Sunday, March 29, 2009

Variables on the classpad

There has been some confusion about how to define variables on the classpad in my class. Here is what we have discovered.

If we use a variable found under the mth tab -> var on the soft keyboard (the variables that are italicised) it is treated as a normal pronumeral in algebraic equations (multiplication is assumed with adjacent pronumerals). The x,y,z on the keypad is also treated this way.

eg x = 10, y=20; therefore xy=200

The multiplication sign is automatically added.

If we name a variable using the abc tab in the soft keyboard(the variables that are not italicised) then we are naming a variable that has multiple letters.

eg xy =10; x & y are undefined.
m = rise ÷ run

Potential Gotcha!

We have to be careful not to confuse functions defined under the mth tab (eg. trig ratios) and variables that we have created when using NumSolve. One of my students entered this on their calculator.


It would return the fractional value adj÷hyp rather than the value for theta. This is because the student had defined a variable "Cosθ" by typing Cos via the soft keyboard rather than entering the function Cos via mth->trig->Cos.

Superscripts and Subscripts

Later on students will want to use subscripted characters when creating variable names. One example is the gradient formula.


The subscripts are found in the soft keyboard under abc->math at the bottom of the screen. Superscripts are on the line above it. Only numbers at this stage (more will be possible as more fonts are released) can be superscripted or subscripted as far as I can see.

Here is a link to other CAS calculator posts.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Trigonometric equations and the CAS calculator

There are lots of ways of solving trigonometric equations on the Classpad but I have avoided using Trisolve as it takes away the thinking aspect of trigonometric equations. Instead I focussed on setting up equations in eActivities with the intent to complement them with the Geometry section later.

eActivities are a great place to store frequently used equations. In this instance, I wanted to keep all of the trigonometric and circle equations in one place ie sine, cosine & tan ratios, sine rule, cosine rule, sector, segment equations, circumference, area.

To do this I opened an eActivity from the main menu.

Then I started a new eActivity by going File -> New. Then I saved it by going File->Save. I called it Trig Formulae.

So then I inserted a Numsolve strip to hold my equation.

Once the strip was added I used the soft keyboard to name it the Sine ratio. Then I pressed solve to put the equation in.

Using the mth tab in the soft keyboard and then selecting the Trig option at the base of the soft keyboard I entered 'sin('. Directly below the mth tab, the theta button can be found and then closed the bracket. Don't type the word 's' 'i' 'n' using the soft keyboard as it won't work - it will treat it as s x i x n.

Then using the 2D tab, I created a fraction and using the var option entered o ÷ h. I hit exe, then closed the equation using the x at the top left hand corner of the window.

I then tried it out using the example opp=7, hyp=14, theta = ? I left theta blank, made sure the angle was selected (with the dot next to it coloured in) and pressed solve in the toolbar. Viola, theta = 30°. If you get some weird answers check that the calculator is set in degrees mode. If the answer is still weird, reset the calculator and it seems to work.

Update (25/3/09): After using this with the class for a few days (especially with radians) I noticed a few strange results where the calculator would return unexpected answers (eg for the above example -330°). To fix this, set the Lower bound to 0 and the upper bound to 180 (for degrees) or pi/3.14159 (for radians) and the results will appear as expected.
I then set about putting in the cosine ratio.

It's a great tool for things like the cosine rule where students find it hard to transpose equations and forget negative signs or for circle, segment and sector equations that are commonly forgotten.

Here is a link to other CAS calculator posts.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Favourite places to eat in Perth

A bit off topic today, but as I live north of the river there are a number of places that I love to eat. There is no real order to them as we like them all depending on what we feel like.

T5 Expresso, Joondalup: Sub $10 breakfast, great coffee, nice people, not too busy. Cosy little place to start the day found in every city around the world, other than Perth. Until now!

Bistro 38: Joondalup Country club. Great buffet during summer and if you can catch one of their special nights with entertainment it's a great time for two. Even their naff Christmas in July was great (where two years of ballroom dancing lessons came second to a drunken wife doing the pointy dance (I'll point at you.. pose.. I'll point at them.. pose...). I think we've sent at least two letters to Bistro 38 complimenting them on their excellent service.

Sensations 43, Ocean Reef: A little restaurant serving pizza, pasta and other cafe dishes. We can go there before 6.00pm with bubs and not have to worry too much about annoying other patrons or go during the day and have a coffee. The owners are lovely once you get to know them, friendly and inviting.

Shennai Tandoori, Ocean Reef: A local restaurant that has great Indian/Pakistani food tailored to the anglified palette. I think we have gone 200 times and ordered the same meal - Papadums, Chicken Tikka, Lamb Korma, Chicken Korma, 2 Naan, 1 large Pilaf Rice - which is enough for dinner and breakfast. Ask for booth 7.

The Grapevine Restaurant, Heathridge: A hearty Italian meal, a little dearer than we usually spend but we always expect to be stuffed by the end of it. Service is great (we're not partial to being in the alfresco area as it tends to be a little hot and loud) and they even drove us home one night when we couldn't get a taxi.

Conti's Restaurant, Wangara: This is a lovely quaint restaurant, we've had many a great anniversary dinner there. Don't be put off by the location. The steak and peppercorns (the carpetbag or 'Madagascar' from memory) is great, as is anything else on the menu. The 'Coles tray' for the vegetables seems strange, but keeps the vegetables nice and warm. I love how the lights dim every so often for no real reason. It's easy to get absolutely stonkered as you spend a leisurely evening.

Friends Restaurant, Perth: This is one of our favourite restaurants, with Clive and Lesley being two of the nicest people in the world. This, to my mind, is what we compare any other restaurant around the world (in fact the only other restaurants we have enjoyed to their level is Francois' mussels in white wine sauce on Melbourne's Toorak Rd and The Loose Box in the Mundaring (insert any dish on the menu here).) Mortgage your house, order some expensive wine and/or Champagne and enjoy.

Cocos Restaurant, South Perth: I must admit it's been ages since we've been, but I have very fond memories of the Tempura Whiting and having coffee overlooking the foreshore. A bit of a place for Perth's movers and shakers (Probably why I haven't been for ages!).

Kings Park Tea Rooms: OMG.. the service is ordinary, but with a glass of wine and a light meal during spring, for a lunch catchup few places are its equal.

There you go.. with the exception of home dinners and family invites which ALWAYS take precedence (coming from a family and extended family of awesome cooks and chefs) this is where we like to go!

Bon Appetit!

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Time doesn't seem to be my friend at the moment. I wake up, feed Mackenzie when I can, go to school, tutor my year 11's, take my classes, wait on the phone for 15 mins, complain to payroll that they forgot to pay me last week (I have to wait another fortnight for it to arrive as it was a stuff up), teach my classes, come home and crash on the couch for 3 hours and here I am. Baby exploding with poop.

I have so much stuff to write..

e-activities in the CAS calculator are a great place to hide all the trigonometry formulas (sine rule and the like) using "Strips" and Numsolve - Updated 22/3 click here to see how.

The verify function in the main pane (bottom cell of the right icon in the toolbar 'f(x)') is a great way of testing what part of an equation has been incorrectly simplified, expanded or factorised.

My polar coordinates and vectors is rusty so I've had to sit and do the exercises in the book..

Tests to write, assignments to mark, programmes to amend..

Need to go back to sleep!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Phones, Cameras and Facebook.

Not so long ago, the fight club issue was raised with kids after school organising fights and filming them. The infamy caused through posting these film grabs on u-tube and the damage to local schools needs to be acknowledged. It took these incidents to change the current policy (or perhaps enforce an existing one?) on mobile phone use in schools.

When mobile phones were first allowed on campus my initial thoughts were that this was a bad idea. It has proven true with sms bullying, filming of teachers and posting them on the Internet, sms'ing during class, loss and theft of phones and the like. Teachers spend a portion of each day confiscating phones and returning them, facing a barrage of abuse and pleading from students.

Information technology and personal technologies have other negative influences. The insular antisocial behaviour such as being constantly on an IPod cannot be measured. In many cases it is a way of managing a lone student (allowing them the dignity of choosing to be on their own) rather than facing the real issue of an isolate in the playground and assisting with social integration. The lone student is often subject to the worst kinds of bullying in the form of exclusion and schools must respond to this kind of treatment or face the extreme measures taken by lonely students in other areas of the world.

Facebook is another tool that causes concern. I started my own Facebook page and have had 'friend' requests from students. I declined these obviously, as a teacher is not a friend. A friend has to face issues that a teacher does not and vice-versa. To transcend this relationship is fraught with danger. Yet I had to think - am I being old fashioned? Has friendship been redefined by Facebook and become some sort of watered down acquaintance? Could it be a way of hearing about their successes and failures post school? Being conservative by nature, my original position stands.. as a male teacher, I don't think you can be too careful - watered down friendship or not.. it crosses the line.

The Internet itself in general is the great time-waster. Setting firm guidelines is required to keep students on task and maintaining standards of behaviour requires strong penalties. Yet the greatest penalty (denial of Internet) is often removed as an option as multiple classes require students to use the Internet and the same student performs the same misdemeanors in each class as they know the penalties are light.

Technology is a wonderful thing but to use it effectively is a skill. I am not sure education institutions have spent the time to master this skill and I would like to see some real evidence of where and when it is used to improve results of students.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mackenzie Surprise

Anyone that knows me well, knows that I have a predilection to a Big Mac. Some wag at Kendra's work seems to know this and has started referring to my wee dear as Little Mac.

Anyhow, she seems to have a new game that I am told is common to all babies. It's 1.30 in the morning and we're doing the late feed. She commonly needs her nappy changed at this time, and it's normally the gross one smeared all through her nappy.. That's ok.. you get accustomed to it..

So you unfasten her clothes, take off the nappy, wipe off the poop, clean her up, put on the nappy cream reach for the nappy and...


you're swimming in a tide of Mackenzie pee.. a wonderful 20 sec gush.. all over the change mat, all through her clothes.. in her hair.. and to top it all she just rolled the back of her head into that toxic nappy.

oh well.. off with the rest of her clothes.. I needed that fifth shower today anyway..


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Change management and the half cohort

When I heard the 'local solutions for local issues' chant last year, a siren went off in my head saying here comes another case of pushing responsibility down the line. The half cohort has been mismanaged thus far and schools now have to find 'innovative solutions' to maintain student levels and thus staffing levels.

Knowledge management is a key aspect in any organisation. If we let an ill thought out decision and implementation (like the half cohort) damage our long term ability to provide a service, this is a very poor management decision. Yet this is what we are faced with. When smaller numbers come in next year, schools face losing FTE. With a loss of FTE comes a loss in capability to deliver and retain content and a loss of knowledge of how to manage our students.

Innovative solutions typically means something experimental cobbled together with a low chance of success, with little forethought. This is because true innovative solutions requires a lot of work prior to implementation - after all, if it was easy everyone would be doing it already and it would not be innovative.

Once we have identified possible solutions we than have to consider how that change will occur. Managing change requires patience, skill and understanding on part of the participants. Change is a technical problem - not a people problem as too often people see it.

Steps in change management are:
a) determining the need for change
b) determining the obstacles to change
c) implementing change
d) evaluating change
(Human Resource Management, R.J. Stone, 2002)

In this case a driver for change is that we need to reduce FTE in 2010 and preserve school capability post the half cohort with fewer staff to share the load. Potentially the reverse issue happens in 2011 as the students held back in 2010 will appear in 2011. Using that knowledge (on face value) change may not be required as although retaining staff is more expensive than letting staff go, schools face the issue in 2011 of trying to restaff. A second driver for change is to re-instate job security. Whilst this issue is over the head of staff, good staff are more likely to consider opportunities elsewhere in case the job axe reaches them.

We then reach the second test, 'how to implement change'. Schools are now looking at where the 'fat' can be trimmed. Timetabling in this aspect is one of the biggest concerns. If a teacher leaves/retires/is let go organically another teacher of similar ability is rarely available on staff that fits the timetable to teach the topic (and if they do, they leave another similar hole elsewhere on the timetable). As restaffing is not an option, the solution here is usually a teacher teaching out of area or an 'innovative solution' to be used such as using leftover capability of various teachers to share a class, multi-age grouping (MAG - eg. grouping yr8/9 classes together) or integrated classrooms (eg. combined English/S&E classes).

The third test is the biggest concern where innovative solutions are bandied about. There is no doubt in my mind that given time and money, any solution can be made to work. My concern is that neither time nor money are available for such. For example, integrated classrooms may take up to five years to get right with dedicated staff committed to the project - one out of the box cannot work as student content and contextual entry points are different at each school. Furthermore staff that can create and plan these engaging projects are few and far between. Leftover capacity is nearly always a poor option. MAG streamed classes require a lot of skill to teach and have issues attached related to differences in work ethic and have the tendency to be taught to the middle (or bottom). MAG unstreamed classes exacerbate developmental, context ual and content issues thus requiring even more from the teacher than streamed classes. If we consider that the main issue resolves itself after 5 years we need to again ask whether these solutions warrant the change requirements for implementation.

The fourth test is the big one. If we are truly contemplating change we need to evaluate current performace before change has occurred, such that we can check later that the change has been positive. It is this step that shows good management from poor management. Pre-defined outcomes need to be set if we are to avoid 'crisis management' and move to structured 'change management'. NAPLAN is not the answer (though it can be one measurable) as it only measures what can be assessed in a snapshot test. It does not take into account staffing issues, affective requirements and behavioural response. More so it does not predict or respond to the potential success or damage to students in upper school (as is seen in some poorly managed middle school programmes). To realise the perils of over reliance on NAPLAN take a look at year 8 NAPLAN results and map them to senior school students. Ask yourself what happened to the block of students that did well in year 8 but were lost by year 10.

Furthermore if we instigate change 'from the hip' it makes it much more difficult to learn from our mistakes. If we know what we have done poorly, we can then do it differently in the future. This need to reflect is the key to success and to my mind, when this occurs, it is true 'change'. Something we need to consider more when defining future success.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Story of Mackenzie's birth

Wednesday Feb 18.
Baby late for appointment.. Doctor says will induce on Tuesday.

Monday Feb 23
5:59am Baby decides it wants to choose its own birthday and it's time to take a walk on the outside. Contractions 10 mins apart.
10:00am Doctor calls and suggests it might be a good time to come in. Kendra decides that she needs to clean house, do makeup and drop the rabbit off.. Contractions 8mins apart. Russell's heart rate at stroke levels.
10:08am Russell able to teleport wife to hospital 23km away. Contractions 4 mins apart.
11:00am Contractions 2 mins apart. Topped up oxytocin to speed up contractions. 0.5mm dilation. Doctor puts in epidural.
1pm Baby changes mind and decides it's too nice a day to be outside (this is where we should have realised baby was a girl). Sets up camp and goes nowhere. 1cm dilation.
5pm Doctor decides its time to come out. Wheeled into theatre. Doctor realises epidural put in wrong place - it's doing nada other than making one leg numb. Tries something else. This seems to work better.
6pm Doctor cuts hole in abdomen and reaches for baby. Doctor calls baby a scallywag. Wedged under Kendra's 6pack and won't come out.
6.05pm Kendra complains she's feeling cold. That's because her bp has dropped to 50. Madly having 3 bags of saline pumped into her.
6.45pm Kendra's 6pack becomes a 4pack - Baby pulled out with gouged eyeballs, growling, wedged no longer. Doctor holds up gruesome blood encrusted baby. Husband of year says - "gees that's an ugly baby"...
7.00pm Baby cleaned up. Husband says "gees now she's all pretty" and gets a nice cuddle. Kendra's lippy is still on and she looks suitably glam during both labour and major surgery - what a marketing opportunity for Revlon!
8.00pm Kendra back in room and says she is feeling sore - told that she can have a Panadol for the night. Pain score 4-5

Tuesday Feb 24
8.15am Husband goes to work after paying $115 to lie on the floor.
9.00am Kendra complains pain worse than contractions. Nurse rereads chart and realises that it should have been Pethedine not Panadol. Pain score 8 without Pethedine. Pain score now "Happy smiley face" with Pethedine. Birth forms explained and completed under the influence. Baby name now AppleMoonbeamFlowerChild.
3pm Russ renames child Mackenzie Trudy.

Wednesday Feb 25
Learning about baby language.
Going pink - hungry
Going pink - hot
Going pink - needs nappy changed
Going pink - needs cuddle
Going pink - wind
Looking forward to romantic dinner provided by hospital on Friday. Husband still paying $115 per night to sleep on floor, grumpy and giving out high number of detentions at school. Kicked in head by nurse in morning. Mackenzie eats, poops and sleeps. Is suitably adorable. (update 28/3: Hospital acknowledges fee is exorbitant and agrees to waive it.. yay!)

Thursday Feb 26
9am Moved to nice room with bed for two. Mackenzie eats, poops and sleeps. Still adorable.

Friday Feb 27
5pm Romantic dinner set up. Comprises plastic flowers, plastic tray and red tablecloth. Can't stop laughing. Russell realises that he has been doing it wrong all these years. Promises to buy plastic flowers in future and some plastic trays. Mackenzie eats, poops and sleeps. Even more adorable.

Saturday Feb 28
5pm Go home. Mackenzie decides she has slept enough and goes pink at irregular 2 hr intervals. This adorable thing doesn't seem to wear off. Parents realise that they are clueless but are enjoying the ride.

Sunday Mar 8
It's great to be home.. We're having a special time and Mackenzie has been wonderful spending much time hiccuping and creating frothy milkshake pants. She's so cute albeit we are a little biased. Russ denies being wrapped around Mackenzie's little finger, he just does whatever she wants, whenever she wants. He has taken a couple of weeks off to care for Kendra during her recovery, and then Mackenzie's wonderful doting grandparents will stay with Kendra until the school holidays. We're learning all her little messages and enjoying her windy smiles.

Life is good.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Putting urgency back into the curriculum.

The developmental curriculum has slowed the pace of the curriculum to the desired pace of students. As far as I can tell, the desired pace of a good many students is a slow crawl (perhaps even falling backwards). I lay the blame for this at the idiotic levels based assessment programme that has finally been turfed.

The idea of standardised grades across the state is plain stupid as it prevents some students ever having success in their reports. It is no wonder that motivation for these students that face constant failure is low (despite achieving during term and learning at an appropriate rate). The obvious solution is to use NAPLAN to gauge state-wide performance and normalise class grades.

The need now is to forget the pace students desire (in too many cases it is slower than what they can actually do) and create a pace that is optimum for learning. Despite hearing comments otherwise, they are not the same thing. To say that a child (with no experience of what they can do) should set the pace of their learning is wrong. An programme/syllabus of work that has been tested and improved through years of experience is bound to have a higher proportion of success than a one off experimental curriculum by inexperienced teachers solely based on the current cohort. Teachers need a syllabus well paced and sequenced to assist students complete the programme required for school leaving and thus assist in identifying when remedial or extension action is required to assist students (preferably with a streaming mechanism to reduce performance pressure) - this would be a far better result than drifting kids bobbing at the same level for years at a time.

The programme drives the class, and the urgency created by a required pace of work provides the anxiety required for proper learning. The pendulum swings and again teachers can focus on teaching to a programme rather than facilitating what students see themselves able to do. After all, students in the workforce need to manage their work to meet deadlines, where better to learn than through assessment in school.


Does all this mean that I am against OBE? Not really. I have always liked the idea of outcomes as a guide for a programme of work. It is like the backbone of a programme showing what needs to be taught. It's also all I've been taught via tertiary study. Tied to scope and sequence documents and Progress maps, OBE concepts are a good thing - give me anything that helps me understand the underlying concepts and ideas behind the curriculum. OBE is not a panacea - clearly it has shown to be poor for grading assessment, poor in promoting homogeneous classes, weak when promoted with collaborative learning and negative when tied to a developmental programme with weak students.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Poor baby Mackenzie couldn't sleep the other night. We now know there is another pink she can turn.. WINDY! Now I have some incling of what Colic is.

She's sleeping great again.. And if she's having trouble nodding off I sit and play nursery rhymes to her on my guitar (as long as the song doesn't have an F or B flat I'm ok) and she nods off. Magic!

Might go catch a few minutes kip between feeds.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


24 hrs without sleep. Head feeling a bit wonky.

So this is why you would discourage young mums from coming to school.. And kids staying up all night playing WoW.. grrr...

Slowly learning baby talk.. Going pink.. needs feeding.. or going pink.. too many blankets on.. or going pink.. needs nappy changed.. or going pink.. feeling grizzly..

zzzznnnkkk. (sound of head hitting desk)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Baby Mackenzie & Paternity Leave

Our wonderful baby girl Mackenzie was born on Monday.. After sleeping on the floor in the hospital for three days, I'm glad to be home. Working this week was hard, with little sleep and wanting to spend time with Mackenzie but I know being able to help when the baby goes home is more important after watching other mothers struggle without the assistance of the hospital midwives. My students were understanding and my colleagues supportive so that was good!

I suppose the downside is that I'm not as prepared to help with our baby as I would have been if I had been at the hospital all week. Dr says I need to take two weeks to help with Mum's recovery. I may need to have two weeks recovery from the fluff Mackenzie just did!

Organising leave has been a bit of an experience. The new EBA has clause 34.1 that allows partners to have five days paid leave. Payroll (after initially saying it was like carer's leave and I directed them back to the EBA to check) acknowledged that this was not a sick leave allocation and it was an additional leave allowance.

This raised a second issue that there is no code in HRMIS for relief to be allocated against when I am on Partner leave. AFAIK HRMIS has not been updated for the new EBA leave requirements. Multiple calls to district office has left this unresolved.

All this checking and outlining requirements to relief teachers chewed up my DOTT making it difficult to create enough time to adequately prepare relief lessons and get back to the baby quickly after school to give my wife some respite. I didn't anticipate needing to take off more than a few days. I'm am going to owe some chocolate to our great relief teachers.

Interim reports are due next week, so I need to do them at home between sleeps. Since my HoD is taking my level 3 classes (these classes I know will be ok - albeit they may be more judgemental of my teaching style), I can mark my tests today, collect my Modelling assignments on Thursday, look in on my 10's some time next week and all should be right when I get back.

There's nothing worse than going back after an extended leave and there being a heap of mess, unsettled students and lagging programmes to fix. Hopefully I've done enough.

The big news of the week is no more levelling for assessment. Yay for the minister!

Now to focus on the family for a little while. She's soo cute!