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

Screenhunter.com 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.

http://www.mathmaster.org/ 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.