Sunday, December 27, 2009

Entering 4th year of teaching

In my first year I focused on improving my teaching practices. I am now comfortable that I can teach in difficult circumstances.

In my second year, I sought to better understand the curriculum and create something to measure my growing understanding against. I now have an understanding of the 8-12 curriculum.

In my third year I attempted to analyse and manipulate the learning environment to promote achievement and success by my students. I now understand how students fit into student pathways and have some ideas on how to increase student efficiency through an active learning environment.

In my fourth year, my plan is to further develop my understanding of effective curriculum and teaching practices used to motivate low socio-economic students throughout secondary school. I've applied to start my masters with the aim to complete it part time over the next couple of years. It's a great excuse to research best practices.

I had originally planned this to be a consolidation year, learning the remainder of the year 12 curriculum (the pointy end) and guiding my students through to year 12 before starting further study. When the opportunity to pursue my masters arose, I had to consider that having my wife at home with Mackenzie would provide a level of support I wouldn't be able to get if she was working.

Yet, this is the biggest risk I have made thus far of overstretching myself again. I do have a tendency to delve actively into research and know that I can attempt to do too much. I need to be ever vigilant (may these not be famous last words!).

I'm excited.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Summer School 2010

Sometimes you stumble upon concepts and ideas in discussion with others. I ramble on but a grain of insight can sometime emerge.

Yesterday it was this statement that stuck - "You have to stay focussed on student outcomes if you are to maintain inspired".

Frustration can set in if you lack time, materials or ability to satisfy the needs of your students no matter your success in other areas.

It follows on from what I was saying about students the other day. Students only stay motivated if they experience competitive (real) success.

Similarly for teachers - if courses that we run do not amount to student success we too become demoralised. Big picture approaches are good where we know systemic/school success will come once a project is developed, but we still need the day to day success at a student level to maintain our enthusiasm, else we risk a jaded and compromised implementation as we focus on finishing the job at hand rather than seeking improvement as we develop an idea (and if you lose focus from the student you lose the opportunity for continual improvement).

When we finally reached the discussion on the summer school focus for this year it was eye opening the changes that we need to make from our successful course last year.

Focus 2010 Summer School
Algebra, Quadratics and linear equations
Bearings and Vectors
Trigonometric Identities and Exact values
Functions, continuity, domains and range
Moving Averages, Residuals and Seasonality

Hi ho, it's back to work I go!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

NAPLAN results released

Today the NAPLAN results were released for 2009.

They show the major reason students in low socio-economic regions do not do as well as in more affluent regions. As has been suggested on many occasions, it has little to do with teachers, but more to do with geographical location, tied to value parents put on education.

It is well known that more people with higher levels of education live in affluent areas. Now we can see the results of these accumulations of educated people.

Average Year 9 NAPLAN results nationally (examining parental education)
Mean Parental Education (band that the mean falls in)
631.2 Bachelor degree or above (band 7)
596.7 Advanced diploma / diploma (band 7)
577.6 Cert I to IV (band 7)
586.5 Year 12 or equivalent (band 6/7)
556.5 Year 11 or equivalent or below (band 6)
578.2 Not stated

(Band 5 is the minimum benchmark in year 9)

For example - students with parents that have bachelor degrees have a mean NAPLAN score of 631.2. Students with parents that dropped out of school in year 11 or below have a mean score of 556.5. This is an important (and obvious) finding as it can be used as a factor in putting forward students for advancement in early years (and draw attention to potentially underperforming students).

Students with strong parental support do better (on average a whole band higher). Parents that have the ability to provide educational support typically live in affluent areas. Which leads to the whole anti-NAPLAN arguement. Putting more money into low socio-economic schools will not even the spread of scores - nor will naming and shaming schools that cannot do it.

Sadly, the rich will get richer. Unfortunately, to compete in the global economy we need these people.

On another front, the difference in teaching standards between states do not provide anywhere near the parental influence difference and we acknowledge that teaching standards between states are a major factor in student performance. Yet we are pursuing a costly and ultimately ineffective national curriculum. We are trying to identify better teachers for low socio-economic schools (how insulting to the good ones already there!). We are trying to fix a problem but have identified the wrong cause!

We are a diverse country that has diverse issues, with large geographical issues - no quick fix political solution will ever exist.

If money is to be put anywhere to ameliorate the issue - it has to be into before/after school hours/holiday/year 13 programmes and the provision of similar support as provided by affluent parents from age 4 onwards. In many cases this is impractical, costly, wasteful, unwanted interference in the school/family/community relationship (and will likely degrade this relationship further in struggling families than it is now). It is not a quick fix - prone to constant criticism and not politically expedient.

In the metropolitan area, only generational change and gentrification of areas will allow families to raise themselves out of poverty. It takes effort, pride and time. This opportunity is a part of the Australian way and this is what needs protection and valuing.

This is the real role of schools. Pride in self and community in positive ways.

In Australia - unlike other countries, the poor get richer too! Fortunately for us, in comparison to the global economy, the majority of our poor are doing well.

Our government is doing well if our standard of living continues to improve - it is the only real measure of progress. This is where their focus needs to be, not on micro-management of education. Us going backwards does not raise the standard of living of poorer countries - it raises our ability to give assistance.

Do-gooders are not doing anyone any 'good' by supplying NAPLAN information. We need to wind back the release of specific NAPLAN results now, before more unseen damage is done.

Full results of NAPLAN summaries can be found here. Community results are due in May.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Outcomes Based Education devaluing progress

One key issue with OBE was the devaluation of progress in outcomes not being immediately assessed. Combine this with marking that isn't normalised and it can demoralise a student.

For instance, a student starts totally disengaged and gradually becomes more involved with the classroom. The outcome for lessons are not achieved. The child does not achieve NAPLAN results. The child again gets an E for the term despite making large amounts of progress socially.

The main feedback for the student is that effort has no reward and he again becomes disengaged. The feedback for the teacher is that putting effort into a student like this is not worthwhile, more tangible/measurable results can be found with students that are already on learning paths. It is not fair, equitable or motivating for either party.

It is this sort of logic that we as a profession are facing at the moment and this is something that we need to consider if we still want an inclusive education system. We are heading towards a system where students that do not fit into mainstream profiles are being farmed into alternate programmes as they fall farther and farther behind, with little incentive for schools to investigate issues and try to re-integrate students.

I'm sure that this is not the right thing to do.

Sometimes as teachers we need to look at the whole picture and realise that we are achieving great things even when the measured results do not show them (especially when standardised reports don't measure what we are teaching!) - the seeds we plant in students may not germinate for many years yet are still worthwhile - a message may take many iterations to become active, developmentally change often requires multiple iterations by multiple people to become successful.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ghetto subculture

The "ghetto" allowance as it is affectionately known is an amount of money given to teachers in hard to staff schools. It is compensation for the loss of skill, access to promotion and the general reduction in standards of acceptable behaviour by students.

Yet, we are not in a ghetto and it riles me to think that teachers think it acceptable to promote a ghetto subculture within the school. I really despise the ideals that this espouses.

For instance, a ghetto subculture accepts that subjugation of women as acceptable, violence is a solution, prostitution/pimping as admirable and a drug culture is a way out of the ghetto. Fame through dance and rap, quick money through theft, extortion and drugs become the only perceived way out of poverty. Authority is the enemy.

It's not true in the US and it's not true here.

We should be educating kids that these values are not only undesirable that they are also misleading. Women in Australia do not have to be property of men. All other solutions should be investigated before violence is pursued. Drugs are never, ever an option. Crime all too often leads to a life of recidivism and a loss of education limits future options. Hard work, respect for authority, conservative spending and generational change is more likely to lead families out of the poverty trap rather than quick fix ghetto solutions. A mob or gang mentality is one lead by ignorance rather than common sense.

Showing movies to kids (entertaining or not) that promote ghetto values on the days before school ends is a form of child abuse. Step Up 2 was the movie I sat through today and it was as predictable as the cover indicated. Our kids should not be drawing parallels between American ghetto kids of little future prospects and the Australian reality where mateship, individuality, working hard and a little opportunity allows anyone with a good attitude to be successful.

Let's be very clear, this movie had a student bashed and kicked by a gang of men with no consequence occurring because he wished to dance against them. The 'heroes' as a prank broke into another persons home, vandalised it and videoed it on the internet in order to gain 'respect'. The head of the dance studio was vilified for removing a disruptive element from the school. Students grouped together and hid the truth from authority rather than facing the issue when the studio was vandalised preventing resolution of criminal behaviour. The background of the movie was attendance at a secret venue and having dance offs (sound anything like the rave culture of our time - do we remember what else occurred at these 'dance' events???). The parent was portrayed negatively when showing restraint and positively when poor parenting allowed the student to attend the 'dance off''. The movie focused on a bunch of misfits that were encouraged to defy authority and seek fringe activities. And this is what we want our students to relate to???

To stop these movies being shown on final days requires all teachers to maintain their programmes to the wire, valuing each day of learning. NCOS has not helped matters, now making term 4 a hodge podge of early exams, TEE preparation and mixed 11/12 classes. It is a common time for long service leave and relief classes of busy work. Yet we should make an effort.

If we as teachers do not value every teaching day available - nor will our students.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Games Club at school

I've played many of my games at school with students and have been pleasantly surprised that they have been well looked after.

Last week I set up all the games and asked the principal to come see them in action. Since then a number of teachers have been coming to the room to see what all the fuss is about.

Our principal encouraged the creation of a games club next year and asked to put in a finance committee application.

Here are some of the games on my wishlist:

Gateway Games (used to develop rapport and get students thinking strategically):
Ticket to ride (2-5 players, $75): Easy to learn and currently played by kids unassisted
Citadels (2-9 players, $35): Easy to learn and currently played by kids unassisted
Apples to Apples ($55, 2-10 players): Easy to learn, fun to play and currently played by kids unassisted
Bohnanza ($27, 3-7 players): Just arrived. Highly regarded. Enjoyed by students although not played cutthroat.
Blue Moon ($35, 2 players): Just arrived. Quick to play. Quite fun!
Condotierre ($25, 2-6 players): Just arrived. Highly anticipated.
Portobello market ($70, 2-4 players): Mathy eurogame, some success with low literacy students
Colossal Arena ($30, 2-5 players): Just arrived. Quick to play. Betting and fantasy theme enjoyed by students
Formula D ($65, 2-10 players): On most wanted list. Highly regarded.
Zooloretto ($60, 2-5 players): Top of most wanted list. Highly regarded.
Carcassonne ($40, 2-5 players): Easy to learn, successful with low literacy students
Hive ($35, 2 players): Easy to learn, great for small competitions
Go ($39, 2 players): Easy to learn, impossible to master, great for small competitions
Pitch Car ($105, 2-8 players): Dexterity based game.

Total cost $696

Games to further develop interest in collaboration, cooperation and competition
Battlelore ($115, 2 players): Has a good hook to get students interest. Medium level of literacy required. Successful with capable mathematics students.
Battleline ($33, 2 players): On most wanted list. Highly regarded.
Cave Troll ($45, 2-4 players): Just arrived. Highly anticipated (meant to buy Bridge troll but it's turned out ok!).
Dominion ($60, 2-4 players): Limited success thus far, requires more work learning how to teach effectively. Medium level of literacy required.
Small World ($90, 2-5 players): Mixed success thus far, requires reasonable level of literacy and persistence not found in current students.
Race for the Galaxy ($55, 2 players): Success only with capable mathematics students.
Illuminati ($60, 2-6 players): Ultimate negative relationship game, requires some literacy skills.
Steam ($70, 2-6 players): Strategic progression of difficulty from Ticket to ride.

Total Cost: $528

Games requiring extended concentration (>2 hrs)
Die Macher ($70, 3-5 players)
Twilight Struggle ($60, 2 players)
Brittania($60, 2-4 players)
Runebound ($70, 1-6 players)

There are a number of good games missing from the list - Settlers of Catan, Tichu, Space Hulk, Chess, Uno, Connect Four, Draughts, Dork Tower, Warhammer (anything), Pandemic, Thurn and Taxis, Stronghold, Descent, Power Grid, Agricola, Puerto Rico, San Juan, Britannia, Dork Tower, Alhambra, Galaxy Truckers, Elfenland, Shadows over Camelot, Shogun, Risk, Scrabble, Bridge Troll, Sorry Sliders, Tumbling dice but the list could go on and on.

It would be up to the club itself to choose what games would be purchased (vetted by me) once the finance committee application is approved.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Do students need to enjoy school to do well?

This was the chicken and egg question of yesterday. Does a student need to enjoy school to do well?

My initial thought was no. I hated school but still did well.

... but then, I was hardly the average kid.

So I looked at the top ten kids in each year group and asked myself did they enjoy school. For the majority it was yes. Which doesn't really answer the question, as 'do they enjoy school because they are doing well?', or 'do they do well because they enjoy school?'

So I took the assumption that students enjoy school because they are doing well and sought to quantify it.

The next question was, "Does progress equate to doing well or does competitive achievement equate to doing well?" On face value progress probably isn't enough, as students in lower classes generally enjoy school less than in upper classes (or similarly in unstreamed groups, students at the bottom of a class are generally less likely to enjoy school if they aren't competitive with other students), yet in many cases students in lower classes are making faster progress. The exception is in VET courses where success is defined as either leaving school and entering the workforce or alternate education such as technical colleges.

Following this insight you could make the tentative conclusion that artificial success or enjoyable activities will not make a student enjoy school as only competitive success will give them satisfaction! Students need to do well to enjoy school.

This would explain why students seek social success or spectacular social failure (negative behaviours) as this is something they can be competitively successful at. It would also explain mastery based class success and why dumbed down classes tend to be happier (give a class a copying activity and watch them go!)

Find a longer bow than that! I dare you!


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Interesting facts about Perth Teachers

WACOT released the following figures about Perth teachers in their latest publication InClass, found here.

38,125 Registered Teachers
• 7,749 Provisionally Registered Teachers
• 363 Limited Authority to Teach
• 26 Associate Members

34,256 female teachers
12,007 male teachers.

The imbalance between female and male teachers is astonishing. Of the 46,263 teachers of varying registrations, only 26% are male. That's a real lack of male role models in our workforce. I wonder if it was the reverse (eg. more males than females) if we would be having a recruiting drive and financial incentives for females to enter the industry?

At our school, I would hazard that the male percentage is much higher than that. In low socio-economic schools, where single parent percentages are normally higher, I would also suggest that this is a good thing.

Another interesting statistic is that 17% of the workforce is in training/probation/being actively mentored (on provisional registration). Last year only 2.5% moved from provisional registration to full registration (another 2.5% re-registered as provisional registration not meeting the criteria for full registration).

Eight days to go!!!


Q: How does Good King Wencelas like his pizza?
A: Deep pan, crisp and even!

Here's more and more and more. All cringeworthy!

Don't forget to ask Santa to look after all those people who ended up on EIP or who were on fixed term contracts and are still looking for work.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Developing rapport with difficult students

Some students spend large amounts of time out of class. Some are ratbags that deliberately seek to be excluded, generally are of low IQ and are very difficult to help. Others purely lack social skills.

Each year the maths team adopts a few of these and attempts to help them through to graduation.

I find the students lacking social skills easier to help - sometimes a little intervention is enough to get them performing in a normal classroom. One student that fit this criteria just graduated (yay!), I lost contact with my candidates from last year (as I only taught the top year 11 classes this year). Sadly they have gone off the rails a little.

This year, my approach for the students is different. One student is being encouraged to seek approval and success from teachers in more than just my class, to learn how to tolerate negative behaviour of others and has improved out of sight from the truanting ways earlier in the year. Another, I've spent a lot of time playing games with and getting to sit still and paint miniatures for me. If I can teach how to behave in a group, be a little more patient and share an affable nature in a social way, we would of gone a long way to finding a way to integrate into society.

After all, these are the real success stories that kids remember well into later life.

Building group capabilities

Working in year 10, the opportunities for working in groups can be fairly limited - students rarely come ready for groups, so we need to train them how to work in them.

Step 1. Firmly establish the rules.
a) The teacher is the arbiter, no correspondence will be entered into.
b) Misbehaviour of one member of a team penalises all.
c) Performance of a group is measured by the whole group's performance
d) The teacher decides who is in the group - groups will change so get over it.

Step 2. Identify key tasks that need to be achieved. Explain what needs to be done clearly.

Step 3. Pounce on those deliberately stretching the rules, give warnings then penalise the group).

Step 4. Make achievement explicit (Eg. write down scores or give instant reward).

So... Here's what I did. There's a problem in the class with decimals and how operators fit within decimals. I garnered a mental maths book and put the students into teams of four.

In the first round students had to gain a group answer. The groups with the best students tended to do best, but I had made some effort to distribute these amongst the groups. They were given 5 minutes to find the answer to the questions written on the board. Answers were exchanged and marked by the students. The mean mark of all students was recorded.

In the second round students had to exchange desks and were not allowed to sit with students in their own group. A similar set of questions was given to the students to complete individually. They had thirty seconds to find a seat. Teams that did not find a seat quickly were docked a point. At the end of the round thirty seconds was given to give the answer sheets back to their designated marking group and get back into their own group tables.

By the third round students started to realise that they had to help each other to win. Although they were not allowed to use calculators, they could use any notes in their workbooks. Students started getting off task, so I started deducting points. Funnily enough these students were pounced on by their own team members.

It took 45 minutes to get through 4 rounds but the next time I anticipate it being a lot faster.

The next time we focused on a rules based setting. The idea was not only to win, but to do it within the rules set. In this instance we were doing "United We Solve" type activities (well worth getting for yrs 8-9) where each student gets a clue but cannot show it to anyone else - nor can the clue itself be written. If a team broke the rules, they were given 0 points, once the first team solved it, the other teams had two minutes to find the solution or gain no points.

The next time we focused on logic puzzles. I set a page of activities that were worth five points each but needed time to complete and set a puzzle every 5 minutes on the board worth one point. The students loved this and we really motored through a lot of puzzles. I loved asking the kids how they reached their answers.

Next class is the standard build the bridge to span two desks and withstand a 500g weight from the centre of the span (I usually do it with bamboo and skewers but this time I'll do it with straws and sticky tape and see how it goes).. I might also do the build a tower activity using the same resources.

Needless to say some extrinsic reward was necessary to get it started - but now I think they may just play for the fun of it.

Update 9/12: Had troubles today.. some of the students decided that they wanted to just sit and do nothing. So, we all did bookwork instead. Very sad students. We explored the fairness of failure to follow instructions and timewasting. Lesson learned I hope.

Update 13/12: After a few days, the 'cool' kids all of a sudden think that board games might be ok. Here's a link to local suppliers of board games not made by Parker bros.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Developing a school vs developing teachers

When I entered teaching, my aim was to make a lasting difference in whatever school I was in. This meant contributing to the school, not just my own personal knowledge and skills. To do this I was always on the lookout for ways to create things that could exist long after I had left. Being a bit of an idealist this is still my aim, but at this time of year you always feel a little jaded.

My first efforts at lasting difference were failures as I started out by looking for people with similar aims. Sadly I didn't find any and fried myself trying on my own.

Then I found a few people that were willing to try. .. and we started a few things. We were successful and used these things we created to better our teaching. Better recording and analysis of data, better learning environments, better access to past tests and assignments, better teaching resources, better systems, better programming. We shared ideas freely, had open door policies and observed each others classes, team taught in term 4 when load reduced, developed practicum teachers. Things that made a school a better place to learn and teach.

...but sadly, the education system does not value these ideas. Long term ideas that might take years to bear fruit are subsumed by the immediate need for NAPLAN success, staffing ratios, student graduation figures and the like (and when success comes, credit is claimed by those with no evidence of involvement whatsoever!).

Why is personal knowledge king and information sharing rare? Why is systemic improvement or ongoing curriculum improvement not a priority? Why is the absence of issues an indicator of good practice? How can curriculum be lead by those that do not teach, are out of learning area, have not taught or do not like to teach? How is being good at something a great reason for promotion into something you have no experience in, especially where experienced people do exist to fulfil the role? Why are good young staff undervalued and are being replaced by teachers less qualified and/or unable/unwilling to maintain full load due to EIP? Why does capacity building take a backseat to growing and protecting fiefdoms? Why is there a growing gap between middle school performance and upper school academic requirements? Why is communication so poor between teachers?

Why are the answers to these questions seen as too complex to attempt finding solutions?

This is wrong.

By focusing on building strong vibrant supported teams, we can create learning environments that do wonderful things for our kids. We can build schools that we are proud of, that kids are proud of, and that the community is proud of.

This is right.

It is that black and white.

Monday, November 30, 2009

IOTY candidate Peter Hill

Hot on the heels of the last effort to cause prejudice against indigenous students by Julia Gillard, another well meaning idiot tries to load up the curriculum with ill advised nonsense.

Peter Hill suggests that we embed indigenous perspectives into all learning areas and force the indigenous agenda displacing topics with natural and seemless fits. When will these idealists realise that kids can spot an agenda a mile away? Ideas like this cause resentment against indigenous students in the classroom.

If we were talking about increasing indigenous content in History, Geography and English, I could imagine a number of synergistic fits.... but in Maths and science the fit typically is artificial and forced. Can you imagine exploring the chemical composition of the witchetty grub or exploring the physics of the boomerang? How about the mathematics of the dreamtime or health studies on indigenous foods?

Forced topics make poor topics.

In a time where we are trying to free the curriculum of modern agenda's and focus on basic performance, ideas like this should be left behind.

Peter Hill you have earned yourself an Idiot of the Year nomination.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

NCOS and consolidation of knowledge.

One criticism of senior school and mathematics in general is the lack of consolidation of topics - especially when the course is prescribed as is the case with NCOS. Funnily enough, the NCOS has brought about an opportunity for consolidation that did not exist under the old courses.

The new courses allow for repeating of yr 11 subjects - which makes sense under an outcomes approach where learning speed is not being measured, just knowledge and skills gained (this is an issue in itself that needs investigating if TEE scores are to remain a predictor of university success).

Students that cannot withstand the pace of the course in year 11 have in year 12 the option of consolidating (by repeating the course), remediating (by completing a lower course) or advancing to the next course. This approach allows teachers to make more aggressive subject selection recommendations in year 11 that promotes striving for excellence without fear of being locked into advancing and failing the yr 12 course. The recent trend of conservative subject selection could be broken!

For example, a student doing yr 11 3A MAT has the option in year 12 of doing 2C (remediating) 3A (repeating) or 3C (advancing).

I doubt this was the original intent (in other subjects teachers must teach another context - but only one context really exists in maths/science courses).

I fail to see the issue in repeating or remediating although I know some humanities teachers think it unfair - students that repeat will have the option to gain a deeper understanding at some level and a further opportunity to apply their skills - having a second bite at the cherry.

It will be interesting to see if the old adage that 'repeaters don't succeed' will bear true next year. For the lazy student - repeating/remediating will not work, but for those that have good work ethic but need more time logic says they should succeed (more time better results!).

My prediction is that (when counselled and supported correctly) repeaters and remediators will do far better than advancers and scaling will be applied to these students (compared to advancing students) in future years. It will be interesting to see if the scaling factor of 10% between 3AB and 3CD will be enough to compensate (I can't see how having two years to master a course can't cause better than a 10% increase in low/mid performing students between the two groups). The scaling may already be heavier for repeaters - but I'm not aware of it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Don't forget to vote in the new poll!

There's a poll on the right hand side asking how we found the new courses - are they better than the ones they replaced?

For parents who are interested:

The harder parts of Intro Calc / G&T / Applic / Calculus (for strong science/maths/engineering bound uni students) was replaced by 3ABCD MAS (with some changes)
The easier parts of Intro Calc / G&T / Applic / Calculus (for capable science/maths/engineering bound uni students) was replaced by 3ABCD MAT (with some changes)
Foundations / Discrete (for capable Uni bound students) is now 2CD 3AB MAT
Foundations / Discrete (for weak Uni bound students) is now 2ABCD MAT
MIPS /Modelling (for students needing some maths - TAFE/Uni bound) is now 1DE2AB MAT
MIPS /Modelling (for remedial maths students - work or TAFE bound) is now 1BCDE MAT
No real maths course under old system (for Ed support or struggling maths students) is now PA PB 1A MAT

Now don't forget to vote on the left!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

3B MAT/MAS course review

The 3B MAT course finished spot on 13 weeks (I used the remaining 6 weeks for revision and consolidation), which bodes well for the year 12 students moving into the course next year. The second semester is longer to cater for combined year 11/12 classes.

The 3B MAS course ran right down to the line finishing in 17 weeks and the vectors course was barely completed. It is quite full with Trig Identities and Vectors taking up large wads of time to do properly.

Some of my yr 11 3B MAS students are repeating 3B MAS in year 12 (with me again) and I need to lift the pace a little to make sure there is a little more revision time.

3B MAT exam
We used an external exam and the students were able to easily complete the project networks, correlation, linear programming, moving averages, optimisation and simple differentiation questions. Next year when teaching 3B MAT we will need to focus on interpreting graphs and their derivatives, conjectures and applications of differentiation. I'm happy with the two results over 80% (out of 10 students), but kicking myself that I missed one of the students that fell under 30%. I should have picked this one up sooner.

In particular I would find an alternate text to teach problem solving/conjectures with as the Saddler text is a little short on this topic.

In general I am pleased with their results (pat on the back guys) as I gave little in the way of exam tips (I didn't do the exam beforehand for fear of giving too much away!) and there was a 6-8% average increase across the class.

3B MAS exam
Urgh! The lack of revision showed, compared to the MAT paper. The exam also showed that working consistently through the year can work, with marks between the most gifted student and the conscientious student closing to just 3 marks in the calculator section. More work in vectors is required for the three students repeating next year to improve their C&D's to higher marks. They showed great improvement in the calculus sections of the test. With a bit more experience, they should be better able to identify what methods to apply to what questions. My results are skewed to the left with more C & D's than A & B's, but with 5 students, it would be a surprise to get a true bell curve (I would have liked it skewed more the other way!).

The MAS paper was a bit narrow compared to the MAT paper.. I would have liked to see more opportunity to show what they knew - rather than the imbalance of an overly large number of marks for questions that only an A or B student would be able to complete. Some questions were very misleading in their no. of marks compared to the actual work/knowledge required to complete them. Yet this is the price to pay for using external exams to judge how well the course is being delivered.

On to reports now!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

School report cards

Last year Julia Gillard forced through school report cards to be made available based on the statistically questionable NAPLAN results. She stated that league tables would not be made from them.

Anyone with an ounce of sense realised this was nonsense. Then she linked agreement to funding - "Do it or else!"

Here is an excerpt from what the report cards are to look like:

Through a simple examination of the card you can see that each school is compared to all schools and to a socioeconomic band.

It is a five minute job to create a league table from this! Promise broken Julia!

It would ignore improvements to the school, discourage entry to the school and undermine any improvement model as students entering the school would be of declining standards (better students would go to the better performing school despite overcrowding/bullying/lower teaching standards etc.)

Of more concern is the second part of the page:

Of interest is the last category: % indigenous students.

What ?? Why should it matter that there are indigenous students in a school?

If we are to encourage students to become Australians, why single out any one portion of the population, why not caucasians, South Africans, Sudanese, Italians or Chinese. Remember this idea is from the minister of social inclusion!

Teaching staff ratios are also misleading. What are teaching staff doing? Quasi administration/pastoral care, specialty positions such as HOD on 0.6, GIRL or GIRN positions, in low ratio classes such as ESL/additional needs.

Whilst we are considering these factors how do refugees, ESL and additional needs students impact on NAPLAN results and school performance? Should they be discouraged from entry to avoid poor results?

This whole concept is just a bad idea. Poor over generalised statistics, designed to mislead the public and is a populist vote grab. This sort of information is best kept within the education system and used for valid statistical purposes until it can be presented in a valid and straightforward way to the public - personally I don't believe this can be done, it is just too complex.

If you are interested in reading more, here is the link to the mySchool website.

Updated 18/11/2009: Seems I'm not the only one concerned. Click here and here.

Updated 18/11/2009: Seems Julia is also the Minister of "wasting public funds", "rhetoric" and "denying the obvious". Click here to read her address on education.

New Poll

I've added a new poll. The last poll clearly showed that maths is the greatest because calculus rocks, closely followed by 'because English teachers are all nuts' and 'you have to be loony to teach science'.

A more serious one this time.. are any of the new maths courses an improvement on the old courses? I've enjoyed teaching 3AB MAT/MAS but have nothing to compare it to. The poll is on the left hand side.

Saddler 3C MAT/MAS books

Saddler has released his 3C MAT/MAS books.. time to take a trip down to Wooldridges - $23.95 or so per book.

Teaching Surface Area

I've been examining the issues with teaching surface area.

Here's an approximate sequence:

Prior knowledge required
(easily takes 3 weeks+ yr 10 with a weak group filling gaps)
  • Notation for parallel and perpendicular sides
  • Perimeter of Rectangles, Squares, Triangles (with all sides given)
  • Area of Rectangles & Squares, Triangles (with all sides given)
  • Circumference and Area of circles
  • Area of Trapezium, Sectors
  • Area of Composite Shapes (with all lengths given)
  • Area of Composite shapes (finding missing sides using subtraction)
  • Area of Composite shapes (using ratios of the area of known shapes to find area eg. 1/2 circle)
  • Arc length
  • Pythagoras, Trigonometric ratios
  • Area of Composite shapes (using Pythagoras & Trigonometric ratios to find missing sides)
Surface Area Topic
  • Identifying 3D shapes (cylinders, spheres, pyramids & prisms)
  • Constructing 3D shapes using Nets (cylinders, pyramids and prisms)
  • Identifying cross sections of 3D shapes
  • Finding the area of cross sections of 3D shapes
  • Finding the surface area of simple 3D shapes using defined formula (cylinders, spheres, pyramids and prisms)
  • Using surface area of simple 3D to solve composite surface area problems (and using subtraction to subtract shared hidden sides)
  • Deconstructing 3D shapes into constituent 2D shapes
  • Finding the surface area of composite 3D shapes using deconstruction and 2D shapes
  • Finding surface area of simple 3D shapes that have had sections removed using ratios
  • Finding the surface area of composite shapes using simple 3D shapes, deconstruction and ratios.
  • Using Pythagoras and Trigonometry with planes in 3D shapes to find surface area

It's a big topic!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Favourite teacher

I had a student once say "you're my favourite teacher" so I said to him, "I'm a maths teacher - is there a) something wrong with you or b) do you want something?"

I did ask him why and he said, "I can do the work in your class". This class was special as we had halved its size by splitting it between two teachers during the quiet period after the 11's and 12's finish. I'd been given the students that had potential but were struggling or that were destined for courses with low maths requirements. I'd been pretty strict with them in the first two weeks sending some off to isolation, having a number of one sided discussions with the boys, a few BMIS' and a few blue letters to parents.

There's nothing here that would make a student like the class. Yet, I sat back and listened to the student. In fact he went on to say that in other classes he went from 'bored because it was too easy' to 'giving up because it was too hard'. They had come from a class with a very popular teacher that had consistently good results, so I knew it was a student issue.

I explained to the student that in a smaller class it was easier for me to tailor the lesson to his optimum speed of learning - get on his back if he was loafing, fix his errors in a timely manner and acknowledge his successes. He had to work on his resilience too, and had to try more before giving up!

He understood that. I'd go on to say that when classes are getting feral or unmotivated, splitting them and resetting them into smaller classes is a legitimate and positive strategy.

Another yr 11 student at the end of the same day said that he liked our school because the teachers really cared and were willing to spend any amount of time outside of class to fix a problem. I like that students in our school are willing to spend inordinate amounts of time outside of class identifying and fixing up issues in their understanding. It can get a bit wearying sometimes on a full day. I have seen in another school "maths club" work well, where knowledge or skill issues are corrected in a math teacher overload situation (often 5 students to one tutor). This could take some pressure away in the earlier months of the year and give access to alternate learning sequences for topics.

I do love this end of year when we can consider our teaching practices, do some experimental class arrangements, have extra time to spend with students and test ideas for motivating students.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Striving for excellence vs achievement

I can think of four models for a school. These ideas underpin curriculum and pastoral decisions. Where a school understands its direction, it can drive staff and students accordingly. It is the major theme that governs the mission of the school.

Education based on excellence and opportunity (education driven)
School as a place where students strive for excellence - sights are set high and achievements on the way are celebrated. High expectation drives this system where teachers have to remind students of their successes whilst they pursue ever higher goals. Schooling is an esoteric activity - one without goals other than higher learning. This is a system driven by opportunity for education.

Education based on success (success driven)
School as a place where students find success and gain self worth. Students are only given situations where they are successful. A raft of factors is taken into account (the whole student picture) rather than just their intellectual capability to ensure students will succeed. This is a system driven by the need for further success.

Education based on vocational needs (workforce driven)
School as a place that provides key skills for the workplace. Students are streamed into interest areas and delivered to the workforce and tertiary providers already along a workforce pathway. This is a system driven by workforce needs.

Education based on student readiness (student driven)
School is a place that attends to individual student needs and presents information at a pace best suited to the student. As the student becomes ready for the new content, it is provided in a timely manner. This is a system driven by developmental readiness.

I think the success based schooling is based on an ill advised premise as motivation cannot be maintained on perpetual success. Success is only valued if the risk of failure is real. This is the same issue with the developmental approach. This is one reason why the entertainer rather than teacher is so necessary to maintain discipline in classes in WA where these two systems are the most common!! (without risk of failure and vague BMIS alternate measures are required to keep students on task).

Similarly, the vocational needs approach is subject to the vagaries of the workforce and naivety on the part of students and their career goals. To stream students into a career too early is to pigeonhole them and limit their future success without complete retraining. Motivation falters as students find their chosen field to be real work.

The whole Australian way was based on the fair go and the battler. Without the battle or the ability to get a fair go(opportunity), we are changing national ideals. Excellence and opportunity (with all it's inherent failings especially for unmotivated and/or low ability students) is still the better of three evils for the majority of students - with limited pockets of students where the other methods can have sensational results.

Small classes and NCOS

Small classes in public schools have been an bone of contention. The "no classes less than six students" policy caused a lot of angst when considering how to deal with talented students since it was impossible to offer small classes to cater for them.

It would be interesting to know how smaller schools are dealing with this issue. Are they:
  • redistributing these students into easier subjects (indicators could be increased enrolments in easier subjects or decreased enrollments in more difficult subjects across all schools)
  • ignoring the directive and creating small classes (indicated by small classes running)
  • reducing the number of subjects offered in year eleven (indicated by examining the number of different NCOS classes offered in year 11/12)
  • increasing the number of students using distance education (indicated by an increase in SIDE enrollment numbers in metropolitan schools)
  • moving students across schools (indicated by an increase in transfer numbers either as temporary busing or permanent transfer)
  • moving talented students into centralised scholarship or G&T programs (indicated by examining enrolments in G&T programs)


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Promotional administrative positions as a career pathway for teachers

Administrative positions are seen as a career pathway for teachers. For two years I have said that this is a grave problem in the teaching system

a) It takes good teachers away from the classroom
b) These positions tend to rapidly turnover causing inconsistency in BMIS application
c) There is a vast gap between managing staff and managing children
d) Salary discrepancies cause dissatisfaction between teachers and those aspiring to higher salaries

L3CT causes similar issues
a) Only those with large amounts of time can produce the documentation required
b) It tends to inspire teachers to create a load of meaningless and ill-advised programs that are unsustainable and poorly implemented to satisfy L3CT criteria
c) There are clear issues over the values of L3CT criteria with the change away from developmental programs and back to direct instruction in support of gaining improved NAPLAN results

Where is the encouragement for good teachers to actually remain in the classroom and teach, or guide and mentor developing teachers (not just practicum students)? Why would you train new teachers if they will be competition for these aspirant positions? Can L3CT actually encourage teachers to stay in the classroom?

Once upon a time, teachers progressed through their classes and were given intellectually more challenging classes as time passed - growing their management skills through to HOLA/HOD (managing staff and students) and then progressed to Deputy and Principal. Those unable to make HOLA/HOD/Year leader work, would not get access to Deputy and similarly Principal. This system made sense. Hopefully if you weren't a good teacher, good manager of students and good manager of staff you would not get promotion.

This still applies in our older leaders (who also today have to be capable fundraisers and business managers) - but some of our new leaders that have devalued the classroom (many openly say that they hated teaching and wouldn't do it again) may be great at managing individual students but have forgotten the other side of the job (managing one student is not managing their behaviour in the classroom or their effect on others!).

I loved the idea of classroom first, but sadly now - it has just become another bit of rhetoric. We are now starting to base classes run each year on class sizes rather than need for providing opportunities for student excellence (lets hope that the error in this logic is quickly rectified!). We put students in classes that they will succeed in (even though potentially below their ability) to avoid poor graduation scores or TEE results being put in the newspaper.

We ignore the fact that our kids are excelling in individual fields and beating all rivals and bus them to other schools for higher subjects or give them distance learning "opportunities" rather than reward them for sticking it out in a low socio-economic school and being given their deserved small class advantage.

It's something that deserves further consideration beyond any budget issue as it is a case of equity for these children. We always worry about the financially challenged low achievers, but we need to consider that schools are places of learning foremost and our high achievers (whether teachers or students) deserve our support too.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Graduation presents

One of the nice traditions at school is for teachers of year 12 students to purchase the subject awards.

The usual items tend to get bought: pens, shopping vouchers and the like.

This year we found one item that I loved. One of our quirky students was given as part of her package (our Discrete Mathematics subject winner), Dr Seuss' Places to Go.

The prose is remarkably apt:

Today is your day!
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!

You've brains in you head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose."

Another maths student was given Rich Dad, Poor Dad which outlines the difference in financial education parents provide based on whther they have/haven't amassed wealth. It's a great book.

Another that I thought of later was the E-Myth, a book about Entrepreneurialism. The E-Myth and Sun Tsu's Art of war heavily influenced my early business life.

Mr Men books can also be a source of inspiration as they describe so many personality types.

I like the idea of books as you can personalise them with an inscription - and they tend to be kept. One of my teachers gave me a battered copy of Catch 22, I still have it and read it from time to time.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Staffing issues

There's nothing like managing staff. It's a royal pain in the ... No matter what you do you can't please everyone.

There are two main methods I've seen.

a) By the book.
b) With a wink wink.

By the book is the way I always did it. Of course, since it was my book, it was easy. If I didn't like the way it was working I just changed it. Administrators tend to run organisations like this. The crux of it being successful is ensuring quid pro quo occurs and extra effort is acknowledged and rewarded in a way suitable and public for both parties. The less flexibility in the rules, the greater the opportunity for dissatisfaction by those going the extra yard as there is little opportunity/recognition for reward. Over flexibility lends itself to abuse (the situation around L3CT and L3 Admin promotion is typical of this situation).

With a wink wink, is a very popular method. It involves being pally with staff and telling people or groups they will be looked after.. nothing on paper, "just wait and see, it will be ok". This has never been my favourite but often can be used to defer a decision until a point that is more advantageous to the organisation than now and relies on favours/corruption/back scratching. To my mind this is an unprofessional option (I like to know where I stand) - it is usually coupled with "being part of a family" or with "unofficial" perks that are secret from other staff. Staff performance/ability/performance is often of little relation to staff hierarchy. Entrepreneurs tend to operate like this, wringing the last cent or skill out of staff through unfulfilled promises. It has no real appeal to me, but for staff that like the warm and fuzzies/charismatic leader it is quite effective. Many people on temporary contracts have felt the rough end of this recently, being laid off or transferred due to the half cohort despite varying assurances.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Time to reflect about past students

The year 12's are starting their TEE exams next week, and we are all thinking about them. For many, schools have invested hour upon hour getting them ready for the highest stakes exam of all.

Seeing them graduate gives teachers a lift but I am surprised at the lack of middle school involvement in graduation ceremonies. Once passed to the senior school, their job done, that whole relationship built upon over two years is released and left to whither.

I think this could be seen as a failing of the middle school model - in an 8-12 model this sort of relationship continues to be built upon over 5 years and can be a significant part in a student's life.

I wasn't going to the graduation ceremony this year, but I changed my mind at the last moment. I'm glad I did, seeing the kids at their finest hour, at the culmination of 12 years work is not something to be missed.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


We were having a chat around dinner about the role of politics in education. I took the position that party politics had no place in education and others took the role of education is a necessary part of government.

We reached a point where we decided that a weak bureaucracy that allowed rapid change in education was a flawed platform as students ran in 12 year cycles and governments in four year cycles. Ideas are not given time to develop or be researched properly due to political expediency.

The issues in recent years have arisen as ill-researched policy have been able to be introduced (with the idea of gaining votes rather than improving education) because current bureaucracy is too weak to resist or put forward arguments to prevent the worst of political excess.

This has occurred as current government agencies have lost public confidence and are as weak as they have ever been. They lack a knowledge base and have low morale.

It would take a strong government to change this mentality and guide/fund strong and conservative, reputable long term appointments rather than make ill advised decisions.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Inspirational students

Students can surprise you. Yesterday, the year 12's graduated. For some it was a surprise - that despite numerous obstacles (some self created, others purely due to circumstance) they had somehow made it, for some meh - it was an end... for others the start of something well deserved.

The school prefects did a wonderful job of standing up and being counted - truly contributing to the school. They made you feel proud to be a student or a teacher. They were funny, they were serious, they included everyone and they reminded you of the little part you had in growing them into people that would contribute to society because through that one speech, they already had.

.. and it felt good.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Common diseases found in teachers

"Challenge"-itis: to act offended or abrupt if an existing decision is challenged as being ineffective or could be improved.

"New idea"-itis: the need to deflect, ignore, be offended by or denigrate any new idea that challenges an old one without due consideration.

"Take credit"-itis: the need to claim credit for unrelated success whilst in the presence of immediate superiors.

"Lost credit"-itis: being sad because someone has taken credit unfairly.

"In my experience"-itis: when experience rather than reason is used to defend indefensible positions.

"shyness"-itis: suppressing positive ideas for fear of annoying, irritating or offending someone.

"fed up"-itis: losing faith in all students due to the actions of a few.

We need to be ever vigilant to prevent the virulent spreading of these diseases in our fellow teachers and ensure that we find cures for them as they arise.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Online Books

We've been looking for Living books for Mackenzie and found a local website that has a lot of educational software. Can't vouch for it yet, but it does seem to have a fair range.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bit flat

It's hard when the best thing for a school is not the best thing for a bunch of students. The articles on the half cohort floating around best illustrate what happens when budgets rule schools rather than common sense.

It makes everyone a bit flat when good teachers are actively looking for jobs and are uncertain of their future, whilst teachers remaining are put under the microscope as to why they were chosen to stay in lieu of others. I know when I had to dismiss staff I always made it short and sweet, to minimise staff impact. It was always harsh on me this way, but was easier on staff. In schools, decisions may be made mid year, with staff remaining until the end of the year.

Loss of capability is always a concern - as typically teachers are multi-talented and losing someone impacts on class availability. The smaller the school, the lesser the ability to have redundancy and the higher the impact of losing a staff member. This exacerbates the lack of ability to run small class sizes in small schools (50 student cohorts with 10% of students reaching level 3 courses) are bound to make small classes(eg. five students). It raises the question of the appropriateness and equity of most small WA high schools for bright students.

I also think that sometimes we miss that some teachers can really do wonderful things with small groups - the adage that <5 is bad is not always true.

I struggle with advocating for students. I have been criticised for advocating and for not advocating vigorously enough - once for not idetifying loudly enough that students were in the wrong class, on one occasion for raising that potential issues were arising due to changing class availability and on one occasion for raising that I thought that my teaching was sub par for a topic and needed help. Sometimes I understand why some teachers just want to close the door and teach and let others do what needs to be done. I'm glad of this blog, as it allows me an outlet rather than just pursuing what I think needs to be done through action and persuasion.

Those of us specialising in one learning area (such as mathematics) need to examine opportunities for multi-skilling or alternatively find larger schools. It makes it harder to stay focused when you would rather be looking to student improvement and working with a dynamic and motivated team to make it so. Building a good team is difficult and breaking it up for the sake of a couple of dollars is just a tad silly.

On the upside, the limits topic in Saddler 3BMAS is a bit of a doddle - which is great, as I found it difficult when I went through school. I'm not sure if it is just that the text is good or if I'm missing something.

Anyhoo.. time to look forward, find the next idea and drive it onwards. I think year 7 extension programmes are next with some refocusing of the year 8 -12 programmes to tailor them a little better to the cohorts.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Thoughtful material

As with any material that makes you think, information was provided at yesterday's PD session that has the mind racing. In particular was the advice (not directive) to not publish anything online that might criticise your employer.

This was of particular interest to me as this blog forms an important part of my teacher reflection and I do comment on public figures from time to time (Julia et al.) who is my indirect employer (being a part of government) and DET who is my immediate employer. Much of it is tongue in cheek - but hopefully constructive criticism and investigation of topical issues.

I strongly agree with the presenter that information needs to be anonymised and any reference to an individual student on this blog is an idealised representation of students gained through day to day interaction (no student mentioned on here actually exists, although the situations may have occurred in some form)... and that has always been on purpose.. similarly there are no direct quotes from named individual staff... nor is my school disclosed (although if you know me, you could probably figure it out - which is ok - as you would know where I work anyway).

Although information suppression was not the intent of the PD yesterday, the inferred blanket ban on comments from teachers about schooling is a problem as it suppresses idea development and gives the impression to the public that teachers are not inclusive and won't interact with the community to better serve. This ivory tower where schooling is only discussed in the school is not right. It is interesting to see the public encouragement of involvement with the community yet the blanket that is put around what appropriate involvement is.

Teachers are professionals and have a responsibility to develop the concept of schooling with the community. It is interesting to see schools responses to Web 2.0 technologies like Facebook and mySpace. As stated in earlier articles, I believe direct communication between teachers and student via this mechanism (at present) is inappropriate, fraught with danger and misadventure, but to distance ourselves from it is to create another disconnect with our students in addition to the emotional and physical disconnects that currently exist. To ignore it is to limit our ability to monitor cyber-bullying and create situations where students are put at risk (as students quickly recognise unmonitored resources that can be abused).

With open internet based resources available, teaching has an opportunity to widen it's ability to communicate and interact more with parents, past students and community organisations to improve the behaviour and intellectual output of students.

I think this is one of those issues that needs further investigation.

Monday, October 12, 2009

PfD day

The first Pupil Free Day worth going to. No PD of limited value, just an information session, an examination of needs of the school, some solution sessions and some planning time. Someone did a lot of work to make it come together. Yay!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Games for educators website

Came across this link in my travels - a site about games for educators. Also has a regular podcast.

Though not specifically for educators, this one by Tom Vasel isn't too bad either.

Updated 18/10/09: Fixed link!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Board game tragic

Ok, I admit it.. I'm a board game tragic.  During the week I bought Space Hulk, a game I remember from my youth.. It was a game I could never afford, so when it was re-released I picked up a copy.  Reliving your youth.. that's kinda cool....

Then I started playing and became addicted.

Then I bought paint, brushes, turps, primer and then started painting all of the miniatures... and the worst thing is that I've been enjoying it.  What the hell is wrong with me????  Is it curable?

Anyhow, here are some links that lead towards the hobby:
Games Workshop
Board Game Geek
Painting Guide

It leads me to think, if I'm enjoying it (and I'm just a big kid).. could students enjoy it too.  I've been looking at creating after school programmes that could teach students (particularly boys) collaboration, return for effort, work ethic, respect.. Get kids to enjoy school and gain some leverage to encourage them to perform.. These are what I've come up with so far..

Yr 11 mathematics summer school (very successful 5 days during 2008/9 school holidays)
Yr 9 games design workshop (2008 board game/computer programming club for boys)
Yr 8-10 computer game programming in Java (still to run)
Yr 8-10 Warhammer 40k club (miniatures gaming, still to run)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Importance of community support in teaching

It's easy to become jaded in teaching. You see it everyday. Yet there are those that stay fresh year in year out. I believe I'm discovering their secret.

About two weeks ago, I said a short piece at the local parish about my teaching experiences during mass. Since then I have had about a dozen people come up and say how much they enjoyed the discussion. The talk focused on the successes in my teaching career. There was an aspect of respect in their voices when I discussed how we sought to improve the lives of the kids. It's been energising.

Today, some friends came back from Jakarta and we discussed again some of my teaching experiences this time with a more cynical tone. This time the discussion was more about the practical and self preservation aspect of teaching. The compromises that get made to ensure that teachers make it to the end of term. The times where you made practical decisions rather than the idealistic ones that I'm more known for. In this instance I felt deflated and the teaching profession looked more like a defeated organisation.

I realised afterwards that practicality be damned, I prefer seeking the idealistic path, as taking the practical path means that I accept the compromises that it requires. So, it takes an extra couple of hours out of each day to teach the way I like to teach. To compromise is to denigrate the profession we seek to promote and ultimately to lose face in the public's eye when we fail students (even if they don't appreciate/want/are resistant to the attention and effort that promotes their successes).

..and that's the need for public recognition of contributions by teachers - if nobody values or cares for the effort of our teachers, teachers don't know that the effort we put into students is recognised (or even required), whether the outcomes are worth seeking and the perseverance of improvement worth pursuing.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Interference in Teaching

University 4 year degree, WACOT, WWC, Federal police clearance, Curriculum Council and NCOS, National curriculum, ACARA & league tables, Scope and Sequence documents, moderation, compulsory PD, A-E exemplars, Independent schools, union politics,  DET's squillion policies on everything and now a national teacher standards body (Gees thanks Julia!).

Can we possibly put more bureaucracy and BS between teachers and students?

Yes we can!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Happiness and the mall.

Today I was walking down the mall, baby and wife in tow.  It was a lovely day, baby was gurgling and we had just had a nice lunch in DJ's.  The counterpoint to all this sappy contentedness was the hordes of unhappy people bustling around.  Frowns, heads down, generally needing to be somewhere else.

Sometimes I think we all need to take a look around and enjoy life a bit.  I suppose I have always been lucky, I have fallen into jobs that were fulfilling and challenging or alternatively sought ones that were - but they tended to be all consuming.  Things can change quickly - I had a discussion with the man who was installing something at our house and in discussion he said his daughter died of cancer at age 17.

That would be life stopping. I can't imagine thinking how I would be if that happened to Mackenzie.  It reminds you that we should try and enjoy every moment with our loved ones and seek to find ways of making best of what we have. 

The good times need to be cherished.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Race for the galaxy

If you're a fan of this game and haven't seen the free AI written by Keldon Jones - go and grab it, it's fantastic.

If you're not a fan - don't bother, free or not you won't understand the appeal until you've played the card game (which will do your head in until you get the game mechanic, then you'll obsess over it and wonder why you found it so hard at first).

The most impressive thing (besides the AI) is the UI, it's neat, functional and fast.  Yay!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Year 10 motivation, Citadels & Singstar

It's been noticed that year 10's can sometimes lack motivation.  Yelling at them can work for awhile (but unfortunately an authoritative style is not my style of teaching). I aim to get them to that point where they want to do well.  Success is a great motivator - but it's hard to achieve meaningful success without some motivation in the first place - a real "Catch 22" situation.  Turning around truanting and disinterested students can be a real challenge.

We have some extrinsic motivators as part of school behaviour management policy - such as the gold note we send home and the reward events at the end of term, but these are generally for the achievers in the school and don't help the unmotivated reach their potential.

So, I thought about it and set about building other motivators into the programme based around their interests.  I discussed with my group that I would run a Singstar competition on the last day of term, if students put in a big effort to work up until then.  I also suggested that if they reached a 50% average on the next test I would buy pizza.  I set about being more positive in class and discussing 'what if's' when students put in more effort.  I started encouraging students to do online tutorials to help themselves achieve higher grades.

Low and behold, in the last week of term, I needed to add desks to my room to hold all the students (I didn't even realise I was short until then as I rarely had a full class - albeit it has been growing with new students all term). Students actively wanted to know when the next test was, turned up on the day, bugged me until they were marked and wanted to know what their marks were! I nearly fell out of my chair.

I've also been trialling a card game "Citadels" with differing groups of students - it has been a hit with kids in the senior school of varying age groups and ability levels - from Ed support to Calc students. It takes about 5 minutes to learn, requires social interaction, forward thinking, decision making and is a bit of fun.  Even the Mrs likes it.

Maybe the ideas have some potential.

Space Hulk and my lack of assembling ability

One of the best things about getting older is that you can afford some of the things you really, really wanted as a kid. One thing that springs to mind is the out of print game Space Hulk by Games Workshop.

Well, maybe not afford, but perhaps "borrow" some money out of the housekeeping funds while the Mrs isn't watching..

Anyhoo.. picked it up yesterday when I stumbled on the 20th anniversary limited reprint (translated: expensive - but with extra cool bits!). So I sat down and assembled all the miniatures. I'm now missing bits of two fingers after a mishap with a stanley knife and know some interesting uses for a rabbit nailclipper.

Four of the figures are a little wonky and missing arms but nothing a bit of superglue can't fix once I unstick my remaining fingers.

Only problem now is that the lamb pie from the other night hasn't agreed with me and she who must be obeyed has declared that she won't come within 10 ft - which would make playing the game a little difficult. So I can't play! ..and she says I have to clean the red mess off the floor**

I just need to think of someone with no sense of smell that likes board games...

So here I sit with a Winnie the Pooh band aid and a sponge.


**from the accident with the Stanley knife.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Synthesis of ideas

Typically in an organisation, inspirational achievement is driven by recognition.  By inspirational achievement, I mean achievement that goes beyond organic or inertial achievement - achievement that happens as a factor of time.

Allowing inspirational achievement to be driven by recognition is counterproductive as it breaks down the ability for future success as entities within the organisation confuse the success of organisational goals with the need for personal recognition (or more importantly the belief that others are taking credit where it is not due).

To prevent this occurring the process of organisational synthesis must occur, where credit is distributed to effective teams and the goals of the team are acknowledged first (and valued), with credit being accrued as leader and as individual participants in the team as a secondary and lessor factor.  This is not a natural process, and although we commonly achieve this in sporting teams, it is rarely seen in organisations, especially those as filled with individuals as school staff rooms.

The idea of synthesis occurs where ideas are naturally shared with the team and the team develops the idea to fulfill a team goal.  The idea of public personal credit is eliminated and only the goal is celebrated publically when it is achieved - by the whole team. Elements that caused the success are identified inside the team and only extraordinary and measurable contributions (motivational, leadership, content, skill, effort, time) acknowledged by the whole team are documented and/or rewarded further.  This gives the appearance of a coherent and solid team and removes the perception of fractured teams (that may in fact only be debating different methods to the same goal).  Loafers get credit but may not be invited to be part of the next team (thus eliminating a fractured element).

External input breaks the model, which dictates that the most capable people need to be in the team (or added to the team) and that any external inputs are donated without requirement for credit.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A new economy

I was having a bit of a think this morning.

An issue with vocations, charity and volunteer work is that monetary reward is rarely satisfying for those involved, it "cheapens" the attempt.  As soon as money is involved, the real motive of the practitioner is questioned. We can see the effect of this currently in newspapers with the media challenging the motives of teachers after recent pay rises.

Pay is not a motivator - and extra $5 per week does not motivate a person to greater performance.  All it does it help pay the mortgage faster.

Yet for those that attempt these activities, motivation and burnout is an issue.  Vocations tend to be poorly paid due to the nature of the people involved - money is not the reason for starting a vocation, if money doesn't motivate them there is no reason to increase wages.  Is it possible to create a new economy better suited to those that find money a poor reward, yet still need some form of recognition such that they know that their efforts are achieving an outcome and are worthwhile?

For many of these people the line between home and work is blurred, they consider their occupation to be part of who they are, part of the enjoyment of life and relationships in society.  I think they have it right too.. after all we spend most of our productive hours in the workplace - not at home! 

To find a suitable reward we could identify their primary motivators and predict future motivating factors.  Possible factors are public recognition of achievement, immediate recognition by peers, measurable improvement in conditions, happiness, more team involvement, socialisation activities, new learnings, leadership opportunities, co-working with family, improvement in public standing or improvement in home conditions.  I'm sure the list is much longer than just pay them more and they will be happy.

Perhaps this new economy could have a currency that is not money - my initial thought is the "contribution point".  Contribution points would recognise those that have achieved something in their field and after achieving a number of contribution points they would be redirected to an activity that would be aimed at recharging their motivation.

An example would be of the social worker, who is burning out caring for their cases, being sent to a resort where those employed know of the way the person earned their contribution points and can relate to the needs of the person.  A psychologist helps them rebuild their confidence, a fitness trainer engages them physically, social functions are designed, so on and so forth.

Is there any reason in today's day and age that we can't identify those that are contributing to society and reward them (and similarly penalise those that aren't contributing!).  The more contribution, the more often the reward.  This removes the commodity of the dollar (the idea of basing a society on gambling on the stock exchange is backward if you think about it) and ties reward closer to actual effort and outcome.

The ways of accruing and spending the points for each person are defined at the start of the year.  Then each year the formula is modified to suit the tasks required by society.  If the outcome is not as expected, yet the task is completed, the goal is re-inspected the following year (and if ineffective may not be re-offered), the points are still accrued by the contributor, the rewards are still obtained.

I look at kids in classes that can't see what their futures are and they are despondent. Jobs that they could once fill are now mechanised, jobs that are available are more demanding - beyond the average student. Many can't recognise opportunity and seem resigned towards unfulfilling lives of poverty.

As a society we are moving towards a point where we will need to question whether we are all needed as workers 40 hours a week. We need to move our society to a stage where mutual happiness is the currency rather than the dollar.  To get to this point, we need to consider whether the dollar as capital is going to be effective and consider needs of the individual instead.

Whoa! I hear you say - what of the cost to set up and maintain all of this?  We maintain a banking sector, stock brokers, financial advisers, superannuation providers, real estate agents and the wealth of people that interact to facilitate swapping of capital.  It's just a new economy with a different driver, one focused on valuing the 'self image' of the person and their achievements rather than their personal net worth.  Larry Niven and Robert Heinlein have written on this issue and their predictions don't seem far off.  We're not short on people - but we are coming to a point where they'll be short on things to do.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009

National map of Professional learning and development

Today the federal government released the following report on professional learning.  I haven't read much of it, but have noticed that interest groups were included in the panel such as professional learning providers and universities.  Unsurprisingly it has found that professional learning is a key driver for change in schools.

In the past I've been critical of PD for it's usual ineffectiveness.  The survey confirms my suspicions.

Here are some important findings:
Most teachers are looking for ideas to incorporate in the classroom.

For all the money spent, 78% of the time, PD only affects at best, a bit of teaching practices.  Critically this implies that most of the time it is a big load of useless.

I'm not saying that what people want is necessarily what they need, but it does raise the question - why spend so much money on ineffective training?  Why do training if it has no impact? 

I would suggest because the results of PD is rarely analysed.

Most of the time the goals of PD are ill defined and are sometimes/rarely followed up (74%)!

And who is responsible for all of this rather ordinary PD?  Sadly it's schools theselves.  In many cases the blind leading the blind with hastily prepared presentations for scheduled PD days with little or no budget and little time for finding quality speakers.  PD days are scheduled at the start of term for all schools causing difficulty in organising quality presenters.

I am not saying that all PD is bad, but typically useful PD has been forward planning sessions or information desemination sessions about school policy (which is not the PD identified as most needed).  If you calculated the hours spent, the cost of a PD day for all staff is scary.

Let's face the truth - if there are new ideas introduced at a school, it is either by new teachers to the school implementing something they already know, an administration lead/forced initiative or by practicum students - rarely is it via PD.  With the changes in curriculum (especially in senior school) proper implementation of new ideas by teachers for the classroom have been shelved.

So, what's the answer?  More PD?  I hope not, it's a poor use of funds.  Perhaps encouragement for teachers willing to take short term placements at effective schools to encourage cross pollination of ideas (perhaps in a TA/team teaching type role) or for teachers to engage in further higher education to improve their skills (with tertiary providers able to provide effective courses).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lack of respect for schools by government

Statements like "The Rudd Government believes it’s time we stopped averting our eyes from poor performance and ensure every Australian child is receiving a world class education" underlines a government directing blame for poor policy onto schools. Julia Gillard, you should be ashamed (see media announcement here). You are oversimplifying a complex problem and right about now you should be realising that this policy decision should quietly disappear.

Government is responsible for the performance of schools and "name and shame" is far from the most effective way to govern schools. In fact it is the clearest sign that government is unable to govern schools if it has to resort to such crass tactics. The Rudd government in particular has shown itself to be a big "criticise all, promise nothing, deliver nothing" blowhard.

To imply that schools are averting their eyes is to ridicule the very basis of public education - that schools and teachers are seeking to bring about the finest education possible for our children. Schools have been handed some very shonky curriculum and behaviour management practices by government - via ill-conceived, poorly researched, implemented and ill-managed government policy. If I was to point the finger it would be there!

To run something into the ground and then put the boot in lacks integrity. It seems to be another attempt at grabbing headlines and a couple of votes.

The best thing is that for Julia another ill conceived notion is backfiring and parents continue to see through the smoke and mirrors (see news poll here where 70% of parents believe league tables should be kept private).

If our community has a lack of respect for their own schools, we should expect the same from our students. Our leaders need to stand up and show leadership through public support for our schools and for the future development of our schools.