Other Musings

September 24, 2023

The SJR homecoming was a lot of fun!  I saw some people I had not seen for many years.  There was an excellent turnout among my former colleagues as well.  I signed a lot of books, and sold more than a dozen copies.  The class of 1993 had a Saturday evening event that I would have liked to have attended, but it conflicted with my dialysis schedule.  

September 9, 2023

I'm looking forward to the SJR Homecoming on Sept 22 and 23rd.  (September 22nd happens to be my birthday!)  I have been asked to do a book signing again both on the Friday evening event and on Saturday morning.  Quite a few of my former colleagues are also coming so it will be nice to see them again.  I will have some books with me to sell, both paperback and hard cover.

My book is still for sale at McNally Robinson, at the Winnipeg Indigo stores, and on line through Amazon and many other sites..

Remember to share information about this website with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers.

June 12, 2023

It is 60 years this month since I graduated from High School.  I know that some people who check into this website attended Dominion City High School at the same time I was there. This entry is for them, but others can read it too.


A brief recap of my high school years: 


We entered Grade 9 very well prepared after two years studying under Mrs. McVicar.  In Grade 9 we had a slate of excellent teachers: John A. Dyck for math, Frank Fiorentino for French, Social Studies and music, and Arnold Saper for English and Science. 


In Grade 10 we weren’t quite as lucky.  Bill Dueck, a permit teacher, who taught us math and science was very good, but he left early in May to take teacher training courses.  The year was finished by Mr. Bansfield.  In French and Geography we started the year with an earnest young man who had little classroom control, and I am embarrassed to remember how difficult we made things for him. In late November he resigned.  That night he had too much to drink, passed out in the snow, and ended up in Emerson hospital with frostbite.  When released from hospital he came back to finish the term.  I admire his courage.  After Christmas he was replaced with Jean Marie Arcand.  We all liked Mr. Arcand, and he stayed in Dominion City for the next five years.  The third teacher, who taught us English and British History, was Henry Martens who was also principal.  He was very good but stayed only the one year.


Grade 11 was a wonderful year.  We had Mr. Arcand for French, Nester Hochglaube for math and the sciences, and Gabe Girard for English and History. I enjoyed them all.  Nester Hochglaube was a brilliant young man.  He had lived his early years in Belgium, and was a child survivor of the Holocaust.  For all three of the teachers, their first language was French.  I often wondered if they conducted their staff meetings in English or French or both.


In Grade 12 we had Gabe Girard for English, Jean Marie Arcand for French.  In math and the sciences we started with year with Mike Kosjar.  During that term the school enrolment reached 65, a magic number which allowed us to hire a fourth teacher.  Eugene Yarmie came on staff, and took over the Grade 12 courses that Mike Kosjar had been teaching.  Mike Kosjar and I were to cross paths a few years later with our roles reversed.  In the summer of 1967 I was teaching the seminar section of a linear algebra course at the U. of M. and Mike Kosjar was one of my students!  He later switched subjects, abandoned the sciences, and did an arts degree.  He died last winter.  His obituary indicated that he taught many years in the Brandon area, probably as a social studies teacher.  Eugene Yarmie and I kept in touch for many years, but sadly, he, too, has died.

It is quite a few years now since Gabe Girard died.  I have often wondered if Jean Arcand is still alive.


There 13 of us in the Grade 12 room that year, taking a full or partial Grade 12.  We started the year in the same room as the Grade 11s.  Since there were four grades and three teachers it was necessary to have two grades share a room.  But after Christmas, when we hired the fourth teacher, Grade 12s  got a room of their own.  Since we were a small class, that was the first time since Grade 6 that we had had our own room.  From Christmas to Easter we were in the library.  There was an empty room downstairs (known as the Assembly Room) that would have been more suitable, but it was poorly heated.  When we came back after the Easter holiday we were downstairs in the Assembly Room.


Some of you may remember The Observer, which, for a time, was the school newspaper which I edited along with Robert Artes, who was my assistant, Al Braemer who looked after sports, and Hans Sipma who did illustrations. Near the end of June, I passed a paper around the Grade 12 room asking each of the 13 students to tell me their plans for next year.  This information appeared on Page 2 of the June copy of The Observer.  The first two pages of that edition are reproduced here to give you a taste of life in the DC School in June of 1963. 


Happy 60th anniversary to all the Grads of 1963. 

April 30, 2023

Are many of my former math students (or anybody else)  looking for an interesting problem to solve?  I was involved this year in making the Manitoba Grade 12 contest and created the following problem for the last sport on the paper.  Exactly 2 students in the province were able to solve it.  Here it is:

The edges of a rectangular solid are all of integer lengths. Let p and q be odd prime numbers. Exactly five such solids have a volume of 2pq; their dimensions are 2 × p × q, 1 × 2p × q, 1 × p × 2q, 1 × 2 × pq and 1 × 1 × 2pq. 

1. How many possible solids are there if the volume is to be 4pq?

 2. How many possible solids are there if the volume is (2^(2n))pq where n is a positive integer? Express your answer in terms of n 

Anyone who solves it can let me know at 50yearsintheclassroom@gmail.com .  

April 28, 2023

I have just finished three days of marking Euclid mathematics contests.  This was my 44th year of Euclid marking!  That is every year since 1979 except for 2020 when COVID cancelled the contest.  It all started with a letter I wrote in 1979 to Ron Dunkley who was then the mathematics contest secretary at the University of Waterloo.  The Euclid Math Contest for Grade 12s had started in 1976, but it was just for Ontario students.  I wrote to ask him if a Manitoba school could participate.  His reply was to give me a job.  I was to convince several other Manitoba schools to participate, and run a Manitoba marking centre.  That first year we had only seven schools writing and marked the papers in a couple hours.  The next year the contest went national and our marking centre ended up marking all the papers from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, a process that took several days,  The Manitoba marking centre continued for many years.  I was the co-ordinator until 2001 when Mark Bredin took over, and later (when Mark retired) it was Carole Bilyk.  We were one of four or five regional marking centres.  Since 2021 the marking has been done remotely on line using Crowdmark.  It is amazingly efficient, but it lacks the collegiality of markers getting together.  This year, to remedy that, many markers gathered in Waterloo to do their Crowdmarking together, with a smaller Wednesday evening gathering in Winnipeg.


Ron Dunkley was a high school teacher before he joined the Faculty of Mathematics at the University of Waterloo and started the mathematics contests.  He died a few months ago.  His remarkable achievements can be found here

CEMC - Remembering Ron Dunkley (uwaterloo.ca)

March 14, 2023

My former students from SJR and Gordon Bell all remember me as their math teacher.  It might surprise them to know that there are former students from Snow Lake (who are now in their 70s)  who remember me as their English teacher.  Or their science teacher.  But, in my two Snow Lake years I taught more English courses that either mathematics or science. 


In my first year of teaching (1967-68) I taught Grade 11 English – both literature and composition, which were separate courses – to students in the University Entrance stream.  One day in the spring, I asked the students in the composition class to write something about themselves, a sort of letter to their future selves.  I told them that I would keep them, and, if possible, return some of them in 25 years or more.  That did not happen until this week – 55 years later – when I returned two of them, to Bev Simon and Tom Medd.  Bev also took the one written by Marilyn Guspadarchuk, since they are in touch and she will return it for me.  If anyone else in that long ago class would like their compositions returned please contact me at 50yearsintheclassroom@gmail.com .

February 27, 2023

Yesterday six people visited this website.  Some days it is only one or two.  If you find it interesting -- perhaps you have a connection with Dominion City or Snow Lake or Gordon Bell or SJR -- do let others know about it.  Share it with your facebook friends or your twitter followers.   I like to get as much traffic as possible!

February 22, 2023

Today the Winnipeg Free Press published a piece I wrote about school exams and other forms of assessment.   It can be found at

All school assessments have pros and cons – Winnipeg Free Press 

February 2, 2023

Happy Ground Hog's Day.  Up to December 31st, my book  sold 264 copies, but some of those were sitting in bookstores and could later be returned.  I don't yet have the sales report for January.  

January 16, 2023

My book is once again in stock at McNally Robinson.  There were five copies on the shelf when I was there this morning.

January 2, 2023

For the second time in less than a month my book is sold out at McNally Robinson.  More are on order.  In the meantime  there are several copies available at any of the Indigo/Chapters stores in Winnipeg.  It can also be ordered from Amazon or directly from the publisher at Fifty Years in the Classroom and What I Learned There by John Barsby | The FriesenPress Bookstore  

December 16, 2022

So far my book has sold 236 copies, but these are not all firm sales since they include copies sold to bookstores which are returnable if the bookstore does not sell them.  I am looking for ways to let people know that the book exists.  Any of you who are on facebook or twitter can help out by telling your friends or followers about the book, or providing a link to this website.  The link to the publisher's blurb at Friesen Press is Fifty Years in the Classroom and What I Learned There by John Barsby | The FriesenPress Bookstore 

December 14, 2022

I have a drawer in my desk where I have saved a lot of letters that I received over the years. It was quite full twenty years ago, which was about the time the world stopped writing letters.  I have been looking through the drawer trying to find things for this website and am amazed at all the people who wrote to me from time to time.  Some are from Dominion City classmates.  Dozens are from former students in their first year of university, away from home for the first time. I have an intense feeling of sadness when I look at letters from people who are no longer alive, not just from aunts and uncles and grandparents, but also from my contemporaries and even from some former students. We have casually accepted the demise of the personal letter, but what a huge loss that is to future historians!  Letters were lasting.  Emails are ephemeral.  Nobody will ever publish a book called The Collected E-mails of Justin Trudeau.


December 12, 2022

Math with Marty


I knew Marty Green as a very talented mathematics student when I was teaching at Gordon Bell in the early 1970s.  He was one of the team members who won the Canadian championship in the 1973 Junior Mathematics Contest, and also did very well in the 1974 Canadian Mathematical Olympiad.  Years later he and a friend, Neil Schipper, hosted a television program on the local access channel called Math with Marty.  The program gave Marty an opportunity to share two of his passions: Music and Mathematics.  It attracted a large number of followers.  In the early 1990s I was frequently invited as a guest to speak on a variety of mathematical topics.  Marty has posted some of these old programs on YouTube.  Here is one where I talk about interesting numbers.


 John Barsby on Perfect and Interesting Numbers - YouTube


December 8, 2022

My students used to call it The Memory Game, although that was never the name I used for it.  I called it learning by association.  I would write the numbers from 1 to 25 on the blackboard and had a student act as secretary.  Facing the class with the blackboard behind me I would ask the members of the class to come up with 25 items to assign to the numbers on the blackboard, in random order.  As the students thought up these items, the secretary wrote them in. When all 25 numbers were taken, I would then recite the list in any order they chose.


I always explained how I did it, and hoped that some students some day would practise doing it themselves.  I had previously learned twenty five of my own items to go with the numbers and I would associate the item the student assigned to that number with my own item for that number. For example, in my list 14 was Valentine’s Day.  If the student suggested door knob I would conjure a mental image of a door knob with a large red heart painted on it.


I was reminded of this a week or so ago when I had the Zoom meeting with some Gordon Bell Students.  David Ehinger, who now lives in Germany, remembered it and even remembered my association for the item he contributed in position 16! 


The basis for this dates back to my Grade Nine year when Arnold Saper, our teacher for homeroom, English and Science, talked about memory by association.  Quite a few years later, when at university, I remembered that, and started practicing how to learn 25 item lists.  Then, in the spring of 1965, when teaching in Dominion City I entertained the Grade Nines with my first public demonstration.  One of the boys used the word supercalifragalisticexpialadocious – I don’t remember for what number,  He was astonished that I could even remember the word, but I, too, had seen the Mary Poppins movie.


My other memory demonstration was reciting Horton Hatches the Egg.  Unlike the so-called Memory Game, that was stored in long term memory and has been with me since the age of 11.  I have written a few paragraphs about learning Horton Hatches the Egg in New Photo Stories, because I had a nice picture to go with it.  This, with no picture, had to go in Other Musings.


In my book, Fifty Years in the Classroom and What I Learned There, I have several discussions of memory and the advantages of what I called a Well Stocked Mind. The Well Stocked Mind, unlike the memory game, is about long term memory.  The memory game is just a stunt since nothing (other than my personal list) is stored in long term memory.  (Except, of course, for David Ehinger who remembered No, 16 half a century later.)

December 4,  2022

If you are buying my book in Winnipeg, McNally Robinsom is temporarily sold out but they have more on order and will take requests.  I understand it is available in all the local Indigo and Coles stores.  And, of course, it can be ordered from Amazon or from the FriesenPress bookstore.

The book has so far sold a little over 200 copies, which I understand is reasonable for the first 3 months. If anybody reading this has any ideas for publicity -- how I can let a wider audience know that this book exists --  please contact me!

November 28, 2022

I had a wonderful time doing a Zoom Book Reading For Gordon Bell Students from the 1970s on Saturday (Nov. 26th).  Many thanks to Dennis Bayomi who came up with the idea and handled the technology parts, and to Shirley Lowe who acted as MC.  There were about a dozen of us on Zoom, some of whom I had not seen since I left GB 47 years ago. After the readings we visited for well over an hour.  We shared so many memories.  For the motivated student, GB was a wonderful place to be in those years.


Is there any technically minded person from St. John’s-Ravenscourt or Snow Lake or Dominion City who like to set up a similar event?  It was a lot of fun!    

November 20, 2022

Sherri Burroughs, the skillful and artistic web designer  who created this site, made the banner at the top pf this page.  I am on the left, aged 27, teaching my first university calculus course.  The three students taking it (and getting credit from the University of Winnipeg) are Bill Leslie, Edward Ng, and Rozalia Bugan.  This is the school year 1972-73.  Bill is only in Grade 11, but the other two are Grade 12s.  

These are the  same three students who, in the previous school year, formed the Gordon Bell team that came first in Canada in the Junior Mathematics Contest.  Bill and Rozalia are now well into their sixties.  Edward, sadly, died in 2017.  His obituary mentions that he was first in Canada in the 1972 JMC, an achievement much celebrated not only by his family but by the Winnipeg Chinese community.  

The year after this, I had a dozen students in the university calculus class.  

November 20th

Memory!  Yesterday I saw a facebook posting that said"  Who remembers the name of their Grade Five teacher? "  It astonished me that there could be anyone who does not remember that!  I could fill many pages with detailed recollections of my Grade Five year.  I could name just about every textbook we used that year, but not the authors. (I was in Grade Seven before I started paying attention to authors.)  I remember my rank in class after each set of exams and who was ahead of me.  I changed schools in November that year.   In Tantallon there were five of us in Grade Five and I remember all their names.  In Dominion City there were 25 of us so I likely could not name them all, but if I tried I am sure I could come up with a list of fifteen to twenty names, maybe even a few more than that.  It is this recollection of my school days that made it easy to write the first four or five chapters of my book.

October 24, 2022

The infamous identity #33.

For the first dozen or so years of my teaching career the Grade 12 textbook was known as Vance, and it was the only authorized book.  When it came to the exercise on trig identities students found #33 very difficult.  For the first few years I had very few students if any who got it without my help.  Then, one year, I said to the class, tongue in cheek:  “Don’t bother doing #33.  None of you are good enough to get it.”  The next day, as I expected,  well over half the class showed up handing me pieces of paper to show that they had solved #33.  I used that stratagem from then until Vance was phased out.  The infamous identity appears at the right.


October 13, 2022

Audrey Riller, herself a distinguished artist, taught art at SJR for many years.  This picture was taken at a dinner party that she and her partner, Derek Laudon, hosted at her Victoria home in February 2009.  If you attended SJR any time between 1969 and 2005 you should recognize two or three of the guests, depending on which years you were there.  Starting on the left and going clockwise around the table we have Patricia Colp, Murray Colp, Derek Laudon, Anne Schaffter, John Schaffter, and Audrey Riller (a.k.a. Audrey Leathers).  The empty place between Audrey and Patricia is the place where I was sitting.  The background is clearly the home of an artist!

October 10, 2022

If anybody viewing this site would like to share memories of their time at any of the featured schools:  Tantallon, Dominion City, Snow Lake, Gordon Bell, St. John's-Ravenscourt contact me  directly at 50yearsintheclassroom@gmail.com.  I will use your recollections for future entries on this page.   

I recently heard from Mark Chow who informed me that the last Latin classes at SJR were offered  in 1985.  In my book I said "sometime in the 1980s" because I was unable to find the exact date.   Another former student  informed me that, in 1977,   he was probably the last  SJR student to receive credit for Grade 12 Latin .   The course was not offered that year since he was the only student who signed up for it, but Martin Ainley gave him the course materials, and allowed him to work independently.  He received credit for the course based on a 100% final exam which he wrote in March.  

Ada Grier, who graduated from Dominion City School the same year that I graduated, tells me that she has passed her copy of my book to her friend Doris (also a member of that class) complete with marginalia.  Marginalia!  When I was writing the book, every time I made a printed copy of the manuscript, I kept adding marginalia to it.  Much of it ended up as footnotes, which explains why there are 85 footnotes in a 168 page book.   My SJR colleague Steve Johnson (who later returned to SJR as head of school) liked the footnotes.  He felt they added interesting information without disrupting the flow of the text,  

October 2, 2022

Yesterday I bought a sandwich at a Robin's Donut Shop.  With tax it cost $5.47.  I gave the clerk  a five dollar bill and two quarters, and for change I received this nickel.  It is the first George V coin I have received in circulation for over 40 years.  In my childhood these were common.  There were even a few dimes and quarters with Edward VII and twice in my childhood I found a quarter with Queen Victoria although one was so worn that the date could not be read.

The date on this nickel is 1927.  By coincidence  there is a section in my book about schools in the year 1927!

September 26, 2022

This is a nice look into the past.  I was in Grade 11  in the Dominion City School when I took this picture.  We shared this classroom with the Grade 12s, the only classroom in the school where the desks were not bolted to wooden runners.  Even though the desks are moveable, they still have circular holes to accommodate ink wells.  Gabe Girard is at the teacher's desk.  A Phillips reel to reel tape recorder is in front of him.  Some of us are gathered around listening to it.  On the desk in the foreground there is a cardboard box holding a bottle of Scrip ink,  used to fill fountain pens.  The school was built during the reign of King George V, and it is his picture that still hangs on the wall even though his reign ended 24 years before this picture was taken!  The front blackboard had a door at each end, only one of which is shown in this picture.  Both led to the cloakroom which opened into the hallway.  Why two doors?  In the early years of the school when it accommodated mostly elementary grades, boys and girls would have lined up at separate doors to enter or leave the classroom. I notice the door is ajar and the transom above it is open.  It is likely to get some air circulation on a warm day in early June when the second floor of the school could be very hot.  I remember being drenched with sweat when writing one of my Grade 10 exams in the room across the hallway from this one. (It is that Grade 10 room that appears on the cover of my book.)

If I recall correctly, my desk that year was the one in front of the desk with the ink box.  I wonder what the papers on my desk were.  The school did not have lockers.  These desks had a drawer beneath the seat for our books.  We hung our coats in the cloakroom.  

September 26, 2022  (Tips For Math Teachers.  The rest of you can skip this one!)

A few days ago , at a book signing, someone asked me what one piece of advice I would give to someone starting out in the teaching profession.  My answer was this: teachers should always treat their students with dignity and respect.  If you are genuinely angry or annoyed with something a student has done you should let them know, but you should not say anything that is demeaning or cruel. 


That piece of advice applies to teachers of any subject.  Here are some tips I would give specifically to math teachers.


Tie all mathematical knowledge together.  Don’t present facts in isolation.  When I was a school child in the 1950s, in a pre-metric era, we studied imperial units for measuring distance. In Grade 4 we learned that a rod was 16 ½ feet or 5 ½ yards.  These were separate and seemingly random numbers that we memorised.  Nobody pointed out that one number was three times the other and explained why.  In high school we learned the law of cosines, and nobody told us that this was a generalisation of the theorem of Pythagoras.  We learned that the sum of the roots of a quadratic equation was –b/a, and that the vertex of a parabola was at x = -b/2a.  Nobody explained why one was half the other.  New knowledge is easier learned if it is integrated with everything that came before.


Expect your students to know basic facts and relationships from memory.  Elementary students need to know the addition facts and the multiplication tables.  By the end of middle school they should know from memory the decimal equivalent of common fractions with denominators 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10.  It’s also helpful to know which two digit numbers are prime, and to recognize most of the perfect squares up to at least 400.  It is also helpful to know a few common Pythagorean triples such as 3, 4, 5 and 5, 12, 13.   In high school students should know the basic relationships without excessive reliance on a “formula sheet.”  In my book I talk about the "well stocked mind."


Don’t subscribe to any ideological position.  Those in favour of a discovery approach instead of what they call “drill and kill” and those who call for a “return to the basics” are both right.  Do lots of drill but don’t kill.  When drilling, give students things to think about.  If you expect them to know that ¼ is 0.25, ask them if they can use mental arithmetic to take half of that.  When they get 0.125 as an answer, they now know the decimal for 1/8. Triple that and they have 3/8.  Note that adding 0.5 to 1/8 gives them 5/8. Ask them why?  Ask how we can get 7/8 from all of this. When you tell them that they are now expected to know all the eighths from memory, they will find that they already know them because it all makes sense.


Do lots of mental mathematics.  It helps develop a strong number sense. 


Stretch every student.  Some teachers say, with pride, that they concentrate on the underachievers because the bright students can look after themselves.  They have good intentions but they are letting half the class stagnate, treading water for a year.  If some talented students have finished their work don’t let them sit there waiting for the bell to ring.  Give them each a slip of paper on which you have written a really challenging problem.  “Can you solve this one,” you ask.  “Let me know tomorrow.”

Do both exercises and problems.  Exercises practise a new skill or reinforce a concept just learned.  Problems require a student to apply what he or she knows in a context not previously encountered.  They do not have to be difficult.  If a student has just learned how to find the area of a circle, asking for the area between two concentric circles, or between a circle and its inscribed square, or between a square and its inscribed circle are problems. But, if you have shown them how to do these things, then they are just exercises.


Use time wisely.  Fun activities such as making mathematical posters, or making math videos or playing mathematical games create enthusiasm but are rather thin when it comes to mathematical learning. They are nonetheless worth doing.  Save them for the times when concentration and energy are flagging, like the last class on a Friday afternoon.  Or, if you have long classes, a mathematical game of some sort might revive students whose concentration fades towards the end.


Give students constant feedback.  Interrupt your lessons with a little test.  “Here is a three question quiz.”  Put the questions on the board.  ,”You have three minutes, starting now.” When the three minutes are up, go over the questions while the students mark their own work.  Sometimes I would make it a ten question quiz.  No marks were ever collected.  It was just for instant feedback.


Be cumulative.  For the first half of my teaching career I used to give something called unit tests after we had completed a chapter or a topic. After a topic was over and done with the students felt they could forget it and move on to the new topic.  Then I started making my tests cumulative, going back to the beginning of the year or even the previous year.  “If a question is poorly done,” I would tell the class, “a similar question will appear on the next test and maybe even the one after that.”  I first did this with the bottom group in a three way stream.  By the end of the year they were as strong as the class above them.  After that, I did it with almost all my classes.


September 18, 2022  (An entry for Math Teachers or Math Geeks)

I was sorting some old slides for the photo stories section and found this picture of the first Grade Nine math class that I ever taught, in Snow Lake, in 1968-69.  I cringe when I think of the new math textbook that I was required to use.  Everything was made so complicated.  Today when explaining why 3x + 5 x = 8x I treat it as obvious:  if you have 3 x's and then add 5 more x's you get 8 of them.  But that textbook by Eugene Nichols insisted on this:

3 x + 5x = (3 + 5)x by RDPMA. (The right distributive property of multipion over addition.) Then 3 + 5 = 8 by AF (arithmetic fact).  Therefore 3x + 5x = 8x.  The textbook had many exercises where students were to explain every step of algebraic simplification.  Sadly,  only simplifications with three or four steps were ever given.  They never were required to simplify anything like 3x +2[4-5(x - 3)]  which would have taken at least  half a page using associative, commutive and distributive properties along with lots of AFs.  As a result, they knew the names of all the field axioms, but they lacked the skills to actually do much algebra.  If the people behind the new math could see the curriculum of today they would accuse us of "hand waving",  but that is the best way to start.   Rigour can come later.

I will refrain from saying much about that book's approach to signed numbers! There were exercises that looked like this:  +3 - -5 + -6 = ?  It was considered very important to distinguish between minus signs and negative signs, between positive signs and plus signs.  Today the same question would be written as 3 - (-5) + (-6) = ? Students no longer worry about the difference between "negative" and "minus" or "positive" and "plus".  

If any of the students in that picture (who are now aged 67) read this I can only say that the textbook was prescribed. Part of the inspector's job was to see that it was used.  And, until your year, the province based an exam on it. 

September 16, 2022

Here is my pet peeve about the textbook companies.  As time goes on their books get bigger and heavier -- and more expensive.  The picture from left to right shows (1) Hall and Knight's trigonometry book widely used in schools at one time.  It went through four editions between 1893 and 1925.  A special Canadian edition was released around 1933.  A student with homework could easily slip it into a coat pocket.  Weight 12 ounces.  (2) Brink's First Year of College Mathematics which was the textbook I used when I was in Grade 12.  Copyright 1954.  It was still in the same edition when I used it in 1963.  It was too big for a pocket, but it was not hard to carry it home.  Weight 1 lb 14 oz. (3) A calculus book I taught from near the end of my teaching career,  A very thick and heavy book.  It goes into a new edition every three or four years.  I don't know how students manage to carry their books around if they had three or four books like this!  Weight 5 lbs.  

September 12, 2022

I just found this picture on the Manitoba Historical Society's website.  It was taken in 1917 when the Dominion City School was less than a year old and Canada was fighting in what was then called The Great War.  The photographer would have chosen this unusual angle to emphasize the fact that it was a six room school.  The Union Jack is flying from a roof top flag pole.  In my time the flag pole was located on the school grounds, half way between the front of the school and the edge of the property.  I wondered how many grades were offered in the 1916-1917 year. I know Grade 12 was not offered until 1948.  The principal in the 1916-17 school year was someone called William George Edwin Pulleyblank  who was a young man in his 20s.  The next year he enlisted with the 67th Overseas Depot Battery.  

September 11, 2022

Yesterday I attended a Celebration of Life for Ian MacBeath, SJR class of 1985.  Ian was an extraordinary individual with very eclectic tastes and interests.  Brilliant at math and computer science (Canadian champion in the 1984 Fermat Contest), skilled at juggling and riding a unicycle, multilingual, connoisseur of food and drink, and a sincere, loyal and faithful friend to many.  I felt a strong sense of loss when I heard that he had died.  I then started thinking of other students I had taught who were Canadian champions in mathematics contests.  The  very first of these was Edward Ng of Gordon Bell.  What had become of him? I used Google to trace him down -- and found his obituary.  That was another shock.  Is Someone in the Great Beyond recruiting talented mathematicians?

Ian looking bright and alert is at the very centre  of the top picture (math club 1985), just as he was always at the centre of anything that was happening in Math Class.  At the Celebration of Life I had a chance to talk to Ian's brother Gavin.  Gavin is shown in the picture at the bottom right, taken by a newspaper photographer when he was chosen to represent Canada in the 1987 International Mathematical Olympiad.  Going to the IMO was an opportunity that Ian just missed in 1985.  The people choosing the six member team ranked him as number seven.  The IMO was held that year in Prague,  One of the top six was having difficulty getting the required visa, so Ian was on stand by, but in the end he did not get to go.

The picture below is a selfie taken by Kelly Kellner at the Celebration of Life showing Kelly, Gavin and myself.  In the group picture at the top a younger version of Kelly is found at the extreme left.

September 9, 2022

In my book I have a description of my first day in Grade One in September of 1951.  But the death of Queen Elizabeth has reminded me of another day from that school year -- the day in February 1952 when King George VI died.  I came home from school that day and found that the radio was on playing mournful music.  Every half hour or so a solemn voice would announce the death of the King and the mournful music would continue.  The radio this time was very different.  On CBC it was talk radio all afternoon giving us information about the Queen's life and interviewing people who knew her.  In Tantallon we had school assemblies every morning at 9:00.  Students from Rooms I and II stood in the hallway and students from Rooms III and IV gathered on the staircase.  The day after the King died, the principal announced that we would sing God Save the King one last time.  That was really not appropriate since the line "Long may he reign over us" was meaningless.  We should have been singing God Save the Queen.  

September 8, 2022

In my book I have a section on student marks, where I discuss percentages, letter grades and the three point system we used in Gordon Bell.  In my first four years at the University of Manitoba, marks were still given in percentage grades.  In my first year for example I had 91 in Math, 83 in Physics, 82 in Chemistry, 82 in English and 71 in French.  My fourth year was my best year in terms of marks.  I had 100 in Differential Equations, 98 in Real Analysis, 97 in Abstract Algebra, 89 in Complex Analysis, 80 in Number Theory and 80 in English (Victorian and Modern).   Based on those marks I was the dark horse who won the gold medal for honours science that year.  There was a very brilliant physics student (who later went on to an illustrious career as a physicist) who was expected to win.   

There is an interesting story about my 97 in Algebra.  Dr. Gratzer wanted to give us an oral exam, but the class was used to written exams and were uneasy about this.  So he compromised.   He gave us four questions.  We were to write down whatever we wanted first, and when we were ready we could come up and discuss it with him.  I was very nervous and did not want to stand in a queue waiting to discuss my questions.  So, as soon as I knew that I could do the questions I went up before anyone else was there.  I explained how to do them, and told him that I could write them up with the details if he wanted.  He said that wasn't necessary.  He asked me if one of my solutions was using the Axiom of Choice.  "No," I said.  "There is an infinite set involved but it comes from a definition."  He told me I had done very well and I could go.  I was only in the room about 20 minutes.  I learned afterwards that it was an hour or more before anyone else came up, and they all came up with detailed written solutions.  Their marks ranged from 65 to 95, but my 97 was the highest. This was a story I later told to both of Dr. Gratzer's sons  when they were students of mine at SJR.

The U of M switched to letter grades starting with the 1967 to 68 academic year.  My summer school courses for the certificate in education were mixed.  Those I took in the summer of 1967 were percentages but those I took in the summer of 1968 were letter grades.

September 4, 2022

The first part of this entry is  just for Math Geeks.  If your bent is the humanities skip this and see the part below it.  In my book I discuss how Manitoba, many years before my time,  had three separate math courses for Grade 12:  Algebra, Trigonometry and Analytic Geometry.  For those who want to peek into the distant past here is the Algebra exam from June, 1930 -- 92 years ago!

The above musing was for Math Geeks.  Here is a similar one for those whose bent is the humanities.  This is an examination I found tucked into a second hand book at a thrift shop.  It is a University of Manitoba examination from 1910.  The subject is Greek History.  In one section of my book I take a look at schools as they were in 1927.  This is a look at a second year university course from a few years before that.  It should be noted that first year was the equivalent of Grade 12 and was offered to students coming from Grade 11.  So a second year course such as this would consist largely of 18 year old students.  In 1910 there would be only a few girls.  In four year's time many of the young men who wrote this exam would be enlisting to fight in the Great War.  By 1918 quite a number of them would be dead.

Very few of us today would be able to pass such an exam.  But the classical world was still an important part of education in 1910.  To even get into university the students writing this exam would have had to complete high school Latin. That requirement lasted until 1919. Taking a second language throughout high school remained a requirement for university entrance at the U of M until 1968.

It is interesting to note that course numbers did not exist in 1910 or were not widely used if they did exist.   The exam simply identifies the course as  GREEK HISTORY.  Note also that the faculty is just Arts.  Later it became Arts and Science and still later separated into the two faculties of today.  But in 1910 it was all arts. No science degrees existed.   If a student specialized in a subject such as physics he received a B.A. in Physics.