Sunday, September 22, 2019

High School Boardgames

It's been a while since I have written on board games successful with high school students.  While I still have favourites in my repertoire, a few new ones are being used to good effect.

Recently we have been playing Warhammer 40 Killteam, a skirmish based war-game after school.  Kids can now play the majority of the rules during a game, takes about an hour and is a bit of fun.  Cost of entry is a big concern unless you have a Warhammer person on staff and use their stuff.  Playing, painting, assembling, learning rules is part of the fun.  Warhammer stores offer school based offers from time to time.

Deception, Murder in Hong Kong has become my go to Cluedo/Ware-wolf, type game over Spyrun.  It's simple, can be learned fast, is easy to get your hands on, and is less than an hour to play.

5 Minute Marvel/Dungeon is a quick game, runs to a timer and gets a bit of excitement in the room.  Students have to refine their strategy as the enemies get stronger.

Together with Blokus, Citadels, SET, Ticket to Ride Europe, Apples to Apples, Dixit, Carcassone, Claustrophobia, King of Tokyo/New York, Triazzle; games in a classroom can become a whole class or small group activity that develops a classroom and builds social skills.


Thursday, September 12, 2019

Timetabling

In a small school, timetabling is a delicate balancing act.  If too many resources are placed in maintaining ATAR classes, limited resources are available for the lower school or for the majority in General or Certificate based courses.  If too few resources are placed in ATAR courses, students lack the diversity of subjects required to fully engage them to achieve their best.  It also can limit the career progression of teachers seeking positions in other schools as they lack the experience teaching ATAR courses.

The previous core of subjects (Maths II/III (in whatever incarnation Methods/Specialist, 3ABCD MAS/3ABCD MAT), Physics, Chemistry, English/English Literature, History) now has a few alternates with Politics and Law, Computer Science, Human Biology that can challenge the traditional big six for getting a high ATAR score.  Language bumps and min/maxing Mathematics Applications (Discrete, Maths I) could also provide avenues for success.  To provide a core of subjects can be costly when 10-16 students are involved in each ATAR cohort.

Timetabling is difficult in these circumstances.  Split 11/12 classes or combined General/ATAR courses become more common.  In our case we share courses with neighbouring schools and bus kids back and forth, using a pair of double periods (one after school) to minimise busing and disruption to the general timetable.  SIDE becomes an option where class sizes reduce below 5.  It is very important to have teacher buy-in to prevent resistance and disruption to learning.

Important to success is careful planning during course counselling.  Choices for students need to be limited to what can be delivered.  Failing to do this effectively results in a bloated grid or considerable disappointment and re-counselling of students when subjects are not offered.  This process requires long lead times and making accurate predictions on the nature of each cohort prior up to two years before a cohort hits upper school.

To maintain teacher morale, it is important that the needs of an individual are considered when assigning teachers to classes.  Planning must be in place through performance management and career planning.  A degree of equity is required to ensure that challenging classes academically and challenging classes behaviourally are shared. Strong vs compliant personalities need to be considered.  Promises made must be adhered to, to maintain credibility - especially hard as these can be made to past timetablers, HOLAs, Principals or "just be in the head of a teacher" as a fair response to a difficult prior year.

SCSA requirements through the CAR policy in year 7 and 8 has put pressure on the grid. Requirements for digital design, performing arts, visual arts, computing and soon languages puts pressure to maintain specialist teachers within the school, typically with less than a full FTE requirement.  This results in an increase of teachers teaching out of area or on reduced loads.  The alternative is to have more multi-skilled teachers and to create "teacher based solutions" that are hard to refill if the teacher moves on.

Specialist teachers in key areas (such as Certificate delivery, Physics, Specialist Sport, Dance, D&T, Media, Visual Art) can be hired on reduced loads, but typically request 0.8 FTE over four days.  With four to five people like this in a timetable, this is difficult to grid in a small school, requiring careful consideration to prevent lopsiding grids with subjects not evenly distributed across the week, creating situations where teachers have multiple days without breaks or a subject being repeatedly delivered during the last period of the day.

Requests to reduce load to cater to family requirements, mental health or in preparation for retirement are common.  With childcare costs similar to working costs, requests for fulldays rather than 0.8 over 5 days has significant proportions of staff on reduced load.

With diluted specialisation (if sharing a specialist subject such as Methods between multiple teachers), a teacher may only get to teach a subject once every two to three years.  This does not lend itself to the level of specialisation typically required to be able to accurately grade and design assessment materials.  This has created an increased reliance on purchased assessments (which are regularly compromised through sharing on social media) and small group moderation.  Small group moderation puts additional pressure on teachers as there is an overhead mantaining these relationships successfully.

More recently the need to use endorsed programmes to supplement WACE has become more prevalent.  Leadership, Sporting, Performing Arts and Workplace Learning skills developed by teachers requires individuals to deliver particular courses as only they have the expertise and patience required to monitor, manage evidence and deliver the programmes within the school, limiting where these individuals can be used on the grid.

Other considerations also drive the timetable. Marketing a school is important (put effective teachers in year 7/8 or risk reduced numbers from reputation loss), remediation through extra resourcing or multi-age grouping, extension classes, capacity building, balancing electives come to mind.

Understanding these factors, and the skill base of each teacher is the domain of the timetabler.  A skilled timetabler in a school manages this with ballet-like grace and few understand the surprise that comes with a grid finally coming together.