Sunday, July 14, 2013

Big discussions in education

There are some big discussions happening at the moment in education.  Australian Curriculum, standardised testing, year 7 transition, public private partnerships, emerging social issues, CAS calculator implementation.  Each are having a lasting impact on the way education is progressing.

Australian curriculum seems destined to repeat the primary mistakes of OBE in that it is being run to political timeframes, is being introduced without effective assessment policies and guidance is a bit haphazard about its implementation schedule.  The one size fits all model, being implemented across K-12 with missing blocks of understanding scattered throughout each year group indicates that the success will be limited to higher SES schools that already approached the norm expected by the curriculum.  The curriculum does not support our kids and the enforcement of A-E grading / inappropriate curriculum just ensures the feedback reinforces their position in society.  It will take schools to make a stand, change their approach and find innovative ways to smooth the learning curve to help these students succeed.

As schools struggle to reach the norms required they are trying publicly to show they are ready to maintain their competitive position in standardised testing.  Being based on averages, even if a low SES school catered well for its higher achieving kids, this result is hidden within the average.  To counter this effect small schools are putting vast amounts of effort "teaching to the test", something most teachers are vigorously opposed to.  I was hearing an anecdote last night from a friend talking about their kids playing schools and saying,
"And after maths we'll have NAPLAN"
Since when did NAPLAN become a formal class in year 3?  If we want this to stop, we have to stop publishing these figures.  By all means run the tests and direct funding to schools based on test results,  but schools are biasing the test so badly I question its relevancy as a standardisation tool.

Year 7 transition has become a non issue.  In many public schools there aren't any coming to high school.  The delay of the decision to move 7's means that many parents of higher ability students made the decision to send their kids (along with younger siblings) to private schools and get specialist teaching assistance.  The remaining kids in many cases lack support at home - many are the most at risk students.  Public school numbers that were quite stable at 500 are dropping sub 300 which makes smaller metro high schools unviable and there is no indication that this number will bounce in the next 5 years.  Smaller schools can't compete with private education and facilities, lacking a marketing budget or effective USP to drive students to the school.  The end result is that more public schools will close and our education system will become more and more dependent on private education, ultimately further disadvantaging and marginalising low SES students.

With smaller schools and reduced funding through lack of scale to minimise costs, our smaller schools will need to increasingly devote time to managing public/private funding agreements to maintain programmes.  This is a clear diversion from classroom first (as it diverts resources from the classroom), will bias schools towards areas required by industry or areas easy to support through volunteers.  This is an issue in itself as cyclical industries may leave highly at risk generations of kids in geographical areas without employment opportunities, potentially creating ongoing social issues for communities and creating situations for schools where difficult to staff specialist programmes or expensive subjects to teach will become unsupportable.

The marginalisation of the poor is already occurring with accumulations of cultural groups in low SES areas now not integrating with large sections of the community (as those children are in private education), something in the past restricted to exclusion from high SES students in a few independent schools.  Without any real hope of employment due to a lack of social support and poor levels of education, some low SES students are now focused on the quick wins available to them through crime and social loafing, others are facing low self esteem, poor job prospects and mental illness.  The lack of positive peer support is having a clear impact on our communities and schools.  The edges of this is starting to be reported in the media and has the potential to create another drug and alcohol effected generation that will again require large amounts of funding to address.

The last issue is a math issue and one we face right now, but is still related to the issues above.  Math itself is becoming marginalised with the cost of participation rising above the level of a growing number of students within the school.  CAS calculators at $200, revision guides, course costs and texts can account for 50% of year 11/12 fees.  Low participation rates are precluding students from higher study.  Able students are now choosing other subjects with lower costs as families cannot pay the cost (costs that may have been able to be found within the school when numbers of at risk students were lower, access to support bars were set lower and more discretionary funds were available).  A further question exists about whether we need these calculators as they are creating exams that test the corners of courses to create bell curves rather than teaching students solid mathematics.  Many teachers are still struggling with CAS calculator integration and I'm beginning to fall in line with the thought they are not  an effective teaching tool, tablet technology in the classroom (not in assessment) may be a better pathway for our high performing students.  I'm sure issues like this are apparent in other learning areas.

Public education is beginning to fail the students that it is most needed for, to ensure "the fair go" is still a national objective.  I hope we have the courage to address it early, rather than be forced into reactionary measures later.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Screencast on Linear Programming - feasible regions and sensitivity

I do the occasional screencast for my students, sometimes from scratch, other times explaining Saddler examples and then post them on the SLN for watching at home.  They seem popular and get watched by students.  I noticed the video button in blogger and thought I might see if they are useful to anyone else.  They only take about 5 mins to do, have the occasional error in them (which become discussion points in themselves) and have become a fairly positive addition to my available teaching pedagogy.

Here's two on feasible regions and sensitivity that I did the other day.  I have higher res versions available for putting on my IWB.



If anyone is interested, they are done using an iMac, quickTime and ActiveInspire.  They're encoded using the cellular setting for use on smartphones and tablets.

Monday, July 8, 2013

It's not about the aha moment.

This was a realisation this week.  My teaching is no longer about the Aha! moment.  I've come to the realisation that my students now expect an aha! moment any time I teach.   What's more, experience gives you the ability to construct these moments at will.

Teaching has become more can I get past the aha! moment to ensure retention of concepts and develop depth in learning.  Most teaching points can be taught, creating the motivation required to learn for life, rather than learn for the moment is where my teaching is now going and is starting to drive my thinking.

It the idea of in the process of huh?->aha!->embedded->used to scaffold new learning, the embedding is more critical as experience in teaching grows.  This is where exam results improve.

I talked with my teaching group this week and was challenged as to why we have exams.  I sat down after the discussion and wrote for nearly an hour as to why I believed they were important.  Being part of the group that re-embedded them in the school I needed to revisit why I thought they were important.


  1. It is a part of the school year that provides inertia for the learning process: teach (learning) -> test (for understanding) -> exam (test for retention)
  2. It forms a part of the expected scholastic disciplines
  3. It prepares them for the pressures of performance
  4. It provides reason for rectifying understanding after initial testing
  5. It provides summative feedback on student performance
  6. It identifies if students can select the correct strategy across a broader range of strategies
  7. It is an opportunity for making consistent judgements across classes
  8. It is an opportunity to develop revision, calculator usage and note preparing practices in students
  9. It is how students are tested in the majority of upper school courses
  10. It identifies areas that require reteaching or more attention in future courses of work
I'm a bit sad because whilst students were sitting their exams I created a more exhaustive list, but in my wisdom failed to save it.  Can't win them all.

Reporting Period and Supporting students

Everytime a reporting period goes by we have discussions with parents about how students are travelling.  A recurring theme is the support required by students and whether they are receiving their entitlement of support.

There is a community expectation that students will receive homework.  In most cases homework does not have a return on investment.

If you are a parent, right now you are likely to be having a conniption..... but hear me out - I too was a supporter of homework once but except under some quite specific exceptions I would argue that it is rarely appropriate in a low SES school, increasingly so in upper secondary.


  1. Students lack academic support at home to complete homework.
  2. The spacing between learning and practice is too short for measurable effect.
  3. It takes 10+ minutes out of every lesson to manage effectively.
  4. When given it is rarely done well.
  5. Repetitive practice based resources reduce motivation for low ability students.
  6. It causes unnecessary friction between parents, teachers and students.

There are types of homework that I would encourage:
  1. Any form of regular reading
  2. Preparation of notes prior to testing
  3. Use of engaging online resources
  4. Delivery of instructional resources via video
  5. Revision resources driven by student inquiry
  6. Rote learning of tables, number facts and exact values required for trigonometry
  7. Assignment work that is being graded

There is a difference between the two lists.  One has cause and effect (I do this and I benefit from it) and is possible without significant assistance, the other is I do this (stuff I already know) or can't do this (and have no way to get help) and have little in the way of explicit benefit.  Regular homework all too often falls into the latter category.

I have been pleasantly surprised by the response to video instructional resources that I have written as they are universally watched by students.  I can't explain the effect (as they're not mindshatteringly interesting) but they do most closely relate to classroom teaching (as they are closest to teaching practices) and are in their preferred mode of learning.

SLNs have provided additional help with students gaining access to each other to get help with revision materials and access to teaching staff out of hours.  Online tools like mymathsonline and mathsonline also play their part.

That's not to say our students don't study in their own time.  I make myself available three days a week after school for an hour (along with most of my stupendously wonderful staff and support people), and in doing this we ensure students spend in excess of the expected study time.  It's effective, collaborative, targeted and supported.  It's optional (I tell parents to not force students to come if they do not want to - I don't have resources available for behaviour management) and we have had a clear quarter of the students in the school seeking assistance and not resenting it.