A Framework for Student Motivation?

Ms. Hammond’s post “Igniting the Fire of Learning” powerfully illustrates the connection between motivation and success, based on Matthew Kelly’s explanation of “the differences between highly engaged versus disengaged people”. But that begs the question, if the connection is so clear, and the results so dramatic, why are some students not motivated for success in school?

Ms. Hammond and the admin team at JH regularly discuss matters of concern for our students, and this post comes out of a conversation we had following her most recent post. In our school leadership positions, we see the broad spectrum of student work, from the highly engaged and successful, to the discouraged and disengaged. We know that our students work hard, and their families encourage their efforts. In spite of this, sometimes students still struggle with their motivation. Sometimes even those who are successful are going through the motions; they are getting the work done, but they are not finding that school motivates and energises them. As school leaders we have to consider the reasons for this, in the hope of finding ways to change it.

Some critics of the school system believe that the school system itself decreases motivation.  Testing, grades and external rewards focus our attention on the rewards and grades, rather than on the learning itself.  In the past, school was designed as a industrialized sorting mechanism for students, each categorized by their ability. Even though we now view school as a place where ability is developed, with success for all students as the goal, we still use some of the methods from the sorting system.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts and intentions as teachers, our presentation of the knowledge and skills in our subject area doesn’t connect with the reality that our students experience. Students don’t see the purpose in what they are being presented with. (Students sometimes complain that a class is ‘boring’, but that’s too easy to say.  We’ve all seen young people patiently work through a ‘boring’ activity of their choosing because it helps them meet a personal goal, and in school we’ve seen students disengaged even from highly interesting classroom activities).  Sometimes students may be interested in the class work, but are unable to succeed on the assignments teacher gives, and so they become discouraged.

Sometimes, what a student wants is just too different from what the school system wants.  Students are engaged with school to the extent that their goals match the goals of the school system.  The more those goals match, the more motivated the student will be.  The more those goals diverge, the more a student’s motivation may flag or fail.

This past Saturday at Science World in Vancouver, a friend of mine, Goran Kimovski, organized TEDxKidsBC, an event focused on spotlighting and developing the ways that young people can be successful at a high level.  The stories are fantastic and inspiring.  They show young people being supported to blend their passion, skill, and leadership into amazing accomplishments.  School sometimes intersects with what they are doing, and sometimes it doesn’t.  Somewhere along their journey these young people found or were given a framework that helped them focus their purpose and develop their personal clarity.

So the big question for us is, how to we make the school system a motivating place to be for more students? The system has tended to focus on producing standardized achievement results.  Could we shift our system so that individualization is possible?  What if school were a framework where every teacher and every student could focus their purpose and develop their personal clarity for themselves?  What would that framework look like? How would it engage the passion and motivation of all our students?

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Posted in Education

Twitter Hygiene

I’ve been made aware of some concerns among our Johnston Heights twitter users (many of you signed on during our JH Twitter Workshop).  If you are following some of our JH staff, you may have been getting some unexpected messages.  Worse still, you may have been sending out messages unawares.  The first thing I recommend if you are having this trouble is to change your password.  This will immediately fix any problems.  I’ll explain why below.

Various people use twitter to advertise, either by posting tweets that endorse their product, or through spam, or both.  Advertisers are legitimate, and their tweets are clearly labeled.  However, a spammer may get access to the account of someone you know and send out a message under their name, usually with a worrying message (“I can’t believe what people are saying about you..”, “You’re in this video LOL”, “Didn’t you see them taping you…”) and such messages. 

When you open the message or the tweet, there is a link.  Given the worrying message, you click the link.  A box or a new page with the twitter then opens, saying that you need to sign in to twitter again.  THIS IS NOT FROM TWITTER. This is a fake page that links to an external site. 

If you type in your information to this site it saves your twitter name and password to a list on the spammer’s computer.  When you return you are shown advertising.   Your information is then used by the spammer to send out messages (appearing to be from you) to people on your followers list. This is sometimes (incorrectly) referred to as “getting your account hacked”.  It’s actually a form of “phishing”, which is basically tricking people online into giving out their personal information.

To solve this problem, change your password, and it will stop.

Prevention – to avoid falling victim to these problems, try the following:
1. Consider the content of the message.  Is it likely that that person would send you that message?
2. If you are asked to provide your username and password by a site you navigate to, don’t. Only type your password from the twitter.com page or from an official twitter app on mobile devices.
3. If you are not sure about a message, contact the person directly through email or in person.

Basically, it is the same as regular internet safety.  Twitter is another way of posting information to the net, but it is formatted so that you can use it to connect to topics of interest.  You still have to take the same care as you would when you open a regular email or message.

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Posted in Social Media, Technology

Learning From Our Students

Over the past two years at Johnston Heights we have seen a lot of conversations take place between staff, students and parents about the kind of learning community that we are and the kind of learning community that we want to become. At the beginning of this year those discussions crystallized into the principles of The Learning Project – student growth supported by adult learning, sharing our learning, and integrating curriculum. These principles did not emerge out of thin air, or or own heads, but out of the combination of the changes taking place in our wider culture and our school community.

A case in point comes from a recent email, in which Ms Kim shares the efforts of a group of students who created their own learning project. The students probably didn’t think of it that way, they were just thinking about a fun way to give back to their school community.

Ms. Kim shares that:
Several kids from the Arts Club had approached me late last year (May) looking for a project to tackle. In response I had joked that there was an old cabinet in my room (a permenant fixture) that was really an eye sore, as the doors were an awful hospital gown blue.

20121001-215915.jpgI would have been happy if they had simply painted it another colour–any other colour–and called it a day, but what they did was far more than that. After asking about the subjects I taught and about the concepts that were explored in class, they went away and planned and worked in those elements to create what you see in the photos: an intricate and colorful fusion of English and Psychology in art form. (I also learned that they often sacrificed lunch hours and worked into the late evening on many occasions to complete this project; what more, they met on the very first day back in September to finish varnishing these doors and put them back up in the spirit of starting a new year.)

I am reminded once again, what caring and amazing students we have here at JH. A shout out to the following students: Jan Paolo Canita, Jenny Nguyen, Jem Gaza, Jona De Guzman, Nelson Yim, Katie Duong, Peggy Liu, Chelsea Pacunana, and Riza Macaranas. They tell me that they will continue to roam the school, looking for the next thing to beautify with their awesome skills!

And special thanks to Elizabeth Libera and Gary Smith for supporting their creative endeavors with your time, supplies, and guidance.
– Ms. T. Kim (email dated Sept 28, 2012)”

Now Ms. Kim is not just telling the story of a group of students demonstrating their artistic skills on a mural. They have combined several things – their love of artistic creation, their learning in psychology, and and a desire to share both of these things with their community.

A few things here stand out for me.

One, the students did this on their own time. They were so passionate about this project that they gave up their personal lunch and evening time to get it done.

Two, their work is not just decorative, it’s academic. When you look at the photos you can clearly see the involvement of research on brain hemispheres. Will these students remember this learning after they graduate? Absolutely!


Three, it’s collaborative. Ms. Kim describes a diverse group of students and teachers involved in the work (including herself), all contributing in different ways.

Four, it’s shared as a real product for a real audience. The painting will be in place for years to come, seen by many students and teachers, and not just made for one person to view and then return.

What does all this mean for a high school, for Johnston Heights secondary? These are the students that are attending our school. These are the ways they are choosing to learn and express their learning when they can make that choice on their own. We as teachers can benefit from the way our students already learn, from the way we ourselves learn.  We can seek out ways to engage student interests, create real products that can really be shared with real people and collaborate with our colleagues to integrate our diverse curricula in ways that make sense.

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Posted in Education, Project Based Learning

JH Twitter Workshop

At JHSS this year we have begun a commitment to adult learning among teaching and support staff. Following a session on the influence of technology on how our students learn led by George Couros, our staff asked to get hands on! We have five sessions today on iPads, the Hub, building websites, BYOD, and twitter. Twitter is my workshop, and while I’m still a relative neophyte at twitter, that’s one point of digital learning. You just have to have enough to begin to teach someone else, and they will be able to then run their own learning in the direction that suits their needs.

This post will contain the outline of todays session, the activities, and resources for further learning. Thanks in particular to Michelle Hall for the document (since modified) that will get us started, and to Dean Shareski for the video that ends the post. Lets begin!

Session Outline

  • Twitter basics in the Learning Commons
  • Need: Laptops, Projector, Camera, Connectors
  • Basics vocabulary
  • Make profile and photo
  • Simple, a touch of personality
  • Essential Skills
  • Your timeline
  • Following
  • Tweeting
  • RT, favorite, etc
  • Etiquette
  • Spam scams and hacks
  • Blocking
  • Networking
  • Conversations – reply, mention, DM, retweets
  • Developing Professionally
  • Hashtags, lists, favourites, discover, shortlinks, “who to follow”



Tweet: A 140-character message.

Retweet (RT): Re-sharing or giving credit to someone else’s tweet.

Feed: The stream of tweets you see on your homepage. It’s comprised of updates from users you follow.

Handle: Your username.

Mention (@): A way to reference another user by his username in a tweet (e.g. @sam_joe or @mollyb or @jhssreads).

Users are notified when @mentioned. It’s a way to conduct discussions with other users in a public realm. You also know when you are mentioned.

Direct Message (DM): A private, 140-character message between two people. You may only DM a user who follows you.

* Find the DM under the little screw or arrow symbol

Hashtag (#): A way to follow a topic of conversation or participate in a larger discussion (e.g. #AmericanIdol #justinbieber #jhbooktweet #jhlearn).

A hashtag is a discovery tool that allows others to find your tweets, based on topics. You can also click on a #hashtag to see all the tweets that are mentioned in real time — even from people you don’t follow.

Twitter has a great online glossary that you can refer back to, should you get confused.

Twitter is an experience. The more you use it, the more enjoyable and resourceful it will become, and you will also start to make better connections with people around the world.

Setting Up

In order to engage in conversation, you must introduce yourself.

By creating a handle @… and short bio, you can quickly describe who you are. A handle is essentially your address or calling card, and is how people will interact with you and include you in conversation. For example: @mollyb or @jackfar is a handle @jhssreads

Your profile pic and bio should also reflect who you are. You should use your actual picture and real name, so people feel more comfortable interacting with you. It is never fun talking to a cartoon, or an egg, and it feels impersonal.

Let’s start, Sign-up!

Full Name: Jordan Brown

Email: jbrown@gmail.com

User Name: @jbrown

Password: xxxxxx


Account Info

User Name: @jbrown

Email: jbrown@gmail.com (Let others find me by email address?)

Language: english

Time Zone: 8:00 Pacific Time Zone

Tweet Location:

Tweet Media: (can warn if tweet has sensitive content and mark it)

Tweet Privacy: (do you want to make it private and friends have to be invited or let in)

Personalization: based on web sites you visit

HTTPS only: always use

Password resets: if you pick this then you have to provide info to reset your password (if you ever want to reset it.) You can just not use the password resets option, then just leave it an you can reset your password whenever you want


At the top of the page you will see:

Home @Connect # Discover Me

Example of a tweet:

Example of a retweet:

Example of retweeting a retweet:

Amazing!! RT ‪@100scopenotes ‪@bethredford Stunning Movie Theater Turned Bookstore ‪http://zite.to/OteK3n ‪#TLChat ‪#librarians ‪#sd36learn

Example of a Modified Tweet:

Michelle Hall ‏‪@JHSS_LibraryMT What Kind of Reader Are You? Luv that you’re a Book Buster ‪@IArtLibraries I’m a Bookophile! ‪http://goo.gl/pUyoS ‪#sd36learn ‪#TLChat


Twitter Glossary

Hashtag Dictionary

20 Useful Hashtags for Education

Twitter Basics (detailed)

More Hashtags for teachers

Check out this video from Dean Shareski for his perspective on Twitter

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Posted in Education, Social Media, Technology

My Learning

 When I heard Elliot Eisner speak about 10 years ago  he said that schools should be centres for teacher learning as well as student learning.  This stuck with me and has constantly challenged me. I’m the kind of guys who loves learning, especially if its hands on.  When I needed to put a roof on my garage, I got a book out of the library, read and researched and tried it out (this was before Google!).  Now I find the online tutorial or watch the YouTube video, and off I go.  Of course, as an amateur, things don’t always go as well as they might. 

Looks great…?

 One year I shared my experience building a fence with my photography students, to help them understand that it’s ok to make mistakes.  They got the picture, and I found that when I was willing to share my learning (however flawed), they were willing to take more risks in their learning.  (none of their mistakes would be as permanent as mine!  I’ve since learned to string the posts first!)

but not straight…

The next step is to be willing to learn alongside our colleagues and students.  I  had the opportunity to attend a session to hear David Warlick speak  together with our future librarian and several other teachers.  When I broached the subject of a new way of doing library, the Learning Commons, Michelle began to tell me about what she had been learning from the librarian at Fraser Heights and the amazing things she had heard about the  Learning Commons at John Oliver in Vancouver.  I immediately looked it up and began following Gino Bondi  on twitter and reading his blog.  Then I wrote about what I was learning.  The writing brought my learning together, and keeping a blog forced me to keep reflecting.  I haven’t posted everything I’ve written, but I’ve learned a lot.  The conversations and planning sessions with Michelle on the topics of blogs and technology, the Learning Commons renovation, the Home Ec blog, applying for Learning Commons materials, have all helped me understand better how our students learn, and what we can specifically do to help them.  I’m reading ideas for 21st century education, but Michelle is living it, and I’m learning from, observing and joining in that process.

When I shared this learning at our opening staff meeting, I was more nervous than I expected.  I think that is the difference between presenting on something like Health and Safety, which is important but it is not part of who I am.  Sharing my learning is personal and it’s real, and that’s what makes it hard for any of us to do.  But if our learning matters to us, it will matter to our students as well.  If our school becomes a place where the everyone, the adults and the students, are learners in things that matter, I think it will be a much more energizing and rewarding place to be.

Posted in Education

The Magic of Technology


Today’s post is guest written by Taylor Kim, a teacher in the Home Economics Department at Johnston Heights.

Just in the last several years, countless Hollywood Blockbusters have been made around the idea of the impending doom technology will bring to the human race. From the likes of kid-friendly animations such as WALL-E to dark, engrossing tales like I, Robot, the possibility of the machine overpowering the man has been explored, debated, and even obsessed over countless times.

But outside the silver screen and particularly inside classrooms, where living, breathing students and teachers and lead pencils and sheets of paper are still the norm, I have seen technology bring power and ability rather than ruin and despair.

Not too long ago, I had been fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to use an iPad in my classroom. As excited as I was, I wasn’t certain what this small gadget would really do for my practice; little did I know, its usefulness and impact would be significant and immediate.

Right away in my English class, the iPad has enabled students who’ve struggled all their lives to express their thoughts into written form (something they might do so well verbally) do just that by using Dragon Dictation, an app that can transcribe their speech into text. When there is that disconnect between the mind and physical task of writing something down, students can now better show off their true capacity by using this tool. Fantastic! With that positive start, I am continuing to learn about dozens of other possibilities of the iPad for the English classroom and curriculum.

In my senior Psychology class, the same device has changed lessons that were once static and paper-based to lessons that are colourful, and active. For example, when I had to previously rely on flat pictures and images—and sometimes my own hands and body parts that I would somewhat successfully contort to demonstrate concepts—all in order to explain the anatomy and function of the human brain, I could now use apps designed to show the organ in all its 3-D glory, aided by colour and other kinds of details unobtainable from plain paper texts. Since the students’ understanding has been so enhanced by this tool, they have been able to go from just labeling and identifying functions to molding their own brains with the greatest detail using modeling clay.

I marvel at how this piece of technology has allowed my older students to be children again and take part in the kind of learning they miss and remember. I have watched them gleefully pound and tear at the clay, at first with reckless abandon but then slowing down—really slowing down—to examine their sculptures with a critical eye of the most discerning scientist: “Did I get the shape of the cerebellum right?”…“How far does the frontal lobe extend into the brain before it becomes the temporal lobe?”…”Isn’t so weird that the part of the brain responsible for sight is at the back of the brain?”

I marvel at how, contrary to what people might say about technology—that it makes one lazy, that it makes one dependent—such a small machine has enabled the learning experience of students to become more dynamic, interactive, organic. As my students stretch and pull at the wet clay, they are reminded of their learning on the plasticity of the brain—how the brain is physically impacted by one’s environment and experiences, be they positive or negative. In a way, the exercise has become a metaphor for growth, change, and potential of the human brain and intelligence.

Happily enough, small, amazing things are happening in various parts of the school where I teach alongside many dedicated and inno vative teachers.

In the Home Economics wing, I have seen an app on an iPad used to soothe an autistic teen overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of his cooking class and then the same device used to videotape him making cookies cooperatively and successfully with his peers. Best of all, he would be able to take that footage home to his parents and share and celebrate his progress in a way that had not been possible before.

In the Mathematics wing, I have also seen a Smartboard used in class to draw students out of their seats to move shapes and whole equations across the width of the room with their two arms, and all to the wild cheers and words of encouragement of their engaged peers.

And, ever increasingly, I am seeing teachers creating blogs and wikis to encourage communication and dialogue from students about their learning, and I am seeing once separate and isolated teachers from various departments (and even different schools!) come together to forums online to share ideas, rubrics, pedagogical literature and resources to help each other grow as professionals as well. However, amidst all this exchange of information, one recurring theme is the need for greater access to technological tools.

So, the question remains: will humankind be undone by technology? Perhaps one day we will be. But that is a topic of another discussion, of another place, of another time. For now, my thoughts lie with the promise of technology and using it simply to empower students and their learning.

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Johnston Heights Pulse Energy Competition Week

Today’s post is guest written by Leia Kim, a grade 11 student in the Leadership Program at Johnston Heights.

 Being one of the coordinators for Energy week was a tiring yet worthwhile experience. For many weeks, our JH leadership team has been working hard with our Pulse Energy mentor, Harish, to create different ideas to promote energy awareness and lower our energy savings.


In the classroom

At first, I too was an ignorant student about how much energy we wasted every day but during the energy audit with Neal, my fellow coordinators and I were definitely shocked at all the different machinery and how much energy they need to use in order for someone to turn on their classroom lights. Due to the complications, we did not have a ‘Cozy Monday’ but throughout the week, with the help of Mr. Killawee, we managed to encourage many teachers to turn off their lights during their last blocks. We also motivated junior students by holding many energy-saving workshops. It allowed many senior leadership students to connect with younger grades while teaching them how turning off your lights or your water tap does make a huge difference.  


Presenting the Energy Challenge

This experience allowed me to open my eyes and make ‘energy saving’ one of my top priorities. It brought our leadership team closer together to finish this huge project and to create such an amazing mission statement for our school. Even though we tied in second place, our leadership team couldn’t have been more proud and happy that we finished this project. And since I will be a senior next year, I’m looking forward to teaching our new leadership members and making sure this energy awareness week is an on-going project we do every year in Johnston Heights Seconday School.

Posted in Education

High Quality Leadership – Students telling their stories

The Student Leadership program at Johnston Heights is based on a philosophy of local and global action on real issues.  This means that students take on projects at the school level that range from helping set up for school events, to preparing food donated by local business, to organizing anti-bullying campaigns and fun flash mob performances.  On the global side our students are involved in everything from helping out at nearby elementary schools to advocating for international movements such as Free the Children. The most recent involvement outside of school was the News Day in BC event, where students from all over the Lower Mainland tried out for the opportunity to be a reporter for a day with the CBC.  Hundreds of students vied for thirty seats in the program.  Johnston Heights saw three of its current or former students win places.  This is a huge accomplishment, and it speaks to the quality of our leadership students, and to the quality of the leadership program that Ms. Tuey offers.

The “local and global” philosophy is reflected in the pieces that the students chose to report on, from  Nisha’s insightful article on student self-harm, to Jason’s international view of the participation of Canadian youth in the Free the Children initiative, to JV’s role as the official blogger for the whole group.  The quality of their work speaks for itself.  Take some time to read or view the links below, and see for yourself. 








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Posted in Education

21st Century Learning Vs. Learning with Technology

The teacher stands at the front of the room, students focused on the SmartBoard screen beside her. Using a special digital pen she highlights areas of a digitally projected satellite image to show various coastal landforms – bays, peninsulas, isthmuses – and has the students draw the same landforms on the map worksheets on their desks. Is this 21st century learning?

Not necessarily.

21st Century Learning is characterized by some specific things that can include learning with technology, but they don’t have to. A 21st Century classroom at Johnston Heights will include cross curricular study, time frames that are different than the usual 70 minute block, and a staffing structure such that teachers are working collaboratively. There is the flexibility for a team teachers to decide who is teaching what and when, how many students are working together, and the time periods set for particular learning tasks or assignments (which can be as short as a few minutes, or as long as a whole morning of even a whole day). The curriculum is integrated, so that teachers are helping students learn to gather knowledge from several different disciplines to solve a problem with real life implications. Usually 21st century learning does include learning with technology, just because the gadgets are ubiquitous and make the knowledge we’re working with easily accessible.

Learning with technology is not automatically innovative. Simply using a SmartBoard rather than a digital projector rather than an overhead projector rather than a blackboard takes the possibility of technology back to the 19th Century. But when thoughtfully used to extend the curriculum, to individualize learning for a student, or to bring experiences to the classroom that are impossible otherwise, technology can be a gateway to powerful learning.

One of our JH teachers, Taylor Kim, has been doing some experimenting with an iPad as a teaching tool, as well as observing the innovative work of her peers. She writes:

In the Home Economics wing, I have seen a game on an iPad used to soothe an autistic teen, overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of his cooking class and then the same device used to videotape him making cookies cooperatively and successfully with his peers. Best of all, he would be able to take that footage home to his parents and share and celebrate his progress in a way that had not been possible before.

In the Mathematics wing, I have also seen a Smartboard used in class to draw students out of their seats to move shapes and whole equations across the width of the room with their two arms, and all to the wild cheers and words of encouragement of their engaged peers.

(Ms. Kim will be authoring a future post at this blog on “The Magic of Technology”.)

21st Century learning and learning with technology are both powerful opportunities to innovate with good teaching practices. Learning with technology can transform the individual learning experience. Thoughtful 21st Century Learning innovations are transforming the system.


Posted in Education

Keeping the Connection

(response to “What Happens When our Connection is Severed?”)

I felt a bit like a treasure seeker with a metal detector, only what I was seeking was a wireless signal on my iPad in our neighboring elementary school. Just one bar! At last, a tiny bit of signal came through. A connection with the wider world! When our Internet (both wired and wireless) cut out one day, our usual habits of communication were disrupted. The event reminded me how much we are shaped by the technologies we use.

We often describe technology as a tool, which recognizes that we use technology to change our environment. But technology is a tool that hammers back, changing us even as we use it. We usually don’t recognize this – it’s hard to see a change as it is happening to us, but it’s worthwhile to think about. Marshall McCluhan writes that “the ‘message’ of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or patten that it introduces into human affairs.”

Philosophers and psychologists look deeply into the big picture impacts of technology, but we can still be aware of the day to day changes both in our own lives and in school. My children connect with family long distance by Skype, so they and their grandparents will grow up together with weekly visits. At school we use technology help students to individualize aspects of their learning so they can learn at their own pace, whether it is faster or slower than the pace of the class on any given activity. Our digital camera displays give instant feedback on the quality of our photos, our iPods give us instant feedback on the accuracy of our French pronunciation. We can accelerate our learning in many domains.

Negative behavior can also be amplified by technology. We spend hours engaged with our devices and not with our families. Learning can be disrupted by constant distraction. We check email at home, and are unable to rest from work. Students who would not speak unkindly to a peer when face to face can be vitriolic when writing from behind the ‘security’ of Facebook or Formspring.

Change driven by technological development is not new to us. The car (and truck) transformed our cities, industries and economies. As a society we fall in love with a technology and it becomes far more than a tool. Our students are helped when we approach technology with human thoughtfulness, not just reckless enthusiasm or cautious distrust. It is a human endeavour, capable of elevating or degrading. We need to learn where it makes us strong and where it makes us helpless, and lead our students forward with our eyes open.


Image from Pranav Mistry

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Posted in Education

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