Showing posts with label curriculum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label curriculum. Show all posts

Sunday, February 27, 2011

PD Days & Collegiality

One of the bugbears of PD days is the difficulty of engaging 60-70 university trained professionals of widely diverse interests, usually during times of high stress with timelines bearing down on you.

One idea is to use this time for learning area planning. This is usually unsuccessful and the planning time instead used for a wide variety of other tasks (general discussion, marking, personal planning). Why?

Some suggested reasons:
a) No deliverables are defined
b) Time frame for deliverables are unrealistic, ill defined or aspirational
c) Require sharing of resources that are thought of as proprietary (such as programmes developed in own time)
d) Require interaction between staff members that are oppositional
e) Processes are poorly lead and easily high jacked
f) Deliverables are not measured
g) No consequences for not meeting deliverables

Most of these are just indicators of poor school based management but many are problems that have arisen due to systemic ineptness. The lack of collegiality is a growing phenomenon that is occurring as competitiveness between teachers for promotional positions is rising and teaching moves from a vocational profession to an occupation. If schools do not actually manage the transfer of information and the information loss as teachers move between positions and schools, the school loses knowledge and effectiveness (especially cohort or area knowledge) with each transfer. Teachers tend to gain knowledge working in schools such as ours (on their path to effective teaching in low SES schools) rather than the other way around. Those entering these schools can encounter strong resistance to new ideas (especially if it is thought the ideas have been tried before), underestimate implementation issues or be unwilling to share until quid-pro-quo is found.

It should also be recognised that with the rapid changes in syllabus, the ability for a school to develop a working curriculum (that can be further developed over a number of years) has been made significantly harder. The weight of curriculum development has been placed on many occasions in the hands of the incompetent through no fault of their own (teaching out of area, beginning teachers, sole practitioners rather than team members, those lacking analytical skills but are fantastic teachers, administration staff that cannot measure effectiveness of a programme etc)

PD days are one opportunity to stop this information loss but it needs people that can define clearly a task to be done that would serve a real long term purpose and then measure the effectiveness of it. It is just another aspect of change management.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Greenfoot is another attempt to bring programming to students. It has a textbook that can be purchased and an established user group. It is well worth a look if starting a computer programming class and you wish to use Java.

Here is a link:

Have a look


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Putting urgency back into the curriculum.

The developmental curriculum has slowed the pace of the curriculum to the desired pace of students. As far as I can tell, the desired pace of a good many students is a slow crawl (perhaps even falling backwards). I lay the blame for this at the idiotic levels based assessment programme that has finally been turfed.

The idea of standardised grades across the state is plain stupid as it prevents some students ever having success in their reports. It is no wonder that motivation for these students that face constant failure is low (despite achieving during term and learning at an appropriate rate). The obvious solution is to use NAPLAN to gauge state-wide performance and normalise class grades.

The need now is to forget the pace students desire (in too many cases it is slower than what they can actually do) and create a pace that is optimum for learning. Despite hearing comments otherwise, they are not the same thing. To say that a child (with no experience of what they can do) should set the pace of their learning is wrong. An programme/syllabus of work that has been tested and improved through years of experience is bound to have a higher proportion of success than a one off experimental curriculum by inexperienced teachers solely based on the current cohort. Teachers need a syllabus well paced and sequenced to assist students complete the programme required for school leaving and thus assist in identifying when remedial or extension action is required to assist students (preferably with a streaming mechanism to reduce performance pressure) - this would be a far better result than drifting kids bobbing at the same level for years at a time.

The programme drives the class, and the urgency created by a required pace of work provides the anxiety required for proper learning. The pendulum swings and again teachers can focus on teaching to a programme rather than facilitating what students see themselves able to do. After all, students in the workforce need to manage their work to meet deadlines, where better to learn than through assessment in school.


Does all this mean that I am against OBE? Not really. I have always liked the idea of outcomes as a guide for a programme of work. It is like the backbone of a programme showing what needs to be taught. It's also all I've been taught via tertiary study. Tied to scope and sequence documents and Progress maps, OBE concepts are a good thing - give me anything that helps me understand the underlying concepts and ideas behind the curriculum. OBE is not a panacea - clearly it has shown to be poor for grading assessment, poor in promoting homogeneous classes, weak when promoted with collaborative learning and negative when tied to a developmental programme with weak students.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Evidence Based Education

Evidence based education is the new buzzword in education. It shares an acronym similar to OBE but is remarkably different in its approach to teaching. We need to be careful in engaging in more edubabble.

At face value it sounds much like common sense. From what I have read it can be summed up as following: "Systemic change in education should only occur with valid, statistically supported evidence." Today, where information is so easily shared there is no excuse for implementing blanket change without scientifically verified support (note that I don't say pseudo-scientific).

You can imagine some resistance from teachers as this sounds that it might take any chance of introducing new ideas/methods into the classroom. To my mind it is hard to argue against a process that ensures that the majority of what teachers do is tried and tested (if it fails, it is easier to detect why) and new ideas are limited to a small portion of the curriculum/pedagogy.

The prescribed evidence based methods would be imbued at teacher training programmes. This ensures that the majority of teachers perform at least at a minimum standard by being educated in tried and true methods. Higher risk alternative strategies or optimisation strategies would only be used as an adjunct to the tried methods.

As a parent you would not want your child subject to scientifically unsound/unproven educational methods. But.. with proof comes a necessity for time to find proof and judge what level of proof is required. This is not conducive to the immediate political needs for success in education. The issue it brings to mind is, "can the need for evidence march at the pace required for results?" ..and will the need for results and commercial lobbying compromise any findings made to the point of irrelevancy. I suggest this irrelevancy and bastardisation of results is exactly what will happen.

Change of this type would take at least 15 years to develop content, rotate in new teachers, start new students on their 12 year journey and develop change management processes to effectively monitor progress. Can you imagine a minister standing up and saying we will start the process now and if a subsequent government doesn't mess with it, we will have a good educational results in 2024? The long term nature of education is a good reason to divorce it from political imperatives and place it into a vehicle responsible to government via regulated requirements. I imagine this was first intended with the Curriculum council or SEA.

OBE was an opportunity for teaching to become a true profession again with each teacher becoming a curriculum expert for a given range of students. For those trained in the concept and with the necessary horsepower and support to use it, OBE is a wonderful curriculum development tool. Unfortunately the poor implementation of OBE, the tangling of cooperative learning with OBE and issues with assessment/levelling made it an unmitigated disaster in WA.
Despite this it still would be a mistake to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

EBE is the pendulum swinging and brings a new range of opportunities with the pressure of performance on teachers falling back to professional curriculum writers and systemic decision makers. It too needs to be taken with care until any evidence of success justifies the hype.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Curriculum development in WA Mathematics

You'd be human if you felt confused by the number of documents that guide WA education. Some are used more often than others. These are the ones I refer to most often.

NCOS Yr 11 & 12 Courses - outlines mathematics material to be taught in Yr 11 & 12 for cohort starting in 2009 (1ABCD, 2ABCD, 3ABCD MAT). Many materials for these courses are still in development including texts and sample exam papers. At this stage generally seen as an improvement on the old courses. Specialist maths course information (3ABCD MAS) can be found here. It is unclear how the implementation of the NCOS will affect university entrance.

K-10 Scope and sequence documents - outlines materials to be taught in each year group for each subject. Not mandated by government, can be varied depending on the developmental level of students. The most recent and useful by far are the ones labelled "scope and sequence".

Progress Maps - Used as the major curriculum guide prior to the K-10 Scope and sequence documents being available. Outlines the various assessment bands. If your student is "level 5, Number" this is what describes what level 5 number contains. Its use is mandated by government and is currently the subject of much debate over its effectiveness as an assessment tool. Also known as Outcomes and Standards Framework.

Curriculum framework overarching statement - outlines the framework for teaching. This forms the basis of any response to what teaching is done, how it is done and the aims of WA education. Its use is mandated by government.

Smartie chart - Most controvertial element of school assessment in WA. As part of Commonwealth government funding A-E grading was introduced in WA. The conversion chart or "smartie chart" shows how levels are converted to grades. Has proven difficult to use in producing meaningful grades especially in "leafy green" and "low socioeconomic" schools where the geographical differentiation skews results to either end of the A-E spectrum resulting in classes of A's or E's if applied as designed. Used as a replacement for normalised A-E grades within a class.

Expected standards - outlines what a student needs to be doing to get a C grade for each year group. Controversial as it lifts the bar a long way. Replaced the "smartie chart" in 2010 when using levels for reporting was deemed ineffective.

National Curriculum - The new standard that WA is grinding towards.

Updated: 10/12/11

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Role of syllabus and curriculum

The disjunct between high school and primary school in mathematics has never been greater. Middle schools are finding it increasingly difficult to bridge students to upper school requirements and I place this problem in Western Australia at the feet of Progress maps level 3.

In primary schools I did practicum at, level three was seen as the aim for year 7. In mathematics this causes all sorts of problems. Let me give you some examples and see if you can guess what level they are.

Number Outcome
negative numbers [level 6]
reading and using decimals [level 4]
using numbers into the millions [level 4]
using percentages [level 4/5]
simple operations (+-x÷) on fractions [level 5]
money calculations [level 4]

To find the answers highlight the sections between the brackets.

If your child is in level 3 then know that your child will struggle in high school until they catch up.

If you see me coming to your school in term 4, 2008 with a 50-60 page document outlining what we need for year 6/7 and a lesson by lesson schedule - please don't stick it in the bin and say we don't have a clue, especially those using first steps. Make changes, prove us wrong. Help us improve an ever worsening position. We're just trying to create a clearer picture of what is required and the pace that needs to be travelled to cater to your high calibre students.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The blame game - why do our students lack numeracy

Of great concern is the lack of basic knowledge of students entering year 11 & 12. It can be said that with the advent of calculators that the need for basic skills has diminished - and this is probably true in courses like yr 12 Discrete mathematics where students can pass (and even do quite well) without sound algebra skills, similarly in yr 12 Modelling. Now that these courses are gone I question whether this will be possible going forward.

Yet the issue starts well before year 10. Kids without sound tables and operation skills find fractions difficult. Students without fractions skills find algebra difficult. Students without basic skills in algebra find yr10-12 a constant struggle.

Although teachers can teach the content, there is now too much content in the curriculum to purely rely on the 40-50mins four times a week - the need for parents to go over the content especially in early years cannot be understated. The thought that kids go to school to learn and when at home have interaction with TV and Playstation is fraught with danger - danger that often isn't realised until yr 10.

I would also hesitate to say that the lack of well trained numeracy experts in the primary field is an issue. This may be a holdover from the lack of male teachers in primary (and we are now in the gap before mathematics confident female teachers enter the primary sector). This transition where the majority of female primary teachers are confident in teaching mathematics and pressing students beyond level 3 mathematics in year seven should (I would hope) occur in the next five years.

If parents put in the basics to allow students to fall into reasonable learning curves in school, students are leagues ahead - as with literacy and students that have reading modelled to them at an early age.