Escape Room Challenge: Homelessness

The Union Gospel Mission in Vancouver has put together an escape room to illustrate how hard it is to get out of the cycle of poverty and homelessness:

To illustrate the hurdles faced by homeless people, the charity has designed an installation based on the popular escape room games, in which participants solve a series of puzzles to escape from an enclosed space.

In the Union Gospel Mission’s design, participants must make it out of four rooms — one for each season — and navigate through barriers such as finding housing, filling up paperwork without proper prescription glasses and juggling various agencies while faced with the unexpected.

The escape room is free and runs until Oct. 14. To register, go to

Nancy Pearl’s rule of 50 for abandoning books

Today I learned about Nancy Pearl’s rule of 50 for abandoning books. I felt a certain kinship as I read it because if I don’t like a book after about 30-50 pages, I will put it down with no guilt whatsoever. I figure I am too old to read books I don’t like. Sometimes, once in a great while, I will return to a book I abandoned, pick it up again and enjoy it because I’m in a different headspace. However, for most cases, I think Ms. Pearl has the right idea.

Give a book 50 pages. When you get to the bottom of Page 50, ask yourself if you’re really liking the book. If you are, of course, then great, keep on reading. But if you’re not, then put it down and look for another. (Always keep in mind that there’s nothing to stop you from going back to it later, whether that might be in six days or six years. Or 60 years. There is many a book that I couldn’t get into the first time, or even two, that I tried to read it, and then, giving it one more chance, totally fell under its spell. The book obviously hadn’t changed – but I had.)

And if, at the bottom of Page 50, all you’re really interested in is who marries whom, or who the murderer is, then turn to the last page and find out. If it’s not on the last page, turn to the penultimate page, or the antepenultimate page, or however far back you have to go to discover what you want to know. And rest assured that, despite the sophistication of computerized checkout and check-in technology at the modern library, there’s no way that anyone there will be able to tell (even if they were interested) whether you’ve really read every page of the book you just returned.

This rule of 50 worked exceedingly well until I entered my own 50s. As I wended my way toward 60, and beyond, I could no longer avoid the realization that, while the reading time remaining in my life was growing shorter, the world of books that I wanted to read was, if anything, growing larger. In a flash of, if I do say so myself, brilliance, I realized that my Rule of 50 was incomplete. It needed an addendum. And here it is: When you are 51 years of age or older, subtract your age from 100, and the resulting number (which, of course, gets smaller every year) is the number of pages you should read before you can guiltlessly give up on a book. As the saying goes, “Age has its privileges.”

And the ultimate privilege of age, of course, is that when you turn 100, you are authorized (by the Rule of 50) to judge a book by its cover.


Hana’s Suitcase by Karen Levine

Hana's Suitcase: A True StoryHana’s Suitcase: A True Story by Karen Levine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an excellent, high-interest, low-reading-level book about the Holocaust. It’s aimed at about a Grade 5 or 6 reading level, but I have used it in an adult literacy class and the students got a lot out of it. Because the subject matter is so serious, it does not have the same pitfalls that using a children’s book in an adult literacy class can often have. Although the reading level is low, it is not childish in any way.

This book is the true story of a young girl, Hana Brady, and her life in Czechoslovakia before and during World War II. Hana and her family are Jewish and thus targeted by the Nazis when they invade Czechoslovakia.

The book has a parallel storyline that takes place closer to the present day (in the early 2000s). Fumiko Ishioka, head of the Tokyo Holocaust Education Museum, leads a group of Japanese children (The Small Wings) in a quest to discover more about the owner of an artifact lent to their museum by the Auschwitz museum. The story moves back and forth between Hana’s story and Fumiko and the Small Wings’ search for more information about Hana.

There are many archival photos of the people, artifacts, and documents involved in the story, which add to the interest and help situate the reader; there is also a related documentary that I highly recommend called Inside Hana’s Suitcase–it’s an excellent additional resource in the classroom. This page from Scholastic also has good ideas for activities in the classroom and links to other resources:…

You can read all my GoodReads reviews here.

Demanding kinder classrooms doesn’t make you a snowflake


Demanding Kinder Classrooms Doesn’t Make You a Snowflake,” by Daniel Heath Justice at The Walrus.

Bringing kindness into your teaching doesn’t mean being perfect or being a pushover. Some students will flourish in our classrooms; some will struggle; some will fail their coursework, and others will step away. Being a kind teacher doesn’t mean creating a classroom where all behaviours are appropriate, or not having high and even demanding expectations. You can be kind and tough—some of my best teaching role models across the ideological spectrum were precisely that combination, and because they demanded a lot and had faith in their students’ capacity for success, I strove harder to meet those expectations. Students have a keen bullshit detector and know when they’re being condescended to; they also know when someone believes in them. In my experience the vast majority of students want to be challenged. But they want to be treated like human beings, too, and they want to know that they’re being treated fairly. If our courses are predicated on the idea that students have to leave part of their humanity at the door, then as teachers we’re failing at a fundamental level.



Policy Note by Suzanne Smythe: Lifting tuition fees for adult basic education is just the beginning

Terrific article by Suzanne Smythe about where BC needs to go with adult basic education.

Adult Basic Education is a Basic Right

Suzanne Smythe is one of the BC educators who started the Adult Basic Education is a Basic Right! blog in response to the BC Liberals 2014 policy changes that ushered in a bleak period for adult basic education (ABE) learners in the province. Now it is August 2017, and the new BC NDP government has fulfilled a key election promise – the reinstatement of tuition-free ABE. Tuition-free ABE is one part of a larger discussion, and Symthe gives a welcome and full explanation here in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – BC PolicyNote (August 29, 2017).

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