Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Middle school & end of year reflection

After a year of trying to establish rapport with middle school I think the obvious is as follows:
Without teaching upper school classes and being involved with NCOS, middle school teachers have disconnected from upper school requirements through no fault of their own.

Added to the traditional "it's an issue at primary level - but we have five years to rectify it" we also now have "it's an issue with middle school, how can we possibly fix it in two years".

Students wrapped in cotton wool, unable to connect success with working hard find senior school difficult.

Assessment changes and alteration to pedagogical methodology in middle school has reduced the rigor required for TEE subjects especially in those with little discipline at home.

Without a detailed syllabus, critical topics can be deferred to later years causing irreparable damage.

Responsibility for subject performance should be left in the hands of those that understand the subject area.

Graduation should not be automatic. Pastoral needs of the individual should not be placed above the academic needs of the student and group as a whole.

Students can be entertained and placed with friends to stay in school but when once the demands of TEE level education arrives, it gives students too little time to adjust to the requirements of real study. The adjustment needs to occur in year nine - especially for the gifted kids.

General observations from 2008:
Streaming in mathematics is required where more than four levels exist across a cohort.

Intervention time is limited to less than 1 minute per student in homogeneous classes greater than thirty and puts teachers at risk with the current defer intervention actions BMIS discipline policy. Intervention time is greatly increased in a streamed class as peer assistance, direct instruction and modelled lessons become more effective.

Collaborative lessons can work when consequences for non-performance are correctly administered (peer pressure is a fantastic tool in this case).

The most reward comes from success with students with the least demonstrated ability.

Any student (without a learning difficulty) can learn any topic given an adequate amount of time (Kevin Casey).

Male students are not getting the results in mathematics in line with their ability levels.

It is possible to make a difference. Bring on 2009.

Intuitive Teachers

I wonder if there is a connection between those that deal with a lot of people and their ability to be intuitive towards their needs. As teachers we need to be able to "read" students as many times their articulated response may not reflect their needs.

I've found that since teaching it is easier to read what people mean compared to what they say. Is this a common finding? Do occupations that deal with a lot of people on an ongoing basis develop the same ability? Does frequency of interaction hone the ability further? Is this a trait we should be looking for in new teachers in the same way we look for bedside manner in doctors?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Making schools a part of the social system

Many attribute social behaviours to treatment within schools.

Children under the age of 18 are arbitrarily required to attend school or seek gainful employment. Yet many of the children in our justice system are no longer attending school or seeking gainful employment.

Similarly, many children in schools are not students, but young adults actively being impediments to the learning of other students. They have little or no interest in schooling and have no interest in seeking gainful employment.

If students have no interest in schooling or are not in gainful employment I suggest that we strip them of their rights as children and call them adults... any illegal activities get tried as adults, protections given to children are removed and sentences roll into the adult system as they turn age. After all not in school, not acting like a child, demanding adult responsibility and treatment - grant their wish.

Similarly if a child is not contributing in school, not valuing their education, being an impediment to the learning of others (with no feasible solution available to get the child performing as a student) .. whoosh - out they go either into an alternate programme off campus or into the real world as an adult and lose their privileges as a child.

With one proviso - any government payments for children are instantly stripped if they stop attending school and adult payments for these children are not available until they turn 21 if school is not finished (a very simple process that could be completely handled electronically). Exceptions would be handled on a case by case basis with very strict criteria after testing for learning disabilities and available environmental supports.

Whoa! I hear you say.. that's a bit radical... but nobody values what is given on a plate - only when there is a risk of loss is it valued. For schools to be a part of the social system, it needs to be recognised that schools cannot be held account for all social ills, they can though be a filter for recognising them and helping the borderline cases back into the mainstream. Stuffing extreme cases into an already taxed system and hoping all will be ok runs the risk of dragging many more real students down with it. Schools should be centres of learning filled with students and families that value education... not a young adult minding service.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Keeping it real

I suppose it's not the catch phrase it once was, but students like you keeping it real. When you speak to them they like to know your opinion, what you think and what you are doing outside of school. Much of the time we are frozen by protocol and have to keep professional distance but sometimes it is a good idea to let them see some of your opinion.

Case in point, an A student taking a traineeship - no apparent reason for doing so other than she "hates" school. She's one of the few that actually smile now and again. Rather than telling her - look you're on the hump, hang in there, the PC response is "you need to do what you think is best" or "evaluate your options and see where it takes you". BS, stay in school or you'll join the 10% without an education you bloody dill!

After all it's sooo much better to tell a kid they're doing well, feed them success and then let them find out that they are unable to pursue their chosen occupation because they've been a lazy blob. Teenagers are moody, emotional, need to fire up from time to time, will do at little as possible to get by, have little vision of the future past 5 minutes from now but they're also fairly resilient and need a dose of failure from time to time to ensure that they get back on the right track.

Keeping it real is about helping them see the bigger picture and find school an enabling influence on their lives rather than a drag. Our summer school for high ability yr 10 maths students entering year 11 is about connecting students with the real world. We improve their minds, feed them motivating experiences and they see that public and private companies are willing to support our efforts through a certificate where the school logo is not front and centre. Many thanks to the companies that are supporting our little event. More importantly - there is no cash prize for attending, no sponsorship money, no reward other than self improvement. What a fabulous lesson for these kids to learn and appreciate at 15 years old.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lost hope

Two years ago I spoke to one of my colleagues whilst I was teaching at another school. He spoke of the amazing progress his students were making. It was a deciding factor in moving to his school later that year.

Moving to a government school was something that I had contemplated but after a woeful experience trying to enter the system, I had not anticipated trying again until I had more experience to offer. Once I was given an opportunity and a taste of it, I didn't look back.

The feeling that I have received from others in the government system though (whilst on PD or in the community) is that of lost hope. If I hear one more teacher saying "we haven't the clientele to do it" or "we are going to do the course through SIDE (via remote access) because we lack numbers" I'll jam a pick axe under their fingernails.

Can I make something very clear - in some schools, teachers have had to work very hard to get students to a high standard. Students in low socio-economic areas typically have the ability but lack environmental support. Students are nurtured into performing well above their weight level. I suppose, coming through a low socio-economic system I remember what teachers did for me, without some of them taking a personal interest I would have slipped through the cracks.

In high performing schools (the "leafy greens"), teachers have to work very hard to get students to perform to a high level - public or private. If they don't succeed, parents complain and they get turfed out or nerfed to a lesser course. If we get complacent in challenging students within public schools and let excuses get in the way of trying and not do at least as much as private schools... then these kids have little hope. That means the before/after school classes, the extension work, the calls home, extra homework, the lecture for poor performance, doing corrections, study skills, ensuring test preparation is done and fostering of an academic environment is not optional in our schools. Who pays for the extra work is a different issue. I leave that to academics, advocates and DET.

Parity between public and private needs to be found or public schooling will become more of a sub-par alternative. I don't know many teachers that would send their child to a government school (behaviour not academic standards is the most common reason given) and that is a sad inditement on the system. We need to recognise this as an indicator and institute change.

I hope we have achieved something special this year in our academic programme and in 2009 we hope to be able to demonstrate our model as an example of what can be done. Something needed to be done to rescue our TEE programme (DET teachers are getting worn down by the fight). We could have become another school without a TEE programme.


2000 hits since July (started site 22 July)
600 individual people visiting for the quarter
500 hits in a month (November)
120 individuals in a week, 180 hits (week 46)

From the little map it's good to see people from all over the place... Hello!!!

Most visited pages
CAS Calculator help index (by far)
Mathematics pathways 2009

On an excursion today.. probably the last post until the new year. Soo... from Benjamin bunny and educationWA have a very Merry Christmas and I'll see you in 2009!!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Relief Classes

In the last weeks of term, senior school teachers tend to do a lot of relief. I don't actually mind doing a little relief as it is a chance to meet students in the lower school.

What gets my goat is when I am asked to come down to senior school and I'm not needed. If I am needed to teach, great, give me a class and a lesson and away I will go.

Ask me to come down when all you want me to do is be present in the room while a teacher runs a general knowledge quiz and watch my blood boil. We had a team leader, team assistant and two teachers in the room and a quiz running with about sixty kids. If you can't run that without extra help split them into three classes of twenty and do it. Put the team assistant with the most difficult class.

I have work to do people!

You are saying to the senior school teacher, "my need for behaviour management assistance is more precious than your preparation time for 2009". I know the general belief is that because senior school teachers have fewer classes in term 4 then they should be available to assist in lower school tasks and I agree with this, but the best use of their time is not as babysitters, use their expertise to improve curriculum.

Don't think because you see them more often in the staff room it's because they have nothing to do - they may just be getting a breather after working on the course for a couple of hours. Creating new material in preparation for new year 12 courses is difficult.

Don't underestimate their need to prepare for the following year - the pressure is on for performance as the public image of the school rides of school league tables (for better or worse). Today I was writing outlines for 2009 3A courses and preparing materials for the summer school we are running for year 11 level 3 students. This would have been a far better use of my time.


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Last two weeks of school

When I was a lad, the last day of school was a day for cleaning the place up. After 12 pm we started cleaning and after cleaning was complete we had a goodbye party last period on the floor with the desks and chairs piled up at the back. Until then, we completed classwork.

Today, this does not happen. During term students drift out of school thinking that taking a week out here and there is ok, that it is their right to have personal tuition to catch up when they return and that teachers must prepare material for them (that will not be done) whilst they are on holidays.

My favourite thing now is to ask students that have been absent (even for a day) if they have found a friend and caught up during form class (form is usually 20 mins of dolittle time each day where students rock up 2 seconds before the bell and get their names ticked off whilst talking through the notices). If they haven't caught up, I direct them to get their notes complete and until they have I help others first that have done the right thing (..after all once students have made an attempt to catch up they probably won't need the help).

Programmes seem to wrap up in week 8 term 4, as reports and all assessment have to be in. Student absenteeism starts to increase by week nine as students get sick of watching videos. Fun days start to appear to keep students busy. By week 10 absenteeism is at an all time high.

Students get roped into tasks to help get things done around the school. The sad fact is that it is usually the reliable kids that have the most to lose. They get taken out of class and valuable learning time is lost not to mention the disruption of reteaching when they return.

Unfortunately all of these things also occur in week 10 of every other term. That means we potentially lose 5 weeks out of 40 for the year to these cool down periods. Couple this to ramp up time, assemblies, exams, excursions, PD days and public holidays we can easily lose another 3 weeks. That means a clear 20% of programme time is lost over the year.

Teachers that run their programmes through to week 10 are put under pressure to stop by students (and teachers) as their class is the only one doing any work and it is not fair.

Last year in year 9, I had my practice of getting kids to work to the end of term questioned and I caved in and stopped the programme on the last day. This year for my year 10 class I was not so kind. Any of my kids that were being roped into alternate activities were found and returned to class. They worked until their last period practising trinomial factorisation... And do you know what.. they seemed to respect that their programme of learning was being protected. I don't get to see them until the last day next week (one period lost to a school assembly, one to a whole of school fun day, one to finishing on a Thursday), effectively making it a nine week term and that too needs looking at.

I can't complain about student knowledge if I'm not willing to do anything about it. This is an area that can be improved especially for my high ability students.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Exam review

We were reviewing the exam results and I pointed out to students the importance of exams and a different way of looking at the whole process.

Before the exam
  • Use class time effectively
    There is no substitute for working well in class if you want good results. If you know the content, have practiced hard, retention is higher and understanding deeper. Muck about and the consequences follow.
  • Identify content
    It is important to try and identify content that may be in the exam. Check notes and chapters covered and have a good look at material at the end of chapters.
  • Identify proficiencies
    Do a few questions from the end of each chapter and see how well you understand the content. The more you are able to do, the better your exam results.
  • Make good notes
    Any areas that you need to refer to the book make notes of. Where notes are not allowed in the exam, use them as quick review to memorise key material in the days leading up to the exam. Where notes are allowed, to not have them is a recipe for disaster.
  • Find a study buddy
    Check what others are finding hard and things they think might be in the exam. They may have picked up on a hint that you haven't.
  • Ask the teacher for more information
    Ask the teacher stuff. Who knows what they might give away? You have nothing to lose.
  • Quarantine impossible material
    Some stuff you just can't learn in time. If this is the case focus on what you do know or can learn before the test.
  • Sleep well
    You can't expect to retain anything without sleep. Your anxiety levels will rise to the point where you will be unable to function. Little anxiety good. Lots of anxiety bad.

On the day of the exam

  • Be prepared
    Nothing is more likely to unhinge your confidence than losing your notes, calculator, pens running out, no ruler.
  • Focus
    Find that point of calm within yourself. Don't Panic. Grab your notes (regardless of whether you can use them inside or not) and review what you know. I find it easier to go sit on my own than sit with friends that may hype you up.
  • Wear comfortable clothes
    If that means you need to wash your most comfortable trousers or skirt the night before, find that shirt that is just the right size, make sure you have on your favourite socks (as long as you are still in uniform) then do it the night before.
  • Be punctual
    Be prompt. Having the examiner yell at you for being late is not a good way to get into an exam frame of mind.

In the exam

  • Seating
    Listen to the examiner and find a nice quiet place to sit. Settle your material just where you want it. Make sure that you only have material out that you need for the exam
  • Remember your exam technique
    Spend two minutes reading the paper before starting. Identify the hard questions so that you mind can start working on them in the background - allow yourself multiple 'aha' moments as the answers come to mind. Find the easy questions. Number them. Start from the easiest and work to the hardest. Make sure you get all the marks you can before you start the doubtful ones. Identify how many minutes per question and how far you need to be at different times to complete the exam.
After the exam
  • Reflect
    It is important to reflect (I didn't say beat yourself up) on how you did, identify your strengths and weaknesses and then use this knowledge for indicators how and when to really concentrate in class. It will help you at that moment of "Please shut up so I can listen to what the teacher is saying" as you will know when you need to listen and ignore the friend with that bit of gossip about the weekend. There's a reason some some students can ask good questions and others always ask questions that are irrelevant. Reflection is a key area of development for many students.
  • Natural Ability vs Good work ethic
    We have all seen the students that coast along until year 11 and then hit the wall. These students are not prepared for failure and typically fall apart blaming all and sundry. A good work ethic is necessary for success in academia and in the work force.

Despite what many may say, good students do these things and somewhere along the line someone has taught them.

Sometimes unfortunately it ends up being me in year 10.

Links to other articles on exams:

Another week 8 gone

Well, with the help of a few friends I have made it through another week 8. True to form it is coupled with a bit of tiredness but was managed well by those around me.

I suppose in week 8 especially in term 4 we all suffer a little doubt. Have we done enough? Are they ready for next year? I suppose only time will tell.

I know that we're at least achieving in little things. There's a programme of work in place, resources have been gathered and evaluated, there are changes in assessment policy, we have established some diagnostics for cohorts. The team is coming together and is expressing interest in meetings next year. People are starting to see that these gatherings (I hate to call them meetings as it has that connotation of useless waste of time) as something useful and needed to make that whole of school approach work.

It's been a horrible year in terms of individual events happening to kids and of things happening here at home. Let's hope that next year, with the new baby arriving things change for the better (although I don't know how I will manage with fewer hours of sleep). It's good to know that even with a little trouble going on outside of school, things held together in school.

It's getting to the end of the cycle, time to close off this year and start preparing for next year. Another year, another new course, more new kids. Next stop material for summer school and then into the school year. I think we'll concentrate at the summer school on linear algebra, quadratics, problem solving/investigations, probability and 'other stuff' on the last day.

Soon I'll be in my third year of teaching.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Mathematics Pathways 2009

On paper the new courses next year look to be improvements on the existing 2008 MIPS/Foundations/Intro Calculus/G&T combinations. In 2008 MIPS was for weaker students, Foundations for mid tier students and Intro Calculus/G&T was for the capable students (think Maths 2/3 if you're from my era). In Year 12 MIPS lead to Modelling, Foundations lead to Discrete, Intro Calculus/G&T lead to Calculus/Applicable mathematics.

There were definite issues with the old structure. First MIPS was very language oriented which caused serious difficulties for low literacy students. The Foundations course was more difficult than the year 12 Discrete Mathematics course that it lead to. Many capable students opted to take the easier option (Foundations/Discrete) rather than Intro Calculus/G&T students as the scaling was never quite right for(although Intro Calculus/G&T students did get the benefit of satisfying many pre-requisites in university and avoided bridging courses)

The new courses for 2009 on paper better cater to a range of students. These courses are semesterised and labelled 1B-3D (eg. 2C in semester 1 and 2D in semester 2 year 11, and 3A in semester 1, 3B in semester 2 year 12). Each year 11 course (if necessary) can be sat again in year 12 (eg. if a student failed 2c/2D in year 11 and repeated 2C/2D in year 12). There are lower courses aimed at students with learning difficulties (PA/PB/1A).

Weaker students have a more traditional year 9/10 type course in 1B/1C/1D/1E or 1D/1E/2A/2B (replacing MIPS/Modelling)
Weak mid tier students now have 2A/2B/2C/2D (replacing Foundations/Discrete)
Strong mid tier type students now have 2C/2D/3A/3B (replacing Foundations/Discrete)
Capable students have 3A/3B/3C/3D & 3A/3B/3C/3D specialist (replacing IC/G&T/Calc/Applic)

The strong/capable students are typically university bound, weak mid tier students may use their score for low requirement university courses or TAFE. Level 1 courses are generally for vocational students.

The real benefits are for mid tier and capable students that now have real options in selecting 2A-3A as a starting point in year 11. Students that sit higher end mathematics are now promised a more equitable scaling factor than was in place under the old system. The general opinion is also that the new courses are easier (in general) than the courses they replace. Only time will tell.