Saturday, December 22, 2012

Speed, Ratios, Unit Conversion and a Scalextric track

I was chosen ("volunteered") to work with students transitioning from year 7 to year 8 this year and needed a hands on lesson to position kids into seeing math as interactive and engaging.  With 30 students of varying levels of engagement that I didn't know well, it can be a little daunting.  In previous years I have chosen algebra or working mathematically, but for a change I chose a measurement topic this year.

My daughter Kensie has a Scalextric track (a common 1/32 slotcar racing system) and I've wondered how fast the cars actually go around the track.  I also had 10m of string, a 1.6m lump of wood and some stopwatches.

First we discussed speed itself and how it is encountered in the real world.  We used the example of travelling on the freeway.  Travelling at 120km/hr, they knew was too fast.  They knew that the value and units (speed) described how fast I was travelling.  We then discussed distance and time.  Students stated that we moved 120km if we travelled for one hour.

We then thought about how it related to our Scalextric track.  I suggested that we build a track long enough that the cars could travel for an hour.  The students then said we could go round the same track for an hour if we knew how long a lap was and then multiply the distance by the number of laps.

I gave a 1.6m ruler to the yr 10 helpers and they tried to measure the track.  The yr 7's laughed and said use the string to determine the exact length of the track.  They lined up around the track and held it in place until the string was in the slot all the way round.  They then removed the string and measured it against the 1.6m ruler.  They tended to take the ruler to the string rather than the string to the ruler which made it a bit awkward (the 1.6m ruler is quite a heavy bit of wood with measurements manually marked on).

We started the cars around the track and discovered that we didn't have enough time for the cars to travel for an hour (it was a 40min lesson) and that it was hard to keep the cars on the track for the whole time.  At the board we then looked at the speed measurement again

Firstly we converted hours to seconds

120 km per hour = 120 km per 1 hr
                           = 120 km per 60 minutes
                           = 2 km per minute (divide the distance by 60 for the distance travelled in 1 min)
                           = 2 km per 60 seconds
                           = 1 km per 30 seconds

Then we converted km to m

                           = 1000 m per 30 seconds (multiply the distance by 1000 to convert km to metres)
                           = ~33 m/s (divide the distance by 30 for the no. of metres travelled in 1 second)

By doing the reverse process we could work out the speed of the cars.

We timed the cars around the track and had a range of answers from the stopwatches timing a lap around the track.  Students suggested averaging the results.  We also discussed doing more than one lap and finding the average lap time.

This left us with a speed of 6m per 4.3s

This became 1.39m /sec and about 5km /hr (repeating the process above in reverse).

.. and no mention of 3.6 anywhere (to all you Physics heads!).  There's another lesson here for another day.


I'd like to continue this in our after school classes with my 11's and 12's for those that find related rates or kinematics difficult.

(This is the worst post for the year, drawing a lousy 3 visitors.. not sure if it is a poor idea or just the time of the year.  It's a shame as it is a good lesson.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Changes in resourcing math classrooms

Over the last five years there has been a change in resourcing mathematics.  Once the domain of the textbook and worksheet, increasingly mathematics is becoming a dynamic and thought provoking class engaging students in a range of activities that go beyond the chalk and talk lesson.


iPads are becoming a go to tool for mathematics classes.  The symbolic data entry problem can be overcome (unlike with laptops) enabling a range of activities.  Tools like Socrative allow formative testing to occur and can help drive students through the learning process.  Organisational issues such as lugging texts, diaries, bringing pens can be reduced to "have you charged your iPad today".  Active lessons requiring spreadsheets and graphs can now be done at the desk, rather than at the computing lab.  Social learning, such as generating texts based on mutual learning of students or sharing of video tutorials between students,  is now possible with increasingly ubiquitous internet access.


iBooks are exciting.  Now with access to math tools, it is easy to generate an iBook/ebook.  Hop into iBooks Author, type up your material for a lesson, issue it to kids. ... but now the process continues ... learn what works in your social context, edit the iBook and re-issue it next year.  Get the kids to comment on how good it is and make relevant changes.  Share the iBook so that others can use your starting point.

Social Learning Networks

Social learning networks take teaching to a new level.  By extending the reach of teachers beyond the classroom, teachers are able to broaden their subject base beyond four hours per week.  Students are able to see what problems other students are having and help out, or get help on a "just in time" basis.


Interactive whiteboards are an easy to implement supplement to teaching.  Remember the days of rubbing off notes three minutes are writing them.  Not being able to go back and revisit notes and remind students that you had already covered a topic.  Not being able to save notes and store them for students to later look at solutions for problems they have not completed.  Being able to display video easily without having to set up projectors or TV's.


Before screencasting I would get frustrated re-teaching the same idea as students became ready for it, based around a need for differentiation in the classroom and being able to present ideas as students were ready for them - scafffolding at the right time.  Now I can generate a series of screencasts and link them together with apps like edmodo (for embedding it within a series of lessons) or prezi (to show how a subject links together).  They also force me to think how I reached an idea and how to better present it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Job Application technique

I had the pleasure of being involved in an interview panel for the first time and realised that interviews in the dept. had much to do with items outside of the classroom.  I have some advice for people doing interviews.

1) Selection criteria

Address the selection criteria in your cover letter.  If your cover letter does not address the selection criteria, you will not get an interview - each application is graded, if your application does not get a good grade it's tough luck.  Get your CV and cover letter proofed by someone that has successfully navigated the interview process recently.  Briefly mention critical documents for schools (AITSL's Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, DET's Focus 202x, Classroom First, ACARA's Australian Curriculum documents and objectives, the School's Annual report) but importantly only mention it if associated to teaching practices. Omit overly technical and scholarly diatribes unless requested, focus on what you have done and how it has impacted on student learning.  If you have taught specialist or stage 3 subjects state how many times and when.  Describe successes in these classes.

2) References

References are checked BEFORE interviews.  This is odd compared to private enterprise but is a valuable process in selecting interviewees.  Ensure that your reference is willing to give you a positive review.  If they are not, nurture someone that is willing to GLOW about you.

3)  RTFQ

Read the question.  Answer the question.  The application process is heavily weighted to the interview process.  Use the preparation time well to structure an answer.  If you don't actually answer the question you will not be employed.

4) Relax, be interesting and be confident

Look keen, but control your nerves and don't ramble.  Take a deep breath and use the water on the table to gather your thoughts.   This is a presentation, you cannot be monotone.  Especially in hard to staff schools, monotone teachers will not survive, monotone interviewees are unlikely to be selected.  There is a difference between putting a panel to sleep and carefully considering a question before answering.  If you have trouble thinking on your feet, prepare some situations beforehand that answer high criteria of Australian Professional Standards for Teachers.  Have a lesson prepared that you are proud of, that met learning outcomes and that you can clearly describe (don't use busy work!).  You need to wow the interviewers to gain a position.  They are looking for outstanding candidates.   Practice with a spouse or peer.

5) Be positive

If you put your negative points forward be sure to have a positive end to the story.  Don't give interviewers the opportunity to discount you for something that has been rectified.  A good application can be undone by continually discussing difficulties in the classroom.

6) Keep an eye on the time

Be aware that time is of the essence.  You need to be succinct and to the point to answer the interview questions.

7) Have some questions prepared for the end

If you end early, the panel will look to you for questions.  Have some prepared based on the context of the school.  It's probably a bad idea to ask about behaviour policies as that will indicate that you may have behaviour problems with your classes.

8) Theory
Know a little theory but use it sparingly.  Make your teaching look effortless not theoretical.

9) Include topical information
ICT, Australian curriculum, Professional Standards for Teachers and community involvement (grants obtained) are topics of today.  Have a case study of these prepared (but do not read directly from them in an interview).   Refer to notes to prompt your memory.

10) Motivation
Understand your motivation for applying for the role.  Ensure your answer is a win/win.  If it is not, suppress it and seek a win/win.

I think the applicant process has come a long way in identifying good applicants but has a long way to go to reach the easy manner in private schools and private enterprise.  The current process can be very formal, which (from experience) does not give a clear indication of the capabilities of teachers.  I would like to see the following:

a) Being clearly able to articulate requirements (eg 2 yrs stage 3 experience) in job advertisements to reduce the pool of applicants that will not reach interview
b) Reduced reliance on the formal interview process and more relaxed interviews
c) More focus on actual experience
d) Recognition that teachers are rarely in formal interviews and that good teachers are likely to interview and write applications poorly
e) A focus on whether a teacher can deliver a class rather than fluff associated with current fad practices.
f) Recognition that for some learning areas, "A type" personalities are not the only effective teachers.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Importance of self esteem

There are always groups of students that are difficult to reach.  Students that do not directly benefit from mathematics in the short term can lack motivation to attempt work, leading slowly to disengagement.  Success with these students often relies on making a personal connection with them, sharing part of your life indicating that students that do not go directly to university are still successful in life.

My approach for this centres around experiences when I was not much older than my students.  I am lucky that during my formative adult years I had little support and passed through many jobs; nightfill, fast food, labouring, kitchen hand, reception,  data entry, accounts, furniture removal.  These jobs were not  the high flying roles that I had later in my twenties, but they enabled me, I had skills and could recognise opportunities that those closeted in university may not have had access to.

It's an important message for kids not destined for direct entry university.  Many lack any vision of the future and don't have an understanding of hope - they're simply living for the now. The simple message that "if you're willing to work harder than anyone else, you'll start to get ahead" is an eye opener for them.  I couple this with some basic finance, setting a budget, learning about credit card debt, saving half your income, basic investment strategies and interest calculations to show them that the jobs they may be already in, can provide them with financial security with a small amount of planning.

A favourite lesson is valuing a dollar saved.  Most (if not all) kids do not recognise that a dollar spent is worth more than a dollar earned.  To spend a dollar we must have already paid taxes, the bills and all the costs of living.  An dollar saved may require three or four dollars to be earned first.  If students can get this ratio down to 1:1 they are on their way to financial independence.  When a third factor is introduced (investment) and they can cover expenses through investment dollars they can increase the time to enjoy life and enable retirement.

Many are destined for jobs they will not enjoy.  If working has a clear purpose, it will make for better employees that value their employment. I also tell them that a bit of life experience can help them understand the importance of education.  I didn't finish my degree until my thirties!

Another message is to give them is a multi-generational viewpoint.  All say they want their kids to go to better schools, they want houses, weddings, fast cars, plasma TVs.  If they understand the costs incurred during later life and can aim from the beginning to help their kids during their lives, it will promote a budgeting outlook rather than hand-to-mouth accounting.

I try and invoke the principle that taking pleasure in "giving" is the simplest path to happiness.  There are many occupations where the pleasure of working becomes a part of the attraction to the work.  You won't become rich but you will have a life of rich experiences and make fruitful contributions to society.  Teaching and nursing are two that spring to mind, and we do have a disproportionate number of students seeking math teaching and nursing each year.

These things, together with providing rich mathematical programmes (and not falling into the trap of assuming these kids need an impoverished curriculum purely because of low assessed results), can turn around students that are disengaging.

I think that seeing future pathway is a path to positive self image that can improve their self esteem.  Self worth of some of these kids is at rock bottom but it can take very little to get them excited again about their futures.  Lessons like these are part of a broader picture to get our kids thinking ahead.

I don't think I'm explaining myself well here, but I think the gist is present.  After six years of teaching here, the formula for delivering lower performing students (or students with a disrupted educations) is getting quite complex but some general strategies are emerging.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Reasons to not achieve

"Low ability" students have always been a bit of an enigma to me.  I put them in quotes, as many times they are not actually low ability, they only demonstrate low ability under assessment conditions.  They come in many shapes and sizes.

The student that does not value education.
On occasion I get one of these.  They're the ones that ask why are we doing (whatever it is)...   The answer is fairly simple in that the curriculum is set and the government pays me to teach it.  Blame your parents they elected the government.  The alternative is to identify how each topic is applicable to the workforce (which inevitably ends in I'm not doing that) which makes embedding context for these students a reasonably ineffective approach.  I have a book that does this, if they continue I direct them to it.  Eventually we get to the point where they accept that education is an enabler of general occupations and that their chosen occupation (footballer, dancer, stripper) may not be their only occupation and that math skills will help them in their future life.

The student that sees work as a favour that deserves special credit any time they do it.
"But I did work" - So what? Still less than everyone else and well below your level of ability.  Doing more work in my class than anyone else's is not an excuse for poor behaviour.  If a student disrupts ten other students but finishes their work, it still is not acceptable.  Maturity is the only thing that reliably fixes this, as they get a goal that they need your subject for.

The student that cannot perform under assessment conditions.
I don't have an answer to this one.  I've had to use teacher judgement on a few of these over the years.  They sit in class and work.  They complete assignment work.  If it's done 1-1 they're fine.  Put the word test on the top and their brain explodes.

The student that sees you as an equal.
I'm not a friend, I'm not a colleague, nor am I an acquaintance.  Students don't have a right to discover whether they should respect you or not.  When I walk into a class, I set the rules.  By rights of a degree and being placed in the role by the school I have earned the respect given.  I decide when these rules are broken.  I may tighten the rules at the request of a class.  The right to negotiate is born through acceptable behaviour, not through misbehaviour.  If I don't do a good job teaching I will lose that respect over the year, but I deserve the benefit of the doubt in the early days.  This is best fixed with a team leader or deputy present.  Explain the problem, probably no-one else has.  You will now become a lone entity in the world they don't treat like everyone else and may help them keep their first job.

The student that avoids work.
This student needs to see the counsellor, toilet, drink fountain, office, nurse, dentist at least once per day.  They are late to class and have not been told that assignments/tests/homework are due.  They are probably the easiest to fix.  Fail them.  Early.  Sit them down and explain to them why they are failing.  Give them catch up time at lunchtimes and additional homework delivered to parents.  Then encourage them as their grades improve.  Don't stop too early, it may take a few years to change a habit of six or seven.  It takes a fair bit of effort.

The student that believes life is fair.
Guess what.. it's not.  If I believe you need more attention than another student to succeed, I'll give it to you.  If I believe that one student will respond to a stern word, and another will not, I won't bother with the latter - I'll try something else.

which leads to...

You're picking on me because I'm .....
It's true, some students I will give a hard time to, because I think they'll come good and make something of themselves.  Others require different strategies and a host of people and money for special programmes before they come good.  Swearing is a favourite - kids from good homes don't need to get the habit, others from difficult home lives need tolerance as it takes time to come around.  "Unconscious" swearing is one thing, being sworn at it another.  Very few homes allow disrespect to parents (it's fewer than many believe), and this respect has to be transferred to teachers and being sworn at crosses the line.  I love the shocked look on their faces when I say my grandfather is darker than them and that they need to consider their words carefully because, like them, I take racial vilification comments very seriously.

The student that tries and fails, every time.
If a student can't pass your course legitimately, then you need to act.  Create a course for them, move them, do something.  It's soul destroying to you and the student to allow this to continue.  Heterogenous setups are a trap for this sort of thing.  One curriculum does not fit all unless you are a highly (and I mean highly) organised and skilled operator.  I have not met that many that do this well.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

iBooks Author

Last time I looked at iBooks Author it was a big load of useless.  No equation editor and only worked on an iPad.  It couldn't be used for making a math textbook by a teacher in any reasonable length of time.

The last update has changed things a little.  It's still mainly of use on an iPad.  Text and images can be exported to pdf, but the interactive components are lost.   The equation editor is still missing, but iBooks Author now accepts latex and MathML so there are readily available applications that can format math text and then the symbolic logic can be quickly imported.

I wrote an iBook/ebook today that covers index laws up to a year 10 level.  It was 15 pages and was written in a day including interactive quizzes.  Given a bit more time, I'll add screencasts, Australian Curriculum links and CAS calculator usage for each section and upload it to iTunes.  I doubt I'll sell many, but it's a great point for distributing to my iPad year 8 class next year.  I know now that my flipped year 8 classes are possible.

It's a better solution than Prezi, which was my fallback if I couldn't get iBooks to work.

Update (25/11): Well my first ebook has been submitted to iTunes.  Let's see what happens next.

Update (25/11): To charge for an iBook you need to have a US tax account.  How the hell do I get one of those?

Update (27/11): Still waiting for iTunes approval to publish the free textbook.

Update (5/12): Published. yay! Find it here.

Update (31/12): Someone downloaded it! From Spain!

iBooks Author

I don't know if anyone noticed but the October 23, 2012 update of iBooks Author included a latex/mathml editor.

Good News!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Teacher well being vs Student benefit

I have argued on occasion that teacher well being is as important as student benefit.  There are times that putting teachers first maintains teaching standards.

Many schools are considering moving the school year start to term three to overcome the issues caused by moving the ATAR exams closer to the term 3 boundary.  Couple this with many classes in year 11/12 being combined, it's an idea that has merit.

When it was floated at our school, I was very much against the idea - to the point that I raised concerns of teachers at school council (I was a council member at the time).  I was concerned that teachers that were tired after getting kids through ATAR exams would not have time to prepare courses in time for the early start and that reporting deadlines would become more onerous.  There was some concern that load was being shifted to senior school staff as year 8 classes would not run until the new year.

In the end, it was not an issue for the mathematics department.
a) The early start reduced the pressure on teachers delivering combined 11/12 courses by adding 8 weeks to the year long course (typically combined 11/12 courses with ATAR exams finish early).
b) The early finish provided extra time for students in year 11 that required re-tests or for collecting late assignments providing extra time for preparing reports (typically stage 1 students).
c) It did prompt us to start programming earlier.
d) It reduced delivery pressure on year 11 courses in other learning areas that were not combined (as they were able to run their exams later in the usually year 11 exam slot week 6 if they with reduced pressure on students as they had completed math exams).
e) Students appreciated the extra time for completing year 12 courses.
f) It reduced behavioural issues typically found in the final weeks of the year and increased attendance.

We finished the year 11/12 courses in term 4 week two this year and started new courses.  This was time typically lost to learning where students were sent home after exams. One stage 3 course is already over half way through the text leaving time for deeper exploration of topics.

This year the majority of teachers are strongly resistant to finishing early and starting the 2013 timetable in 2012.  There are issues with it:

a) Teachers that are joining the school only do so at the start of 2013 (thus classes have temporary teachers).
b) There is insufficient time to plan 2013 courses (it would normally be done in the holidays)
c) Small groups are not operating until 2013 (resulting in difficulties running assessment in 2012)
d) Teachers are tired.
e) It doesn't work for VET subjects (the preferred option is to send them home) because there is only make-do work available.
f) Puts considerable stress on administration to prepare timetables and complete course counselling.
g) Budgets are not accessible for resources required for 2013 programmes of work.

I suppose the only issue I have with the counter arguments is that none of them relate to issues of low student performance or raising attendance.  Many of the issues relate to a lack of planning and preparation time during the year.  I noticed a few teachers had booked planning time (and asked to be kept off the relief time) which seemed a sensible idea.

I doubt the school will continue with the early finish, but mathematics will continue finishing math courses week 2, term 4 if at all possible.  If that can be done without affecting other learning areas that would be great.  If it is deemed that the effect on other learning area and timetabling is too great that will be very unfortunate.

Since mathematics started finishing yr 11 in week 2, year 12 courses have been completed on time, with revision time available (something we had not achieved prior) and results have improved despite an increase in combined courses.  I maintain that we need to find creative ways to provide teaching time to students that typically mature academically later than in higher socio-economic schools and have lower levels of home support.  The earlier year end is something that clearly has made a difference to our mathematics teaching programme.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Screencasts and Prezi

During the year I have created a whole heap of screencasts for my students.  I put them on edmodo and it has become an important part of my teaching method.

I have wanted a way to organise them so that students can easily find the one that they want as scrolling back through the year is not very practical..  One of the science teachers at the school showed me prezi and I thought it might be useful as a graphic organiser.

If the loading process wasn't so prone to failure, I'd say it was a great product.  It's come a long way since I last used it, but ready for mission critical work I'd say not.  It's a frustrating tool to say the least.

A couple of things I learned during my prezi journey.

1. Be prepared to reload the edit page 10-15 times before the prezi loads successfully in edit mode.
2. Keep the prezi size down and don't overuse the zoom function (make things too small or too big)
3. It only works with IOS 5 on an iPad (and to update to IOS 5 requires a rebuild of the iPad resulting in data loss when the restore fails due to antivirus being overzealous.. grr..)
4. The save to file function in prezi is a lifesaver.  Any time that you want to display a prezi in front of people (eg in front of a class), save it to a file - don't rely on it online, it will fail on you every time - even if it worked perfectly when you tested it two minutes before.
5. Get your login validated as an education user.  It's worth the extra functionality.

Anyhow.. the important bit. It's nearing christmas so I thought I'd share my prezi of screencasts created during 2012 for 3AB MAT and 3AB MAS.

Be prepared to reload the page up to 10 times before the prezi loads successfully (it may repeatedly error - don't worry there's probably nothing wrong).  It's annoying but worth the wait to see how we could present information in the future.

Please remember that each screencast was created in about 5 minutes each in response to student questions - they are not meant to be a comprehensive examination of each topic.  In many cases they are not sequential with the Saddler text.  They are only meant to supplement class teaching (and are a part of my reflecting on my own teaching practices).

I know at least one of the screencasts in particular is full of mistakes (I must have been asleep that day!).  A great part of the screencasts is when students find errors or query against their understanding - it's a real indication they are watching for context rather than just accepting everything in front of them and a part of why I believe they have been successful.

The sound volume is low because I'm doing these when the little ones are asleep at night.  If anyone is interested in how to do a screencast (it's stupidly easy), reply below and I'll write a little tutorial.

Friday, November 9, 2012

IOTY Award

Each year an IOTY is given to someone that has done something rather silly in education.  This year there were a few candidates.  My personal favourite is the one most recent.

Currently (as reported in the West) education (teaching) staff are being declined travel requests.  The interesting thing is that (on my reading) the travel requests as reported in the West are only related to airline travel.

Not so!

Recent requests for support from head office have been declined because support staff are not allowed to use government vehicles to come to schools.  This means that critical support required to examine statistical data and perform professional development within schools prior to the 2013 year is being denied for a few dollars of petrol.  These supports onsite are important as they bring together school staff with neutral advisors that can drive critical change and provide confidence to make courageous decisions.

To the person that decided that this is a good idea and changed a good idea (reducing travel where benefits cannot be clearly justified) to a poor idea (trying to save a few dollars and in so doing reducing the effectiveness of teaching programs) deserves the IOTY for 2013.

To the mystery person poorly implementing a good idea... the IOTY goes to you!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


The next round of NAPLAN data is being released and the issues with summarised statistics arise.  In low socio-economic schools this data is damaging and will close schools - not because of poor teaching but because of cohort changes.

Let's take a sample school.

General assumption:
NAPLAN scores have dropped over four years.  Obviously something wrong with the teaching staff.

Examining raw data:
Increase in students with little or no schooling (refugee intake)
Opening of new school nearby attracting higher performing students
Half cohort was generally a weak group due to many students (and siblings) moving to private schools in yr 7 (entry to secondary schooling early was a significant factor in parents choosing schools in yr 7 coupled with aggressive marketing by private schools to maintain student numbers)
High turnover in experienced staff
Decrease in general school attendance (and students not attending at all) - increase in overseas holidays in yr 8, truancy, mental health issues
Issues with changing curriculum and yr 7 content not being taught to the level required by NAPLAN in public primary schools
Inability to move on students with little or no interest in schooling
Strong increase in performance of high school ready students (what high school teachers are trained to do) and low levels of improvement of students that are at primary levels during yr 7/8 (area of improvement for the school).

The issues make it hard to compete with local private schools.

None of these factors are taken into account by a one number summary, nor does it take into account the lead-in required to cater to a new circumstance that the school is experiencing (in this case a much higher number of low ability students).  Even if the school diagnosed the problem, reacted and implemented cohort specific solutions (including structural changes to better cater to low ability students), it takes lead time and strong leadership to identify and implement actions that have significant impact on NAPLAN statistics and student learning.  Yet in many cases a lower NAPLAN score will be seen as a teacher issue, comments driven by the misuse of statistics.

Furthermore, little analysis is done to see where systems are working and where changes in the pipeline have caused a significant positive change in student results.

Lastly, by releasing this data to parents (rather than aggressively seeking the problems and rectifying it within schools) a downward spiral commences.  A school with a low NAPLAN score does not attract good students, thus the score continues to drop each year and student numbers fall.  Senior school offerings reduce as student numbers are not sufficient to sustain courses.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Professional Development in Schools

At the moment the department lives between a rock and a hard place with professional development.  The new Australian curriculum requires a level of professional development to be successful but the department lacks the resources to implement it.

To do it properly requires a slow implementation over many years with a commitment to each year being implemented with a focus on contextual differences between schools.  A drip feed approach, working hand in hard will work but requires a range of strategies, ICT and monitoring that the department is not geared towards nor has a track record in being able to deliver.

What can be done with a relative few has been shown by the oft maligned Curriculum council (now known as SCASA), during the Mathematics NCOS rollout.  Rom, Malachi and crew did a good job of defining the curriculum succinctly and then supporting teachers understanding curriculum points.  The moderation process (albeit unwieldy and requiring personal statistical attention to maintain integrity) has worked to lesser and/or greater degrees.  Understanding the scope of assessment has not been an ongoing problem.

No such names can be readily placed for Australian curriculum.  There is no level of confidence in the process by teachers at this time.  The assessment model and levels of assessment is still a big black hole.

I'm not saying curriculum support branch aren't trying to help.  They are.  I think they need a little more practical and visible leadership and release from some of the hamstrings of the past.  Rather than being apologetic about what they can't be, they clearly need to focus on what needs to be done.  If they let go of the fringe materials (such as first steps) and focus on key requirements (specific learning area focuses (new content, changes to scope and sequence, what needs to be delivered, when it needs to be delivered) they may be more successful and useful.  Without commitment to a process at best they are going to be ill focused, at worst ineffective.

I would start by redeveloping the communication model.  The portals used are ineffective as they require teachers to log on to view them.  Start with Principals (where a solid communication network exists) and then work down.  Focus on Learning area objectives to reach Australian Curriculum guidelines and disseminate information to HODs and HOLAs.  Develop an online approach.  Get some money to do it properly and quickly - no two year processes, 10 weeks max each project using subject experts (I know expert is a bad word, but only because the experts of the past had a barrow to push and were academics or failed teachers - get the old crusty teachers of math that have taught effectively in the classroom, the statistics exist to identify who they are).  Couple them together with some of the new teachers that use ICT effectively who know better ways to distribute information.  Produce useful resources and teachers will be hooked.  TDC's were effective in this in that they produced usable resources - this time more time needs to be taken to ensure these resources are good.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

The vacuum left by the lack of strong leadership

The difficulty of generating genuine momentum in a school is often underestimated.  There are key events in a school year that can undermine any attempts at real change:

The start of the school year is a busy time, bedding down classes, getting courses started and finalised, organising small groups.
Identification and creation of semester one resources and assessment
By week four or five behaviour issues tend to arise as students become more confident with how far they can push boundaries and these boundaries need reset.
Mid term reports start about week 10.
Preparation for first semester exams, followed by exams
Semester 1 reporting
Reallocation of students failing subjects
Identification and creation of semester two resources and assessment
Senior School subject selection for year 10/11 and course counselling
Student references
Mock and ATAR exams
Semester two exams
Semester 2 reporting.

Any new projects need to have staff with capacity to commit to a new project.  IWB's don't get installed and implemented without leadership.  Laptops don't get used miraculously.  Tablets are just plastic without knowing how they can be used.  National curriculum doesn't just happen any more than NCOS was a cakewalk back during that implementation.  Kids don't turn up to after school classes for long without engaging materials and presenters.  EPW's don't get written, online tutorials and environments don't get made and students don't get the additional help that they need because taking people to task about their output is too hard and it's easier to load up those willing to have a go.

When leadership models fail, nobody knows who is doing what and what their load is - or worse still there is little care as long as "my" task is being done.  Flat management is prone to this - with everyone busy yet with little prioritisation being done at any level - there is no focus on schoolwide goals.  The loudest person gets their task done, anyone that raises a hand to say that there are higher priorities gets told it's the same for everyone - just get my task done.  At worst, the place just drifts along on platitudes and mediocrity.

I've come to the conclusion that the "it's the same for everyone" is garbage.  Poor management makes no attempt to rectify this.  They may make token attempts to acknowledge those working hard, but saying thanks does not make up for the extra hours required to "just keep things rolling along" and can take the gloss off a rewarding career.

This is where I am today, thinking.. well.. there's a lot that needs doing, yet the need to do them is not a priority by the school.  I'm not going to spend 10-15 hours each weekend indefinitely developing the math programme (five years is enough) without some compromise happening somewhere.  With a young baby and a three year old it is not sustainable any more.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Profiling Students

Profiling students is an important part of generating self image and developing student goals.  These goals keep them focused during the difficult years of senior school.

Sadly, often profiling is a haphazard event, and I'm not sure it should be this way.  Today, small schools have limited options for students, especially as the half cohort travels through the system reduces subject offerings.  If we put subject offerings and student profiles together, career options could be made more transparent.

Medical via University (Science Degree, RN, Medical Sciences etc)
Human Biology 2A, 3A Maths, Psychology 2A , English 2A, Chemistry 2A
Medical via Tafe (EN):
Human Biology 1A/Integrated Science, 1DE Maths, English 1A (and 3 of Media, Art, Psychology, WPL or cert courses)
Arts via university

By generating profiles that are supported by the timetable, students can aspire to these pathways and these can be published throughout the school so that students understand what they need for these subjects.

This could be taken further into lower school so students can aspire to higher learning.  Students in 8D need to aspire out of it or seek alternate pathways (and be given reassurance that this pathway is viable).  These alternate pathways need to be developed to build self esteem and empower lower ability students.  Lower school pathways may look like:

8D and business studies, (C grade average or lower)
8A/B/C, (C grade average, B grade or higher in selected vocational class)
8A, Extension Math and English (B grade average or higher)

Now students have reason for taking extension classes or participating fully in options classes.  There is a clear return on effort - a trait of the current millennial generation.

Each lower school "generalist" profile needs a profile champion that builds the self esteem of students and focuses on the positives of each profile.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Engaging parents through Edmodo

Edmodo is a product that I have used a lot this year.  With continuing use of ICT I have noticed that the effects are often not what is expected.

The most recent effect is the re-engagement of parents in education. Parents have felt disengaged from education due to (I think) the closed door nature of classes.  Parents have expressed that they are afraid to teach their students as they do not know the correct way to present mathematics.  Often they can complete a problem but have difficulty with using the correct working.

Now, having marked a few teachers work, this is no real surprise as teachers use a wide variety of techniques to solve problems.  A method ok in year 8 is a big no no in year 9.  Balancing method in year nine is where I most often put my head in my hands as students often have no real connection made to BIMDAS(order of operations), nor to where a new line of working (formal algebraic notation) should be used.

Edmodo, by presenting board work online (such that parents can access it), is starting the process of re-engaging parents in high school education.  They can see what homework is set, what teaching method has been used and what the mark was on a test - such that they can help  a student revise/relearn/correct any practices that are not up to scratch.

It has also relieved pressure on teachers as comments like "You haven't taught my child that", or "I didn't know my student was doing poorly" are now not as potent - the information has been available all along.  It gives parents back a role in the teaching process as the primary carers (at least for the other 14 hours of the day) - something that has been lacking in recent years, especially where parental knowledge is not sufficiently great to understand the difficulty of engaging and teaching students.

Is it a pathway to parents again understanding that teaching is a real skill and that for the most part teachers are doing a reasonable job?

The counter side is that it will expose dodgy teaching techniques and (through increased scrutiny and transparency) open teachers to criticism.  The lack of use (as stated before in a previous post) may also expose a teacher at risk, as posting information online is often the first thing to go when available time is poor.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Types of teachers

There are a number of different types of teachers.  Support at critical points in careers make or break teachers.  The availability of this support is something that is often in question.

Who can supply this support?

Collegiate support is the first line of defence.  Supportive colleagues is important to navigating the issues of the teacher gaining competency.  A colleague with the ability to support another is worth gold in an organisation (not only giving lip service but also providing practical help).  Without that support I know I wouldn't have made it through my first few years of teaching.  I'm pretty grateful to these people.

The second line of support is friends, family and the community.   Without this support, a teacher could not have made it through university, much less the first year of teaching.  It's a hard time learning classroom management and tying together content, pedagogy and support requirements can continue for many years.

The third line and last line is administration.  The strategies available at this level are pretty dire.

For those with limited support at a family level, in schools under stress with limited ability to provide collegiate support, administrative support is going to be fairly limited and action fairly direct. The half cohort has placed a number of schools in this category - with considerable pressure placed on relatively few. Filling in the gaps from this point is predictable.

I have thought that is why teaching is full of assertive personalities that "win over" students rather than  those that have the best teaching ability (with regard to content and pedagogy). Teaching also has a few teachers hiding beneath the radar, giving good grades but doing the bare minimum.

I know that assertive and avoidant teachers are not all, but it would be good if those that were good at teaching, trying hard but not "assertive" also found their place through support at critical times.  These people could make phenomenal teachers in the right location.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The important of positivity

It's been a busy term and everyone is a little frayed.  It's time like this that a school like ours can start to wear on you a little.  You see only the negative and miss all of the good things that are being done.  You start to become that teacher that has been at the school a little too long and starts to believe the reputation of a school rather than see the potential of students.

If this happens, I hope you are able to take a step back and look at what you are doing.  I hope you have great people around you that can fill your sails with enthusiasm and drive you past the negativity - and similarly you can be that person for others in the organisation.  I hope you can look over your shoulder and see all the kids that have passed through the system successfully and realise that you are a part of something that makes a difference in your community.

I only noticed it this week because I was doing long hours and getting tired.  I was at a social function and a few jokes were bandied about our school (which is fairly normal - we have a reputation that we no longer deserve) and probably for the first time I wasn't one of the ones leaping to our defence.  Yet, I was surrounded at the time by two math teachers that graduated from our school (and were now working in the local area), my current practicum student is a graduate from our school, three of our past practicum students keep close contact with the school because they are keen to work with us (not only did practicum not scare them off - they can see the support and challenge of a school like ours), past students at university drop in all the time and visit.  Nearly every student that I have taught stage 3 courses to is now at university and is successfully traversing their degree.

We are lucky at the moment to have an administration that is challenging us to do more, and is helping those that want to rise to the challenge. They are supportive of our hair brained schemes that may help our hair brained students, ideas born from the extensive experience of the teaching team and through discussions with students.  There are even levels of real performance management entering the system - which is exciting as this is the heart of real change in the school.

We are doing things that very low SES schools don't do.. overseas trips, winning state and national competitions in multiple areas (science, history, home economics, dance from my knowledge in the last 5 years). We develop leadership.. With each PD I find that our school department has developed teachers in TiC and HoD positions all over WA that remember the school fondly.

I hear comments about how students miss our school once they have left and it's not just our stage 3 kids.  With the development of an active PE department, a T&E dept (focussed on vocations not just skills), dedicated dance and drama teachers and a MESS group that is getting their head around national curriculum delivery, we should be positive about the direction of the school.

It was a little surprise to discover I had become a teacher that had real pride in our school, rather relying on my more natural cynicism about everything!

Sure, we'll take hits in year 11 exams, as students start to realise a work ethic is needed to succeed but past experience says that the majority will get there (at least the ones that can surmount the problems the area brings).  The kids make the transition (giving us more grey hairs whilst making this transition) and it is ok.  Perspective needs to be maintained.

I think we need to be mindful of staff that focus on the negative aspects of schooling and miss the great things that are happening.  These members are always there, and it is a group I don't want to be a part of.

For someone like me that is developing their leadership skills, I think positivity is a real area I can work on.  As an art of leadership, inspiration of a team requires real belief in what you are doing.  If you feel that your belief is waning, take a good look around and see what you have done to make a difference, listen to colleagues that are in the zone, if that does not work, go make that difference instead.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Underestimating the impact of fly-in fly-out

I read the paper and see people write, "fly-in fly-out will buy me my house" and I can't believe my eyes.  The idea of being away from my family for extended periods for money would keep me up at night, if it was the only solution.  It seems naive and short sighted.

The impact on a family must be horrendous.  One parent effectively looking after everything to do with the house, another 4000 km away with nothing to do but work.  The only payback being a few extra dollars per hour.  It may pay off the house, but it would certainly put my marriage under strain.  I value time with family a lot higher than that.

In schools we see this impact emerging with dual income families and one parent FIFO.  Kids get limited support from parents as instead of sharing the load of parenting, it is placed on one overworked person trying to juggle 100 balls in the air and usually a job aswell.  I could only liken it to the load of the single mum, something that I wouldn't wish on anyone.

Needless to say the load ends up somewhere and typically it is with kids in schools unable to socialise effectively and study adequately.  There is a cost to FIFO and we haven't paid it yet.  It's on its way and we had better put some thought into it.  These kids are coming and many may be underdeveloped and lack self discipline after being left alone for extended periods of time.  It has the potential to be a mental health issue (with kids lacking belonging), a policing issue (with kids not being adequately monitored), an education issue (with attendance and performance dropping) and a social issue (with families under strain).

Encouraging true regional areas seems to be the only real solution and it will take years to create viable communities in outlying areas.  Royalties for regions was a ridiculous notion but if refocussed now that money is available, it will be an interesting exercise spending money to make regional centres attractive - fixing health, education, lack of amenities and creating a broad spectrum of service based jobs (built around decent populations); rather than risky exiles from city centres with fear of never being able to return due to increasing land values.  Just ask a teacher trying to return from a regional centre how easy it is to get a job in Perth after a regional posting now independent public schools has reduced the available pool of places.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Extinction Event: School Librarian

As a kid I loved the library, I was a book a day kid.  I didn't really care what it was, as long as it was interesting in some way and over 300 pages.  I never understood picture books as the picture created in your own mind was the fun of it.  I still own a decent science fiction collection from the 50's and 60's.

but.. I think the school teacher librarian and the idea of a library itself is on its last legs.  The non fiction section completely lacks relevance (it always was too small to be useful) and has been surpassed by online resources or class based texts.  The day of the printed book, even fiction, is passing.  I realised this when I watched my wife prefer to read her book on a backlit iPad than the paper copy next to her.

Specialist research tasks are no longer the domain of the librarian.  There's no reason why a bibliography by a student can't be written using a tool like 'Papers' - it's a task now that does not need a specialist teacher.  There's no reason why a teacher can't prepare a list of articles for students to research from and keep for later use - I've never seen this done by a librarian anyway (albeit it was more common with paper books).  Electronic documents can be annotated and highlighted just like paper - without printing and photocopying time/expense.  Students with laptops are ringing the death knell of the library being IT centres, distributed computers in classrooms are just more useful.

When I look at a library I see a shell of the learning centre it once was.  I see broken computer labs with kids playing games, too loud to promote study.  I see old mouldy books last read in a previous decade.  I see old brown furniture that wasn't even that well made to begin, not old enough to be retro, not new enough to be modern.

Libraries could become study centres again with the right management in place.  Librarians though are too expensive to use managing study centres.  Once a fertile ground for breeding librarians, now that paper books are becoming extinct, so are librarians.  The person choosing, storing and sorting books has been overtaken by digital resources selected by the masses or distant experts.

Where does this leave the librarian?

Sadly, I'd suggest out of a job.  I can't see such traditionalists re-inventing themselves into something as required as the librarian was.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Papers: Creating a glossary of terms

After writing my last article on using Papers I thought to myself, I need to write a glossary of terms at some point, maybe Papers can help.

If I use the search function in Papers, I can search for the term and view how other authors have interpreted them.

I started with 'microblogging' and came up with 8 documents:

Then I clicked on the first document, on the right hand side a list of pages and entries appeared where the term 'microblogging' was used:

The entry itself was highlighted at the bottom of the page.  This entry did not have a good definition so I clicked back on my search list and tried the next entry:

In searching for the glossary item I discovered a table that I had missed and thought may be useful later in defining what microblogging was and why microblogging was important from Halse (2009).

My first glossary item came from a post from Romania of all places:

"Microblogging is a Web2.0 technology and a new form of blogging, that let the users publish online brief text updates, usually less then 140-200 characters, sometimes images too. The posts can be edited and accessed online, or sent as SMS, e-mail or via instant messaging clients. Usually the microblogs authors embed their posts as a widget on blogs or sites." (Holotescu, 2009)

A second item:

"Microblogging is a variant of blogging which allows users to quickly post short messages on the web for others to access. These messages can be restricted to a certain number of individuals, sent exclusively to a specific contact, or made available to the World Wide Web." (Costa, 2008)

Both came from conferences, indicating that completed formal research may be still coming and that microblogging is a relatively new phenomenon.

Quite a cool use of the search function, something that would have taken ages trolling through multiple pdf files or rewriting from sticky notes attached to paper.

I will need to look further into why ellipses are turning up in reference lists though.


Costa, C., Beham, G., Reinhardt, W., & al, E. (2008). Microblogging in technology enhanced learning: A use-case inspection of ppe summer school 2008. Proceedings of the  ….

Halse, M. L., & Mallinson, B. J. (2009). Investigating popular Internet applications as supporting e-learning technologies for teaching and learning with Generation Y. International Journal of Education & Development using Information & Communication Technology, 5(5), 58–71. University of the West Indies.

Holotescu, C., & al, E. (2009). Using microblogging in education. Case Study: Cirip. ro. 6th International Conference on e- ….

Papers: Finding lost articles

Here's something I do a lot.  I'll read an article, quote it in a document and then forget where I quoted it from.   Then I'll have a rummage, fail to find the document and have to remove the quote, undermining the argument I was trying to build.

This happened to me this morning and I had an idea.  Perhaps Papers can find it for me.  The quote was:

" However, most Yers ...".

I selected "Papers" at the top of the left hand pane to bring up all articles.

Then in the search box typed my quote:

And up came the relavent document:

I was then able to click on the document and find the quote that I had highlighted previously.

This may sound like a trivial task but I can see that this would also be very useful when checking the validity of quotes when proofing a document.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Papers: Using Collections

Papers collections can be a bit confusing at first, but once you figure it out, finding articles is considerably easier, especially when you are reading 50-60 papers a week preparing for a literature review.

A collection (folder) of articles can be created by

File->New Collection->Manual Collection

All unfiled articles are automatically added to the "Unfiled Papers" collection

To add an article to a collection, drag it from the main pane to the collection.  Once filed it will disappear from the "Unfiled Papers" collection.

If you make a sub collection (a collection in a collection) articles will be automatically added to parent collections.  I found splitting Case studies and Editorials handy, since case studies typically have more depth (useful for a literature review) and reviews/editorials are wider reaching (useful to get a big picture look at where research trends are developing).

Things to remember about collections:
  • If you delete an article from a collection, it will again appear in "Unfiled papers".
  • If you delete an article from "Unfiled papers" it will be moved to Trash.
  • If you move an article directly to Trash, it will be deleted from all collections (but can be restored from the Trash).
  • If you delete a file from Trash it is permanently deleted.

This can all be disorientating at first (with articles appearing all over the place), but once figured out, it is quite useful.

A useful tip when wanting to move a file between collections is to delete an article from a collection and then add it to the desired collection from "Unfiled papers".  This will save you from having multiple copies of the same paper in different collections (but takes a bit of courage the first time).

Another interesting feature is the detection of duplicates.  If you download the same file twice, Papers detects it and prompts you to delete it.  The indicator is on the far right hand side near the bottom when looking at an article or in the main pane on the left hand side column.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Papers: Citations and Referencing (Mac)

I'm a fairly lazy researcher and loathe the tedious process of referencing - like many in the new generation, I enjoy finding and using a new idea, care little of the source, file the articles poorly and then find it difficult to reference them properly.

Luckily technology has come to the rescue.  EndNote, Papers and Sente can do some of the menial tasks in the past I may have written applications to do for me.  They do the work of filing and scraping references from online journals and all I have to do is verify the results to make sure it is correct and adequate.

My first efforts were with Papers for iPad which made the process relatively easy, and now that I have Papers for my mac, creating bibliographies and citations is a trivial task - at about the level of complexity I am comfortable with.  It's not to say EndNote and Sente are not better, it's just that I am familiar with this relatively cheap ($49 for a student version) option with iPad support.

I know why referencing is important, I do - I just don't care that much, the implementation and spread of good ideas is what a research practitioner is about; and a good idea can come from anywhere not just a renowned journal or academic.  Being able to recognise a good idea is a mark of a real practitioner, especially where early adoption is concerned.  If you can't do this, you end up implementing ideas that are aging and reaching end of life cycle, taking high risks on projects that are likely to fail or using ideas that have little merit.

Back to the problem at hand.. Papers installation and setup is quite simple.  It took me a little longer than this to figure it out, I hope this can help save you a little time.

Install papers from here. A 30 day trial was available at time of writing.

In the Papers application go Papers->Preferences->Access and enter the university library journal search url at the bottom of the page.

Now go to File->Open Library Website

Use your search page to find a journal article.  The journal search pages are widely different but the process is usually quite similar.  Here's one example:

Papers will attempt to scrape the page for the citation and is generally quite good.  To increase accuracy of the citation download a citation file (the endNote/RIS citation format works well)  and Papers will automatically detect the downloaded file and use it instead.  Quickly you will find that although not perfect, it is superior to manually recording citations.

Next click on a fulltext pdf representation of the journal article.  Papers will add it to the citation and the unfiled papers section for later reading.  Each pdf/citation can be added to a collection for use when generating an article or research proposal.

Once the article and citation is downloaded, the tab will be renamed with the name of the author (an important check to ensure the right citation is linked to the right article - sometimes it gets confused and overwrites the library website tab, restart the app if this happens).  Sections of the article can be highlighted whilst reading the article and notes can be added for later use.  The journal articles get automatically renamed and can be filed in folders (collections) to aid in relocating the article file later.

You can also add a bookmarklet to other browsers to add articles directly from a browser.  This also works quite well but lacks the workflow listed above.
Liking creature comforts, I enjoy reading articles on the couch on my iPad.  Papers allows me to link to my iPad effortlessly and annotate articles.  Grab it from the appStore.

The true heart of Papers though is in the ease of adding citations to articles that you are writing.  This works in Pages and Word, even Blogger!  Within any of these apps press control twice and a citation menu appears.  Type the author or title and then select the article that you are working with - it inserts the citation directly into the document.  When you are finished adding citations, go back to the citation menu and at the touch of a button a reference list can be created.

For the article above to get the the reference in APA format for Blogger would be "control, control" then

The citation is:

(Nehme, 2010)

The reference found is:

Nehme, M. (2010). E-learning and Student's Motivation. Legal Education Review, 20(1/2), 223. Australasian Law Teachers Association.


Web 2.0 usage in the classroom

This is the year of web 2.0 usage in the classroom.  Teachers have avoided using technology in the classroom and have stated that the failures in the past is a justification for not using it in the future.  I'll put my hand up and say that I was one of those.

Then I did a host of research for my "on again" masters.

I think the time has come that we give this a good look.  The failure of learning management systems (LMS's) can now be overcome.  Social media applications provide the gloss that engages students online.  It gives them reason to revisit and get access to information that they require at critical times during their "learning journey" (bleuch.. writing that leaves a bad taste in my mouth - but best describes what I mean).

Online applications are now reaching the level that they can be useful in the classroom and superior to direct instruction.  There is enough competition that application vendors are willing to listen to classroom requirements, assist teachers with implementation and work towards a successful implementation (rather than an "overstate the possibilities, take my money, dissappear" approach.  I'm sure this sounds familiar to many of us).

Web 2.0 extends the classroom beyond four walls - blogging, microblogging, social networking, cloud computing are being used effectively in higher education and there is little reason it shouldn't be used in primary and secondary settings.  Not doing so causes equity issues for our students when they enter higher education.

Students are now IT literate in ways that can be useful to implement in the classroom.  We're not teaching mail merging, Excel and Access usage anymore.  We're talking small bites of IT understanding and using it to directly aid classroom progress.  Microblogging (short notes sequentially placed on a wall similar to facebook) attaching IWB notes for revision, getting a better idea of progress through online marksbooks, providing tools for online collaboration and creating active subgroups within a class, shared development of documents through googledocs, improved organisation through calendars, online project submission,  annotation reducing paper usage, creating digital rather than paper notes using applications such as notability or goodnotes, classroom monitoring software, vod and podcasting - these sorts of things take small amounts of time to implement, are typically free and can make real differences in results, it's now accessible, cheap and works.  These things can be done now, not tomorrow, enabled by tablet and 1-1 laptop access.

I'm not glossing over the learning curve for us, or the overhead of starting the progress but.. if it can clearly be shown that these techniques are superior, it is worth the effort.  I think this time has come.

Even in Math, technologies are starting to mature that reduce IT overheads and improve the classroom experience especially in revision, organisation and note taking.  It's time that schools and universities embrace what can be done to improve teaching pedagogy where new technologies drive student performance. Perhaps we could give less prominance to engagement and self esteem.  These two come primarily as a result of performance and to get engagement with web 2.0 in a class, I think it has to be shown that performance is the primary result.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

CAS calculator and differentiation

There are a host of ways to find the first derivative on the CAS calculator and to solve calculus problems quickly.  Sometimes I think exam writers are well behind what these calculators can do and fail to understand how trivial some problems have become.

Let's start with simple substitution into an equation:

a) Find y at x=3 for y = 2x^2 + 2x + 2

The "|" is important between the equation y = 2x^2 + 2x + 2 and x=3

Let's now find x if we know y.  This is a little harder as we have to solve the equation.

b) Find x at y=14 for y = 2x^2 + 2x + 2

The easiest way to do this is to type 14 = 2x^2 + 2x + 2, highlight it using your stylus (this is important!) and then go

Note that it find both possible solutions (unlike using numsolve with the incorrect range specified)

Let's find the first derivative.  For this use the 2D template in the soft keyboard

Go keyboard -> 2D -> Calc ->

c) Find the 1st derivative of y=2x^2 + 2x + 2

Note that I removed the "y=" this time.  I differentiated the expression on purpose as it makes the next part easier.

Finding the 1st derivative/gradient/instantaneous rate of change at a point is also easy.

d) Find the 1st derivative of y = 2x^2 + 2x + 2 at x = 3

As you can see, it is a mix between c) and a)

Last but not least we can find a point for a particular gradient.

e) Find x at y' = 14 for y = 2x^2 + 2x + 2


To find y itself we could repeat a)

It's very much a case of thinking what you need and then finding it.  As you can see it can all be done with one line on a CAS calculator, things that would take multiple steps on paper.  TanLine is also a useful function that can be investigated and used to quickly find tangents.


Click here for more CAS calculator tutorials

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

1-1 laptops and utilisation in mathematics classes

Last year I was struggling with using laptops in the mathematics classroom with students of significant disadvantage.  I had thousands of dollars of equipment and yet felt unable to utilise them in a way that raised performance in my classroom.  Use of technology outside of CAS calculators was near nil.  We called in our local laptop reseller to help.  It was a big surprise to hear from the reseller that utilisation of laptops in 1-1 laptop mathematics classrooms was around 5%.   Schools hadn’t done much more than load textbooks, do the occasional assignment and play with math games.

This was a defining moment in the use of laptops at our school and freed the math department to think outside the box.  These machines were unlikely to assist us in solving problems in a mathematics classroom.  It wasn’t going to revolutionise our teaching, but with such a high level of available resourcing we realised it may have the potential to revolutionise learning.

The first thing we did was look at problems of the low socioeconomic student, resourcing, organisation, attendance, engagement, completion of work (in and outside the classroom), skill and knowledge deviation/development.  This is where lights turned on and we started towards real reform of learning.

Our reseller jump started our thinking by showing us an application that filled a need for a learning management system at the school.  Interactive whiteboards were creating masses of information that students wanted and digital resources were becoming more prevalent.  We needed a platform to distribute electronic information to students in real time.  Something cloud based was our preference as we did not have the resources to maintain something onsite.  It needed to be something reliable and already tested, we didn’t want to be doing and paying for cutting edge research.  Edmodo, the software suggested by the reseller, filled a need.

We needed to seek ways to increase our influence outside of the classroom to better utilise classroom time.  School grades were posted online allowing students access to their progress.  Practice tests and screencasts of key lessons were posted online for students to use as revision for tests.  Students started to post question online for answering by the teacher or peers – more importantly students started responding to posts before I had a chance to.

Last Friday I sat with a disengaged student learning BIMDAS.  I noticed that although he could identify what to do, by the time the student reached the part of the sum to work with, he had forgotten what he had to do.  A simple idea was to underline the next operation to be performed.  This changed his demeanour and he engaged with me as his teacher, working through a page of sums.  A new (although I imagine obvious to many) teaching method though was not the main outcome from this incident.

By far the most unexpected outcome of our IT journey is watching the doors between classrooms open, with math teachers in the school sharing ideas.  Ideas such as the underlining during BIMDAS are starting to pollinate between teachers – teachers that found it hard to meet due to timetabling were now able to share and comment on resources.  Ideas are being recorded and are retained for use in following years.  Although the laptops were not engaging students, the idea of using them more effectively was solving some of the problems that I had expected that laptops would resolve directly.

This idea of technology helping engage students goes beyond direct use of laptops.  The online environment itself was proving a motivating factor with the year eights.  They could see that we were making an effort to extend into their world, where physical appearance, socioeconomic status, age, gender, religion were insignificant factors to interaction.  Where rapport is so important with low socioeconomic students, any connection we can make between their world  and ours is beneficial.  It helped that edmodo had adopted an interface very much like that of Facebook, a generally banned interface in the government school system.  

Now that we had a system that can store boardwork and assist absentee students work whilst outside school (such as those doing VET courses) we had the potential to ameliorate some of difficulties of absentee students and students with academic difficulties.  It removed some of the excuses and put more of the onus of responsibility back onto the student to perform.

It is only a beginning but one that is exciting.  We know IT has been traditionally an underperformer, but in this instance I am excited by the response both by students and teachers.  We will need to continue examining how the system is working going forward and drive towards more tailored resources for students.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dominance games and adapting to a new position.

Being of ethnic background, some things are just not nice.  Four senior staff have called me boy in conversation.  Given that I actively seek to remain connected to the current generation, I can understand where they are coming from, but I must admit to finding it extremely irritating especially coming from a white person.  I have more life experience than most, if not all the staff (I packed a lot into my twenties) and I'm two years off 40.  I'm hardly boy anymore.

Culturally it is really inappropriate (my grandfather was darker than most of our boys of African descent) and although I don't think a racist element is present, it probably is an unconscious dominance tactic at worst, a really poor idea for an affectation at best.

The only thing I know is that it is annoying.  Coming from a professional background outside of teaching, politeness becomes an artform, professionalism a requirement.  In teaching the rules are blurred and seemingly become moreso the higher you reach.

I have managed to stay out of school politics to some degree by being being predominantly in a classroom isolated from other teachers.  I've had to move into the building and it makes me more accessible and requires more contact with elements of the organisation than I am used to.  It will take time to adjust, knowing what people need to know and what can be just dealt with.

Even jurisdiction is a problem, knowing who, what and where is your responsibility and what should be done by others.  What do you do when things that need to be done are neglected by those that should be doing them?  Do you ignore it, act to fill a need or report it to get fixed (and to who?).

Given that no time is given to resolve anything (as TiC), I know there is little within the role I can do, other than ensure administrative tasks are done.   This of course means that staff training, monitoring of progress, curriculum development and other roles traditionally in the hands of a HOLA will be neglected at times of the year as my teaching load demands attention.

At least things have calmed down this week - my classes are planned, notes are done and assignments are ready.  From a teaching point of view it should all be good.  Let's hope there's not too much else going on for a little while.