Thursday, October 13, 2011

Games that work in the classroom

The following games are the ones I've found best work in the classroom. They're quick to learn, easy to find, under an hour to play and a bit of fun.

I'd have a set of these in every classroom with kids over 12:
Dixit (replaced Apples to apples on this list)
Ticket to ride (longest game on list, most bits to lose)
Nuclear war
For Sale
Lupus in Tabula
Gloom (be a little careful with this one)

The following games have worked with subsets of kids:
Wrath of Asharladon (for kids wanting to try D&D)
Battlelore or Stronghold (for kids liking medieval warfare)
Pitchcar (for kids that like building things)
Tumblin Dice (for kinaesthetically minded)
Space hulk (small skirmish game)

No connect four, chess, draughts, chinese checkers, uno, monopoly or scrabble. I leave these to other classes.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Different forms of compromise

There are different forms of compromise. The common and often poorer solution is to take two productive but polar view points, mash them together and end up with a result worse than either of the original suggestions. In this instance often neither side is willing to respect the view of the other and a compromise is the only solution - ill will felt on both sides and the solution is truly compromised.

A second type of compromise is to allow one or both methods to proceed and then objectively evaluate which is the better method. This is much harder to do, is rarer for the management required to position the parties positively, but shows real leadership when done well. Hopefully a third solution could be developed in this instance, superior to the original ideas and developed by all interested parties and that was not compromised by process (in the true spirit of searching for a win-win).

Sadly, in our land of committees and the wariness of managers to take the time required to make gutsy decisions, the perils of the first solution occur all too often. It is also frustrating to watch scrutiny be attacked as criticism when questioning whether a method is valid or whether a better solution exists. The scrutiny is interpreted as disharmony and the opportunity for developing innovative solutions is lost.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The effects of standardised testing

I've been critical of the outcomes of standardised testing and its effects on teaching. I was reading the following and seeing some of my predictions come true in the US, home of the standardised test and the no child left behind program. We have only a limited time to reverse direction before we repeat the mistakes of others. I'm sure more articles like this will start to appear.

No effective public school system will leave whole generations behind.

(I've rewritten this twice and can't seem to get rid of the double meaning. One meaning is that an effective public school system will prevent generations being left behind, the second meaning is that without a public school system generations will be left behind. It's interesting that they are similar in effect, but the second meaning implies that a loss of the public school system will result in a negative consequence - which was the intent of the sentence - I wonder how people read it!)

The power of encouragement

Regular readers will know I take inspiration from my 2 year old daughter. Yesterday, we were at the playground and she ran herself silly but was afraid of the slide. To be honest, it was high and a bit fast for her but I figured she went on a roller coaster, why not a slide.

The first time, I held her hand and let go half way down. We yelled whhheeee and clapped when she reached the bottom. Needless to say she was soon going down on her own and started attempting other things that were previously impossible like the climbing frame and firemans drop..

How many times have we, as teachers, faced students that refused to try because it was too hard. Maybe this is a wakeup call to provide more encouragement first, scaffold a little more initially and then let go for a while whilst watching and enjoying their progress.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Leadership breeds competition

Staff in an education environment have little reason to be competitive. There is little opportunity for advancement, extra work brings no monetary reward or toil and the more done, the more is expected.

There is a form of anti competition. Those that do succeed are compared to other successes and compared using the strengths of each. The perceived lesser of the two is denigrated and the greater of them is tall poppied.

I call teaching the pirahna occupation because it feeds on itself. It never seems to gain momentum to do the great things it has the promise to do. I fault here the leadership models it creates. Teachers are not great managers, managers are not great administrators, administrators are not great businessmen. Put this together and you get very average in most cases - especially when there is an unwillingness to learn new skills.

Leadership in a school environment requires a vision of the big picture and then a plan to enact the vision. Without a plan, progress cannot be measured and people can't be held responsible. Circuit breakers need to be kept in place to ensure that senior management is not restricting access to information, typically to hide inefficiency and incompetency in leading repair and refinement of the teaching model.

It's not rocket science, but it's not easy to overcome organisational inertia and friction either. Gaining momentum takes time and needs ongoing breaking of ground to keep going. Finding those willing to break ground for little reward is difficult, luckily there are still vocational teachers in the system - seeking stability and job satisfaction over monetary reward.

Thankfully when these people lead, others must follow or look lazy and incompetent. Loss of face is what pushes education forward more than PD or organisational goals. This is wrong but without structural changes, it's the main process for improvement. I don't think I have the answers, but I feel I am starting to ask the right questions.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dropping the ball

I went to playgroup with my young daughter. A little girl tried to grab a ball that she was playing with. She pushed the girl away who then complained that my daughter wouldn't share.

Two minutes later I was playing throw with my daughter. The other girl, with tears in her eyes, came and joined us. We threw the ball between us and eventually I left them playing together. It was the first time I saw my little one enjoying playing with another child.

Getting kids to play nice requires help. Expecting appropriate peer interaction to appear miraculously is not appropriate. All too often we put kids together without supports where they can interact appropriately. The older kids get, the longer it takes to overcome negative behaviours and peer stereotyping.

A perceived benefit of the heterogenous class and middle schooling is improved peer interaction. The problem is that all too often the skills required by students to benefit from interactions is not explicitly taught. My view is that the heterogenous class is the domain of the experienced teacher and beginning teachers should be sheltered from their demands, allowing them to develop content mastery and classroom management skills first, teaching strategies/pedagogy second.