Sunday, August 30, 2009


If you have a second to spare and want to play a great game, go grab a copy of Steam by Mayfair games for two, three - up to six players (more with an expansion or two). It's a bit thinky at first, has heaps of replayability and totally has me hooked at the moment.

Here's a great source of information about Steam.

Here's a list of other games I have purchased or would like to purchase.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Do unto others

Using the golden rule as a basis for personal ethics causes many philosophical dilemmas as a teacher as it constantly comes into conflict with the utilitarian nature of public schools. As an employer I faced the issue of overstaffing and needed to tread the path of redundancies for staff. It was not the most pleasurable event in my life and one I would not seek to repeat.

The half cohort is causing schools to take a long look and decide - do we keep young or less experienced talented staff that are the future of the organisation or do we keep staff members that have provided long service to the school and have a raft of experience with our kids.

I imagine the former could be rationalised by saying that long standing staff are compensated through long service leave, having continuous employment and having the opportunity to develop a depth of subject knowledge not possible when often coming to grips with the individual needs of students in new school environments.

To some degree, the criticisms I hear issued at long standing staff are often grossly unfair - I would be quicker to point the blame at past management that has allowed or even promoted issues that lead to less competitive performance of staff. Staff need to be managed - if staff are struggling they need real support to improve (this takes effort and planning) or assisted to find an environment that works for them (a controlled exit takes less effort and is a more likely event in teaching).

The bottom line is that if I worked for a school for a long period of time and was asked to leave instead of a younger and seemingly less experienced staff member, I would feel let down, hurt and angry. To start again mid or end career in a new school would be a daunting event (even after being at my current school 2.5 years I would still have some fear - imagine doing it after 10 years!). Could I put someone through that now (as I would have without blinking as an employer) with little warning? I think without maintaining 'management distance' that it would be very difficult.

I suppose it's reasons like this that I put leadership positions behind me and focus on the classroom and departmental development. Having that level of inner conflict again (doing what must be done vs the right thing to do) is not something that I relish and there would need to be some real compensation or financial need to consider it again.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Moving averages and the CAS calculator

On the fx casio, moving averages were a bit of a doddle.. stick in the values and use the MAV application.

The suggested method for the classpad 330 according to the classpad website is to use spreadsheet mode. This has some disadvantages that I have not been able to overcome with my brief investigation.

To set up a MAV problem, clear the sheet and enter the basic data in columns. To calculate the MAV click on the middle cell of the first series (eg in a 3pt MAV it would be the second cell) and use the Action column to find the mean of the first three data cells. Then copy your mean cell down the column by highlighting the rest of the column using the stylus and then use the edit menu -> paste.

To graph it is a little on the fiddly side. Highlight the data column and the MAV column and press the line graph icon (there are two, it's the first one). Select the graph and go View->Markers to turn off the data markers. Under the Type menu, make sure you have selected Column Series.

This should display the graph.

If you need a line of regression, select the MAV line with the stylus and select an appropriate regression function on the toolbar. The main issue with it is that there is no way to interpolate or extrapolate data (the main thing you wish to do with this sort of data) for predicting data points whilst in spreadsheet mode for the line of regression. It's been fairly frustrating. I can recreate the line of regression for the MAV in "graph and tab" mode and use this but it would be easier just to have a trace mode on the stats graph... oh well...

Here's a link to an index of other CAS calculator posts.

Update 15/09/09: Download v3.04 of the classpad operating system from here. It greatly enhances the ability of spreadsheet mode to perform regression in spreadsheet mode. You will need to register and login before downloading it.  It's quite a neat trick to click on the line of regression, copy it and then paste the formula onto the spreadsheet at the the bottom of the y column.  Modify the formula such that x becomes a cell reference (eg A2) and viola - an alternate to trace for predicting y values.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Successes in 2008/2009

It's been about a year since I started this blog, so I thought it was time to look at the successes.

Most of them have occurred being part of our team, so I can't take credit for them, but I can definitely identify them and take pleasure from contributing.

Firstly there are the kids that claim that they are still at school because of maths classes. Every year you get a few that you manage to spot and cause some sort of intervention that makes them want to be at school or even repeat year 12. The core group of students that like maths (and select it in year 11 at all levels) has grown and it has been great to watch these kids mature into more capable maths students.

Secondly there are the things we did to improve learning at the school. The summer school (run over the Christmas holidays) was a great success resulting in students passing subjects that they would have otherwise failed. The programmes that we wrote for junior school in 2007 has produced a stronger cohort to draw our year 11's from. The maths lab is operational, has the start of a resource library and has five computers to work with. Students across the school are using mathsonline as an adjunct to normal classes. Students attend catchup classes readily when suggested - even those that typically would run a mile from the idea, (it was great for our confidence when some of the C class beat the whole of the B class!!)

Thirdly there is a rapport amongst the mathematics teachers that promotes development of our skills from year 8-12. There is a growing interest in learning more about senior and the junior school. Despite the odds, we have an 3AB MAS class and will have a 3CD MAT class when many thought it was over-reaching our cohort. It's been great to watch my practicum student become an educator and see the rapport grow between him and our students. He will be a great teacher.

Fourthly (is there such a thing??) is this blog, an avenue to develop ideas without causing any conflict at school. 3500+ visitors and 6000+ pages shown. It's a great home for my soapbox!

Fifth was the birth of my wonderful daughter and time spent with my wife whilst she learns every little thing (this is really the biggest success, although has little to do with the school!).
I was worried that I wouldn't be able to manage the sleep loss issues, before Friday I had done quite well, I've learnt my lesson; 1 hours sleep = sick.

Lastly, behaviour management has been less of an issue in senior school this year and far easier than when I started here in 2007. I have watched changes in the attitudes of teachers and students, there is definite improvement - senior school again believes that university is a valid path from our school, a far cry from 2007. There is support from the principal down for curriculum initiatives that lead students to university.

Bring on the rest of term 3 and the end of the year. (Whoa.. all this affirmation is a bit to exciting and has worn me out.. off to bed!)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Federal research report on rewarding quality teaching

Link here.

Quoted by Julia Gillard on the SBS Insight forum (transcript here). She is a right dill and my favourite IOTY candidate.

An expert stands and says, please don't create league tables for parents, their validity is seriously in question as variation between classrooms exceeds variation between schools. She consistently uses New York as an example (who has heard of a model school in New York)? Generally, even our worst schools are not at this level. A teacher, who has seen both schools in New York and Australia states to go the way of New York is the worst of mistakes.

A principal stands and pleads not to stigmatise schools.

Julia states again and again that she won't produce league tables yet the media states that they will use the data to do just that. She gently moves the discussion away from the failed curriculum direction given by government and places blame purely on schools. She agrees with anything that sounds positive and nods wisely yet continues with this destructive course of building league tables. We have enough problems with kids that think they are dumb, now we have whole schools that will be classed the worst (with kids that will take pride in being the worst). Gees, thanks Julia!

If she wants expert teachers in underperforming schools, will she also reward and recognise the experts that are already there or will they have to move to get recognition? It sounds like another rort to be exploited by the "look at me and how good I am brigade!" How will she produce the benchmark for existing performance (or should we act dumb and then make rapid improvement for financial reward?)

Can these experts transfer their knowledge across socio-economic sectors? Will expert teachers move between "like" schools (giving them some chance of success) and establish lasting programs, not just ones based on personality, material reliant on personal experience or quick fixes (such as teaching to the test)?


Opportunity lost

The half cohort was a wonderful opportunity for DET to regain some lost pride and gain momentum in the public sector. It was an opportunity to reduce class sizes for no extra cost in high schools even if the reduction was only in the short term. Lower class sizes could have meant lower staff/student ratios, increased opportunity for intervention and a real marketing advantage against mid range private schools (where class sizes have increased). This could have attracted a lot of students back to the public sector that have been lost due to issues with BMIS, the half cohort and OBE.

Unfortunately, schools are adjusting their teacher ratios down causing issues with maintaining a range of course offerings. This raises the possibility of actually increasing class sizes as year groups are being combined into single classrooms (in an attempt to maintain diversity in offered courses) and also increases the complexity by teaching students of increased variation of maturity. It is likely that more teachers will teach in areas outside their specialisation (fewer teachers means fewer timetabling options). Admin time will be spent on deciding who will go and how losses will be managed over the next five years.

It's pointless and a waste of resources.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Independent Public Schools

There is a lot of talk in the papers about independent public schools in WA. Independent public schools would be given increased independence from DET and the ability to manage their own affairs.

This could be a wonderful thing:
  • Schools given ability to hire and fire staff on a needs basis
  • Schools better able to pay according to need within the school
  • Schools able to seek maintenance independent of bureacracy
  • Schools able to advertise based on strengths of school to attract students
  • Schools better able to remove difficult students, bullying decreases
  • Schools results gain on independent school sector

so on and so forth but ..

Schools become semi-autonomous Qwangos.. organisations that are paid for by government but that government is not directly responsible for. Typically these organisations start out well and then have their funding squeezed (typically by inflation) until they are inoperable. A very nice political manouver that brings about an expensive government rescue in a few years time..

So let's make some predictions about what happens when wholesale efficiencies are lost (such as staffing, maintenance, curriculum and payroll) and these roles are now paid for by schools with existing budgets.

  • less FTE available for face-to-face teachers due to increased administrative requirements
  • class sizes increase or time in class trade offs occur (see current private sector)
  • lower availability of relief and PD
  • fewer subjects available for students (especially where high teacher:student ratios are required)
  • increased reliance on "online learning"/SIDE
  • staff bullying increases ("managed exits" becomes a common euphemism)
  • non-independent public schools are saddled with students unable to exist in independent public schools; rather than shared across all schools (non-independent public schools become safety net for disaffected youth)
  • capable teachers move to independent public school sector
  • schools exceed budget and seek emergency funding in term four
  • inflation erodes school budget
  • increased audit requirements
  • increased pressure on parents and corporate sector to fund public schools with non tax dollars
  • hiring in regional areas becomes more difficult (non-centralised staffing)
  • schools expected to perform as businesses but run by administrators

DET is less than perfect, but asking schools to do more with less may not be the answer. If we know the issues upfront maybe we can sidestep most of them and initiate change within DET bureaucracy rather than creating larger administrative teams in schools!

The Pirahna occupation

Something that I always looked forward to was being part of a collegiate profession. I observed as a student that teachers worked as a block and always supported each other publicly. How different it is from the inside.

Criticism of teachers by teachers is rampant, a common source of gossip in the staff room. That's not to say there aren't some outstanding people that seek to assist the teacher needing a hand ( and often it's those you least suspect ), but often given an opportunity the boot goes in spikes and all. Often this results in losing developing teachers or slowing their progress with them doubting their progress. Maybe it's hard for experienced teachers to remember back to their first couple of years where behaviour management was dodgy at times and content knowledge and delivery was far from perfect.

This has also grown a culture of defensiveness, where teachers take insult where none is intended. I had to laugh when I heard that insult was taken by overhearing a reference to a stereotype of the stinginess of a specific religion via a movie quote. If I took offence for every time a Scot was called stingy I'd be in a continuous flap about nothing.

It would be much better to see a developing mentality seeking constant improvement rather than seeking to attack the weakest link. I suppose it's always been in the back of my mind that one day it might be me that needs that support due to a range of issues out of my control (lack of sleep, personality conflict, family crisis, overload of work, poor timetable, teaching out of area etc.)

It's humorous that we criticise each other rather than our superiors (which is more common in other occupations). It's even stranger to hear the criticisms filter downwards from senior staff. Who would ever think to do that in a management position? To some degree though, I understand their frustration as the ways of actually performing any form of performance management seems to be limited to, 'this could be a good idea for your classroom' or going through dismissal procedures over serious misdemeanours.

The closed door policy of many classrooms also makes me scratch my head. I don't understand - 'this is my work and I'm not sharing' or the lack of interest in common planning activities. I suppose that idealism of 'we are here in the best interest of the kids first and foremost' still rules my thinking and the cynicism still hasn't fully kicked in.

I was also thinking about next year, and how classes will fall to teachers; how will admin arrange classes. Will it seek optimal learning (and place the strongest teachers with the strongest students) or will it take a capacity building role again giving teachers an opportunity to develop their skills. If it does the former, what will be done to support and prevent burnout of the developing teachers. If it does the latter how will it ensure that adequate student performance is maintained. If a middle road is taken how will that work?

On another note, again I was reminded of the need for revision and pre-testing yesterday, when students showed that they had limited recall work they had previously successfully completed. I'm glad I've noticed as I will now create a revision paper for the test. That should assist them further.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Who do you want your child to be?

If you didn't see "Who do you want your child to be" on SBS one, 7.30-8.30 11/8/09 then it is worth digging up one of the many webcasts of it or reading the transcript to get a grasp of the ideas discussed. Having the attention span of a gnat, a show has to be relatively interesting to grasp my attention for 60 mins.

From the beginning it was full of ideas, presented in a viewer friendly manner - geared at parents and educators. Well worth watching a couple of times.

It reminded me of the first time I read Raising boys by Steve Biddulph.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Why students are taking easy options in yr 12

Students are taking easy options in year 12. Schools are encouraging students not to take harder upper school subjects. Why?

Students have:

  • little resilience - failure is an end product rather than a path to success
  • do not experience exams in lower school and fear them
  • have little work ethic - would rather coast than strive for excellence
  • fear not making TEE score due to perceived issues with scaling and moderation
  • have not been driven to complete lower school curriculum in lower school heterogeneous classes and have to make large leaps in year 11/12 to succeed (ongoing problem)
  • have difficulty moving from developmental approach (going at own pace is ok) in lower school to graded syllabus approach (you're a C get used to it, we have to go at this pace to finish the course) in yr 11/12
  • Core subject areas (Maths, English, S&E, Science) have lost actual teaching time to "equal" learning areas T&E, Health & PE and the Arts.
  • VET courses are more readily available and provide an outlet after fatigue of 10 years education


  • Fear poor league table scores (and thus only attract weaker, behavioural issues students)
  • Small academic classes creates timetabling issues
  • Require more effort and experience by teachers to get students to pass a difficult subject
  • Can only "suggest" that students take harder subjects
  • "Good" students are being attracted to academic schools and G&T programs
  • WACE issues; have to reach 100% graduation rate (therefore coach students out of difficult classes if at risk of failing)
  • Specialist subjects are harder to staff (check the number of schools unable to run Lit, Economics and Maths Specialist or more than one class of each if they wanted to) - exacerbated by the half cohort
  • Schools now cater to 'all students' rather than focus on academic students
  • Correcting behavioural issues takes precedence to correcting academic issues (just check time allocated to both in any school) - schools can be seen as behaviour centres rather than learning centres.
  • Lack of rigor and programming in lower school programmes
  • No single point of responsibility within learning areas for performance with loss of level 3 HoD positions to behavioural/administrative roles
  • Have a large number of 'refugee' or 'parents with work permits' students with little primary schooling when entering high school
  • Students that traditionally left school in year 10 and now staying until year 12
  • Students that may have found work in better years are finding it harder to do so in today's economic climate

This is a rather cynical comment and to be honest, this year we have the largest equivalent G&T, Calc course than we've had for a number of years (it raised some concern that we had been too lenient when coaching for subject selection) and next year's cohort for 3A MAS/MAT is an order of magnitude larger again. The issues listed are not true in all schools and when identified schools do look closely at them. I think many of them have occurred all at once due to the simultaneous introduction of the NCOS.

It's not rocket science. Just talk to a few teachers, they'll give you the remaining reasons.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Dispositions and education

I was reading an article on the disposition of teachers that investigated how teaching schools should identify potential students in a similar way to how doctors are identified. Personality traits or "dispositions" to act could be used as a criteria to predict the success of student teachers.

It tied neatly to a discussion I had in the staffroom this week about how teachers had a persona (or disposition) they had to maintain in society. In the past, there was a clear expectation that teachers were pillars of society. They have been maids that did not date or marry. They have been philosophers, terminally interested in the pursuit of knowledge. They have been experts in their subject areas and acknowledged for their ability to do something at a level that is beyond most. They have also been over harsh disciplinarians, child molesters and cretins.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The idea of dispositions was interesting as it worried me. Too many see the 'A type' personality as the only teacher worth having (poor treatment of practicum students in schools is common where "lack of personality" is the main reason for failing or "great personality" hides multiple failings). The 'A type' type teacher is good from an administrative point of view as typically there is little in the way of additional behavioural assistance required, students graduate out of their classes and when kids look back they say that they liked the teacher (but may not have learned much).

Yet if you dig a little deeper and ask a student that has left school who they admired, it seems to be the opposite. It is the disciplinarian, the teacher that yelled at them and gave them detention, the one that made them try harder when there was little left in the tank to try with. The ones that did not need to be liked to maintain a high level of learning in the classroom (but may have needed assistance from time to time to reset the classroom - think back to that time you have seen a teacher explode at a class or a student).

I'm concerned that if you define dispositions, that inadequate research will define the disposition required as being the "type A" personality and exclude the people I have always admired as the true teachers - the teacher that takes pride in their performance first (often to their personal detriment) rather than the teacher that rattles the least amount of cages. The one that seeks out performing and under performing students with mild motivational issues (I don't mean students ill suited to the classroom environment) and lights a fire under them when the easy option is to let them figuratively play cards in the back corner.

Maybe it is these people we need to search out and put discipline frameworks around for education to reach more students.