Monday, November 30, 2009

IOTY candidate Peter Hill

Hot on the heels of the last effort to cause prejudice against indigenous students by Julia Gillard, another well meaning idiot tries to load up the curriculum with ill advised nonsense.

Peter Hill suggests that we embed indigenous perspectives into all learning areas and force the indigenous agenda displacing topics with natural and seemless fits. When will these idealists realise that kids can spot an agenda a mile away? Ideas like this cause resentment against indigenous students in the classroom.

If we were talking about increasing indigenous content in History, Geography and English, I could imagine a number of synergistic fits.... but in Maths and science the fit typically is artificial and forced. Can you imagine exploring the chemical composition of the witchetty grub or exploring the physics of the boomerang? How about the mathematics of the dreamtime or health studies on indigenous foods?

Forced topics make poor topics.

In a time where we are trying to free the curriculum of modern agenda's and focus on basic performance, ideas like this should be left behind.

Peter Hill you have earned yourself an Idiot of the Year nomination.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

NCOS and consolidation of knowledge.

One criticism of senior school and mathematics in general is the lack of consolidation of topics - especially when the course is prescribed as is the case with NCOS. Funnily enough, the NCOS has brought about an opportunity for consolidation that did not exist under the old courses.

The new courses allow for repeating of yr 11 subjects - which makes sense under an outcomes approach where learning speed is not being measured, just knowledge and skills gained (this is an issue in itself that needs investigating if TEE scores are to remain a predictor of university success).

Students that cannot withstand the pace of the course in year 11 have in year 12 the option of consolidating (by repeating the course), remediating (by completing a lower course) or advancing to the next course. This approach allows teachers to make more aggressive subject selection recommendations in year 11 that promotes striving for excellence without fear of being locked into advancing and failing the yr 12 course. The recent trend of conservative subject selection could be broken!

For example, a student doing yr 11 3A MAT has the option in year 12 of doing 2C (remediating) 3A (repeating) or 3C (advancing).

I doubt this was the original intent (in other subjects teachers must teach another context - but only one context really exists in maths/science courses).

I fail to see the issue in repeating or remediating although I know some humanities teachers think it unfair - students that repeat will have the option to gain a deeper understanding at some level and a further opportunity to apply their skills - having a second bite at the cherry.

It will be interesting to see if the old adage that 'repeaters don't succeed' will bear true next year. For the lazy student - repeating/remediating will not work, but for those that have good work ethic but need more time logic says they should succeed (more time better results!).

My prediction is that (when counselled and supported correctly) repeaters and remediators will do far better than advancers and scaling will be applied to these students (compared to advancing students) in future years. It will be interesting to see if the scaling factor of 10% between 3AB and 3CD will be enough to compensate (I can't see how having two years to master a course can't cause better than a 10% increase in low/mid performing students between the two groups). The scaling may already be heavier for repeaters - but I'm not aware of it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Don't forget to vote in the new poll!

There's a poll on the right hand side asking how we found the new courses - are they better than the ones they replaced?

For parents who are interested:

The harder parts of Intro Calc / G&T / Applic / Calculus (for strong science/maths/engineering bound uni students) was replaced by 3ABCD MAS (with some changes)
The easier parts of Intro Calc / G&T / Applic / Calculus (for capable science/maths/engineering bound uni students) was replaced by 3ABCD MAT (with some changes)
Foundations / Discrete (for capable Uni bound students) is now 2CD 3AB MAT
Foundations / Discrete (for weak Uni bound students) is now 2ABCD MAT
MIPS /Modelling (for students needing some maths - TAFE/Uni bound) is now 1DE2AB MAT
MIPS /Modelling (for remedial maths students - work or TAFE bound) is now 1BCDE MAT
No real maths course under old system (for Ed support or struggling maths students) is now PA PB 1A MAT

Now don't forget to vote on the left!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

3B MAT/MAS course review

The 3B MAT course finished spot on 13 weeks (I used the remaining 6 weeks for revision and consolidation), which bodes well for the year 12 students moving into the course next year. The second semester is longer to cater for combined year 11/12 classes.

The 3B MAS course ran right down to the line finishing in 17 weeks and the vectors course was barely completed. It is quite full with Trig Identities and Vectors taking up large wads of time to do properly.

Some of my yr 11 3B MAS students are repeating 3B MAS in year 12 (with me again) and I need to lift the pace a little to make sure there is a little more revision time.

3B MAT exam
We used an external exam and the students were able to easily complete the project networks, correlation, linear programming, moving averages, optimisation and simple differentiation questions. Next year when teaching 3B MAT we will need to focus on interpreting graphs and their derivatives, conjectures and applications of differentiation. I'm happy with the two results over 80% (out of 10 students), but kicking myself that I missed one of the students that fell under 30%. I should have picked this one up sooner.

In particular I would find an alternate text to teach problem solving/conjectures with as the Saddler text is a little short on this topic.

In general I am pleased with their results (pat on the back guys) as I gave little in the way of exam tips (I didn't do the exam beforehand for fear of giving too much away!) and there was a 6-8% average increase across the class.

3B MAS exam
Urgh! The lack of revision showed, compared to the MAT paper. The exam also showed that working consistently through the year can work, with marks between the most gifted student and the conscientious student closing to just 3 marks in the calculator section. More work in vectors is required for the three students repeating next year to improve their C&D's to higher marks. They showed great improvement in the calculus sections of the test. With a bit more experience, they should be better able to identify what methods to apply to what questions. My results are skewed to the left with more C & D's than A & B's, but with 5 students, it would be a surprise to get a true bell curve (I would have liked it skewed more the other way!).

The MAS paper was a bit narrow compared to the MAT paper.. I would have liked to see more opportunity to show what they knew - rather than the imbalance of an overly large number of marks for questions that only an A or B student would be able to complete. Some questions were very misleading in their no. of marks compared to the actual work/knowledge required to complete them. Yet this is the price to pay for using external exams to judge how well the course is being delivered.

On to reports now!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

School report cards

Last year Julia Gillard forced through school report cards to be made available based on the statistically questionable NAPLAN results. She stated that league tables would not be made from them.

Anyone with an ounce of sense realised this was nonsense. Then she linked agreement to funding - "Do it or else!"

Here is an excerpt from what the report cards are to look like:

Through a simple examination of the card you can see that each school is compared to all schools and to a socioeconomic band.

It is a five minute job to create a league table from this! Promise broken Julia!

It would ignore improvements to the school, discourage entry to the school and undermine any improvement model as students entering the school would be of declining standards (better students would go to the better performing school despite overcrowding/bullying/lower teaching standards etc.)

Of more concern is the second part of the page:

Of interest is the last category: % indigenous students.

What ?? Why should it matter that there are indigenous students in a school?

If we are to encourage students to become Australians, why single out any one portion of the population, why not caucasians, South Africans, Sudanese, Italians or Chinese. Remember this idea is from the minister of social inclusion!

Teaching staff ratios are also misleading. What are teaching staff doing? Quasi administration/pastoral care, specialty positions such as HOD on 0.6, GIRL or GIRN positions, in low ratio classes such as ESL/additional needs.

Whilst we are considering these factors how do refugees, ESL and additional needs students impact on NAPLAN results and school performance? Should they be discouraged from entry to avoid poor results?

This whole concept is just a bad idea. Poor over generalised statistics, designed to mislead the public and is a populist vote grab. This sort of information is best kept within the education system and used for valid statistical purposes until it can be presented in a valid and straightforward way to the public - personally I don't believe this can be done, it is just too complex.

If you are interested in reading more, here is the link to the mySchool website.

Updated 18/11/2009: Seems I'm not the only one concerned. Click here and here.

Updated 18/11/2009: Seems Julia is also the Minister of "wasting public funds", "rhetoric" and "denying the obvious". Click here to read her address on education.

New Poll

I've added a new poll. The last poll clearly showed that maths is the greatest because calculus rocks, closely followed by 'because English teachers are all nuts' and 'you have to be loony to teach science'.

A more serious one this time.. are any of the new maths courses an improvement on the old courses? I've enjoyed teaching 3AB MAT/MAS but have nothing to compare it to. The poll is on the left hand side.

Saddler 3C MAT/MAS books

Saddler has released his 3C MAT/MAS books.. time to take a trip down to Wooldridges - $23.95 or so per book.

Teaching Surface Area

I've been examining the issues with teaching surface area.

Here's an approximate sequence:

Prior knowledge required
(easily takes 3 weeks+ yr 10 with a weak group filling gaps)
  • Notation for parallel and perpendicular sides
  • Perimeter of Rectangles, Squares, Triangles (with all sides given)
  • Area of Rectangles & Squares, Triangles (with all sides given)
  • Circumference and Area of circles
  • Area of Trapezium, Sectors
  • Area of Composite Shapes (with all lengths given)
  • Area of Composite shapes (finding missing sides using subtraction)
  • Area of Composite shapes (using ratios of the area of known shapes to find area eg. 1/2 circle)
  • Arc length
  • Pythagoras, Trigonometric ratios
  • Area of Composite shapes (using Pythagoras & Trigonometric ratios to find missing sides)
Surface Area Topic
  • Identifying 3D shapes (cylinders, spheres, pyramids & prisms)
  • Constructing 3D shapes using Nets (cylinders, pyramids and prisms)
  • Identifying cross sections of 3D shapes
  • Finding the area of cross sections of 3D shapes
  • Finding the surface area of simple 3D shapes using defined formula (cylinders, spheres, pyramids and prisms)
  • Using surface area of simple 3D to solve composite surface area problems (and using subtraction to subtract shared hidden sides)
  • Deconstructing 3D shapes into constituent 2D shapes
  • Finding the surface area of composite 3D shapes using deconstruction and 2D shapes
  • Finding surface area of simple 3D shapes that have had sections removed using ratios
  • Finding the surface area of composite shapes using simple 3D shapes, deconstruction and ratios.
  • Using Pythagoras and Trigonometry with planes in 3D shapes to find surface area

It's a big topic!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Favourite teacher

I had a student once say "you're my favourite teacher" so I said to him, "I'm a maths teacher - is there a) something wrong with you or b) do you want something?"

I did ask him why and he said, "I can do the work in your class". This class was special as we had halved its size by splitting it between two teachers during the quiet period after the 11's and 12's finish. I'd been given the students that had potential but were struggling or that were destined for courses with low maths requirements. I'd been pretty strict with them in the first two weeks sending some off to isolation, having a number of one sided discussions with the boys, a few BMIS' and a few blue letters to parents.

There's nothing here that would make a student like the class. Yet, I sat back and listened to the student. In fact he went on to say that in other classes he went from 'bored because it was too easy' to 'giving up because it was too hard'. They had come from a class with a very popular teacher that had consistently good results, so I knew it was a student issue.

I explained to the student that in a smaller class it was easier for me to tailor the lesson to his optimum speed of learning - get on his back if he was loafing, fix his errors in a timely manner and acknowledge his successes. He had to work on his resilience too, and had to try more before giving up!

He understood that. I'd go on to say that when classes are getting feral or unmotivated, splitting them and resetting them into smaller classes is a legitimate and positive strategy.

Another yr 11 student at the end of the same day said that he liked our school because the teachers really cared and were willing to spend any amount of time outside of class to fix a problem. I like that students in our school are willing to spend inordinate amounts of time outside of class identifying and fixing up issues in their understanding. It can get a bit wearying sometimes on a full day. I have seen in another school "maths club" work well, where knowledge or skill issues are corrected in a math teacher overload situation (often 5 students to one tutor). This could take some pressure away in the earlier months of the year and give access to alternate learning sequences for topics.

I do love this end of year when we can consider our teaching practices, do some experimental class arrangements, have extra time to spend with students and test ideas for motivating students.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Striving for excellence vs achievement

I can think of four models for a school. These ideas underpin curriculum and pastoral decisions. Where a school understands its direction, it can drive staff and students accordingly. It is the major theme that governs the mission of the school.

Education based on excellence and opportunity (education driven)
School as a place where students strive for excellence - sights are set high and achievements on the way are celebrated. High expectation drives this system where teachers have to remind students of their successes whilst they pursue ever higher goals. Schooling is an esoteric activity - one without goals other than higher learning. This is a system driven by opportunity for education.

Education based on success (success driven)
School as a place where students find success and gain self worth. Students are only given situations where they are successful. A raft of factors is taken into account (the whole student picture) rather than just their intellectual capability to ensure students will succeed. This is a system driven by the need for further success.

Education based on vocational needs (workforce driven)
School as a place that provides key skills for the workplace. Students are streamed into interest areas and delivered to the workforce and tertiary providers already along a workforce pathway. This is a system driven by workforce needs.

Education based on student readiness (student driven)
School is a place that attends to individual student needs and presents information at a pace best suited to the student. As the student becomes ready for the new content, it is provided in a timely manner. This is a system driven by developmental readiness.

I think the success based schooling is based on an ill advised premise as motivation cannot be maintained on perpetual success. Success is only valued if the risk of failure is real. This is the same issue with the developmental approach. This is one reason why the entertainer rather than teacher is so necessary to maintain discipline in classes in WA where these two systems are the most common!! (without risk of failure and vague BMIS alternate measures are required to keep students on task).

Similarly, the vocational needs approach is subject to the vagaries of the workforce and naivety on the part of students and their career goals. To stream students into a career too early is to pigeonhole them and limit their future success without complete retraining. Motivation falters as students find their chosen field to be real work.

The whole Australian way was based on the fair go and the battler. Without the battle or the ability to get a fair go(opportunity), we are changing national ideals. Excellence and opportunity (with all it's inherent failings especially for unmotivated and/or low ability students) is still the better of three evils for the majority of students - with limited pockets of students where the other methods can have sensational results.

Small classes and NCOS

Small classes in public schools have been an bone of contention. The "no classes less than six students" policy caused a lot of angst when considering how to deal with talented students since it was impossible to offer small classes to cater for them.

It would be interesting to know how smaller schools are dealing with this issue. Are they:
  • redistributing these students into easier subjects (indicators could be increased enrolments in easier subjects or decreased enrollments in more difficult subjects across all schools)
  • ignoring the directive and creating small classes (indicated by small classes running)
  • reducing the number of subjects offered in year eleven (indicated by examining the number of different NCOS classes offered in year 11/12)
  • increasing the number of students using distance education (indicated by an increase in SIDE enrollment numbers in metropolitan schools)
  • moving students across schools (indicated by an increase in transfer numbers either as temporary busing or permanent transfer)
  • moving talented students into centralised scholarship or G&T programs (indicated by examining enrolments in G&T programs)


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Promotional administrative positions as a career pathway for teachers

Administrative positions are seen as a career pathway for teachers. For two years I have said that this is a grave problem in the teaching system

a) It takes good teachers away from the classroom
b) These positions tend to rapidly turnover causing inconsistency in BMIS application
c) There is a vast gap between managing staff and managing children
d) Salary discrepancies cause dissatisfaction between teachers and those aspiring to higher salaries

L3CT causes similar issues
a) Only those with large amounts of time can produce the documentation required
b) It tends to inspire teachers to create a load of meaningless and ill-advised programs that are unsustainable and poorly implemented to satisfy L3CT criteria
c) There are clear issues over the values of L3CT criteria with the change away from developmental programs and back to direct instruction in support of gaining improved NAPLAN results

Where is the encouragement for good teachers to actually remain in the classroom and teach, or guide and mentor developing teachers (not just practicum students)? Why would you train new teachers if they will be competition for these aspirant positions? Can L3CT actually encourage teachers to stay in the classroom?

Once upon a time, teachers progressed through their classes and were given intellectually more challenging classes as time passed - growing their management skills through to HOLA/HOD (managing staff and students) and then progressed to Deputy and Principal. Those unable to make HOLA/HOD/Year leader work, would not get access to Deputy and similarly Principal. This system made sense. Hopefully if you weren't a good teacher, good manager of students and good manager of staff you would not get promotion.

This still applies in our older leaders (who also today have to be capable fundraisers and business managers) - but some of our new leaders that have devalued the classroom (many openly say that they hated teaching and wouldn't do it again) may be great at managing individual students but have forgotten the other side of the job (managing one student is not managing their behaviour in the classroom or their effect on others!).

I loved the idea of classroom first, but sadly now - it has just become another bit of rhetoric. We are now starting to base classes run each year on class sizes rather than need for providing opportunities for student excellence (lets hope that the error in this logic is quickly rectified!). We put students in classes that they will succeed in (even though potentially below their ability) to avoid poor graduation scores or TEE results being put in the newspaper.

We ignore the fact that our kids are excelling in individual fields and beating all rivals and bus them to other schools for higher subjects or give them distance learning "opportunities" rather than reward them for sticking it out in a low socio-economic school and being given their deserved small class advantage.

It's something that deserves further consideration beyond any budget issue as it is a case of equity for these children. We always worry about the financially challenged low achievers, but we need to consider that schools are places of learning foremost and our high achievers (whether teachers or students) deserve our support too.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Graduation presents

One of the nice traditions at school is for teachers of year 12 students to purchase the subject awards.

The usual items tend to get bought: pens, shopping vouchers and the like.

This year we found one item that I loved. One of our quirky students was given as part of her package (our Discrete Mathematics subject winner), Dr Seuss' Places to Go.

The prose is remarkably apt:

Today is your day!
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!

You've brains in you head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose."

Another maths student was given Rich Dad, Poor Dad which outlines the difference in financial education parents provide based on whther they have/haven't amassed wealth. It's a great book.

Another that I thought of later was the E-Myth, a book about Entrepreneurialism. The E-Myth and Sun Tsu's Art of war heavily influenced my early business life.

Mr Men books can also be a source of inspiration as they describe so many personality types.

I like the idea of books as you can personalise them with an inscription - and they tend to be kept. One of my teachers gave me a battered copy of Catch 22, I still have it and read it from time to time.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Staffing issues

There's nothing like managing staff. It's a royal pain in the ... No matter what you do you can't please everyone.

There are two main methods I've seen.

a) By the book.
b) With a wink wink.

By the book is the way I always did it. Of course, since it was my book, it was easy. If I didn't like the way it was working I just changed it. Administrators tend to run organisations like this. The crux of it being successful is ensuring quid pro quo occurs and extra effort is acknowledged and rewarded in a way suitable and public for both parties. The less flexibility in the rules, the greater the opportunity for dissatisfaction by those going the extra yard as there is little opportunity/recognition for reward. Over flexibility lends itself to abuse (the situation around L3CT and L3 Admin promotion is typical of this situation).

With a wink wink, is a very popular method. It involves being pally with staff and telling people or groups they will be looked after.. nothing on paper, "just wait and see, it will be ok". This has never been my favourite but often can be used to defer a decision until a point that is more advantageous to the organisation than now and relies on favours/corruption/back scratching. To my mind this is an unprofessional option (I like to know where I stand) - it is usually coupled with "being part of a family" or with "unofficial" perks that are secret from other staff. Staff performance/ability/performance is often of little relation to staff hierarchy. Entrepreneurs tend to operate like this, wringing the last cent or skill out of staff through unfulfilled promises. It has no real appeal to me, but for staff that like the warm and fuzzies/charismatic leader it is quite effective. Many people on temporary contracts have felt the rough end of this recently, being laid off or transferred due to the half cohort despite varying assurances.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Time to reflect about past students

The year 12's are starting their TEE exams next week, and we are all thinking about them. For many, schools have invested hour upon hour getting them ready for the highest stakes exam of all.

Seeing them graduate gives teachers a lift but I am surprised at the lack of middle school involvement in graduation ceremonies. Once passed to the senior school, their job done, that whole relationship built upon over two years is released and left to whither.

I think this could be seen as a failing of the middle school model - in an 8-12 model this sort of relationship continues to be built upon over 5 years and can be a significant part in a student's life.

I wasn't going to the graduation ceremony this year, but I changed my mind at the last moment. I'm glad I did, seeing the kids at their finest hour, at the culmination of 12 years work is not something to be missed.