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.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


I'm finding transition from one position to another is irksome.  We just completed stage two of our IWB rollout, with eight more boards installed today.  Testing each board and ensuring computers are set up correctly for teachers is becoming a troublesome task.  Each installation had it's own quirk.  One had a failed USB cable, another a bad monitor cable, another three had driver issues on their computer.  Rooms had to be rearranged, teachers needed basic instruction.  It's been uncontrolled chaos.

My own classes are a mix of classes transitioning from the old teacher in charge to my own.  I'm finding our styles are vastly different, in that I prefer to teach each topic explicitly rather than rely on the text.  It will be interesting watching how each group performs.  Small groups have not been set, so it will be at least two weeks until programmes are finalised.

The eights were a mess as the room that the monitor cable failed was mine, leaving me without a working whiteboard.  I believe it's fixed so I will need to deliver a ripper class to get them back on track.

I could have done without having to move from a class I had been in for 5 years.  That in itself has drawn a lot of time that could have been used for other things.  The students don't like it and I'm not a fan of the new room.  I think the logic that I need to be in the main building is flawed.  I need to be settled and organised - not subject to the constant disruption caused by being in the main building.

Picking up and dropping off my daughter to and from daycare takes time away before and after school that I have always spent on planning.  You make the best of any situation, so I have to settle and get my classes running.  It's time to just get on with it.