Monday, April 27, 2009

Education matters

Best of luck to the new education forum in Perth created by regular posters from the Plato forum.

The link is here.

Big shoes to fill!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Teaching moments

Occasionally in teaching you have a moment that stays with you. On this particular day I was chatting with a student that was having a hard time relating to teachers. I said to her, "nice people associate with nice people." Her response was, "but how do you meet nice people?"

That has stuck with me as it says a lot in a few words. It said how she wished to be a nice person - although she had been referred to as a little shrew. She didn't think she knew very nice people and didn't really think she had much in common with nice people. She was about to graduate year 12.

It was a profound moment as by intuition I realised that many of these kids had no idea of what nice was to judge themselves by. Where in our curriculum do we examine truth, justice, honesty, doing good to others, teamwork, selflessness? Our curriculum is embedded with feminism, eco-friendliness, multiculturalism and many other analytical topics (areas where we analyse how things come about in small contexts). The loss of a true History and Geography course, English literature at many schools, discussion and debate of critical formative topics is a real loss to our society.

When students tell me what they get up to on the weekend (knowing that I will stick my hands in my ears and go lalalala when getting to the relationship stuff), I tell them that I only envisage them going home and playing with trucks and dolls. To me the males are gentlemen and the girls are ladies. That is always my image of them. I always maintain that they are, in fact, nice and that someone values them doing/being good. I remind them that their parents are their greatest allies and that they may have to depend on them (and statistics say live with them) well into their late twenties. To them this is another lifetime!

What do we give students that make them feel good about themselves? Do we show them value of the family unit, of co-dependence, of selfless giving? Do we show them the negative aspects of capitalistic dogma and expose the generation Y fallacy that life is about fame and fortune? What do we give them that helps them see that they are in fact nice.

Something to think about.

Idiot of the year award for 2009

And the first nomination for the Idiot of the year award for 2009 goes to Julia Gilliard for her school performance reports that are not league tables.

... and would anyone like to guess how long it will take newspapers to collate and release the data in league table form? My guess is not much longer than it takes me to write this blog.

Well done Ms Gillard, what a fair and equitable system you are creating for working class Australia that cannot afford private education.

I won't even start on what I think about 6 week teaching courses.. if Ms Gillard had suggested teaching apprenticeships on the other hand (we all recognise that practicum is the most useful part of teacher training).. but could teaching practitioners handle being referred to as a tradies (other than the shed boys) instead of as professionals??

Here's a link to an article with mock ups of school performance reports. See for yourself.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"In Camera"

In reading about SSTUWA, a lot of material that should be public or at least explained to supporters of the executive is labelled 'in camera'. A term like 'in camera' should be anathema to a public organisation that is elected to be representative of members.

Wikipedia defines "in camera" as

"In camera sessions, also known as executive session which are a common point of order during board meetings, where information is provided that is not reflected in the minutes, and not available to the public. Some topics that may be discussed during in camera sessions include personnel decisions, financial decisions that must be kept secret (for example, where an organization is contemplating purchasing land but does not yet want competitors or the public to know about this strategy) or other sensitive issues related to the organization."

It is the last part of the definition that is misused as anything can be defined as "sensitive to an organisation" as the organisation must define how sensitive that it is. Members of the union are misusing this principle in order to make active members of the executive look inactive by disallowing public release of their attempts at change within the organisation.

Furthermore the definition goes on to say:

"Otherwise, justice in free countries operates under the principle that in order for justice to be done, justice needs to be seen, and the admission of the public to the court is considered a right. It is also used where one party claims some sort of privilege against a document (such as attorney work product or attorney-client privileged communications) while the other protests it, whereby the judge reviews the document and determines its admissibility."

The "in camera" definition raises the point that the members are, in the case of the union, the judge is the 'union president' and the public are the members of the SSTUWA. To misuse the powers of the union president in calling for 'in camera' discussion could be seen as seeking to actively mislead members through misdirection and deceptive conduct. Justice needs to be seen, that is the role of minutes and to limit the ability of members of the executive to discuss issues and develop their viewpoint with members seems decidedly undemocratic. You would think that in times like now, where little is being actively sought, would be a public breeding ground for new ideas and direction for the union. A rebirth as such of a well directed, robust and open organisation.

The 'in camera' discussion (and the 'poncyness' of anyone using it to confuse the masses and engage in legalese for the sake of it) I found irritating from the onset and I could not for the life of me discover why. Intuition is a wonderful thing.

The involvement of Marko in the union seems to finally be opening doors to a more active union. We should all be encouraged by perhaps finally having a more representative body and stronger leadership developing.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

3A Mathematics Specialist Course

Well I sat down today and finished my worked solutions for the 3A MAS course for Saddler's text. The most difficult part seems to be the Vectors component as the other areas are quite simple in their delivery.

I suggest to students to get a hold of the OT Lee text and do extra examples of these vectors questions. A couple of examination preparation books are also available from Academic associates and Academic task force. I was lucky to have been given the West One 3A CD that also has some great material to supplement the standard text.

A problem that I have seen in the class is getting students to understand the nature of vectors, especially the idea of magnitude and components. I even have to think twice when wind problems are involved. I need to amend the programme and structure it more to vectors and away from logarithms.

My advice for all starting out teachers is to do the hard yards and complete any exercises set for students before asking students to complete them. This is especially true for mature age teachers with long gaps between completing high school maths and teaching it.

One useful thing I did was mark stop points against the work where I felt I'd had enough before starting again. Although I completed the text in a couple of days, it was in multiple sittings. I'll use these stop points as indicators where I can slow the programme down.

The TDC assignments to date have been well received by students. They have been able to complete the assignments and have been positive in their feedback. If the TDC can keep supplying quality assessment then that will reduce the assessment problem for teachers starting to teach yr 11/12 specialist courses. It is daunting for starting teachers to identify good assignments/investigations.

The MAT course on the other hand so far is a bit of a doddle given the work we did with students last year.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Primary parents are always asking about ways of teaching fractions. The main thing I tell them is to spend time with their kids and work through their own thinking. One of their main concerns is that they do it differently to the teacher and don't want to get their child confused.

I relate to this as many times as teachers we have to think if we have broken it down far enough to promote thinking. Sometimes having a framework is handy with steps to teaching a concept or skill. Here's an ebook that does that (it's not perfect but it could help).

There are many other ebooks on mathematics found here

Monday, April 6, 2009

Happy and sad event

The guys on the Plato website today have announced that they will be winding it down stating that Platowa had achieved its objectives. I think all of us in the teaching profession in WA have a big thank you to say to these guys and what they have achieved over the last four years (especially in making the union a relevant body again). If Marko was president of the SSTUWA even a hardened anti-unionist like myself would join.

It has been amazing to watch technology used in a way that achieves an outcome, and equally amazing to see people put their jobs on the line over an ideal and principle. Agree with them or not you have to appreciate their efforts. It will be interesting to see if a lobby group like this will ever again be as powerful within the teaching fraternity (are you watching this space MAWA?).

If and when Plato is retired, I will miss reading the forum about WA education from the minds of teachers, parents and interested parties. Without it, we would not have seen into the politics of teaching. I am glad that they feel they have achieved what they set out to do. It is rare in life that we have time to reflect upon actually reaching our goals.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Four days to go...

The countdown is on to the next break.. four days to go.

The last week of term is a time of wind down, with students in upper school focusing on their ball on Thursday and those in year ten disappearing on holidays before the end of term.

I'll gather in the last of the test results from this term and celebrate getting through another week eight of term. For me, week eight is always a milestone, each week eight signals getting through the goals of a term and getting that much better at teaching.

One interesting experience last week was a student that despised my teaching method last year actually sitting for two hours with me conquering a topic - at her request. Hopefully she can keep this up - it would be wonderful if she could, the re-engagement of a student into education is something that should be celebrated, too often students are lost in year 10, on the verge of starting a run at university. It signalled what we all know deep down, that a student should never be given up on, you need to be on the lookout for ways and means to repair damaged rapports.

The last week was a good one, with many signs of students understanding what senior school is all about, smiles and students seeing success in their progress.

I'm really looking forward to the break.. and some baby time. She's growing up so fast. Now that we've figured out that the expressed bottle is causing the colic.. she's another baby (and a wee bit quieter and happier!)

We reached a few milestones with the blog too, 1100 visitors this year (the same amount as the whole of last year) and over 3300 pages read. Many thanks to those that have left words of encouragement.


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Three steps forward...

There are times when I wonder, 'what have we been doing for the last two weeks?' My year tens are at this stage right now. We've been going through linear algebra for two weeks and it's clearly beyond a good dose of my students.

There are a number of issues:
a) They have weak self esteem and give up before trying
b) They have a low work ethic
c) Their algebra skills are weak-non existent (transposing to find c in y=mx+c is heartbreaking)
d) Their operations are weak (explaining gradient in terms of rise/run leads to all sorts of issues)
e) Their understanding of negative numbers is suspect

So I have two choices, teach them the topic and hope that the students get something from it to help them on their next iteration of learning or try and fill the gaps that 9 teachers before me have tried to fill with limited success.

Current thinking would say cater to individual differences and backtrack. I'm not sure that this is the right thing to do. By teaching the topic it gives the students an opportunity to 'get the gist' of what is being achieved (associate linear algebra with lines and equations, learn about gradient and slope, be able to find the y intercept and the like) and then hope that when they do 1B or 2A next year they can use this knowledge to properly participate in class.

I don't know.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ten Tips for Practicum Students

I remember being on practicum and had my collection of nightmares and successes. After recently having a practicum student, it reminded me of some of the things I learnt while on practicum. There are lots of things that you are told at uni, but here are some of the more obvious that you may not be told.

1. If you are going to talk to the class, ensure that all students are ready to listen. Don't talk until you have full attention of everyone in the class. Create a spot at the front of the class so that students know that you are waiting to start.
2. Don't talk to the board while writing on it. There aren't any students behind it to hear you.
3. If your practicum teacher tells you to do something, do it. Write it down so you don't forget.
4. Appreciate your practicum teacher. The $12.50 per week and the aftermath is not worth it. They are doing it for the right reasons.
5. Don't have another job outside of school whilst on practicum. You are making a hard job harder.
6. Don't get lazy or cocky.. when you think you are prepared, prepare a little more.
7. Make sure students have been taught enough to complete any task you set them.
8. Do any exercise/task yourself first before you give it to students.
9. Have a clear introduction and conclusion to your lesson (keep an eye on your timing!).
10. Take praise and criticism well from students and peers. Reflect, learn from mistakes and grow thick skin where required.
11. Be rested, eat well and look after yourself.

Ok, it was eleven.. shoot me.