Philosophy: The Big Questions, Grade 11, University / College Preparation

Course Title: Philosophy: The Big Questions, Grade 11, University / College Preparation (HZB3M)
Course Name: Philosophy: The Big Questions
Course Code: HZB3M
Grade: 11
Course Type: University / College Preparation
Credit Value: 1.0
Prerequisite: None
Curriculum Policy Document: Social Sciences and Humanities, The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 9 to 12, 2013 (Revised)
Course Developer: Virtual High School
Department: Social Sciences and Humanities
Department Head: Maeghan Gerrard, B.A., B.Ed., OCT
Development Date: 2013
Most Recent Revision Date: N/A
Tuition Fee (CAD): $579

Fast track courses offer an accelerated assessment turnaround time which allows students the opportunity to move through the course at a faster pace.

Course Title: Philosophy: The Big Questions, Grade 11, University / College Preparation (HZB3M)
Course Name: Philosophy: The Big Questions
Course Code: HZB3M
Grade: 11
Course Type: University / College Preparation
Credit Value: 1.0
Prerequisite: None
Curriculum Policy Document: Social Sciences and Humanities, The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 9 to 12, 2013 (Revised)
Course Developer: Virtual High School
Department: Social Sciences and Humanities
Department Head: Maeghan Gerrard, B.A., B.Ed., OCT
Development Date: 2013
Most Recent Revision Date: N/A
Tuition Fee (CAD): $729

Course Description

This course encourages exploration of philosophy’s big questions, such as: What is a meaningful life? What separates right from wrong? What constitutes knowledge? What makes something beautiful? What is a just society? Students will develop critical thinking and philosophical reasoning skills as they identify and analyse the responses of philosophers to the big questions and formulate their own responses to them. Students will explore the relevance of philosophical questions to society and to their everyday life. They will develop research and inquiry skills as they investigate various topics in philosophy.

Unit Titles and Descriptions Time Allocated


In this introductory unit, before the student begins looking at the five big questions of philosophy, some time is spent discussing the question of what makes a philosopher a good philosopher. After all, the student cannot begin to ask these questions about philosophy until students know exactly how to effectively approach them. First of all, one trait of a good philosopher is that he/she is aware of the different kinds of definitions that can exist in a philosophical piece of writing. For instance, if students are reading a philosophical piece where the author has included definitions of his/her terms, then it is important that they are aware of the kind of definition that he is using so that they can read and understand the piece accordingly. Second, another quality that is perhaps one of the most important skills of a philosopher is to understand the structure of an argument for philosophy is a subject that is, essentially, built entirely upon a succession of arguments. With so much emphasis on the 'argument', then, it is imperative to know what exactly an argument looks like. Third, another crucial skill for philosophers is the ability to, once they have located and determined an argument, evaluate that argument and various factors come into play when doing so. In particular, philosophers want to look at whether or not the beliefs in an argument are justified and very much of the work of a philosopher consists in just that. Fourth, another key skill to have in philosophy is the ability to spot and discern mistakes of reason known as fallacies. Students see and hear fallacies all of the time in their lives and, therefore, it is important, especially for philosophers, to know exactly what fallacies are and what kinds exist. Lastly, something which is just as crucial for philosophers to understand, say, as the validity of an argument is the ability to ask questions and to remain loyal to a philosophical technique known as the Socratic method. Even though the Socratic method is a method that goes way back to the days of Socrates in ancient Greece, the method remains pertinent today and perhaps even more so.

11 hours

What is Human Knowledge?

Students are going to look at the question of how knowledge works by studying two metaphors; knowledge as a building and knowledge as a boat. By studying knowledge this way and understanding what the metaphors are meant to represent, students should gain an understanding of how knowledge is thought to work from a symbolic point of view. They will look at the question of what kinds of knowledge there are by learning about a priori and a posterior knowledge, two distinct kinds of knowledge defended by two different kinds of philosophers. By studying these two different kinds of knowledge, they will be able to see how knowledge is understood to mean something different depending on the kind of philosophy one supports. Students will also look at the question of where knowledge comes from by looking at the two opposing epistemological theories of rationalism and empiricism. While one theory states that knowledge comes from one source, the other theory states that knowledge comes from a completely different source and so by studying these two theories students will gain awareness of the fact that there exists more than one view concerning the epistemological origins of knowledge. The course then takes a slightly different turn and looks at the limits of knowledge and students will do this by looking at an epistemological theory known as skepticism. In contrast to rationalism and empiricism which both claim that human knowledge can be known and understood, skepticism's aim is to disprove this and so by studying this branch of epistemology they will become acquainted not with the issue of what students can know but of what students cannot know. The unit concludes by testing the limits of human knowledge and asking the much more specific question of whether or not students can ever know about God and if he exists. In this last assignment students will apply the theories of rationalism, empiricism and skepticism leaned in the unit and will show how each theory answers this question about God very differently. By applying these three theories to the specific question of God students will gain an epistemological perspective on a very important question in the philosophy of religion.

16 hours

What is a Person?

In this unit students will be especially interested in the question of what is a person. While there is by no means an easy answer to this big question of philosophy, traditionally, the most common method of answering it is to do so by metaphysical inquiry. In fact, the question of what it is to be a person is easily said to be one of the most crucial problems in all of metaphysics. Thus, in this third unit students will be focused on just that: students are going to look at the question of who they are from a metaphysical perspective. This will not only allow them the chance to view the question of what a person is in the most traditional philosophical sense but it will also offer students an introduction to the area of metaphysics in general. The term meta refers to the Greek word for 'after' or 'beyond' making metaphysics literally mean after or beyond physics. Metaphysics, then, refers to the study of that which comes after physics. In other words, it concerns all of those questions that the subject of physics (or science in general for that matter) does not address but just presupposes or assumes is the case. Thus, metaphysics goes beyond the factual and scientific domain of science and tries to explain ourselves, reality and the universe from a much more general and fundamental perspective.

16 hours

What are Good and Evil?

In this unit students are going to study the question of good and evil and the area of philosophy that specifically relates to this big question, namely, ethics, or, moral philosophy. While the terms 'ethics' and 'moral' can sometimes refer to different things, their only significant difference is that, for the most part, ethics is a broad, all-encompassing label of this field of philosophy whereas the term, moral, is more commonly used to describe or characterize particular ethical beliefs or theories. For instance, the term, ethics, within philosophy is usually thought to refer to a general system of thought or principles that governs us to behave in certain ways whereas the term, moral, is often found to refer to a specific subsection within such a general system of thought or principles. Generally speaking, though, the terms 'ethics' and 'moral philosophy' are used interchangeably in philosophy and that is how they will be used throughout this unit.

Understanding the question of good and evil has been a great area of concern and debate throughout the history of philosophy and, of course, it continues to be one of equal strength today. Oftentimes the difficulties in understanding the question of good and evil are attributed to the various opinions that exist in the world as to what constitutes good and evil and this could be said to be the case in philosophy as well. From a philosophical point of view, the challenge behind understanding the question of good and evil also exists due to a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives on the matter. However, the challenge of understanding the question of good and evil also exists due to the vast number of ways that philosophers approach and interpret the question. For example, sometimes within ethics moral philosophers are concerned with studying very specific ethical concepts and arguing why certain concepts are to be given a higher priority than others. Other moral philosophers, however, care more about how ethics relates to everyday life and so these kinds of philosophers spend their time looking at ethics from a more practical and applied perspective. Still, other moral philosophers are interested in studying solely the foundations of moral beliefs and, consequently, view moral philosophy from a highly abstract level. Other philosophers, however, concentrate on the task of presenting ethics as being either an objective, intersubjective or subjective enterprise and there is much debate within philosophy as to which of these three viewpoints provides a more accurate picture of ethics. Finally, there are still other philosophers interested in moral philosophy who are interested in emphasizing the limits of morality and advancing the argument that perhaps morality does not even exist at all.

16 hours

What is a Just Society?

The branch of philosophy that addresses the big question of what is a just society specifically is, first and foremost, political philosophy. Broadly speaking, political philosophy refers to the study and justification of collective institutions and among those collective institutions studied is indeed society. (It is important to note here that political philosophy is, therefore, distinct from political science: in the case of the former, the main aim is to justify collective and political institutions whereas in the case of the latter, the main aim is to explain). In order to determine exactly what a just society should look like, however, political philosophers usually look more closely at the more specific issue of justifying government for, after all, it is very difficult to think of a society that is not, in some form or another, led by a certain level of government. Therefore, in order to know whether or not a society is just, one must look to that society's government for this will be a very likely indicator of its justness. That is, for better or worse, the justness of a society is very often a direct result of the justness of government. There are many ways that political philosophers and theorists approach the question of whether or not a given collective or political institution is justified and, as a result, many different political philosophies and theories are formed. This is why we see and hear of so many different views and opinions, say, in the news, on the internet or from friends and family. In this unit, students will take the time to discuss each of these different directions taken by political philosophers today. For example, students will learn about what exactly government is to begin with. In particular, students will look at just how it is different from any other collective or political institution and what makes government actually quite unique. They will then be introduced to the historical idea of the state of nature and what the famous philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, has to say about it. As students will see, since the time of Hobbes, the state of nature is thought to provide the very reason why humanity should want government in their lives and why it is indeed necessary. In Activity 4, students will then go on to discuss the first of the four major political theories that will be discussed in this unit, namely, liberalism. They will learn about various versions of the theory, two famous liberal thinkers, John Locke and John Stuart Mill as well as liberalism's overall opinion on the role of government in people's lives. Students will discuss a second major political theory, namely, socialism. In particular students will learn about its defining features, the revolutionary socialist leader, Karl Marx, as well as the extreme version of socialism which is communism. They will look at a third major political theory, namely, conservatism. They will then learn about what defines conservative thought, the thinker who is known to be the father of conservatism, Edmund Burke, as well as the most extreme version of conservatism, namely, fascism. Then the course will take a sharp turn and look at a theory that is very different from the rest of the political theories studied, namely, anarchism. In particular, students will learn about the general definition of anarchism, two very different strands of anarchism as well as the great American legal theorist, Lysander Spooner, and how his work is relevant with respect to anarchist thought in general. Finally, students will end the unit by looking at the very important topic of human rights. They will see how and why a certain conception of human rights ultimately forms the basis of all major political theories, the different kinds of rights that exist and why an understanding of human rights is so crucial to any serious inquiry within political philosophy.

16 hours

What is a Meaningful Life?

When one asks the question of what the meaning of life is, a natural place within philosophy to turn to is the field of philosophy known as existentialism. Compared to other branches of philosophy, existentialism is a new field of philosophy which first emerged as a serious area of study only after the Second World War. After the war, the world was disillusioned and, as such, the academic and scholarly works of philosophers, writers, and theorists from around the world (especially Europe) would eventually come to reflect this disillusionment. In this sense, then, existentialism can rightly be seen as a development arising out of the horrors of war. Aside from its being seen as a development of the war, however, it is quite difficult to try to define existentialism because instead of its consisting of one main, overarching theme, existentialism consists of and draws upon various themes. Some of the most common themes found within existentialism concern existence and essence, the individual, types of being, freedom and choice as well as the absence of a rational understanding of the universe and the consequent feelings that arise from such an absence, such as feelings of angst or fear and anxiety. Occasionally somewhat more optimistic themes are found within existentialism in themes that concern ways to overcome feelings of angst and to, more generally, accept the absurdity in human life; however, such themes tend to be exceptions to the rule. Another unique feature of existentialism, and one which is not always present among other fields of philosophy, is its distinctively emotional and sensitive tone, for existentialism has a unique way of affecting the individual emotionally. Whether it is because individual existence is at the forefront of the field and, so, naturally we have an invested interest in the subject, or whether it is because existentialism forces us to consider the possibility of a life without meaning, regardless of the exact cause, existentialism has a unique way of stirring up emotion so much so that it is sometimes hard to avoid feelings of weakness, emptiness, or even sadness when reading this area of philosophy.

16 hours


Now that students have gained an introductory understanding of philosophy, in this final unit of the course students are going to look at how the subject applies to the real world, that is, students are going to talk about philosophy and how it relates to everyday life. After all, philosophy has very real life implications and it is important to know that it is not just something that students read about in a philosophy textbook or online. For example, as students might have experienced in some of their other courses, it is quite common for philosophy to be discussed in other subjects as well and, in fact, it is not only discussed in other subjects but, quite frequently, philosophy is what provides the very foundation for which many subjects are built upon. Furthermore, it is important to realize that philosophy and philosophical issues also very much exist within the media and one just has to pick up a newspaper to see the philosophical significance of many stories in the news today. There is also a lot to be said about certain current philosophers who are making a difference in the field of philosophy today which just proves how great philosophy is not something that was produced generations ago but is, rather, still very much being created today. Also, very relevant with respect to philosophy and everyday life is the issue of being able to find a job in the field and understanding what options are available to students if they seriously want to pursue the subject. Finally, another important consideration to bear in mind when discussing philosophy in relation to the real world is the argument that philosophy actually does not apply to the real world and recognizing these sorts of criticisms of philosophy is key to understanding the subject's overall impact on the world.

11 hours
Final Assessment


This project is worth 30% of the final grade. Students will complete a "Philosophical Growth Portfolio" based on their work throughout the course.

8 hours
Total 110 hours

Resources required by the student:

Note: This course is entirely online and does not require or rely on any textbook.

Overall Curriculum Expectations

A. Research and Inquiry Skills
A1 Exploring: explore topics related to philosophical questions and/or issues, and formulate questions to guide their research;
A2 Investigating: create research plans, and locate and select information relevant to their chosen topics, using appropriate philosophical research and inquiry methods;
A3 Processing Information: assess, record, analyse, and synthesize information gathered through research and inquiry;
A4 Communicating and Reflecting: communicate the results of their research and inquiry clearly and effectively, and reflect on and evaluate their research, inquiry, and communication skills.
B. Philosophical Foundations
B1 Identifying the Big Questions: describe the main areas of philosophy and identify the big questions that arise in each area;
B2 Philosophers and Philosophical Traditions: demonstrate an understanding of how major philosophers and philosophical traditions approach some of the big questions of philosophy;
B3 Defining Terms and Concepts: demonstrate an understanding of terms and concepts central to discussions of the big questions of philosophy, and of how these terms and concepts are used in various philosophical traditions.
C. Philosophical Skills
C1 Philosophical Reasoning: demonstrate an understanding of terms, methods, and fallacies associated with philosophical reasoning;
C2 Evaluating Philosophical Responses to Big Questions: analyse, using their own philosophical reasoning skills as well as the arguments of other critics, the strengths and weaknesses of the responses of major philosophers or schools of philosophy to some of the big questions of philosophy;
C3 Developing Philosophical Responses: use philosophical reasoning and critical thinking skills to formulate responses to big questions of philosophy and to arguments encountered in everyday life.
D. The Reveleance of Philosophy
D1 The Relevance to Everyday Life and Society: demonstrate an understanding of the relevance of philosophical questions, theories, and skills to their everyday life and to the community and broader society;
D2 The Relevance to Education and Careers: demonstrate an understanding of the relevance of philosophy to other subject areas and careers.

Teaching & Learning Strategies:

The nature of the social science and humanities curriculum calls for a variety of strategies for learning. The social science and humanities curriculum is designed both to engage students in reflective learning and to help them develop practical skills. Students are expected to learn and apply the inquiry skills and research methods particular to the discipline, and to conduct research and analysis using both traditional and technological resources.

Since the over-riding aim of this course is to help students use language skillfully, confidently and flexibly, a wide variety of instructional strategies are used to provide learning opportunities to accommodate a variety of learning styles, interests and ability levels.

Assessment, Evaluation and Reporting Strategies of Student Performance:

Our theory of assessment and evaluation follows the Ministry of Education's Growing Success document, and it is our firm belief that doing so is in the best interests of students. We seek to design assessment in such a way as to make it possible to gather and show evidence of learning in a variety of ways to gradually release responsibility to the students, and to give multiple and varied opportunities to reflect on learning and receive detailed feedback.

Growing Success articulates the vision the Ministry has for the purpose and structure of assessment and evaluation techniques. There are seven fundamental principles that ensure best practices and procedures of assessment and evaluation by Virtual High School teachers. VHS assessments and evaluations,

For a full explanation, please refer to Growing Success.

The Final Grade:

The evaluation for this course is based on the student's achievement of curriculum expectations and the demonstrated skills required for effective learning. The final percentage grade represents the quality of the student's overall achievement of the expectations for the course and reflects the corresponding level of achievement as described in the achievement chart for the discipline. A credit is granted and recorded for this course if the student's grade is 50% or higher. The final grade will be determined as follows:

The Report Card:

Student achievement will be communicated formally to students via an official report card. Report cards are issued at the midterm point in the course, as well as upon completion of the course. Each report card will focus on two distinct, but related aspects of student achievement. First, the achievement of curriculum expectations is reported as a percentage grade. Additionally, the course median is reported as a percentage. The teacher will also provide written comments concerning the student's strengths, areas for improvement, and next steps. Second, the learning skills are reported as a letter grade, representing one of four levels of accomplishment. The report card also indicates whether an OSSD credit has been earned. Upon completion of a course, VHS will send a copy of the report card back to the student's home school (if in Ontario) where the course will be added to the ongoing list of courses on the student's Ontario Student Transcript. The report card will also be sent to the student's home address.

Program Planning Considerations:

Teachers who are planning a program in this subject will make an effort to take into account considerations for program planning that align with the Ontario Ministry of Education policy and initiatives in a number of important areas.

Planning Programs for Students with Special Education Needs

Virtual High School is committed to ensuring that all students, especially those with special education needs, are provided with the learning opportunities and supports they require to gain the knowledge, skills, and confidence needed to succeed in a rapidly changing society. The context of special education and the provision of special education programs and services for exceptional students in Ontario are constantly evolving. Provisions included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code have driven some of these changes. Others have resulted from the evolution and sharing of best practices related to the teaching and assessment of students with special educational needs.

Virtual High School pays particular attention to the following beliefs: (1) all students can succeed, (2) each student has his or her own unique patterns of learning, (3) successful instructional practices are founded in evidence-based research, tempered by experience, (4) an open and accessible learning environment with differentiated instruction are effective and interconnected means of meeting the learning or productivity needs of any group of students, (5) classroom teachers are the key educators for a student's literacy and numeracy development, (6) classroom teachers need the support of the larger community to create a learning environment that supports students with special education needs, and finally, (7) fairness is not sameness.

The provision of special education programs and services for students at Virtual High School rests within a legal framework The Education Act and the regulations related to it set out the legal responsibilities pertaining to special education. They provide comprehensive procedures for the identification of exceptional pupils, for the placement of those pupils in educational settings where the special education programs and services appropriate to their needs can be delivered, and for the review of the identification of exceptional pupils and their placement.

If the student requires either accommodations, then Virtual High School will take into account these needs of exceptional students as they are set out in the students' existing Individual Education Plan. The online courses offer a vast array of opportunities for students with special educations needs to acquire the knowledge and skills required for our evolving society. Students who use alternative techniques for communication may find a venue to use these special skills in these courses. There are a number of technical and learning aids that can assist in meeting the needs of exceptional students as set out in their Individual Education Plan. In the process of taking their online course, students may use a personal amplification system, tele-typewriter (via Bell relay service), an oral or a sign-language interpreter, a scribe, specialized computer programs, time extensions, ability to change font size, oral readers, etc.

Accommodations (instructional, environmental or assessment) allow the student with special education needs access to the curriculum without changes to the course curriculum expectations. VHS will develop a Personal Education Plan (PEP) based on the student’s existing Individual Education Plan.

Program Considerations for English Language Learners

This Virtual High School online course provide a number of strategies to address the needs of ESL/ELD students. This online course must be flexible in order to accommodate the needs of students who require instruction in English as a second language or English literacy development. The Virtual High School teacher considers it to be his or her responsibility to help students develop their ability to use the English language properly. Appropriate accommodations affecting the teaching, learning, and evaluation strategies in this course may be made in order to help students gain proficiency in English, since students taking English as a second language at the secondary level have limited time in which to develop this proficiency. Virtual High School determines the student's level of proficiency in the English Language upon registration. This information is communicated to the teacher of the course following the registration and the teacher then invokes a number of strategies and resources to support the student in the course. On a larger scale, well written content will aid ESL students in mastering not only the content of this course, but as well, the English language and all of its idiosyncrasies. Virtual High School has created course content to enrich the student's learning experience. Many occupations in Canada require employees with capabilities in the English language. Enabling students to learn English language skills will contribute to their success in the larger world.

Environmental Education

Helping students become environmentally responsible is a role assumed by Virtual High School. The first goal is to promote learning about environmental issues and solutions. The second goal is to engage students in practicing and promoting environmental stewardship in their community. The third goal stresses the importance of the education system providing leadership by implementing and promoting responsible environmental practices so that all stakeholders become dedicated to living more sustainably. Environmental education teaches students about how the planet's physical and biological systems work, and how we can create a more sustainable future. Good curriculum design following the resource document - The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 9-12: Environmental Education, Scope and Sequence of Expectations, 2011, will assist Virtual High School staff to weave environmental education in and out of the online course content. This ensures that the student will have opportunities to acquire the knowledge, skills, perspectives and practices needed to become an environmentally literate citizen. The online course should provide opportunities for each student to address environmental issues in their home, in their local community, or even at the global level.

Healthy Relationships

Every student is entitled to learn in a safe, caring environment, free from violence and harassment. Students learn and achieve better in such environments. The safe and supportive social environment at Virtual High School is founded on healthy relationships between all people. Healthy relationships are based on respect, caring, empathy, trust, and dignity, and thrive in an environment in which diversity is honoured and accepted. Healthy relationships do not tolerate abusive, controlling, violent, bullying/harassing, or other inappropriate behaviours. To experience themselves as valued and connected members of an inclusive social environment, students need to be involved in healthy relationships with their peers, teachers, and other members of the Virtual High School community.

The most effective way to enable all students to learn about healthy and respectful relationships is through the school curriculum. Virtual High School teachers can promote this learning in a variety of ways. For example, they can help students develop and practise the skills they need for building healthy relationships by giving them opportunities to apply critical-thinking and problem solving strategies and to address issues through group discussions, role play, case study analysis, and other means. Virtual High School can also have a positive influence on students by modelling the behaviours, values, and skills that are needed to develop and sustain healthy relationships, and by taking advantage of “teachable moments” to address immediate relationship issues that may arise among students.

At Virtual High School, all staff strive to create a climate of cooperation, collaboration, respect, and open-mindedness. These attitudes and attributes enable our students to develop an awareness of the complexity of a range of issues. Moreover, in examining issues from multiple perspectives, students develop not only an understanding of various positions on these issues but also a respect for different points of view. Virtual High School students will hopefully develop empathy as they analyse events and issues from the perspectives of people all over the world. These attitudes and attributes provide a foundation on which students can develop their own identity, explore interconnectedness with others, and form and maintain healthy relationships.

Equity and Inclusive Education

The Virtual High School equity and inclusive education strategy focuses on respecting diversity, promoting inclusive education, and identifying and eliminating discriminatory biases, systemic barriers, and power dynamics that limit the ability of students to learn, grow, and contribute to society. Antidiscrimination education continues to be an important and integral component of this strategy.

In an environment based on the principles of inclusive education, all students, parents, caregivers, and other members of the school community - regardless of ancestry, culture, ethnicity, sex, physical or intellectual ability, race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or other similar factors - are welcomed, included, treated fairly, and respected. Diversity is valued, and all members of the Virtual High School community feel safe, comfortable, and accepted. Every student is supported and inspired to succeed in a culture of high expectations for learning. In an inclusive education system, all students see themselves reflected in the curriculum, their physical surroundings, and the broader environment, so that they can feel engaged in and empowered by their learning experiences.

Virtual High School can give students a variety of opportunities to learn about diversity and diverse perspectives. By drawing attention to the contributions of women, the perspectives of various ethno-cultural, religious, and racial communities, and the beliefs and practices of First Nations, Mêtis, and Inuit peoples, teachers enable Virtual High School students from a wide range of backgrounds to see themselves reflected in the curriculum. It is essential that learning activities and materials used to support the curriculum reflect the multicultural nature of society that is Canada. In addition, Virtual High School differentiates the instruction and assessment strategies to take into account the background and experiences, as well as the interests, aptitudes, and learning needs, of all students.

Financial Literacy Education

Financial literacy may be defined as having the knowledge and skills needed to make responsible economic and financial decisions with competence and confidence. Since making financial decisions has become an increasingly complex task in the modern world, students need to have knowledge in various areas and a wide range of skills in order to make informed decisions about financial matters. Students need to be aware of risks that accompany various financial choices. They need to develop an understanding of world economic forces as well as ways in which they themselves can respond to those influences and make informed choices. Virtual High School considers it essential that financial literacy be considered an important attribute of a well-educated population. In addition to acquiring knowledge in such specific areas as saving, spending, borrowing, and investing, students need to develop skills in problem solving, inquiry, decision making, critical thinking, and critical literacy related to financial and other issues. The goal is to help students acquire the knowledge and skills that will enable them to understand and respond to complex issues regarding their own personal finances and the finances of their families, as well as to develop an understanding of local and global effects of world economic forces and the social, environmental, and ethical implications of their own choices as consumers. The Ministry of Education and Virtual High School are working to embed financial literacy expectations and opportunities in all courses as appropriate, as part of the ongoing curriculum review process.

Literacy, Mathematical Literacy, and Inquiry Skills

Literacy is defined as the ability to use language and images in rich and varied forms to read, write, listen, view, represent, and think critically about ideas. It involves the capacity to access, manage, and evaluate information; to think imaginatively and analytically; and to communicate thoughts and ideas effectively. Literacy includes critical thinking and reasoning to solve problems and make decisions related to issues of fairness, equity, and social justice. Literacy connects individuals and communities and is an essential tool for personal growth and active participation in a cohesive, democratic society. Literacy involves a range of critical-thinking skills and is essential for learning across the curriculum. Literacy instruction takes different forms of emphasis in different subjects, but in all subjects, literacy needs to be explicitly taught. Literacy, mathematical literacy, and inquiry/research skills are critical to students' success in all subjects of the curriculum and in all areas of their lives.

Many of the activities and tasks that students undertake in the Virtual High School courses involve the literacy skills relating to oral, written, and visual communication. For example, they develop literacy skills by reading, interpreting, and analysing various texts. In addition, they develop the skills needed to construct, extract information from, and analyse various types information presented in a variety of media forms. In all Virtual High School courses, students are required to use appropriate and correct terminology, including that related to the concepts of disciplinary thinking, and are encouraged to use language with care and precision in order to communicate effectively.

Inquiry and research are at the heart of learning in all subject areas at Virtual High School. Students are encouraged to develop their ability to ask questions and to explore a variety of possible answers to those questions. As they advance through the grades, they acquire the skills to locate relevant information from a variety of print and electronic sources. The questioning they practiced in the early grades becomes more sophisticated as they learn that all sources of information have a particular point of view and that the recipient of the information has a responsibility to evaluate it, determine its validity and relevance, and use it in appropriate ways. The ability to locate, question, and validate information allows a student to become an independent, lifelong learner.

Critical Thinking and Critical Literacy

Critical thinking is the process of thinking about ideas or situations in order to understand them fully, identify their implications, make a judgement, and/or guide decision making. Critical thinking includes skills such as questioning, predicting, analysing, synthesizing, examining opinions, identifying values and issues, detecting bias, and distinguishing between alternatives. Students who are taught these skills become critical thinkers who can move beyond superficial conclusions to a deeper understanding of the issues they are examining. They are able to engage in an inquiry process in which they explore complex and multifaceted issues, and questions for which there may be no clear-cut answers.

Students use critical-thinking skills in Virtual High School courses when they assess, analyse, and/or evaluate the impact of something and when they form an opinion about something and support that opinion with a rationale. In order to think critically, students need to examine the opinions and values of others, detect bias, look for implied meaning, and use the information gathered to form a personal opinion or stance, or a personal plan of action with regard to making a difference. Students approach critical thinking in various ways. Some students find it helpful to discuss their thinking, asking questions and exploring ideas. Other students, including many First Nations, Mêtis, and Inuit students, may take time to observe a situation or consider a text carefully before commenting; they may prefer not to ask questions or express their thoughts orally while they are thinking.

The development of these critical-thinking skills is supported in every course at Virtual High School. As students work to achieve the curriculum expectations in their particular course, students frequently need to identify the possible implications of choices. As they gather information from a variety of sources, they need to be able to interpret what they are listening to, reading, or viewing; to look for instances of bias; and to determine why a source might express a particular bias.

The Role of the School Library

The school library program in many schools can help build and transform students' knowledge in order to support lifelong learning in our information- and knowledge-based society. The school library program of these schools supports student success across the curriculum by encouraging students to read widely, teaching them to examine and read many forms of text for understanding and enjoyment, and helping them improve their research skills and effectively use information gathered through research. Virtual High School teachers assist students in accessing a variety of online resources and collections (e.g., professional articles, image galleries, videos, databases). Teachers at Virtual High School will also guide students through the concept of ownership of work and the importance of copyright in all forms of media.

The Role of Information and Communications Technology

Information literacy is the ability to access, select, gather, critically evaluate, and create information. Communication literacy refers to the ability to communicate information and to use the information obtained to solve problems and make decisions. Information and communications technologies are utilized by all Virtual High School students when the situation is appropriate within their online course. As a result, students will develop transferable skills through their experience with word processing, internet research, presentation software, and telecommunication tools, as would be expected in any other course or any business environment. Although the Internet is a powerful learning tool, there are potential risks attached to its use. All students must be made aware of issues related to Internet privacy, safety, and responsible use, as well as of the potential for abuse of this technology, particularly when it is used to promote hatred.

The Ontario Skills Passport: Making Learning Relevant and Building Skills

The Ontario Skills Passport (OSP) is a free, bilingual, web-based resource that provides teachers and students with clear descriptions of the "Essential Skills" and work habits important in work, learning, and life. Virtual High School can engage students by using OSP tools and resources to show how what they learn in class can be applied in the workplace and in everyday life. For further information on the Ontario Skills Passport, including the Essential Skills and work habits, visit

Education and Career/Life Planning

As online students progress through online courses, teachers are available to help the student prepare for employment in a number of diverse areas. With the help of teachers, students will learn to set and achieve goals and will gain experience in making meaningful decisions concerning career choices. The skills, knowledge and creativity that students acquire through this online course are essential for a wide range of careers. Throughout their secondary school education, students will learn about the educational and career opportunities that are available to them; explore and evaluate a variety of those opportunities; relate what they learn in their courses to potential careers in a variety of fields; and learn to make appropriate educational and career choices. The framework of the program is a four-step inquiry process based on four questions linked to four areas of learning: (1) knowing yourself - Who am I?; (2) exploring opportunities - What are my opportunities?; (3) making decisions and setting goals - Who do I want to become?; and (4) achieving goals and making transitions - What is my plan for achieving my goals?

Cooperative Education and Other Forms of Experiential Learning

By applying the skills they have developed, students will readily connect their classroom learning to real-life activities in the world in which they live. Cooperative education and other workplace experiences will broaden their knowledge of employment opportunities in a wide range of fields. In addition, students will increase their understanding of workplace practices and the nature of the employer-employee relationship. Virtual High School will try to help students link to Ministry programs to ensure that students have information concerning programs and opportunities.

Planning Program Pathways and Programs Leading to a Specialist High Skills Major

Virtual High School courses are well suited for inclusion in Specialist High Skills Majors (SHSMs) or in programs designed to provide pathways to particular apprenticeship, college, university, or workplace destinations. In some SHSM programs, courses at Virtual High School can be bundled with other courses to provide the academic knowledge and skills important to particular economic sectors and required for success in the workplace and postsecondary education, including apprenticeship training.

Health and Safety

In order to provide a suitable learning environment for the Virtual High School staff and students, it is critical that classroom practice and the learning environment complies with relevant federal, provincial, and municipal health and safety legislation and by-laws, including, but not limited to, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), the Food and Drug Act, the Health Protection and Promotion Act, the Ontario Building Code, and the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). The OHSA requires all schools to provide a safe and productive learning and work environment for both students and employees.


Virtual High School courses provide varied opportunities for students to learn about ethical issues and to explore the role of ethics in both public and personal decision making. During the inquiry process, students may need to make ethical judgements when evaluating evidence and positions on various issues, and when drawing their own conclusions about issues, developments, and events. Teachers may need to help students in determining appropriate factors to consider when making such judgements. In addition, it is crucial that Virtual High School teachers provide support and supervision to students throughout the inquiry process, ensuring that students engaged in an inquiry are aware of potential ethical concerns and address them in acceptable ways. Teachers at Virtual High School will ensure that they thoroughly address the issue of plagiarism with students. In a digital world in which there is easy access to abundant information, it is very easy to copy the words of others and present them as one's own. Students need to be reminded, even at the secondary level, of the ethical issues surrounding plagiarism, and the consequences of plagiarism should be clearly discussed before students engage in an inquiry. It is important to discuss not only dishonest plagiarism but also more negligent plagiarism instances. Students often struggle to find a balance between writing in their own voice and acknowledging the work of others in the field. Merely telling students not to plagiarize, and admonishing those who do, is not enough. The skill of writing in one's own voice, while appropriately acknowledging the work of others, must be explicitly taught to all Virtual High School courses. Using accepted forms of documentation to acknowledge sources is a specific expectation within the inquiry and skill development strand for each course.