henderson: Well, I think one, one of the things that we've just gotten some feedback around, I think one of the big ones is around just a, a, a teacher's own experience with mathematics when they were a learner. You know, some, some of them might have experienced, some negative, negative things that, that have reduced their confidence.

And, and so what we've done, done, particularly around mitigating the effects of COVID is really try to provide deep, rich opportunities for particularly Arcata eight teachers to watch each other teach to have guests come in and observe. And, and, and really because we know that teachers get better by watching each other teach and giving each other feedback.

And then, and we just see that pump up the confidence in folks [00:41:00] and,  as opposed to just kind of sitting around and talking about teaching. I guess that serves some function, but we've really seen a, it's really important for teachers to get into each other's classrooms and, and watch, observe. And then the next person will do the same lesson in another classroom - watch, observe. 


And it's a little bit of, you know, Japanese lesson study where we see some, some some real impacts on teacher practice ergo in teach in, in learner achievement and accomplishment. And so, I would say that, you know, con confidence is, is, is a, is a big one. One of the things that we've also done is we've just, where we've seen some improvements in achievement in a, in student accomplishment in mathematics is just adding in a, a little bit more around mathematics.

Taking a look at the, you know, if mathematics, and some, some of the research points to this is a, is a significant predictor of later school success. You know, adding a little bit more time in a six day cycle or in a day um, you know, not to suggest that physical education is important in French and all these other things [00:42:00] nothing's competing, but to, but if we're serious about this extending that by a little bit.

And then I would think that just you know, for, for some folks who are, who are finding it challenging, how does sequence thing, like what, what's the connection. Between significant ideas in mathematics and how is it that we designed for that sequencing? How do these things all fit? You know, one, I I was sitting with a teacher a while ago and, you know, they were, we, we were looking at some of the data and uh, they said, you know, like, I just don't even know where to start.

Because there's so much, there's so much in the curriculum. How do you make a decision?


And then how do you make sure that things are sequenced in a way that, that students are using, you know, one particular competency as a building block for another one and another one and another one, and then you're spiraling back so they don't forget it. And, and all those things. I said, “what a beautiful question. This is, this is our professional inquiry.” Then, you know, and so we, we, we engaged in a conversation just around, [00:43:00] Hey, as a teacher, you need to have you, you need to make an ideological and a professional decision about what you're gonna include in your math program.

So what, what is the data telling you? And so, we talked about number sense, foundational skills. We talked about, you know, the relationship between fractions and ratio and percent and decimals. And, and I said, well, wow, you've just basically built sort of the, the a math program or the big ideas around our math program that you can begin to really cultivate.

So that's, that's been a really exciting piece. But I would say, yeah, the, the confidence just in general and some of that, you know, I don't like to use the word math, math, trauma because there's like trauma, there's people experience real trauma in the world, but negative experiences in math, in, in, in one's life.

But also, when teachers sort of look at the task in front of them and go, this, this is, this is a lot. I'm not even sure where, where to begin that those have been challenges, but I think that's been the joy in the last couple years in Seven Oaks, is that we've been able to bring teachers together to talk about that.

We've brought in [00:44:00] John Mighton from JUMP to really work in classrooms. John is here all the time working with teachers in classrooms, really modeling how you build the confidence of learners so that every learner feels that they're a mathematician, where every learner's included. Where the hoods come off, where students are jumping and just joyful about mathematics, where we've, we've seen fantastic success in that.

And, and, but, you know, the, the larger piece around that, where we've had lots of success is really, you know, K to 12 is really getting uh, teachers in a place where they're able to provide that minute by minute feedback to students to push them along. And we always use the analogies of sports and the arts, right?

When you're, when you're coaching a child, you're, you're, you're constantly tweaking and, and giving them, you know, what if we did it this, this time? And uh, and then the final product might be a. Right.  [00:45:00] Where, where that might be the performance, but you're always tweaking. You're always providing um, uh, feedback to push, to push their, their thinking forward.

Similarly, in music it's the same thing. You take little bits, little pieces. What if we did this? Oh, you know, if you're learning to play cello, make sure you're holding your bow this way. What about the, let's listen to the music, let's go to the symphony. But we're constantly providing feedback to the learners to push them forward but allowing them to see the big picture as well.

And so that's been, that's been something that we've brought into our math our math professional development as what, as well as are we providing learners with that formative feedback that we know is, is so important.

[00:45:37] Anna Stokke: And, formative feedback, meaning this is different from summative feedback. Formative feedback is the type that tells you what the students are missing. Correct?

[00:45:47] Matt Henderson: It tell, it tells what the students are missing, but it also tells me what I'm missing as the teacher. Right. And, and it, and it's pushing, it's pushing their thinking further and it's pushing uh, their, therefore it's pushing their learning further. [00:46:00] And it, and it could be whiteboards and, you know, simple whiteboard, Hey, does everybody have the right Oh, oh, oh, let me go over to you and let's suggest you, you clearly didn't get it.

Which is fundamentally different than summative. Absolutely.

[00:46:11] Anna Stokke: How do you measure and assess student learning? So now I'm asking more about summative feedback. 

[00:46:18] Matt Henderson: Right. Well, I mean, I mean, that's an interesting, you know, when you say how do you measure a student learning? I mean, that's formative for me. Where, you know, like I'm teaching a course right now and, and the learners who are teachers um, are responding to prompts in a discussion, and I'm providing them feedback around some of the things that they're thinking about as they're trying to theorize uh, you know, different things in education.

And, and so I'm providing them with feedback. But I, I can also say, Hey, wait a second. I can see that and I write this. I can see that you've understood this. I can see that you're applying this particular, or you theorize this, leaning on these texts. That's really fascinating. Have you thought about this?

So even in formative assessment that minute by minute I'm assessing student [00:47:00] learning. But if we're talking about summit of assessment, we're really in, in my opinion, we are fundamentally looking at how effective is, is a system. Right? Or how effective is a school, or how effective is a teacher in a particular classroom. If we're doing a summit of assessment, and it might be, and they're not bad things not at all.

But if they're, if we're doing oil dips periodically with, with, with kids to follow them to sort of say how effective is Seven Oaks School division? You know, for instance, the, the grade 10, or sorry, the grade 12  provincial assessments are really handy for me as an assistant superintendent to have to sort of say, Hey, how effective are we with, with English language arts and mathematics education?

You know, I, I, you take it with a grain of salt, but it's also, it's important data.


And actually, what's really interesting about Manitoba is I can see all sorts. I can follow a cohort through early development uh, data through grade 3,4 data through grade 7,8 data through grade 12. I can watch a cohort go through [00:48:00] and, and, and sort of say, okay, what are the things we're doing right as a division, but what are the things that we need to do better at?

What do we, what do we need to get better at? And so, I think that's where summative assessments are really, really powerful. One of the things that, you know, as a, as a teacher when I would offer you know, a, a final exam or something like that in, in a high school context or at the Met School, we would have final exhibitions where learners would basically do a thesis defense four times a year.

Is that like, that's a reflection on me, as the teacher. If a student doesn't do well on that exam, or doesn't do well in that exhibition, or if one of your graduate students doesn't do well in their, in their defense, that's a reflection on us. And now of course we want students to take you know, some responsibility for their own learning and all those things.

 But I think at the end of the day, summative assessments are more effective for determining the, the effectiveness of systems.

[00:48:54] Anna Stokke: But summative assessments can maybe also be formative though too, right? So, if you're thinking [00:49:00] about “is this person going to be prepared to take the next class” or “is this student who just completed pre-calculus 40S, are they going to be prepared to take calculus in university?”

Sometimes that summative assessment will, tell us that, the thing that I always get kind of worried about, because there's a lot of talk actually in, in Manitoba about canceling final exams altogether. And again, I'm, I will only speak for mathematics and it's similar in the, in the sciences that at, university we do tend to give large, final exams that are, are worth a fair bit, sometimes even 50%.

Now, whether that's, you know, whether people agree with that or not, you know, that tends to be the way it is across Canada. And so, my biggest concern is that we were going to have these students that had no experience writing final exams.

And I do think that even the process of preparing for the final exams actually does help students [00:50:00] learn, and they have something to work towards. So, what do you think about, that angle?

[00:50:04] Matt Henderson: Yeah. Well, yeah, and, and like, I don't like to sort of say, you know, education can be so polarizing in many ways where, where there's sort of camps where people sort of say, this is bad or this is good. And, and I, and I, I, I kind of like to say, well, there's probably, in many ways, as long as it's not harmful for children there's probably merit in, in all sorts of things.

And, but we ha we have to think about what is the purpose of a particular tool or a particular thing that we're going to do within the classroom. And so, I, you know, I see all sorts of benefits to a, to a final exam. And, but also I can see some drawbacks if it's not designed well uh, if it's not um, appropriate in terms of the, the impact that it's gonna have on learners.

I mean, one of the things to your point is teachers aren't taught how to create exams. There's no uh, at no point has anybody, I, I would argue with professors as well, nobody has said this is actually how you make [00:51:00] a rigorous, authentic, fair and transparent final exam. But we've, we just do it because we've been through it and we're like, okay, I guess this is how we put an exam together.

I mean, it's same, same thing with multiple choice tests. Multiple choice questions can be really um, powerful in terms of the evidence you're trying to elicit. But I've never been taught how to create a really good multiple choice exam. I've never been taught a, a, a question and, and so it, it would be the same thing with, with, with exams.

But like, I, I think more to the point is if I'm an educator, I want to think about, okay, if I'm gonna have a final exam, whether that's in history or maybe it's a provincial exam, why, why am I doing this? What am I trying to assess? Am I doing it under the conditions that the students have been used to all year?

Is it an authentic way of a a assessing the learner is, is sort of saying, Hey, this is your final exam and it's worth 30 or 50% and you're gonna do it in [00:52:00] three hours. Is that fair? We don't do that to adults in the real world. I don't get assessed in three hours.  Even for my, my defenses that I've done at graduate work, sure there's a defense, but I go through a process and there's all sorts of feedback and for the most part we we're pretty confident that we're gonna do well uh, because we've, we've, we've, we've had all those checkpoints.

So, I think, I think we just have to be careful about how we want to use them. Like a final exam or any, any high stakes assessment tool. So that, so that it's, it actually elicits the evidence that we want. If I would say to your point about if we wanna prepare kids for exams at the university level is why don't we offer exam preparation courses that hey, this is, this is how you're going to, this is an exam, this is how we offer it, as opposed to using the exam as that seminal experience about, Hey, you better do this because if you don't do it, you're not gonna know how to do it.

That seems like a strange way [00:53:00] to teach. The, and the last thing I would just say around that, I'm also cautious about sort of if we're putting a whole bunch of our eggs in the summative basket about the mark that students are going to leave with, we know that the research tells us if that students take an exam in June by September.

They've lost most of what, what was on that particular exam. So, if we're, if we know that, and our goal is to ensure that students are prepared to write exams in university, then I think at some point we have to talk about, well, if then we need to educate kids on how to take exams,

[00:53:34] Anna Stokke: That's actually a really good idea. And I actually had Paul Kirschner on earlier and he talked a bit about space practice. And so, your point about the student writes the exam, they, and that's cramming, right? So, if you're, if you cram, cram, cram for an exam and then you write the exam, you're probably gonna forget a lot of that.

But if you study in such a way that [00:54:00] you're spacing out your practice, then that shouldn't happen, and you're more likely to remember the material for the exam.

[00:54:07] Matt Henderson: Absolutely. Well, and, and, and I think to your point, we want to make sure that students remember this forever. There's all sorts of debates around direct, direct instruction around project-based learning, around inquiry. And as you know, the, the moral of the story around this is, you know, are we providing students with feedback?

Are we using what they already know about the world and, and, but, you know, capitalizing on that.  But are we constantly coming back to the knowledge thinking and ways of being we want for our learners to sear into their brains and spiraling that, right, so that it becomes seared uh, and that, that they see that it's relevant and they carry that with them.

And, and that's, that's, that's the trick and that's the challenge. And that's the fun, and that's the heartache about teaching is that we, you know, how is it that we, we, at the end of the day, that, that the, the kids [00:55:00] or the, the adults who are teaching remember this forever, and that it's not just a step to something else.

 But, and, and that they just see, see the value in it. And so, I think, I think for me, that's where I get really excited about conversations as it relates to, you know, that might be mathematics, it might be history, it might be all sorts of things. But it's like, hey, before we do, before we schedule a final exam, before we schedule an exhibition, before we do this, before we do that, what are we, what are we, actually trying to do here? What are we trying to sear into the minds of these folks? And does this particular assessment tool actually help us? 

[00:55:34] Anna Stokke: So, last question, what advice would you give new teacher?

[00:55:38] Matt Henderson: I think one of the things that I often tell teachers, is, and this is something that I ask myself all the time, and I, and I, I go into classes every day and sometimes a teacher will say, “Matt, can you come in and, and do and show me this or this or that,” or, or whether it's at the university level, ask yourself this particular question.

At the end of the day were the [00:56:00] learners thinking about the things I wanted them to think about and did I cause learning? And that's a little bit of formative assessment for ourselves. A bit of a ref reflection piece is at the end of the day when you're exhausted, kids are gone. You're sitting there, you're like, what happened today?

But you know, our, were the learners thinking about the things I wanted 'em to think about because if they weren't thinking and they weren't thinking about those things, they're certainly not. But also, you know, if they did learn, did I cause that learning and how so? And for me, that's been effective because then I can go back and say, well, if it's no to both of those questions, then I gotta, I, my task tonight is to redesign.

And to think specifically about what are those experiences? What are those, what's the text? Which is the world, what are all those things that I'm gonna bring into the design of this learning experience that's going to ignite them, that's going to excite them, but also so that I can begin to sear the knowledge skills and ways of being into their minds. And So that, that, that would, that I mean, [00:57:00] it's a bit daunting, but that, that would be the, the advice that I would give to myself at the beginning of my career. 

[00:57:06] Anna Stokke: Well I think that's great advice. So, thank you for that and, thank you so much for taking the time to join me today. I really enjoyed talking to. 

[00:57:15] Matt Henderson: Oh, likewise. This has been a lot of fun. Thanks Anna. 

[00:57:17] Anna Stokke: I hope you enjoyed today's episode of Chalk and Talk. Please go ahead and follow on your favourite podcast app so you can get new episodes delivered as they become available. You can follow me on Twitter for notifications or check out my website for more information. This podcast received funding through a University of Winnipeg Knowledge Mobilization and Community Impact grant funded through the Anthony Swaity Knowledge Impact Fund. 

bottom of page