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Valuing femininity

A Queen's post-doc has won an Ontario Women’s Health Scholars Award for her work to measure and combat femmephobic attitudes.

Rhea Hoskins
Rhea Hoskin, a Queen's University post-doctoral fellow, has won an Ontario Women’s Health Scholars Award. (Supplied Photo)

You recognize the signs.

People avoiding the colour pink for fear of appearing too feminine. Crying being labelled as a sign of ‘weakness’. Holding attitudes that suggest women are less capable than men.

These are all examples of femmephobia and anti-femininity – prejudices against femininity and feminine qualities. While some examples of femmephobia can be highly overt, it can also be subtle in how it influences cultural norms.

Rhea Hoskin believes femmephobia and anti-femininity are second nature in society, and their prevalence makes it difficult to conduct research into how this mindset factors into gender-based violence and discrimination. So, her post-doctoral research at Queen’s will aim to develop scales to measure femmephobic attitudes and experiences, and to identify the most likely targets of such attitudes.

“Specifically, in this work I seek to connect different types of violence to the ways in which society views femininity,” she says. “It is my hope that this research helps us to better understand how attitudes that devalue and regulate femininity fuel other forms of discrimination. And, ultimately, I hope that this work encourages the re-valuing of femininity as a strategy to combat misogyny, sexism, homophobia, transmisogyny, and rape culture.”

This promising research topic, coupled with Dr. Hoskin’s other contributions to women’s health and to science over the past decade, recently earned her a 2019 Ontario Women’s Health Scholars Award. The award was established by the Council of Ontario Universities to ensure that Ontario attracts and retains pre-eminent women’s health scholars.

“I was driving when I got the call notifying me that I had received the award,” she said. “I had to pull over because I was instantly overcome with emotion. In all honesty, I broke out into an ugly cry – it was a happy cry, but it was most definitely ugly. I immediately called my mother and wife to let them know. We were all ecstatic.”

For Dr. Hoskin, who also recently received the Governor General’s Gold Medal as one of two of the top graduate students across the university based on academic achievement, this Women’s Health Scholars award means she gets to continue pursuing her passion.

“I think that many people feel relieved or excited when they finish their PhD, but I mostly felt sad by the thought that I might not get to continue with my research, and this line of research in particular,” she adds. “Not only do I love research in and of itself, but I love being able to research femme identities, femmephobia, and anti-femininity in particular.”

Working with Sari van Anders, Canada 150 Research Chair in Social Neuroendocrinology, Sexuality, and Gender/Sex, as her post-doctoral supervisor was a major draw for Dr. Hoskin, as her research requires an interdisciplinary mentor who can understand the complexity of gender and feminist theory and simultaneously work within an empirical realm.

“The opportunity to work with Dr. van Anders will uniquely set me up to continue, and strengthen, the trajectory of my research program,” she says.

Dr. Hoskin’s hope is, through her research, that she can create fresh understanding around why it is we devalue and demote people and things that are feminine, and how that affects women’s health and well-being.

“My research centers marginalized people and applies queer and marginalized perspectives to broader social analyses – thus, to have the importance of this perspective recognized and funded is meaningful,” she adds. “Personally and professionally this award allows me to continue to foster interdisciplinary research collaborations with scholars in Ontario. It is my future goal to continue this programme of research at an Ontario university.”

In addition to her research accomplishments and her ambitious agenda, Dr. Hoskin is also the co-chair of Preaching to the Choir: An International LGBTQ+ Conference and is currently the guest editor for an upcoming special issue on critical femininities in Psychology & Sexuality. She is also an invited guest editor for a special issue on femme theory for The Journal of Lesbian Studies.

How non-profits can use business as a force for good

THE CONVERSATION: New research suggests that non-profits tempted by the social enterprise model do not necessarily lose sight of their social mission in favour of profits. In fact, the opposite is true.

Do social enterprises come to view profit as more important than their original mission? New research suggests they don’t, and the cause remains a key component of their success. (Kat Yukawa/Unsplash)

Can a non-profit organization pursue both social gains and business revenue? Or is it as futile as mixing water and oil and hoping that the oil — commercial interests — won’t rise to the top?

Think about the YMCA of Canada. The Y is one of Canada’s oldest and largest charities, serving more than 2.25 million people each year from 1,700 program locations.

It offers a wide range of social programs, from youth leadership development and immigrant services to skills development workshops. It also operates what is essentially a health club business that is somewhat more distantly tied to its mission, yet provides a critical source of revenue. The Y seems to be able to carry out its model of social enterprise just fine.

But for every YMCA, there are many more non-profits committed to advancing a social cause that struggle with finding revenue sources to keep themselves afloat. It’s no surprise; these two approaches often require very different mindsets, and trying to pursue both requires a cultural shift for traditional non-profit organizations.

Traditionally, non-profit organizations that wanted to increase their revenues tended to create commercial activities that were unrelated to their core social activities. Think about the annual cupcake sale organized by your local soup kitchen, or the café created within your local history museum. Those initiatives generate a welcome surplus of revenues, but they remain somewhat unconnected to the core social mission of the organization.

Pursuing profit where it doesn’t belong?

Many say the concept of social enterprise represents the incursion of neoliberal thinking — putting the market above all else — into a sphere where it doesn’t belong.

Some scholars have predicted that ultimately, the “enterprise” would come to dominate the “social” as the pursuit of funds becomes the goal rather than the connection to a social purpose.

But are non-profits really selling their souls to the market? Maybe not. This argument overlooks the ways in which organizations and their leaders assimilate and adapt new ideas.

Our research suggests that non-profits tempted by the social enterprise model do not necessarily lose sight of their social mission. In fact, we observed the opposite trend: non-profit organizations interested in developing commercial activities learned, over time, how to integrate them more deeply with their social goals.

We came to this conclusion after analyzing 14 years of grant applications submitted to Enterprising NonProfits, then a leading Canadian funder that has since shut down, by non-profit organizations that sought to commercialize some of their services to create earned revenue.

With this long-term perspective, we could identify how non-profits in our study described their operating models and whether those models changed over time as the concept of social enterprise emerged and became more prevalent in society at large.

What we found is that the power of commerce did not win out as the years went by.

Research shows that profits did not win out over the causes of social enterprises. (Photo by Perry Grone/Unsplash)

Yes, in the early 2000s, when the concept of social enterprise was still new, many non-profits tended to emphasize the revenue-generation aspect of their new venture over the social mission, and to keep the two rather disconnected.

This was particularly true among non-profits in the social welfare and community benefit space. Perhaps these non-profits wanted to differentiate themselves from others in the field or just could not envision how to realize their social mission while developing commercial activities.

But over time, this emphasis on pure revenue-generation diminished. In the education and health fields, it never even dominated in the first place.

Enhanced their social missions

Instead, hybrid models sprang up that integrated commercial and social objectives in multiple ways. Some non-profits offered specialized products or services to their target beneficiaries and generated revenue that way. Others provided employment opportunities to their target disadvantaged populations and thus enhanced their social mission.

In short, non-profits became better at managing the tensions inherent in mixing revenue generation with social mission, and more amenable to exploring different options for doing so.

They learned what worked and didn’t work from their peers, as successful examples of hybrid social enterprises that integrated a social mission into a commercial business project became more visible in the environment.

In the process, non-profit organizations realized that injecting some earned revenue into their activities could not only provide some welcome relief to their bottom line, but also had the potential to enhance and deepen their social mission.

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Jean-Baptiste Litrico is Associate Professor of Strategy and Organization at Smith School of Business, Queen's University, and Marya Besharov, is Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior, Cornell University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Grant supports research into pain-relieving drugs for bowel disease

Three-year research project to determine effectiveness of new opioid drugs in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.

[Dr. Stephen Vanner by Matthew Manor]
Dr. Stephen Vanner has received funding  to lead a three-year research project to determine the effectiveness of new opioid drugs in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). (Photo by Matthew Manor)

Stephen Vanner, a clinician-scientist with Queen’s University and the Kingston Health Sciences Centre, has received funding to lead a three-year research project to determine the effectiveness of new opioid drugs in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

One of the greatest unmet needs of patients with IBD is abdominal pain. Current opioid drugs are the most effective treatment, but they have serious side effects. However, new opioid drugs now in development offer longer-lasting pain relief with minimal side effects.

Dr. Vanner, Director of the Gastrointestinal Diseases Research Unit at Kingston Health Sciences Centre and a professor of the Queen’s School of Medicine, has been awarded $375,000 from Crohn’s and Colitis Canada to support early-stage laboratory research that will look at delivering these opioids to specific targets in pain-sensing nerves to reduce pain while mitigating side effects of opioids.

One of the drugs inhibits these pain-sensing nerves in a unique way that leads to sustained pain relief. Another targets these nerves only in inflamed tissues.

“These particular drugs should have no effect on normal tissues, so they could limit or even prevent side effects,” Dr. Vanner says.

This research builds on a large body of earlier IBD work by Dr. Vanner’s group into pain-signalling pathways that suggest these strategies will be effective.

“If these approaches work, the next step could be clinical trials in patients,” he says.

Approximately 1,100 Kingstonians live with IBD, according to Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, and the number of Canadians with this disease is expected to jump from 270,000 to more than 400,000 by 2030. Canada has the highest rate of IBD in the world.

This article was first published on the KGH Research Institute website

Celebrating success at Scotiabank Centre for Customer Analytics

From an initial meeting at an analytics conference in Banff to a full-time position at the Data Science and Analytics Lab at Scotiabank, Hootan Kamran’s perseverance and adaptability have served him well.

[Scotiabank Centre for Customer Analytics]
Hootan Kamran, left, and Mikhail Nediak, centre, of Smith School of Business accept a cheque for renewed funding for the Scotiabank Centre for Customer Analytics.

At the Canadian Operational Research Society (CORS) conference in 2016, Kamran first met his future supervisor, Smith School of Business associate professor Mikhail Nediak. Several months later, Kamran was offered an industrial postdoctoral fellowship through MITACS with Smith and Scotiabank. It let him gain work experience as a data scientist while advancing analytics research.

As one of 15 graduate-level students collaborating with a team of industry experts and faculty at Smith’s Scotiabank Centre for Customer Analytics, Kamran worked on a series of applied research projects with a goal to reshape the customer experience.

Founded in 2016 through a partnership between Scotiabank and Smith, the Scotiabank Centre for Customer Analytics (SCCA) brings together interdisciplinary teams of professors, graduate, students and analytics practitioners to collaborate on research, create new knowledge, and lead the conversation about the future of big data and its applications for organizations looking to better serve their customers.

Kamran credits the centre with encouraging the pursuit of robust scholarship combined with practical applications in the world of data analytics.

“My postdoctoral fellowship with the SCCA allowed me to direct my academic goals toward real industry experience,” he says.

One such experience came after Kamran was transferred from Scotiabank’s Data Science and Analytics (DSA) Lab to the international banking unit as the main investigator tasked with solving a customer lifetime value (CLV) problem for one of Scotiabank’s clients in Chile. After finishing the job in five months, clients in neighbouring Peru expressed interest in the same project, and the experienced team was able to deliver results after only two months.

“The Scotiabank Centre for Customer Analytics plays a crucial role in encouraging innovation across industries,” says David Saunders, Dean of Smith School of Business. “As a global leader in teaching the management of analytics, the centre is a great opportunity for students and faculty to collaborate with industry leaders to develop research and solutions to industry problems.”

After his experience with international banking, Kamran moved back to DSA, where he began working on a project to implement a complex neural network model for prediction tasks in capital markets. In June, after a year of full-time involvement, Kamran accepted a permanent position with the lab.

Established with an initial gift of $2.2 million from Scotiabank, the SCCA has seen a number of successes since its start, including research advances in the areas of pricing, revenue management, loyalty programs, adaptable database management systems, analytics and decision making, and ethics and AI. The centre also helps Scotiabank integrate recent research advances and best practices in CLV into its operations.

“This partnership gives our faculty and students direct hands-on access to the most relevant business context and ultimately increases the impact of our research,” said Professor Nediak, who is also SCCA’s associate director.

In July, Scotiabank reaffirmed its commitment to the centre’s mission and success with $2 million in additional funding, supporting the centre through to 2025.

Scotiabank also provided an anonymized dataset from its SCENE program for use in classes and competitions, including for Smith’s Master of Management Analytics program and the annual Queen’s International Innovation Challenge. The dataset gives students the chance to find deeper insights into customer behaviour while helping Scotiabank determine the best products and services to offer.

“There is tremendous demand from organizations to hire data-savvy employees who can find the opportunity in the numbers and work in teams to solve problems,” says Yuri Levin, the centre’s executive director and Smith Chair of Analytics at Smith School of Business. “Access to current, real-company data gives Smith students a competitive edge.”

Going beyond the classroom, the centre’s popular quarterly community seminars, as well as ongoing public talks and industry conferences, foster a thriving analytics community in both Kingston and Toronto.

SCCA builds on Smith’s research leadership in data analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Faculty leverage this thought leadership in Smith’s custom executive education programs and develop case studies for use in executive education, MBA, and other graduate-level programs.

This article was first published on the Smith School of Business website.

Researchers and policymakers to discuss ‘inclusive prosperity’

School of Policy Studies to host annual Queen’s International Institute on Social Policy.

2019 Queen's International Institute on Social Policy icons
The 2019 Queen's International Institute on Social Policy runs Aug. 20-21.

Most economies have recovered from the global financial crisis of 2008, or at least that’s what traditional indicators — like growth in gross domestic product (GDP) — would have us believe. That said, some experts say that in many advanced economies, income levels and growth have become increasingly uneven, regional inequities have widened, labour’s share of income has declined, and wealth has become highly concentrated within a small fraction of society.

From Aug. 20-21, the annual Queen’s International Institute on Social Policy (QIISP) will bring together senior policymakers and leading researchers to discuss how the rules of the market and the design of public policies can work better for everyone.

“The starting point for QIISP 2019 is that the benefits of economic prosperity and innovation have not been equally distributed in recent decades," says Keith Banting, Professor Emeritus, Stauffer Dunning Fellow, and conference co-organizer. “Moreover, this trend may well be amplified in the years to come as new technologies alter the nature of work.”

Titled Inclusive Prosperity: Recoupling Growth, Equity, and Social Integration, the gathering will see participants analyze how and why understandings of economic growth have become decoupled from broad-based societal benefits. 

The two-day agenda will feature moderated discussions on trends in growth, equity, and opportunity; inclusive innovation; work and wages; social protection, immigration and social integration. The conference will close with a discussion of Canadians’ attitudes to emerging economic and social trends.

“Although the high levels of inequality and social upheaval reshaping the political landscape in the U.S., U.K., and parts of Europe are more muted in Canada, the underlying factors exist here as well,” says Margaret Biggs, Matthews Fellow in Global Public Policy and conference co-organizer. “There are risks of deepening inequalities and fissures in the fabric of Canadian life.”

Speakers include experts from international organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and international researchers from Oxford University, Johns Hopkins University, and the U.K.-based Resolution Foundation. Canadian experts from leading universities and research institutes will join them. In addition, the program will feature commentary from columnists from leading newspapers.”

“The Queen’s summer institute has become Canada’s premiere conference on social policy, “says Naomi Alboim, Distinguished Fellow at the Queen’s School of Policy Studies and conference co-organizer. “It is unique in the way it bridges research and policy, has an international comparative perspective, and involves senior policy-makers from all levels of government.”

Established in 1995, the QIISP is organized by the Queen’s School of Policy Studies with support from the governments of Canada and Ontario, the Region of Peel, and the City of Toronto. For more information, or to register, visit the QIISP website.

Aging with pets is a matter of health and wellness

​Governments must think about older people's relationships with pets when they're planning both aging-in-place strategies and disaster management.

[Man with two dogs in a car]
People’s relationships with their pets impact wellness and health in perhaps surprising ways. (Photo by Tim Mossholder / Unsplash)

Is home somewhere that you feel comfortable? Is it filled with memories of beloved friends and family — some of whom may be furry animals?

Researchers analyzed data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, a national study of adult development and aging which recruited more than 50,000 Canadians between the ages of 45 and 85. They found that over one-third of older Canadians are choosing to age with pets and that, for some people, living with pets can increase life satisfaction.

My research focuses on social justice and aging, with a special interest in the human-animal bond. I recently collaborated on a report for the federal government on seniors, aging in place and community.

When I researched community supports in Canada for this report, I discovered there is no government funding to help older adults care for pets.

This is unfortunate because the relationship between humans and non-human companions has become increasingly important to Canadians. While people and their pets may seem like a frivolous concern, people’s relationships with their pets impact wellness and health in perhaps surprising ways.

Helping people in financial need to pay for their pets is fiscally responsible, since maintaining the human-animal bond could in the long term reduce health-care costs.

Aging in place with pets

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines aging in place as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level.

Aging in place is associated with decreased depressionmaintaining personal identity, staying connected with communityfriends and family as well as avoiding the emotional and physical pain associated with leaving a familiar place.

For many older adults pets are considered to be family members. Interactions with pets are not only important in terms of companionship, they are also associated with better health. For example, a study of people in Germany and Australia found that people who continuously own a pet are healthiest, visiting the doctor less often than non-pet owners. Researchers have linked the human-animal bond to reduced cardiovascular disease risklowered blood pressure and lower cholesterol.

Research also suggests people with pets are also less lonely, have stronger support networks and are often more involved in community activities.

But many older adults do not have adequate retirement income, and in such cases caring for pets can become too expensive to manage.

Given the many quality-of-life and health-related benefits of pet ownership, developing community support programs dedicated to keeping pets and older adults together are expected to result in savings to health-care systems and social programs.

For many older adults, pets are considered to be family members. (Photo by Steffen Kastner / Unsplash)

Climate change dangers

Another concern regarding aging in place with pets is the potential impact of climate change — and how this may impact health.

Since climate change is predicted to result in more heatwaves, hot summers, droughts and flooding there is the need to develop community support initiatives to prevent heat-related deaths among older adultsOlder adults’ vulnerability to extreme heat is well documented, and is increased for those who have more than one illness as well as for those who are socially isolated.

Many older adults may opt to stay in a hot home with their pet, rather than going to a cooling centre without their companion animal, particularly if they foresee no options for the animal’s care. By providing access to air conditioners, which low-income older adults can’t afford on their own, older adults’ heat-related suffering could be alleviated without concerns about abandoning their pet.

Plans to help older adults faced with climate-related danger should also consider that some people have chosen not evacuate severe weather situations when they are unable to bring their pets. Compliance with evacuation orders might increase if government programs were implemented to provide vaccinations for pets and to evacuate older adults with their pets so that they can go to emergency shelters together.

In the United States there have been changes to disaster planning and disaster preparation exercises to respond to the rescue and care of companion animals. Ensuring pets are evacuated and reunited with their humans can be a positive influence on mental health after disasters.

Integrating new initiatives within existing community supports to help older adults care for the animals that share their lives would be a win-win, promoting wellness and potentially reducing health expenditures over the longer term.

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L.F. Carver, is an assistant professor with the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies and an associated faculty member with the Surveillance Studies Centre at Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

Investing in cutting-edge tools and infrastructure for research

The Canada Foundation for Innovation’s John R. Evans Leaders Fund awards $2.65 million to advance research projects at Queen’s.

Sixteen researchers at Queen’s University have secured $2.65 million in funding in the latest round of the Canada Foundation for Innovation’s (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF). At an event at the University of Alberta, the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, announced over $61 million in funding for state-of-the-art research labs and equipment nationwide.

The John R. Evans Leaders Fund helps exceptional researchers at universities across the country conduct leading-edge research by giving them the tools and equipment they need to become leaders in their fields.

The Queen’s funded projects will support the acquisition of infrastructure and development of tools that will advance research in myriad areas – from enhanced treatment for brain tumours to the seismic behaviour of concrete slabs to advancing the search for the elusive dark matter.

“Thanks to the support and critical investment of CFI, Queen’s researchers will have the tools and infrastructure they need to further their work in areas that have a direct impact on how we live and understand the world around us," says Kent Novakowski, Acting Vice-Principal (Research). “We look forward to seeing these projects progress.”

The successful researchers include:

  • Fady Abdelaal (Civil Engineering) - $200,000
  • Muhammad Alam (Electrical and Computer Engineering) - $125,000
  • Ryan Alkins (Surgery) - $150,000
  • Levente Balogh (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) - $200,000
  • Chantelle Capicciotti (Chemistry, Biomedical and Molecular Sciences, and Surgery) - $150,000
  • Aikaterini Genikomsou (Civil Engineering) - $150,000
  • Guillaume Giroux (Physics) - $200,000
  • Anna Harrison (Geological Sciences and Geological Engineering) - $150,000
  • Felicia Maria Magpantay (Mathematics and Statistics) - $150,000
  • Suraj Persaud (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) - $125,000
  • Heidi-Lynn Ploeg (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) - $200,000
  • Jessica Selinger (Kinesiology and Health Studies) - $150,000
  • Laura Thompson (Geography and Planning) - $100,000
  • Anita Tusche (Economics) - $100,000
  • Sari van Anders (Psychology) - $250,000
  • Peng Wang (Chemistry) - $200,000

“Ask any researcher in Canada, and they will tell you that you can’t do the best science if you don’t have the best tools,” says Minister Duncan. “I am thrilled to announce funding for the infrastructure needs of Canadian researchers. Their ground-breaking contributions to science and research have an enormous impact on the breakthroughs that help make our visions for a better future of Canada a reality.”

For more information on the program and for a full list of funded projects, visit the John R. Evans Leaders Fund website.

Mathematics is about wonder, creativity and fun

THE CONVERSATION: High school math curriculum should emphasize collaborative creativity and learning to work with complex systems.

[Alice in Wonderland Rabbit]
Why don’t students say math is imaginative? The 1865 children’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, sprung from a mathematician’s imagination and continues to inspire exploration and fun. 

Alice in Wonderland enthusiasts recently celebrated the story’s anniversary with creative events like playing with puzzles and time — and future Alice exhibits are in the works. The original 1865 children’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, sprung from a mathematician’s imagination, continues to inspire exploration and fun.

But is a connection between math and creativity captured in schools? Much discussion across the western world from both experts and the public has emphasized the need to revitalize high school mathematics: critics say the experience is boring or not meaningful to most students. Experts concerned with the public interest and decision-making say students need skills in critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration.

Mathematicians, philosophers and educators are also concerned with the excitement and energy of creative expression, with invention, with wonder and even with what might be called the romance of learning.

Mathematics has all the attributes of the paragraph above, and so it seems to me that what’s missing from high school math is mathematics itself.

I am now working with colleagues at Queen’s University and the University of Ottawa to develop RabbitMath, a senior level high-school math curriculum designed to enable students to work together creatively with a high level of personal engagement. My preparation for this has been 40 years of working with teachers in high-school classrooms.

In partnership with grades 11 and 12 math teachers, we will be piloting this curriculum over the next few years.

[Peter Taylor in class]
Professor Peter Taylor, right, interacts with students in a Lisgar Collegiate Institute Grade 11 math classroom in Ottawa. (Photo by Ann Arden, provided by Peter Taylor)

Mathematical novels

When students study literature, drama or the creative arts in high school, the curriculum centres on what can be called sophisticated works of art, created in response to life’s struggles and triumphs.

But currently in school mathematics, this is rarely the case: students are not connected to the larger imaginative projects through which professional mathematicians confront the world’s problems or explore the world’s mysteries.

Mathematician Jo Boaler from the Stanford Graduate School of Education says that a “wide gulf between real mathematics and school mathematics is at the heart of the math problems we face in school education.”

Of the subject of mathematics, Boaler notes that:

“Students will typically say it is a subject of calculations, procedures, or rules. But when we ask mathematicians what math is, they will say it is the study of patterns that is an aesthetic, creative, and beautiful subject. Why are these descriptions so different?”

She points out the same gulf isn’t seen if people ask students and English-literature professors what literature is about.

In the process of constructing the RabbitMath curriculum, problems or activities are included when team members find them engaging and a challenge to their intellect and imagination. Following the analogy with literature, we call the models we are working with mathematical novels.

For example, one project invites students to work with ocean tides. It would hard to find a dramatic cycle as majestic as the effect of that sublime distant moon on the powerful tidal action in the Bay of Fundy.

Student engagement

In the 1970s, the extraordinary mathematician and computer scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Seymour Papert, noticed that in art class, students, just as mature artists, are involved in personally meaningful work. Papert’s objective was to be able to say the same of a mathematics student.

I had a parallel experience in 2013 when I was the internal reviewer for the Drama program at Queen’s. I marvelled at students’ creative passion as they prepared to stage a performance. And they weren’t all actors: they were singers, musicians, writers, composers, directors and technicians.

In Papert’s curriculum model, students with diverse abilities and interests work together on projects, whereby they collaborate on problems, strategies and outcomes.

As a pioneering computer scientist, Papert understood that students could directly access the processes of design and construction through digital technology. Papert used his computer system LOGO for this technical interface. LOGO was limited in its scope, but Papert’s idea was way ahead of its time.

Students in the RabbitMath classroom will work together using the programming language Python to construct diagrams and animations to better understand their experiments with springs and tires, mirrors and music. They will produce videos that can explain to their classmates the workings of a sophisticated structure.

Today, technology, the internet, computer algebra systems and mathematical programming provide possibilities for immediate engagement in processes of design and construction — exactly what Papert wanted. The platform for RabbitMath is the Jupyter Notebook, a direct descendant of LOGO.

RabbitMath focuses on the analysis of complex structures. Students studying the curriculum will be involved presenting mathematical ‘stories.’ (RabbitMath image by Skyepaphora), 

Technical skill

For too many years, real progress in school mathematics education has been hamstrung by a ridiculous confrontation between so-called “traditional” and “discovery” math. The former is concerned with technical facility and the latter is about skills of inquiry and investigation.

There is no conflict between the two; in fact they support each other rather well. Every sophisticated human endeavour, from conducting a symphony orchestra to putting a satellite into orbit, understands the complementary nature of technical facility and creative investigation.

Stanford University Graduate School of Education mathematician Keith Devlin advises parents to ensure their child has mastery of what he calls number sense, “fluidity and flexibility with numbers, a sense of what numbers mean, and an ability to use mental mathematics to negotiate the world and make comparisons.” But for students embarking on careers in science, technology or engineering, that is not enough, he says. They need a deep understanding of both those procedures and the concepts they rely on — the capacity to analyze and work with complex systems.

A high-school math class is a rich ecosystem of differing abilities, capacities, objectives and temperaments.

The educator’s goal must be to enable a diverse mix of students to work together in a math class as creatively and intensely as students in the drama program, or to bring the same personal passion as they might to writing fiction.The Conversation

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Peter Taylor, is a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

A potential cure for sleeplessness

New research shows chronic insomnia can be treated effectively without medication.

[judith davidson]
Queen's University researcher Judith Davidson.

New research from Queen’s University’s Judith Davidson (Psychology) has shown insomnia can be treated effectively at the family doctor’s office without the use of drugs.

The research, published in the British Journal of General Practice, confirmed Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is effective in improving self-reported sleep, with improvements generally lasting up to 12 months after treatment.

The researchers, based at Queen’s University, in Psychology and the Centre for Studies in Primary Care, conducted a systematic review of studies in which patients were provided with CBT-I through their family doctor’s office. The team analyzed 13 studies involving 1,594 patients and found that between four and six sessions of CBT-I produced medium to large beneficial effects on time to sleep onset and wakefulness during the night. Patients felt much more content with their sleep after receiving the treatment.

GPs were directly involved in administering the CBT-I in a minority of the studies, but most CBT-I was provided by nurses, nurse practitioners, mental health workers and psychologists. The researchers say that CBT-I works effectively in primary care and seems well-suited for multidisciplinary general practice.

“There is now a way for general practitioners (GPs) to help insomnia sufferers without prescribing drugs,” says Dr. Davidson. “Widespread studies have established that CBT-I works well to get patients sleeping well again and as a treatment it is both effective and lasting.”

Chronic insomnia, in which individuals have difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep at least three nights a week for three months or more, affects about 10 to 15 percent of adults. The condition is linked to health problems including depression, difficulties in functioning, and large reductions in work productivity.

“There is a very effective treatment that doesn’t involve medication that should be available through your primary care service. If it’s not, it should be,” says Dr. Davidson.

Does memorization lead to lasting learning?

THE CONVERSATION: Global studies suggest a prevailing discrepancy between students’ English-language test scores and their real abilities to function in the English language.

Canada plans to receive 300,000 to 350,000 immigrants in 2019, and likely more than that number annually in the coming years. In 2018, there were 572,415 valid study permits in the country — evidence of the increasing trend of international students coming to Canada.

Most people coming to Canada for various purposes are coming from non-English-speaking countries: in 2016, 72.5 per cent of immigrants reported having a mother tongue other than English.

The Conversation logoAspiring immigrants need to take various English tests, such as the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), to demonstrate their English abilities.

While excelling on such tests might increase someone’s confidence, there are global studies that suggest a prevailing discrepency between students’ English-language test scores and students’ real abilities to function in the English language.

The fact that this can be a problem becomes apparent when students are admitted to universities with sufficient English test scores, yet fail at their academics because of poor English-language skills.

This situation could imaginably have dire psychological or financial consequences for students and their families. And what is the impact on professors or departments if increasing numbers of students lack the language skills to meet the curricular standards?

Immigrants with English-language skills significantly lower than what their test scores may indicate could find their access to services or programs is impeded and their abilities to find employment is limited.

Intense preparation

Standardized tests, designed to be general, will never be good at capturing the particularities of different contexts. It’s perhaps no surprise that a language test, focused on formal qualities of written and spoken language, won’t necessarily assess the way someone functions in a specific academic or linguistic local setting.

The particularities of technically correct language means that in some cases even a native English speaker might not score well on a standardized English language test if he or she doesn’t prepare for the examination.

Evidence suggests that when people prepare for these English-language tests, their immediate goal is achieving the highest result, so they approach this with targeted test preparation. After all, for people seeking to immigrate, these language tests are gatekeepers to their futures.

Students usually prepare by practising with the previous question papers, “drilling” answers over and over to learn the question patterns.

I took an IELTS test as a requirement to submit my applications to Canadian universities. When I started preparing for the test, because I was unfamiliar with the question patterns, I prepared intensively to answer the questions quickly. To practise how to answer the listening part of the test, I used previous tests to get a sense of the questions that might appear. Before the listening started, I looked at the questions to guess the expected answers. I also memorized high-frequency words for the writing section.

I scored high, with a perfect score in the speaking section. As a student, teacher and researcher, I know that my score reflected my intense test preparation, however, not my actual proficiency in English. Now, in my PhD studies, I am exploring how test-takers perceive the influence of testing on their learning.

Students writing a test.
We are living in a test-dominated world. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Integrate assessment with learning

If it’s common to see gaps between what standardized language tests show and a person’s actual level of proficiency, does it have to be this way?

How particular countries and language learning systems mesh with the specific standardized English-language tests has come under scrutiny. And, assessment and testing theory itself is changing with the rise in a culture of global testing.

Assessment is not simply as a thermometer to take an end-point temperature, but something that should be used to monitor and support learning towards particular developmental goals or standards.

Ideally there could be more continuity between English-language proficiency testing and English-language learning to help students develop more complex understanding.

Hoping for a test-free world is not going to help any of us. Instead, we all need to improve tests so they have positive effects on teaching and learning languages.


Nasreen Sultana is a PhD candidate at Queen's University's Faculty of Education.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca.

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