Thursday, December 16, 2010

Site statistics

7800 page hits and 5500 unique visitors this year from around the world: Turkey to Bolivia, Canada to Indonesia, UK and Spain; hello to you all.

The most popular topics searched were the CAS calculator pages, Hattie's meta analysis, as well as local topics national curriculum and NAPLAN.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

National Curriculum in High School

The implementation of national curriculum in WA is fast becoming a farce. It lacks coherent leadership and information is not reaching teachers in a timely manner.

I'm not sure who we are supposed to be listening to or what the correct pathway is for our kids.

Some of the emerging issues.

  • WA & Queensland have year 7 in primary making it difficult to implement subject specialisation (such as requirements for science labs in science and adequately trained mathematics teachers for geometry and algebra courses)
  • The deadline for substantial implementation is two phased with all states other than WA set for 2013 and WA for 2014.
  • A definition for substantial implementation is required. It is not clear whether substantial implementation means k-10 will be implemented by the deadline (eg, for high school: staged over four years - yr 7 2011, year 7,8 2012, yr 7,8,9 2013 and 7,8,9,10 2014) or that schools will have programmes ready to start implementation by the deadline set (do we just sit in secondary schools and hope that primary feeders have it all sorted out so that we can start in 2014??).
  • Detailed curriculum documents and sample assessments have not been released, with state agreement for the curriculum dot points only happening last week.
  • Agreement on how to handle deficiencies across primary and secondary school boundaries have not been finalised. As found in the WA implementation of OBE this is indeed a real issue with grading standards vastly different across each segment (remember level 3 mathematics anyone??)
  • Urgency within the secondary segment has not occurred and a watch, wait and see mentality exists - and rightly so given the amount of change thus far.
  • Preparation for NAPLAN (being a key metric for school performance) is causing issues disrupting year 9 curriculum with half to all of term 1 being dedicated to NAPLAN preparation.
  • NAPLAN itself becomes an issue for WA as NAPLAN will be attached to National curriculum objectives and as WA will lag in national curriculum implementation we would expect WA to lag in NAPLAN results also (for a considerable time as other states will continue to improve in their understanding of national curriculum objectives whilst WA grapples with implementation and the required modifications in primary and lower secondary).
  • With declining NAPLAN scores, this has the potential to further exacerbate the decline of student enrollment in state schools as parents view poor results as further reason to enter private schools where students are already on national curriculum, having access to specialist teachers and materials in year 7.
  • It is unknown how to grade students. C Grade standards have the potential to relegate low SES schools to D & E's for all students and provide ongoing failure for our students. This is not fair nor equitable. It is also unknown what an A student looks like. Direction here is required and it is a real pitfall for early adopters.
  • Independent public schools are also affecting staffing equations in low SES areas as teachers are being poached to IPS schools and EIP's are being parachuted into these positions. This movement of experience restricts schools ability to respond to national curriculum objectives.
  • As public schools shrink in size their ability to manage content, subject and student knowledge becomes much more difficult with the loss of redundancy (more than one teacher able to teach a topic) and subject selection (fewer subjects are offered or schools are forced to distance education or busing solutions). The size of a school places the burden of implementation on a relative few (as it did during NCOS implementation) at a time where schools are feeling staffing stress both in administration and teaching roles.
It is not a good equation. At least with the OBE farce behind us, we should be better equipped to handle this one.

Click here for previous posts on national curriculum.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Increase in WACOT fees

WACOT fees have been increased by $6 to pay for increased costs of disciplinary actions and registration costs of teachers to $76 per year. This means that 3.5 million dollars is required to run WACOT or ~46 FTE at $76000 per year. Net gain to those paying the fee - really... nil.

According to Brian Lindberg (chairman of the board at WACOT) in a recent email to all teachers:

"The increase in the Annual Fee should be seen in the context of the development of the College. Bi-partisan political support was given to a discussion paper on teacher registration in 1999. "

Can you believe it is 2010 and they are still needing to justify their existence?

"Based on the 348 submissions, a Position Paper was published in 2000. It indicated that there was wide support for a non-industrial body for teachers providing that its activities would be wider than just the regulation of the teaching profession."

Not within the teaching fraternity - and given the lack of teacher involvement during formative years and questionable independence of the body it is no wonder.

"In responding to the Discussion Paper teachers indicated a preference for a body that was independent of employers and the Minister of the day, and that had a majority of elected teachers on the Board of Management."

Another reminder about how long our ineffective body delayed this happening and that our body is not independent!!

"The Board kept faith with all the recommendations and desires of teachers despite having concerns that it would be difficult to carry out all ten functions of the College without Government financial support or much higher annual fees. "

Grin - yes, we wanted value for money because we could see that this was just a way to make us pay for something we already had. Sheeting the blame back to teachers because we were right is hardly fair although predictable. I imagine only one of the 10 functions serves a purpose and that is to keep questionable members out of the profession. That is a regulatory action and should come out of tax dollars (as it is primarily an action in the interest of the public) not through a reduction in pay. Why should employees pay to police the misdeeds of a few?

"Accordingly, the Board will concentrate the functions of the College on registration and discipline only until all 46,000 re-registrations are completed." Why does it cost $76 per year for a police check to be done and a register to be maintained of teachers that have had disciplinary action?

I'm a little confused how reducing the role of WACOT to registrations and discipline will cause a $6 increase and wonder what the cast of thousands in Ascot that were doing the other 8 functions are now doing. Given that much is done electronically and most registrations should require nothing to be done by WACOT - only inefficiency can be to blame.

Most annoying things that WACOT have or have not done (regardless of who is to blame):
  • Waste money on glossy brochures (now stopped)
  • Re-registration requiring full 100 pt check again
  • Pointless accredititation process lacking any credibility
  • Organise discounts for things I don't need
  • Lack of real independance or voice on teaching matters
  • Involvement with conferences for beginning teachers (leave this to private enterprise until truly independent to prevent political interference)
Most useful thing done by WACOT
  • Prevention of accreditation of short teaching courses in WA
If a review was done, I would love to know how many people are needed at WACOT throughout the whole year (rather than just between October and February when most registrations are required to be done).

My guess is that not many are required to produce not much.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Making errors!!

Sometimes long time errors can sneak up on you and beat you over the head. I have avoided the term bar graph for a few years and was under the misconception that the width of the bar has as much meaning as the height. I always use the term column graph for discrete data drawn in bars.

I have no idea where this misconception comes from, but I will have a look through texts I have used over the last few years - I must have misread one of them (I did find a strange Histogram in one of my stat books when width of the columns was important to do with graphing different sized class boundaries). This all would have been fine if I had figured it out myself.

That would have been too easy.. Of course I was asked the question by my HoD whilst he was teaching his class and using my room (as it was air conditioned and empty) and I corrected him calling it a column graph (cringe). I should have known he was right - as he is rarely wrong.. I had to come back and eat some humble pie..

That's life I suppose.. I'm glad it doesn't happen too often!

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Greenfoot is another attempt to bring programming to students. It has a textbook that can be purchased and an established user group. It is well worth a look if starting a computer programming class and you wish to use Java.

Here is a link:

Have a look


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hattie's Meta-analysis

Hattie's meta analysis is something as teachers we will hear a lot about. It is a study that brings together a wealth of research in one place. We won't hold it against him that he did it in New Zealand.

My reading of his findings is that he finally cuts through the nonsense and gets to the core of what makes a difference beyond what is normally done in the classroom and also what is detrimental to a normal classroom.

It is an astounding in that it confirms what many crusty teachers have called the "bloody obvious" and stripped away the rhetoric. His commentary on his statistics is well thought out and constructive. I feel a bit for these teachers that have felt the brunt of the new wave of teaching (that fell flat well before the shore). They were right and all you new wavers were wrong. :-)

Well.. it's not quite like that, but here are some of his findings.

d= -0.1 - 0.16 (what a student would learn if not in a classroom)
d= 0.16 - .4 (benchmark of a normal classroom)
d= .4 + (desired improvement beyond a normal classroom)

Improvements can be made by:
  • Having a cohesive classroom (0.53) p.103
  • Maintaining a positive climate (0.52) p.102
  • Strong teacher-student relationships (0.72) p.118
  • Teacher clarity (0.75) p.126
  • Clear goals (0.56) p.164
  • Concept mapping (0.57) p.168
  • Mastery Learning (0.58) p.170
  • Effective Feedback (0.73) p.173
  • Worked examples (0.57) p.172
  • Formative evaluation of teaching programs (0.9) p.181
  • Questioning (0.46) p.182
  • Spaced practice (0.71) p.186
  • Peer tutoring (0.55) p.186
  • Effective study skills (0.59) p.189
  • Meta cognitive strategies (0.69) p.189
  • Self verbalisation and questioning (0.64) p.193
  • Direct instruction (0.74) p.204
  • Problem Solving teaching (0.61) p.210
  • Interactive video (0.52) p.228 (such as mathsonline)

Things that don't work:

  • Student control over learning (0.04) p.193
  • Individualised instruction (0.23) p.198
  • Inquiry based teaching (0.31) p.209
  • Problem based learning (0.15) p.211
  • Cooperative learning (0.41) p.212
  • Team teaching (0.19) p.219
  • Computer assisted learning (0.37) p.220
  • Web based learning (0.18) p.227
  • Audio Visual (0.22) p. 229 such as slides, video presentations
  • Distance education (0.09) p.232
  • Home schooling (0.16) p.234

One reservation that I have is that it is hard to evaluate where the quick wins could be for a school. A number of small gains (such as the 0.45's) may require less change than a large gain. Some of the strategies that are not achievement driven may provide motivation to complete higher gains in other areas. I don't think it was ever Hattie's intent to make it a recipe book for success, but can give clear indicators to where effort needs to be made.

The book is well worth a read:

Visible Learning : A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. John Hattie. Routledge 2009.

Friday, August 6, 2010

New fun games

Well, it's been a busy year and playing games has not been high on the agenda.. but for a change I thought I'd write about the couple of games that have been fun in the classroom and others that have been fun at home.

The three big success stories of this year have been Lupus in Tabula, For Sale and SET. All three are relatively inexpensive (<$40) and can be played with groups.

Lupus in Tabula is a game that can be played with a whole class, basically heads down thumbs up with Werewolves. Some students are the werewolves, others are the villages and we all have a bit of fun lynching the wrong people. I get to stand at the front of the class and describe in graphic detail how students are ripped apart in the night. From my top to bottom class, all have enjoyed the theme and it has allowed me to discuss problem solving strategies such as limiting choices and probability to resolving social issues such as how to play fairly and that being involved can be fun. It's probably the new favourite over Apples to Apples for a whole class.

The next one is For Sale, an auction game where students buy houses and then sell them, the person that sells their houses for the most money wins. We have great laughs about who will end up living in a cardboard box (one of the houses for sale) and who will end up in the space station. This one requires a little mental maths, ordering of integers, a little recall and a fair amount of fun.

SET was the big surprise. A bit of a brain burner, students have to pattern match cards to find groups of patterns. It plays a bit like an IQ test and after you get the hang of it, can drive you batty. It's interesting that the 'smartest' kids are not always the fastest, it's an occassion where 'visual learners' (how I hate that term) can show their mettle.

Honorable mentions should be given to Leaping Lemmings, Battle Line, Ticket to Ride - Europe and Cave Troll that had some table time, but weren't all that successful.

At home, the big winners are Campaign Manager 2008, Arkham Horror, Runewars, Space Hulk and Twilight Struggle. I'd still love to get Die Macher & Brittania to the table, but I'm not holding my breath until TEE exams are over. We still have to complete proofs and stats/probability, so I'll have to have a sit down and figure the rest of the course out.

Until next time...


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ability and performance of students in year 10

Today I focused on the performance and ability of year 10 students. I really wanted to know what caused the lack of performance in students coming through from the middle school.

Issue 1: Middle School and Middle Schooling.

Funnily enough these are two different terms. Middle school is the structure - the buildings, the leadership model, the way students move between classes and the like. Middle schooling is the teaching pedagogy and curriculum. Neither came out unscathed.

Research was not positive about progress in middle schooling.

“middle schools are in serious decline in the US and UK... What is actually done within classrooms and schools is the most important thing, not structures... The most important factors for high-quality education are quality teaching and learning provision; teaching standards; and ongoing teacher professional learning focused on evidence based teaching practices that are demonstrably effective in maximising students’ engagement, learning outcomes and achievement progress.” (Dinham & Rowe, 2009)"

“the report called for a “second generation” of Middle Schooling philosophy with a focus on relationships, relevance, pedagogy and rigour, which is informed by students’ experiences and enabled through sound educational research.” (OBrien, 2009) [Referring to the Beyond the middle report]

" In a region with very low student retention, the middle years when curriculum becomes compartmentalised and fraught with judgmental selectivity was a crucial locus for confronting serious consequences, in student lack of engagement, for later achievement and retention" (Hattan et al, 2009).

“Middle Schooling movement that has been variously described as “arrested”, “unfinished” and “exhausted”." (Prosser, 2008)

"There needs to be a more systematic emphasis on intellectual demand and student engagement in mainstream pedagogy that moves beyond and capitalises on current foci on increased participation rates and basic skills development for target group students." (Luke et al, 2003)

A great article to read is Beyond the Middle Years (Luke et al, 2003) by DEEWR and then follow it up with Dinham and Rowe (2009) article available from ACER. If students don't have a workable learning environment then learning is highly unlikely.

Issue 2: Home environment

Home environment is a key aspect of demonstrable learning ability. Although the gloss has come off this idea since the Campbell report (1960) in the US which prompted black students to be bussed away from their homes into "better" environments, it is still a factor in understanding student ability and performance.

"Students performance in low SES schools significantly lower than high SES schools. Internal school-based determinants of success do not operate independently of external, context-based determinants" (Angus, 2009)

“Cost of school represents a disproportionate amount of household income in term 1 for sole parent families” (Bond & Horne, 2009)

" In the 2007 Education Costs Survey, most parents reported having difficulty paying aspects of their children’s education during the last year, particularly for sport/recreational expenses (69%), for camps (62%) and for books (60%). Almost half struggled to pay for equipment (48%) and excursions (47%)" (Bond & Horn, 2008).

“If education is going to be the means to personal fulfilment and opportunity, we need to ensure that all these young people and their families are given the support they need to succeed. If not, then the education process will reinforce disadvantage, not overcome it, to the detriment of us all.”(Dinham, 2008)

"Schooling reproduces the structure of inequality itself" (DEEWR, 2009) inferring that prejudices and low expectations are placed on working class children by the system and re-inforced by parents

Lower expectations by parents impact on adolescent performance (Crosnow, Mistry & Elder, 2007)

High level of aspiration, low chance of success (p.162) – ESL students with non-english speaking parents (Windle, 2009)

Issue 3: Ability is often not recognised

Students are unaware of their underperformance

“Honesty in recognising and reporting student ability levels (p.163) Students reported that their skill in English was much higher than assessment indicated” (Windle, 2008)

“Ability may not be recognised due to teachers failing to recognise high ability students manifesting typical low socio-economic behaviours.” (Petersen, 2001)

“Further, social and individual factors were found to affect students' attitudes and academic choices; in particular their identification with peers, school and family and student's perceptions of peer, school and family attitudes towards HE. An interesting finding arising from stage one data was that there were significant age related differences in students' attitudes toward school and learning. Students in year 10 were significantly more negative on nearly every measure than students in Year 9 or 12.” (Maras, 2007)

Issue 4: Underperformance of teachers

Poor application of new ideas has resulted in lower than expected performance for a generation of students.

"Research conducted over the last 40 years has failed to show that individual attributes can be used to guide effective teaching practice. That ‘learning styles’ theory appeals to the underlying culture’s model of the person ensures the theory’s continued survival, despite the evidence against its utility. Rather than being a harmless fad, learning styles theory perpetuates the very stereotyping and harmful teaching practices it is said to combat." (from abstract only) (Scott, 2010)

"Practice, grouping of concepts and direct instruction/frequent modelling are key element in addressing learning difficulties. Independent learning and discovery based learning is inappropriate in a learning difficulty environment." (Bellert, 2008)

“Many primary teachers feel under-equipped to teach mathematics and science. In a 2007 study of 160 Australian primary school teachers, they devoted only three per cent of their time to the teaching of science and 18 per cent of their time to teaching mathematics. There is concern that if students receive an insufficient grounding in mathematics and science in primary school, this will cause difficulties in secondary school.” (quote taken from (Chinnappan, Dinham, Herrington, & Scott, 2008).

“Curriculum alignment must occur to clearly connect outcomes to assessment.” (Hedemann & Ludwig, 2008)

“Curriculum Mapping is required to ensure minimum standards are met. Every student must have multiple opportunities to attain minimum standards. Choice of actions is required to improve performance.” (Falls, 2009)

And that was today's research!!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Thinking about information thus far

Ok research thus far,

So for students to succeed in low socioeconomic schools we require the following:

a) Parents to encourage students towards realistic academic goals
b) For students to be educated into valuing academic success and aspire towards it
c) For teachers to set high expectations and go well beyond the average expectations of a normal teacher
d) For schools to find, support and appreciate teachers that can satisfy c)
e) For government to accept that low socio-economic schools (no matter what is done) will not succeed at the level of mid to high socioeconomic schools for a myriad of reasons.
f) For tertiary institutions to get involved at an earlier stage than year 11/12
g) For corporate entities and employers to realise that there are many capable late developing students from low-socioeconomic schools able to participate in the workforce (that under different circumstances could have achieved in a tertiary environment)

That's that.. done.. tick!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Unrealistic expectations

Some students have unrealistic expectations. In the same way that some parents lower the expectations of their students, it does also go the other way.

One sector of the school population where this is common is with students of non-english speaking backgrounds. Students can be put under extreme pressure to perform, often after going through very limited schooling. It's not just a Perth thing, it was also observed in Windle's study (2009) where students reported higher understandings of English than their assessment recognised, the students had high levels of aspiration to attend university but a very low chance of success.

In the refugee population, this is a common problem, with many having had limited schooling prior to gaining residency or refugee status. It leads to exacerbate the demands on teachers in low-socioeconomic schools (as observed by Campbell Cook and Dornen, 1995), with teachers recognising ability, but requiring inordinate amounts of work to see these students through. In talking to a care worker outside the system, they raised that other issues are also common such as sleeplessness (due to hyper awareness), distrust of authority and reluctance (or over demand) when seeking assistance.

When you consider that many of these students are not eligible for additional funding, yet require lower primary assistance within a high school environment, it is easy to see why their performance can fall below school norms. Yet these same students are averaged into "my school" results. From a school perspective these students are a real problem.

For these students to be seen as a problem is a social justice issue that needs resolving. It is a real problem when moving from a searching for excellence paradigm to a market driven approach. In a pure market driven approach, these students would be excluded from mainstream education (to preserve school results and ensure that the calibre of students at a school is maintained) and placed in segregated specialist programmes. Yet from an ESL perspective (as discussed with ESL teachers) this is detrimental to their progress as their immersion to common language is a requirement for their improvement.

As a teacher it is a frustrating problem as you need to help at-risk students, but know to do so will draw attention away from kids that have higher probabilities of success. The 'greatest good' model vs the 'rights of an individual' is in firm conflict. Couple this to the higher risk that their 'other' issues may undermine your teaching programme for these at-risk students and the opportunities for success further decrease. Reverse racism (predjudice of non-minority but equally disadvantaged groups)is common, as are claims of racism if direct assistance is withdrawn. It can be a real catch-22 situation.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Literature Review

Research is one of my favourite pastimes, sitting in a library with purpose is quite a fun thing. Yesterday I sat and read about some of the issues faced by disadvantaged students. As I work on my literature review for my masters I'll keep updating this post.

1. It's not a new problem.

The Coleman Report in 1966 was a seminal report in investigating disadvantaged youth in schools (commonly referenced). I need to read it!

To address the issue in Texas, standardised testing was introduced and showed a high degree of success, but at the expense of a narrowing curriculum (Smith, 2005). This was again seen in the UK (Cox, 1999).

The Australian Government recognises disadvantaged student performance as a problem and have produced a paper outlining some effective measures that can be taken. I need to find references, I've read DEEWR articles in the past(here), now I need to use them!

In general though, Australian mathematics education fared ok when in 2000 we were compared to 31 OECD countries (OECD study, 2003), Australian education was significantly higher on the PISA scale for 21 countries and only significantly lower for two (Japan and Korea).

Students that study in state schools have significantly lower funding that independent and private schools (Edwards, 2008).

2. Environment is a key factor

In a US study, a pre-primary student given extra assistance by a university eventually graduated with two degrees. Nothing spectacular here except her parents had sub 40 IQ (Wickelgren, 1999).

3. Students require attitude adjustment

In a Queensland study in 1995, an observer recognised that until students are assisted in changing their perspective they cannot begin to appreciate any assistance given to help them gain access to university pathways (Campbell, Cook and Dornan, 1995).

I saw as a result of my action research in term 1 & 2 that students need to understand what academic behaviours are and why they are important. This can result in quite spectacular short term success. These behaviours in themselves are not enough to ensure ongoing success as retention requires repetition and a long term committed approach to provide lasting benefits.

4. Students require a range of motivational support

There is no one way to motivate students. Many theories exist and none are perfect. Common theories are Expectancy x value theory, Attribution cognitive theory, Attribution Achievement motivation theory and Achievement goal theory (King, 1998).

5. School can both improve future prospects and reinforce existing expectations.

For some students schools can inspire them to levels higher than their parents. For others, schools will reinforce similar job prospects to their parents (Campbell, Cook, Dornan, 1995) and schooling reproduces the structure of inequality itself (DEEWR Component A, 2009, p.29).

High SES students are over-represented and low SES students are underrepresented because students from different SES backgrounds are differentially prepared by schooling for entry into university (DEEWR, 2009, p.29)

6. It is possible to improve university pathway access

There's nothing easy about it, but it is possible with the proper long term approach. Now the task is to create a way to find that correct method for our school.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Career progression and an idealistic approach

I sit here still wondering if I am doing the right thing. A senior school teacher has the world at their feet, being able to teach to year 12 across all areas of your specialist curriculum is what gives you worth when seeking to further your career. I'm considering applying for a position in the middle school.

In a small low socio-economic school rarely is the full curriculum offerred (1B-3D MAT and 3A -3D MAS) and rarely will you get to teach the upper subjects as there is competition for them among those in your department. I've been lucky to be given an opportunity to teach all levels of year 10, MiPs, MwM, Discrete, 1BC MAT, 3ABCD MAT and 3AB MAS, but have rarely been able to teach any of these courses more than once. School collaboration (where students are bussed between schools for small class subjects) only makes this cycle longer. Being at the end of a cycle of students, my run at these subjects would take at least another three years (following students through from year 10) and I'm not looking forward to the slog of working with another lot of under prepared kids.

The fatigue and long repeat cycle is a factor in the constant turnover of teachers as they seek to develop depth to their understanding of the curriculum and pedagogy - many at this stage of their career seeking independent sector jobs and more pliable students. Being four years into my career, I'm looking for an opportunity to further improve my teaching and I know there is a job to do in middle school to better prepare students for high school. I've taught senior school for three years and the whole time have yearned to go back to middle school and do what I was trained to do, despite all evidence that says I am a better exclusively senior school teacher than an exclusively middle school teacher - oh for a position where I could do both!.

It has been pointed out to me by many that to not teach any senior school is career suicide. To lose the perspective senior school offers reduces the ability to bridge students into senior school and reduces your attractiveness to a potential employer. Furthermore, from the outside it would look like I was 'encouraged' away from senior school because of under performance, inability to handle the stress or lack of ability. Maybe subtly this is the case (I hope I'm still my harshest critic, my results this term have been woeful by my standards) but I think the want to move to middle school is still my choice and not something that I am not being directed towards by administration. I may also be walking away from a leadership issue in senior school as if I'm not in senior school, I won't be considered once senior maths staff seek new opportunities (conversely what would a future employer think if I'm eight years into my career and still applying for a senior position!).

Despite this, now that a middle school position has finally arisen, I have put my hand in the air and said, 'I would like to work in the middle school if I am the best applicant.' Many people have supported me in the senior school and I feel I have let a few people down by deciding to do this, as it would leave a hole and cause some instability whilst a new teacher is settled in (whereas a new teacher would have less impact in middle school especially mid-year) but I feel I can't complain about student preparedness if I'm unwilling to roll my sleeves up and do something about it. It may set me back a few years in my quest for readiness for a HoD or TiC position but if there is a job to be done (and the middle school needs to gear up for national curriculum and year 7 introduction (if it ever happens)) this is a job I can do well.

After all, I'm only really happy when engrossed in what I am doing and striving for excellence. I'm reliant on others to find areas where I can do this and need faith that they are cognizant of my career progression when utilising my skills. It's a bit harder with a newborn as I have to think about career progression a bit more than in my idealistic past, but I still feel that making it 'career' rather than 'best interests of children' the prime focus of my teaching (as I see in other 'driven' teachers) is a mistake in my case.

Ultimately, if the school needs a senior school teacher, I can do that. If they need me as a middle school teacher, I can do that. If they can find a way to allow me to do both, that would be good too.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pride in your work.

It's taken half a year but I think the message is sinking in. This week I have focused on getting students to perform to a standard rather than some fictional developmental level. I am the teacher, I set expectations on how I want things to be done and no, I don't really care how your last teacher let you do it.

Hard up against the left margin, work down the page, rule a new column if there is space for it and use it, exercise number before you start in a column, work marked from the back of the book once an exercise is complete with a red pen, one line for each line of working (why do students miss spaces??), a space between each question, each question should be written as if to be read by another human being - not in some chicken language from outer space.

Also, if I give an instruction on how to do something, pay attention and do it that way. If you are writing 4709 in words, it is four thousand, seven hundred and nine. The 'and' is important. Ninty, ninteen, forteen and fourty are not words. One equals sign per line, the question is always to be written unless a lengthy worded problem. If you are adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing vertically I expect to see clear columns for place value.

When I come into class, don't wait for me to say get out your books - just get them out. If I write notes on the board, write them down verbatim - I haven't met many students that can paraphrase sufficiently to make more succinct notes than mine. Asking what time the period ends is a waste of time - the answer will always be two hours fom now. If you fail a quiz, expect 60 questions for 'practice' over the weekend. Don't talk in my class about social events unless you can consistently get 80% in assessment - you obviously haven't got time to lose.

If you have a problem, seek help. If the problem has to do with a boyfriend, seek someone who cares - I'm only ears for maths and things that need mandatory reporting. I'm not your friend, please remember that - I'm your teacher.

.. and the funny thing is, when you lift expectation, it's easier to teach. The students respond and start to realise that you only want the best for them - tell them it's much easier to just sit back and watch them fail (or to give them phony grades that make it look like they are learning). To me setting high standards is just showing students how to take pride in themselves and their work. Building self esteem is not mutually exclusive with negative responses. I think that in many cases students need to have the bar lifted for them before they can start to do it themselves.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fatigue... and a poke at Julia..

Teaching is one of those careers where fatigue is a constant enemy. It's important to recognise (especially at this time of year at the end of an 11 week term) that you're not going to be at your best. Week 8+ is always a bit of a danger time where you can lose perspective on your successes and fall into the trap of seeing defeat in what you are attempting to achieve.

With the NCOS things have changed a little, it means that you have to press on at a time where typically you would wind down into the end of term. You really need to fit two good weeks of work in to make a good run at the mocks at the end of term 3. Kids will be feeling the pressure, admin needs reports completed, exams need marking, tempers will fray.

Yet this is also a time when teams come together and there are opportunities to do small things that can make a lasting impression. Take the time to smile at someone, guide them through a nasty spot, do an extra duty, smile when you get relief, go on an excursion, offer around a chocolate bikkie or grab some take away for the staff room. In the crucible great things can be borne.

Take inspiration from wherever it stems, much of mine at the moment comes from my daughter, where in the past I may have given up and sought another challenge, I now dig in and look at the problem again seeking new solutions. A challenge is just an opportunity yet to be realised.

I was working with my 10's and we are looking at their ability to perform in non-calculator situations. Many can't divide, and many of those can't multiply because their tables are weak. Any idiot can teach kids tables. Maybe it's time I rolled up my sleeves and planned a tables club for next year, to fix a core issue. If numeracy is the focus next year, perhaps this is one path to finding long term success.

It's also a time where many decide it's time for a change and the inner conflict occurs of the desire for stability vs career opportunity. Do you talk people into staying or encourage them to pursue other options? I don't know the answer for this other than to encourage them to seek someone with more experience to help them with the answer. Other than this blog, I have no desire to lead (or even influence) as my best leadership option is to lead by example. Whilst still learning content and gaining an understanding of leadership roles I am in no position to lead with expert power. With time, my masters, a bit of experience and teaching year 12 courses may lead me there.. but I think I have a way to go yet.

If that idiot Gillard can become Prime Minister, who knows which lump headed student will solve world hunger, cure cancer or bring about everlasting peace. Some even might remember that teacher that gave them a hard time or a bit of encouragement that put them back on a path to success.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

April Fools Joke - Not!!!

Today I had a look at the expected standards "C grade descriptors". This document outlines the requirements of a C grade for a student yrs 8-10.

"The descriptors have been informed by population testing data [NAPLAN], draft national curriculum materials and the professional knowledge of experienced teachers. During the consultation process teachers strongly supported the production of concise descriptors and welcomed the inclusion of examples." Department of Education April 2010.

The issue is that the end product was written devoid of common sense.

Here is an outline of the expectation for year 9 students from the C grade descriptor document.

"By the end of Year 9, students use number and algebra to solve routine and non-routine problems involving pattern, finance, rate and measurement including the calculation of area of triangles, circles, quadrilaterals and the surface area and volume of prisms, pyramids, cones and cylinders. They solve problems using Pythagoras’ Theorem and proportional understanding (similar triangles and the tangent ratio). They have a sound understanding of linear functions and are developing fluency with using quadratic and simple non-linear functions, such as with patterns involving doubling. They have a sound understanding of index laws pertaining to positive integral powers."

My issue is that this is a C grade description. The number of students with "sound" understandings of linear functions (by my definition of sound) during year 9 is minimal and students that have a conceptual notion of quadratic and other functions at this stage are the "A" students that have been extended - not the C students. In fact given this description it would be difficult to give many C's or even a single A in many state schools.

If students entered high school have some algebraic knowledge, they may have some chance at reaching this standard. At present I would suggest that this is highly unlikely. As students delivered by national curriculum are 5 years away - starting assessment now at a national curriculum level is ludicrous.

It is obvious the scope and sequence has been modified to include national curriculum requirements (look for the * in the scope and sequence). You can see that linear functions was the main focus of year 9 and then quadratics and 'other functions' were dumped into the sequence with little consideration given as to how time will be found to implement the new curriculum especially as it was hard to fit in the old curriculum (I sat and wrote a lesson by lesson plan for year 9 based on the old scope and sequence and challenge anyone to do the same on the new scope and sequence given the current entry point of students in year 8).

I have no problem with lifting the bar for students, but it requires time to re-instill work ethic at a younger age and subject specialists having access to these students.

To grade students that have not been adequately prepared for national curriculum assessment is grossly unfair. How anyone could propose this for semester one grading 2010 indicates a lack of understanding of the change management required. Either schools will need to fudge grades (easy to spot when comparing NAPLAN to school grade) or masses of students will not get grades higher than a D or E.

When teaching students in low literacy settings, handing out D & E grades to students trying their utmost to succeed is tantamount to child abuse. It is demoralising, unfair and sets up an expectation of failure. I can't say this in stronger words. Someone needs to have a good think about what is being done to our children.

Link to national curriculum media release (Julia Gillard)
Link to expected standards (Department of Education)
Link to mathematics scope and sequence (Department of Education)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Teaching of mathematical literacy

I have been teaching a low literacy class this year and it has taught me the perils of relying on the immersion technique to teach mathematical literacy. After seeing the positive effects of direct instruction of low literacy students, I see immersion as a lazy teaching technique for low ability students - immersion is slow, ineffective and generally detrimental to these students, especially in a large heterogeneous class.

Let me explain. When I teach area, I generally teach students to write a story that I can read. They draw a diagram, label the sides, write a general equation, substitute the values, evaluate the solution and check their answer. Once this technique has been learned I can then easily teach other concepts such as Pythagoras' theorem, trigonometric ratios, surface area and the like.

The explicit teaching of mathematical literacy (requiring specific layout and explicitly explaining the meaning and need for each component of the layout) is the key component in this exercise. By year ten, most can answer the area of a rectangle and write the answer, but cannot abstract the method to a circle. I attribute this to a lack of mathematical literacy and a failure to appreciate the true need for mathematical literacy.

Although modelling has a place in teaching mathematics (a key tool in immersion), we must be mindful that we need to teach literacy explicitly and not assume students will just pick up major concepts by observing a question being completed. The difference between a student answering a question correctly (after being given an example on the board) and being able to identify how to answer a question correctly from a range of tools (without prompting) is considerable.

Mathematics has grammar just like English. If students understand the grammar of mathematics, the meta-language of mathematics and the algebraic/arithmetic/visual representations/tools of mathematics, then their ability to solve problems increases exponentially.

And as mathematics teachers we can appreciate the benefits of exponential growth.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Functions and the Casio Calculator fog(x)

When finding fog(x) the CAS calculator does a good job of simplifying algebraic steps, often to the point of making traditional questions trivial in the calculator section.

I'll start by defining a function f(x) =2x+1 and g(x)=x^2 and attempting to find fof(x), fog(x) and the inverse of (fog(x)).

To define a function f(x) go to the Main window and select


A window will appear

Enter the function name (eg. f)
Variable (eg. x)
Expression (eg. 2x+1)

The main window will reply:
Define f(x)=2(x)+1


Enter the function name (eg. g)
Variable (eg. x)
Expression (eg. x^2)

The main window will reply:
Define g(x)=x^2

To find fof(x)

In the main window
f(f(x)) (using the soft keyboard)
press exe

The main window should say

To find fog(x)

In the main window
f(g(x)) (using the soft keyboard)
press exe

The main window should say

To find inverse of fog(x)

In the main window
y=f(g(x)),x))) (using the soft keyboard= don't forget the "y=")
press exe

The main window should say

Here is a link to other CAS calculator posts.

Inverse Functions and the Casio classpad 330

The 3CD course requires knowledge of domain, range, co-domain and inverse functions. The classpad can handle these in a number of ways.

The most obvious way is in graph mode (Menu-> graph tab). Set up a graph (say y=(x+1)/(x+2), and visually examine it to find the domain and range. To find the inverse, click on the graph and select Inverse (Analysis->Sketch->Inverse). The equation of the inverse can be found by selecting the inverse graph and examining the equation bar at the base of the screen. Be careful with this method, as the resultant inverse graph is not written in "y=" form.

The less obvious way to do it is in the main window. I have not found an "inverse" function yet, but the following is a workaround to find the inverse.
Action->Transformation->Simplify (to simplify the resultant equation)
Action->Assistant->Invert (to swap the x & y variables around)
Action->Advanced->Solve (makes x the subject of the equation)
Enter the function
Press ",x)))" using the soft keyboard (to make x the subject of the new equation)

It would look something like this when finished:


In a way I prefer the main window method as it mirrors the algebraic method. I think students need to really understand the parts of an equation to effectively find the domain and range. I explicitly draw students attention to critical information such as the inability of the function to equal zero or where the function is undefined

a) Look for possible values of x where y=1/0 will occur (eg. {x≠-1} for y=1/(x+1) ).
b) If it is not possible for the numerator to be zero (eg. {y≠0} for y=2/(x+1))

If the range is not obvious it is often easier to examine the domain of the inverse of the function.

Here is a link to other CAS calculator posts.

Purplemath has a good explanation of inverse functions.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Composite Area problems

With my year 10 "literacy focus" mathematics class we have been looking at the language of measurement, specifically area and perimeter. The idea has been to get students to clearly understand the importance of units and how to interpret what questions are asking.

When thinking about perimeter we are only thinking about the boundary outside a shape. We then looked at some real world shapes and measured their boundaries, followed by drawing some scale diagrams of shapes and measuring their boundaries.

We then tried to describe how much space was in the shapes. I tried to drive them to describing dimensions, but some students had enough prior knowledge to say calculate the answer by multiplying lengths.

The main issues came as we arrived at composite shapes where composite shapes had to be split into basic geometric shapes. Deriving missing measurements really brought home how much trouble low literacy students can have with basic mathematical concepts such as subtraction. Assuming that a student can see how to find missing sides is in many cases overestimating their ability.

Even at year 10, the majority of low literacy students fail to see f- c = a whereas they are more likely to be able to see a+ c = f.

Because of this to use a scale drawing to assist these students see subtraction in action requires some thought. If a student drew the above diagram with the following measurements they would
not use subtraction to find the missing side on the top rectangle. They would count the squares (if on grid paper) or measure the vertical gap and put the measurement of one on the page.

To encourage students to use subtraction I needed to encourage students to first look at the diagram and do a number of examples with them without using scale diagrams, explicitly doing subtraction sums. We checked our examples with scale diagrams, rather than finding the solution using scale diagrams.

Though a subtle difference, this was far more successful.

Another successful strategy used during these lessons was using formal layout during the early stages with simple examples. By doing this, students were able to see the connection between diagrams, algebraic substitution and the usage of formulae.

For instance:

By learning this and ensuring each example was completed thus, when triangles and circles were introduced it was a trivial case of changing the formula and adding a line to the bottom

Area(Shape) = Area(S1) + Area(S2)

It was interesting to note that students at this stage had now forgotten that perimeter was the outer boundary and were including the S1 - S2 boundary in their perimeter calculations. It had to be explicitly explained that

Perimeter(Shape) != Perimeter(S1) + Perimeter(S2)

and that the intersecting boundary needed to be subtracted. For me, this is learning real mathematical literacy. Students are becoming able to exactly describe their intent on the path to a solution.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Issues with national curriculum

Today at a PD of five secondary schools and their mathematics teachers, we had a quick look at the national curriculum. As an upper school teacher, the demands of teaching upper school are significantly reduced under national curriculum with many upper school courses being pushed back into middle school and a lot of middle school algebra pushed into primary school. I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing.

Strengths that were raised by presenters were that it was put together by experts, that the course was being simplified (would contain less material with more depth), that when questioned by parents for course suitability teachers could point to the syllabus (reducing uncertainty) and that it assisted in course transferability (eg. between states).

The first issue identified by the audience was that it was a one size fits all approach. This means that many students will fail a year and then be unable to do the work in following years leading to students unable to achieve anything higher than a 'D' causing reduced motivation and higher instances of behavioural issues (for this reason alone I will re-iterate that anything other than normalised grades in classes is a poor solution).

The second issue was that for at least 5 years students will not have the capacity to complete middle and upper school mathematics as there are a considerable number of missing attributes in our current curriculum. Students taught under the current system will not be able to effectively participate under the new system without extensive remediation especially in operations and algebra. Given that this remediation needs to occur during an 'increasingly packed' lower school curriculum this is unlikely to occur.

The third issue relates to WA primary extending to yr 7 (resulting in a lack of specialist mathematics teachers in year 7) and primary schools being ill equipped to teach pre-algebra and algebra. Given the number of students that currently enter yr 8 'algebra ready' I tend to concur that this is a problem that could be solved by national curriculum (although nobody is saying how this will occur). I have no idea how long it will take for texts to be prepared and primary teachers upskilled to be able to present the material, but it will be longer than the current implementation date of 2011. No allowance for upskilling has been allocated to schools in low performing NAPLAN states WA, QLD, TAS and NT where the current curriculum is less rigorous due to population and historical factors.

The fourth issue relates to endpoints mapped in the current NCOS of study for year 12. Under the current plan there will be little requirement for 1B-2C as students will theoretically be well past the 2C benchmark if they successfully complete the yr 10 national curriculum. This caused some laughter and raised the more important point that we really need a range of courses 8-10 (focus, intermediate, advanced) to cater to a range of student abilities and to stream courses into NCOS subjects.

The fifth issue related to students in low SEI areas, where developmental lag is a real factor. The new curriculum has the potential to completely destroy students chances of catching up over the schooling years as students with a poor starting point are more likely to fall further and further behind as each year progresses. Furthermore, there is no allowance for students in current cohorts that are six months behind due to starting age differences between the states.

The sixth issue is that population size has to be a factor in determining the best course for a state. It will be harder for smaller states to generate the critical mass for harder courses, as the geographical aggregation of higher socioeconomic students is going to be attained in fewer areas. Running courses for 2-3 students is not going to be viable for many schools (especially with the attention on student/staff ratios) although not running these courses has catastrophic effects on staff retention (the best teachers will not go to schools without these courses running), student attraction (students that may have the potential (eg your top 10-15% will go elsewhere) and school morale.

One way to alleviate these issues raised by the group was to start holding students back if they could not meet the standard (eg pass the course with a fair chance of success in following years). This was dismissed as an unlikely solution by presenters although is a common solution in upper school courses.

It was not known by presenters whether accreditation to teach subject areas was being discussed (although that inference that this is a current agenda could be drawn from this media release by Julia Gillard yesterday). It's not a difficult prediction to make that implementation issues will be ignored, blame laid at teachers feet when the implementation fails in WA, QLD, TAS, NT, then an 'accreditation programme' instituted to identify capable teachers to deflect from the real issues listed above and the government policies that created the situation in the first place.

It was put by presenters that teachers had discussed all of this before at the start of (unit curriculum, OBE, 'insert other fad here') and we needed to just roll with the punches and get on with it as we always do. I think this is my main gripe about Julia Gillard, her inability to accept that this is the reality and that change is driven by government - not schools and that poor performance should be laid squarely by policy makers and change agents - not teachers. Furthermore, ill conceived ideas and implementation causes much angst amongst the teacher population and further resistance to change.

I don't think it is that the issues can't be overcome and that national curriculum will ultimately fail but a rushed implementation to political (4 year cycles) rather than educational (12 year cycles) is not appropriate. I still can't understand why this could not have started with a limited rollout and then moved across the country over the following decade using a staged approach. Given the rush for implementation and the suck it and see approach "the acceptance of ongoing failure before we find success", I think that this has the potential to cause a lot of heartache in the short to medium term.

I really hope those with the experience (and will) to guide us through this stand up and be counted. It's not only the students that will suffer in the long term.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Reflection prior to term

I can't say it's been the most productive or relaxing break, but it sure was needed. It helped focus what needs to be done, what I would like to do and what has to take a back seat for awhile.

Top of my list is making sure my year 12's are well supported on their way to finishing school. This means resolving the issue of the missing moderation group in the first couple of days of term. I have to get this PD out of the way on the first day back (both the presenting and participating sections)

Next is looking at my yr 10's and completing the action research checklist as put forward for my masters course. I think I need to complete this unit if I am to have any chance of getting the confidence back to complete my masters.

Next is to establish the yr 8-12 maths club for those wanting to promote their academic performance.

Last is to start preparation for semester 2. There are some elements of the yr12 course I haven't taught before and I need to work through the exercises and identify the key points.

Everything else can wait.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Study that supports extrinsic reward

News aggregator Slashdot reports that paying yr 2's to read has fantastic results in encouraging students to read. Kids were paid US$2 for each book read and answering questions on the book answered correctly.

It's worth a read.

Sorry, no $2 for doing it.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Julia refuses to show common sense

Another article showing the arrogance of Julia Gillard in the face of good advice.

Click here.

I hope the "We told you so" that is coming does not cause a complete breakdown in low socio-economic schools and foster the creation of a two tier system. The longer time passes, the more likely this is to become.

Update 13/4/10: Here she is again sounding like a petulant child.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Comment Moderation

I've had to add comment moderation temporarily as a spambot has found the blog (from an Indian University). It means any comments posted will be vetted and will not appear immediately until I've seen them. Hopefully the spambot will move on soon and I can turn it off again.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Websites found whilst on PD

I'm not a fan of PD, but I do like the networking possibilities. One of the good things about recent PD was picking up a few online resources.

Jigsaw planet allows you to create a jigsaw that students can reconstruct.

Search-cube is a nifty 3D search engine in the Minority-Report vein.

Flaming Text allows the creation of nifty (though often annoying) animated headings is a free screen grabber for those sick of the PrtScn and msPaint alternative.

Quick and free worksheet creator

Sometimes a student has a basic issue and directing them to MathsOnline or Matheletics is overkill. Other times you may just want a quick diagnostic tool prior to starting a course of work. is a great little resource as it freely generates random worksheets and answers for a wide range of simple number and measurement topics. It's tidy, quick and add free.

Being randomly generated generally creates a few sequencing errors but can be good if you are entering a test-retest-retest cycle and ensuring mastery has been gained.

Have a look!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Idiot Minister strikes again

Under the logic of "everyone is using it therefore it is good" our "Idiot of the year 2009" Julia Gillard has vowed to expand the myschool website - despite a raft of public opinion and advice from education circles to the contrary.

Given this logic I suggest the following (with a tongue firmly in cheek):

Everyone likes potato chips, therefore all schools should feed children potato chips.
A large part of the population find mathematics difficult, we should discontinue teaching mathematics.
Kids don't read anymore, we should stop enforcing reading programmes.
Everyone watches television, therefore television is good.
Everyone likes chocolate, therefore chocolate is good.
Everyone wants to be thin, we should all become anorexic.
Everyone prefers holidays to working, we should not work.

Furthermore her assertion that government couldn't have provided assistance to schools without myschool is blatantly false. The government has always had access to this information. It chose not to use it, until political gains could be made from publicising the assistance. This is very dirty politics as it uses children and their futures as pawns in political posturing. It is the publishing of this information, formalising and recognising educational elitism that is the issue.

Popularity, nor usage is a measure of the success of a project. Transparency of this sort has negative and positive effects. The negative effects in this case are not being adequately recognised. The failure of the myschool project will be measured by the negative impact on schools and students. This impact will not be seen in the short term.

Julia wake up!

Link to SMH article here.

Project scheduling "99" rule

The actual project scheduling rule goes like this:

"The first 90 percent of the task takes 10 percent of the time. The last 10 percent takes the other 90 percent."

The way we always said it was:

"The first 90 percent of the task takes 90 percent of the time. The last 10 percent takes the other 90 percent."

This is true of students. Often we can get them 90% of the way there but we don't have the time to get them the remaining 10%. That remaining 10% is found through practice and investigating the concept in a variety of contexts. I'm gaining an appreciation of the well written investigation that goes some of the way to assisting students gain this understanding.

For instance, we recently completed an investigation on radians. By the end of the investigation, students had worked through a variety of uses of radians, applied formula in a variety of ways and had to think about what the formula was comprised of and how it was derived.

This though is rarely done in lower classes - and is a real flaw in use of texts. If questions are presented in method-> practice exercise form, students rarely have to think about what is required to solve a problem. This causes a lack of retention and poor examination results (if examinations are done at all).

I've been thinking that a revision week may have their place in the programme, once a term where students are forced to reconsider earlier work with an element of training how to revise for exams.

I will think on this further.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Children are not clients

When in business, the client or customer always comes first. This makes sense as the customer requires a product or service and is paying to receive it. A client is "someone that a professional service is rendered for". To say a parent is a client makes some sense but a child is not a client. We do not render services for a child - they have no money to pay, are unable to contract and do not know what service they want. Children are not our clientele.

It makes even less sense to say a child is a client in a low socioeconomic school. The child is not a willing party to the transaction. They have no choice in choosing the vendor (school) or method to which they are taught as financially they have few options available. Generally, they would rather be somewhere else. Having few goals and little ability to see past the moment, someone else decides what is best for them and puts them on a pathway. This is usually the school itself, sometimes the parent has involvement.

A child in a low socioeconomic school has basic intrinsic motivation (of course there are exceptions, but they are not the norm). To use a child-centric model and increase student involvement in the process is to invite low performance as the happy child will focus on "the now" to the detriment of the rest of their lives. The prevalence of the child-centric model creates a struggle to interpret the needs of an immature mind and turn their attention to what they need to be done to interact successfully post school.

At present schooling is becoming more like product development. If we consider a child as a product, a school lives or dies by the products it produces and the reputation of these products in the marketplace. The quality of the product is important. The standard of the original materials gives us an idea of the products that can be produced, the unit cost of production to a reasonable standard and the time required to do so. The scope of the project (syllabus/curriculum) is important as it guides what is possible to do in the timeframe allowed. If we consider a child as a product, individual plans start to make sense. If a child is a product, we have decided what is possible and get on with the job.

In a world of myschool, national curriculum, ratemyschool, performance management, social engineering, back to basics and independent schooling we need to consider what we are doing with children.

It's a chilling thought, as child-as-a-product seems to fly in the face of encouraging a pursuit of excellence.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Week two of action research cycle

1st report is due in this week and little to report. Students are settling into class and punitive measures for homework are starting to show results. Most students now know that not doing homework means being kept in.

Improving of teacher-student communication has also started with students realising that "I couldn't do it" is not an excuse and that they have to try and find a way to get the questions completed. They have a number of options from "finding me before/after school" to asking a friend, to copying someone else's answers.

For me, it's a way to quickly identify who is struggling.

Choral responses are improving, with students starting to use it as a way of communicating during class. Off-task communication is still a problem but there is slow improvement, with students completing a full exercise out of the book - something not done since the class changeover.

Student letters are taking a while to get out and I still haven't had a good look at the NAPLAN results for last year. I need to move on this soon.

First survey responses are in, I will need to examine these this week too and collate all the student/parent responses.

In class reward scheme has also kicked back in now that I have found the secret stash of rewards points. It will be interesting to see how that impacts on student responses.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

First week in action research cycle

Finally approaching my first action research cycle. I've navigated the ethics hurdles, sent out permission slips and finally can get started.

I'm looking at ways of improving effective on task communication between the teacher and the student in order to improve performance.

Communication is set at six levels:
  • School/Administration/Counsellor/Youthworker->Student
  • Teacher->Student
  • Mentor->Student
  • Peer/Friend->Student
  • Parent/Guardian->Student
  • Student Introspection

My task is to identify ways a teacher can successfully add to each communication layer. I am looking at how to get students to communicate how far they are down a learning path for a particular topic. I'll measure success by examining the effects on student self esteem and enjoyment of mathematics. I am particularly interested in how student group dynamics can be manipulated to improve my performance.

To establish benchmarks I plan to run a motivation and career survey and then check their ability to work independently through a task observation. I will also need to speak to their yr 9 teacher about each student, identify student NAPLAN yr 7/9 results, student yr 10 entry exam results and student grades in year 8/9.

My first tool is aimed at student->teacher communication, re-introducing choral responses (Eg. "The answer is... I can't hear you... that's better!!). For the whole class to respond requires the whole class to be paying attention. It also makes it fairly easy to identify students that are not responding. By ensuring students are vocal (during on task behaviours) I hope to increase risk taking in the class. It's also a great tool for waking a class up!

My second tool will be at the Student->Parent level with a letter home to parents about homework and then setting online homework with MathsOnline and Matheletics. Homework is a teacher->student communication as it can inform the teacher about student motivation and their current performance level if it is closely tied to current classwork. Their completion and performance is easily monitored and I can bop a few students for not doing their homework, whilst reinforcing that upper school classes require homework done on a regular basis to ensure retention of materials for exams. It is also aimed at improving parent->teacher communication through regular email communications with parents (although out of scope of the research project).

Let's see how the week goes!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dr Constable and the national curriculum

Dr Constable, our state education minister has been conspicuously absent from public education debates with the exception of this week when I read her reply regarding national curriculum impact on WA in The West newspaper.

It was a measured response that outlined the three years of implementation time being allowed, the need for an extended implementation (an extra year) in WA due to the variation between NSW, Vic syllabus and the current WA OBE based curriculum. She also raised issues with year 7 primary vs yr 7 high school, student entry ages in preschool/kindergarten, the lack of specialist teachers in primary and the need for training above normal 'PD' allocations requiring the sourcing of an additional budget for WA.

WA, with a smaller population and different educational requirements, will always have varied results and requirements to the eastern states. Competing with the Eastern seaboard is not statistically possible under the current measuring system.

It was encouraging to see an education minister that at least understood some of the issues faced by national curriculum and someone willing to make an attempt to avoid a head long rush into it. The challenge will be to address some of these issues and prevent these issues being swept under the table along with the children of Western Australia.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Absolute value

I spent a fair bit of time thinking about absolute value problems in the form |x+a| - |x-b| = c. Many students were struggling with visualising what these functions actually look like. What was happening when we try and solve them?

For example:
|x+5| - |x - 2| = 6
How could I display this equation graphically to give students an understanding of the underlying algebra to solve it?

I tried graphing y = |x+5| - |x - 2| and y=6 to find the intersection but was unsatisfied with the result as y = |x+5| - |x - 2| is not something easily tied to the absolute value concept or 'v' shaped absolute value graphs.
I was eventually satisfied with graphing y= |x+5| and y = |x-2| and then examining each part of the graph until I found a section of the graph that was 6 units apart.

For those wondering how to put it into a graphics calculator while exploring the concept

Go Menu -> Graph & Tab
Edit -> Clear All -> ok
at "Y1:" ->Softkeyboard->mth tab->select 'x'->type "x+5)" (it will change from abs(x+5) to |x+5|)
at "Y2:"->select 'x'->type "x-2)"
ensure that the boxes next to "Y1" and "Y2" are ticked

Now the temptation is to assume the answer is the intersection point.

but if we look at the equation |x+5| - |x - 2| = 6, it is asking "for what value of x is the value of |x+5| (the dotted line) subtract the value of |x-2| (the solid line) equal to 6". When is the gap between the two functions +6.

We can ignore values of x<= -5 as y=|x+5| is below y=|x-2| and the subtraction will only give negative values (we are looking for a gap of +6 which is a positive value).

We can also ignore values up to the intersection point as this also will only result in negative values.
The next place I looked is at x>=2 as the gap is constant and positive after this point (both functions have the same gradient).
at x=2, |x+5| is equal to 7 and |x-2| is equal to 0. |2+5| - |2-2| = 7. We can ignore values where x>=2 as the answer is not +6.

In fact the only possible solution has to lie between the intersection point (x~-1.5) and 2 and is probably closer to 2.
For y=|x+5| all values are positive between -1.5 < x < 2
For y=|x-2| all values are negative between -1.5 < x < 2
To ensure positive values for x-2 in the range -1.5< x < 2 we need to take the negative of (x-2) when solving the equation |x+5| - |x - 2| = 6.

x+5 - (-(x-2)) = 6
2x+3 = 6

Check answer:
|x+5| - |x - 2| = 6
Let x=1.5
|1.5+5| - |1.5-2| = 6
LHS =| 6.5| -| -.5|
= 6.5 - 0.5
= 6.0


It would also be interesting to explore |x+a| + |x-b| = c,  |x+a| = |x-b| and -|x+a| = c in a similar way.

Here is a link to other CAS calculator posts.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Keeping up and reducing doubt.

It's a hard ask keeping up sometimes. It's my first year teaching year 12 Calculus, Probability and Statistics. Your focus slips from your good year 12 kids, to the lower classes where your interest lies and all of us sudden you are faced with a crisis of confidence.

Are you good enough? Have you done enough? In a subject like maths, students need you to always be on the ball, or their confidence also suffers.

It's times like that you have to go back to basics. Do each exercise. Talk to a staff member that you trust. Get your confidence back. Maybe put some things aside for awhile.

I remember when I found out that I was on a pathway to take these classes, I wondered if I was up to the challenge, if my mathematics had risen back to that level. I argued that these kids needed the best teacher available. I still believe this should happen, but will fall in line with department wishes.

Maybe I have to rekindle some doubt in myself and do some real work to improve. It's a shame, because I'm really making some ground putting effort into my teaching capability with the lower classes. My masters research is teaching me a lot about myself and my teaching style - a teaching style that is much harder to work on with a good bunch of kids that will respond to a simple instruction.

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Limited trial of National Curriculum.

Again, on a rushed timetable, the government pushes out information that a trial is to be done this year (5 weeks into term). Teachers will be given programmes (at the 11th hour) and the kids will have to deal with a poorly understood curriculum by teachers through no fault of the teachers themselves.

Successful project management is not rushed and has an understanding of as many factors as possible. Head-in-the-sand management is a recipe for disaster. Success becomes a factor of luck rather than good management. Children's futures should not be a part of a recipe for the re-election of the Labor party at the next election. It should be a bipartisan agreement implemented with long term planning and proven methods.

Regardless of any issues with the trial, the national curriculum will be rolled out next year. What is of bigger concern is that senior school curriculum will be rolled out later this year. I really hope senior school curriculum will be given more consideration than the lower school programme as the consequences for university entrance and TAFE integration are far more severe than upper school teachers coping with students who have suffered a partial implementation with gaps in learning.

Theory and practical application are two completely different beasts. To quote that 900 people have been involved in the theoretical design of the curriculum (with little coalface application) is not going to impress. Are these the same 900 people that designed and implemented OBE in WA? I really hope not.

The media release is found here.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Politicians... What a zoo!

I wrote to the zoo to send me a politician and they sent me a

.. Julia Gillard

.. but she is an idiot, I sent her back.

so they sent me a

.. Kevin Rudd

.. but he kept apologising in Chinese, when I finally caught him in Australia, I sent him back.

so they sent me a

.. Wayne Swan

.. but he spent the postage and gifted my savings to inflation, I sent him back.

so they sent me a

.. Brendon Abbott

.. but he was too busy kissing babies, I sent him back.

so they sent me a

.. Penny Wong

.. but who cares about climate change anymore? I sent her back.

so they sent me a

.. Peter Garrett

.. but he set my house on fire and speared the whales, I sent him back.

so they sent me a

.. Wilson Tuckey

.. I tried to send him back, but he was returned to sender.

so the zoo thought really hard and sent me a banana.

.. it fit right in at parliament house.

Julia Gillard and the national curriculum

Yes, schools can change their whole curriculum focus, understand, resource and ensure that assessment is in place for a draft curriculum that will change five times before the end of the 2010. We obviously have learnt very little from the OBE implementation fiasco.

Dear, oh dear. I hope no-one buys her "it'll be all right mate" routine.

Here comes another round of teacher bashing when poor direction from government is the issue. I heard Kevin Rudd accept personal responsibility for the performance of his government. I hope he is willing to take the legal liability for rushing something through that affects so many.

Julia Gillard is again doing something in a political timeframe not appropriate to schools. Again, the children of Australia will suffer the consequences.

Where is the testing and ensuring that it is applicable in states where it is to be implemented? The issues will only become apparent under application, it needs a limited application/trial before rollout. Cynically, this won't be done due to the poor polling results of the Labor party and political necessity rather than good practice.

The sheer arrogance of the rush approach is astounding.