Monday, January 31, 2011

National Curriculum confusion reigns

National curriculum continues to be a source of confusion for teachers. New words such as engage (have a look at it), implementation (sort of run a class with it) and significant implementation (meaning whatever you want it to but it needs to be done by 2014 in WA and 2013 everywhere else). Never mind that curriculum description dot points are vague even to DoE experts.

If you manage to implement something by getting past inhibitors in your school you then have to decide how to grade what you have done. Proper grade descriptors are non-existent, vague C grade descriptors give little idea what an A or a B is. Administration are scared witless that any implementation will impact negatively on NAPLAN scores, especially where they have been good in the past.

Overcoming the urge to use classroom distributions as solutions for behaviour management problems threatens academic programmes. Small class cohorts gives fewer opportunities to distribute difficult students between classes. Teachers need to closely examine classlists to ensure that troublesome or low ability students are found classes to which they can perform. Finally we have some acceptance that heterogenous classes with wide distributions are not optimal teaching or learning environments.

I read the dreaded innovative solutions mantra for the first time this year in a department missive. Give me a solution or identify an opportunity to solve a problem. The wait and see at the moment is becoming generational.

It seems ok for a whole school to get D's and E's if that's all the students can produce despite their best efforts. Just create an alternate school based criteria to distribute to parents at the same time.

The frustrating thing is that NCOS is working ok and this new system is degenerating into a debacle of epic proportions. Yay for our minister putting on the brakes a little. It will be interesting to see how the final implementation is delayed again if ACARA can't get a handle on this monster.

The only positive out of all of this is a push for more academic classes and more protection and attention for our gifted students. For this at least we can be thankful.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Being proud of those making a difference

I'm the first one to say, teachers have a pretty good wicket to play on. The pay is getting better, the holidays aren't bad and when you have a supportive administration, teaching is a lot of fun. There are a lot of teachers taking advantage of this, it's true.. but there are also many going way past what is required, doing what is necessary.

I'm one of those that is very proud of what my school is and does; and I refuse to be negative about what we achieve. Our kids do not come to high school ready with all the skills they require. They have parents that work 2 jobs, many are abused or neglected, have poor nutrition and health, have few positive role models outside of school, have strong negative peer influences, have access to little help outside of the classroom, have few aspirations, no career guidance, already work long hours to help families make ends meet, have low expectations of their own ability and performance, limited access to resources, few options for subject selection.

Yet every year, up to half of our year twelve cohort goes to university. Not just goes, but are ready and skilled to perform at the highest level. Another group enters TAFE, starts apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships. Another enters the workforce and starts the gradual climb to owning their own home and financial independence.

There's also the hidden statistics, the kids that are the first in their families to get to year 10 for the first time. The kids that raise their attendance from sporadic to regular. The parents that gain an interest in their children's performance. The kids that succeed despite low expectations (or ability) through the intervention of a teacher or two. The kids that get that positive work ethic and attitude that will carry them through hard times. Those that conquer substance abuse in their homes and turn their backs on criminal activities. Those that succeed despite physical and mental handicaps.

As a teacher, I look at the results of year 12 and take pleasure being a part of an education equation. If my kids get opportunities as a result of finishing school, staff at all levels of the organisation should take pleasure, no one teacher made the difference. We as a school have achieved something.

The Aussie battler is not just a person in the bush, it's kids and organisations that do things despite the odds, with limited resources and where others are trying to take advantage of them (yes I'm looking at you IPS staffing!). Our principal, administration and teaching staff are giving it a good go, and for my mind last year succeeded in many areas. If we keep our eye on the ball and support each other, we'll do it again.. and again...

Cheers to that!

Oh, and DoE take note.. support your low socio-economic schools or you will end up with these kids unsupported in large mid socio-economic schools with teachers that cannot cope nor want them. If you create a permanent underclass be prepared to be named as the cause when it happens.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Board games in high school

I am by no means an expert in this topic but I have been experimenting with it a few years. I've avoided traditional games in this list such as Chess, Connect 4, Chinese checkers, Draughts, Backgammon as these form the basis of school games clubs.

Here is my list of alternative games played successfully with students:

Simple Games:

Collossal Arena (~$35, 30 mins, six players) Students bet against gladiators. Students have to evaluate diminishing odds when placing bets and simultaneously use a variety of special abilities to eliminate rival gladiators.

For Sale (~$40, 10 mins, six players) A game where students purchase property at auction and then sell them to each other. Students need to evaluate what is left to be purchased and then try to estimate the best moment to put them on the market.

Set (~$25, 10 mins, six players) Students need to identify sets based on multiple criteria before other students find them. A simple game that uses many of the skills found in visual IQ tests.

Lupus in Tabula (~$20, 10 mins, up to 16 players) Students try and guess who the werewolf is. Students are accused and try and convince others that they are not the werewolf. A great way to introduce polls and tallies within the class.

Apples to Apples (~$50, 30 mins, up to 10 players) Hard to explain but fun if not taken seriously.

Ticket to Ride Europe (~$70, 1 hr, 5 players) Students build networks of track to connect destinations. Students that build the most effective networks win.

Citadels (~$35, 45 mins, 5 players) Students use roles to build their citadel whilst trying to stop their fellow students from doing the same.

Carcassonne (~$40, 30 mins, 3 players) Students accrue points by laying tiles and selecting optimal point scoring opportunities from multiple options.

Nuclear War (~$50, 30 mins, 5 players) What is better than blowing each other up? Blowing each other up with nuclear weapons.. Beware this game has the worst components ever, be prepared to laminate and find card sleeves.

BattleLine (~$30, 30 mins, 2 players) Two players use poker sets to try and win 5 hands. Special cards change the game in a variety of ways.

Dixit (~$40, 30 mins, 6 players) Players use their imagination to get students to guess which card is theirs.  A great investigation into grey areas as black and white answers do not get points.

Say Anything (~$40, 30 mins, 6 players) Similar to Apples to Apples but easier to understand by students.  Have to enforce a G rating on answers or the game gets out of control.

More complex games (require multiple sessions):

Space Hulk (~$200, >2 hrs, 2 players) I wouldn't suggest buying this for a class, but if you have a copy the students enjoy it. The miniatures take hours to paint but the end product is well worth it.

Claustrophobia (~$70, 1 hr, 2 players) The game to play when you can't play Space Hulk.

Battle Lore ($100, >2 hrs, 2 players) A skirmish game where students line up two forces and try and defeat each other. Students have to concentrate to get their forces into battle critical moments.

Smallworld (~70, 1 hr, 4 players) Students use a variety of races to control the largest area of a map.

Indonesia ($100, 2hrs+, 4 players) A game where students use stock techniques to manage shipping, mergers and acquisitions of wheat, rice, oil and spice companies.

These games can all be researched further on Boardgamegeek. Many can be purchased locally at Tactics in Perth, or online (cheaper but with shipping delays) at Milsims, from unhalfbricking, or from PinnacleGames.


(Updated 24/4/2011)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Promotion to incompetence

Promotion is one of the hardest parts of management and shows where a lack of career counselling can affect a whole organisation. Teaching is no different to many professions where perfectly good(and in some instances great) employees ask for promotion into roles that they are clearly unsuitable for.

Administration roles in teaching carry pay scales above teachers and therefore attract teachers into the role. These roles tend to accumulate all the detritus that teachers don't want (or can't) do. When these roles attract a capable person, the whole school runs more smoothly. This is not an exaggeration, it is a statement of fact. The sad story though is that these roles are typically the ones on paths to promotion so also fail to be stable.

I have no problem with promotional pathways per se (and good staff should be promoted), but I have a problem when people are put into them that are unsuitable. Conflicts seem inevitable, skill sets are sorely lacking and a lack of understanding of what the role entails occurs due to poor internal job descriptions. People bring their own slant to the role upsetting a whole system that works. A clear lack of understanding of how change management occurs (and when these positions are temporary and will revert to the incumbent) and it becomes just another load placed on teachers.

My favourite fails from promoted staff are: managing teachers as students, the I'm right despite all evidence to the contrary statement, aggressive behaviour (oh my goodness, for this there is no excuse from a manager), the I'll disregard your experience because I know this is a better decision(without evidence) and the inevitable push back of work to the classroom.

With state schools paring down due to reduced numbers, the pool of capable people is clearly reducing placing further stress on capable administrators. I'm sure we'll hear the "innovative solutions" mantra reappear, which will translate to mean"do more with less". Saying that, it's also a time of opportunity "if" situations can be identified that will not impact on teaching roles too greatly.

It's at times like these that I think the old HoD role had advantages. Discipline, year leader and curriculum was shared amongst HoDs; administrative roles (below deputy) were clerical and did not call forth large salaries because they were not highly skilled. Staff that could not handle discipline and curriculum could not do HoD roles, those that could were respected within the school as they were sorely needed parts of a working wheel. The capable staff then went on to Deputy and Principal roles (garnering management skills slowly on the way), were less subject to fads (had a healthy dose of scepticism "built in" that required proof of concept before implementation), demanded an understanding of progress in each classroom and enjoyed coming back to the classroom to fill in from time to time.

Staff that have worked effectively in HoD roles are effective educators (whether in English, Phys Ed (no matter how we tease them), in the shed or in Math). I would much rather see these paths further developed than the flat management (treating teaching as a profession without professional pay scales) strategy currently used in many mid/small public schools encouraging staff away from the classroom.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Summer School Day 4

Due to unforeseen circumstances I find myself at home instead of at summer school since day 1. Although frustrating, it has given me time to ponder why I consider it an important part of each year.

These I think are the main reasons:
1. It gives me an excuse to investigate areas of the curriculum in detail and develop my understanding of a topic
2. It provides time to interact with other mathematics teachers and gain insight into their motivation, teaching methods and knowledge
3. It's a great time to spend with the kids outside the pressure cooker that is TEE (and I know we're supposed to call it WACE now, but the pressure of L3 WACE is far different to level 1 & 2) and gain that rapport that helps when you have to give them a nudge to get over the finish line.
4. It's a time where you can develop method/pedagogy and style and measure results in an environment where you are not going to leave yourself weeks behind if it doesn't work.
5. You can work on the motivational, career oriented, aspirational and inspirational components of students rather than just focus on curriculum.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Summer school day 1

Today was the first day of summer school and what a great bunch. We worked on some areas that have caused difficulties in past years...

1. Fractional indicies and how to simplify where the numerator of the index is greater than one or where the index is negative.
2. Graphing a variety of different functions
3. Domain and range of a variety of functions
4. Odd and even functions
5. Piecewise functions and domain/range
6. Counting techniques and associated proofs

From an IT point of view it's great to use tools (such as slideshows) and make them highly interactive through joint presentations with other presenters. The students seem to enjoy the change in venue too! Students were actively challenging each other to speak up when they didn't understand and demanding more information when an explanation was incomplete.

A productive day!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Summer School 2010/2011

Summer school is about to start again when we get our year 10->11 and year 11->12 students ready for level 3 subjects. It was interesting to hear the students volunteering this year and plaguing us to run it so lets hope they turn up.

A whole week of students and just maths. Who would have guessed it would have been successful?

I wish I could find our slides from last year!

IOTY 2010 Winner

And the Idiot of the Year 2010 goes to our perennial winner

... (drum roll please) ...

.... Julia Gillard .....

...for her ongoing support of the myschool website, the diabolical national curriculum rollout, computers in schools schemes and her support for the complete an utter waste of money during the GFC on school rebuilding.

Oh, and please do us a favour Julia, get out of the way and let Ms Bligh do her job... although they might need you around soon with your unending bag of cash.

Congratulations Julia!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Funny Quote.

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." Albert Einstein

Visitors Poll

Who are you?!! I'm interested. The first person that says West Australians are actually Australian obviously doesn't live here :-)