Showing posts with label teaching. Show all posts
Showing posts with label teaching. Show all posts

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Covid and Good Enough Teaching

I was talking with a colleague on Friday and conversation returned to online education.  The premise was if online teaching was good enough and more cost effective than online delivery, would schools move to online delivery for students in courses where it was reasonably effective.

The hypothesis was that is is possible for a highly skilled teacher (top 10% of teachers skilled in delivering the course) to deliver highly effective content for a Methods course to a large number of students (>1000).  If this was possible, it would have the potential to reduce costs significantly, as the IT infrastructure has already been significantly implemented (and tested during Covid) and face-to-face teachers would not be required.  If each class is about 20 students, that's 50 teachers at $24000 per year, $1.2 million dollars.  If a fifth of that was allocated to online tutors and markers, that's still a saving of about 1 million dollars.  Where schools are struggling to run small courses and SCSA prevents mixed year classes - this could be a godsend.  Schools wouldn't even run classrooms, just timetable time for students to be at home working.  After the content was created it could be re-run year after year.  This is already happening in University mathematics courses.

My colleague took this further and said that the online course would deliver better instructional content than current classrooms in face-to-face mode.  Information could be standardised more easily to the intent of syllabus writers, typically teachers delivering courses face-to-face are not in the highly skilled category, teachers have competing demands in different courses and may have issues impacting on performance from outside the classroom.

Theoretically we could run schools in an online/offline more, where students come to school for socialisation, tutoring and assessment and stay at home for the rest of the time learning online.  Content would be superior and the teaching environment could be better utilised in a cheaper "good enough" solution - the ultimate aim of any bean counter.  Schools could support a greater number of students and become much more efficient delivering content.

Could a compromise be that all ATAR courses be delivered online/offline and students only attend schools 2.5 days per week?

The obvious counter to all of this is that not all high school students are motivated enough to work online for a long period, schools do more than deliver content, context and socio-economic factors impact implementation and research is required to analyse how students impacted by covid perform at University and other higher learning online. 

Education has not evolved for 100 years and is predominantly still delivered in the same mode despite significant changes in technology.  Education appears to be on the precipice of a technology disruption.  Will we too be the victims of automation, or will we navigate it somehow to continue to be an integral part of society?

Sunday, July 7, 2019

One person can make a difference

I've had "One person can make a difference" written on my door for the last nine months.  It's a reminder that much that is done in a school starts with one person.  It's a statement supported by Hattie in his indication that teacher impact has the largest effect on student learning. My latest project shows the power of one person running with an idea.

With my current period as Deputy, returning to my role as 11/12 coordinator and with the start of a new Principal, it's important to find the next thing that keeps you motivated.  Schools aren't a place where you can rely on your line manager to identify what that might be, so it's important to be on the lookout for it.

For me, the main thing that will change is the return to the classroom for four periods a week, as I haven't taught whilst being Deputy, other than the odd bit of tutoring students that come to my office.  I've been given  a dysfunctional Maths class, the most challenging class in the school and one that needed further assistance.  I've had some practicum students who have been observing them for me and we have a great team generated and some defined outcomes that we seek to achieve.

It's something that I would suggest to any educator that has more than three years of experience.  Find a project, if one comes to an end, find another project - something that will drive your motivation and keep you engaged.  It's a great way to be noticed in the school and can create some great collaborative activities that keeps the mind working and prevents you becoming stale in your role.

Better still, if you can make something that has a lasting effect beyond your involvement.  I've been lucky to have had a few of these, maths summer school, mathematics academy, ICT committee, this blog, after school music classes, the boys group, the interact club - but I've also had my set of failures to go with them, projects that have died a slow death.   Don't become disheartened if your project does not have the take-up that you thought it would.  Be supportive of others if they are trying to get their project up and running.

This current project is a doozy though.  To think I could go in as a teacher and just fix things based on my teaching experience would be fairly egotistical and prone to failure - after all they have had an experienced teacher all year.  To succeed we need to try something different.  I've had a bee in my bonnet about "imputed disabilities" and reporting to "year level achievement standards all year".  Ann eMarie Benson at SCSA made the comment to me that if 2/3 of the students at your school cannot meet year level achievement standards, then your school is doing something wrong, and it is something that has stuck with me.  We have some intervention work to do.

I was lucky enough to do the SEN reporting at the start of the year and discovered a tool that might be able to provide the glue for the project.  Coupled with the SCSA K-10 scope and sequence document, it provided the broad brush to create IEPs for the 25 students in the class. By using PAT tests and NAPLAN results I was able to identify where the class was and with help from the Semester 1 teacher I laid out a programme of work for term three that complemented work done in Semester 1.  My practicum students observed the class over the past three weeks and collated their predominant behaviours and attention spans across different learning areas and noted in which classes they were most dysfunctional.  The school Psychologist is working closely with me for the first week to identify desired classroom behaviours.  We created seating plans and a list of desired behaviours.

Now, as I said - it is not about just going into the class and doing good teaching, they have had that.  It's about intervention, which by definition is something different.  The next step was to identify resources that were available to assist driving learning.  The school has no new resources available at this time of year (thus I'm being deployed to the class as the best available resource), I have the semester 1 teacher remaining with me, but have identified a couple of ex-students studying teaching that have agreed to come in and work.  The local university has also pledged teaching students to pop in and assist as my skills in k-7 teaching are limited and I will need to do some heavy lifting to get up to speed and assist them assist the kids.

In any success driven class we need strong feedback loops indicating the level of success achieved.  For this I have gone old school and printed A1 posters for the wall indicating each student has 14 tasks to overcome this term and bought gold circles to paste up.  Some would see this as public shaming, but the 14 tasks are individualised and noted in the IEPs - if we have set the outcomes correctly, then this could drive a little competition and could be a strong success indicator to kids.  We also used the observations done to drive classroom behaviours through a four point behaviour poster which controversially uses some negative language (the PBIS language is missing, but has been ineffectual in semester 1 anyway), it's something I will need to monitor to see if it works.  If the posters don't work - it's ok! We just rip them down.  I've put the IEP in student portfolios so that they know what we are trying to achieve - and each assessment goes in there so that it can be looked back at as a path from what they knew to what they know now.  NCCD quality teaching ideas can easily be embedded in the interventions for each student attempted by myself or associated teaching staff.  Staff from outside the class that have seen that these kids are at risk have pledged their support.  We have pens, books and other resources to limit avoidant behaviours.  They have watched me suspend students all semester - so I come in with authority, now I need to develop a caring rapport to match.

I have worked with the English HOLA and Principal to indicate that this is a model that does not have an overhead, uses resources that are available, lives with the student (SEN reports can be used and progress from 8-10) - it is a low risk project that can be supported.  I'm not sure if this is destined to be a failed project or a success - but I'm keen to attempt something that has not been successful in the past and create a new string for the school that parents and the school can crow about.  It's important that communication to parents from the beginning is strong and continuous - especially as much of the contact to date has been behaviour related and class reports were for the most part indicating limited progress and students that are behind.  Here is the potential for the school response to be vigorous and effective (and maybe even recognised as a good solution for others to model).

.. and if you have a chance to work with practicum students, do it.  Yes you will get the occasional plonker, but on the whole they can fire you up and help you achieve work you cannot do on your own.  The current pair have certainly done that and can run with an idea (and generate some great ones through observation) once it is seeded and hopefully get a good appreciation of what is possible.  Without them, we wouldn't be this far down the track without teaching a lesson. Yay!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Supporting students after graduation

I have witnessed many wonderful things evolve at our school, but one of the most promising is the development of effective support structures for ex students.  Developing Win-win situations for ex students and the school is very important to make these relationships work for all involved.

When I first arrived six years ago, graduating students often came back to the school and looked a bit lost.  They said hello to teachers that barely remembered their names and I would get the feeling of loss that they would feel, coming back to a place where they were happy and felt safe that was now closed to them.  This loss was heartfelt, as school is a launching pad for these students, a support that after graduation is lost.

Over the next few years we have looked at ways to engage ex-students, provide a level of support going forward and use the skills gained by students in navigating school to assist students within the system.  It's a way of leveraging the goodwill gained during the 'best' times of their lives (though if it truly is the best, I'd be sad as it is a very small part of their lives).

The most obvious way was to encourage tertiary students to help at summer school.  Students entering ATAR make mistakes preparing for the final two years and won't always listen to teachers as to the best method for preparing for one of the most stressful situations in their lives.  By coming to summer school after graduation, they can share their experiences and have clear evidence of how far they have come in comparison to their fellow students.  It's downtime for most students, so it only has minor impact on their commitments.

The recent emerging structure is seeing students come back as paid tutors after school. Students in first and second year university are finding that ICT is decreasing the number of required contact hours and they are now more free to engage in work related activities.  We have found that our graduates are happy to come back and help out in after school programmes for high performing students and tutor.  As effective tutors have typically been very difficult to find, it has been welcome to utilise they students as a resource (and fulfil a need of theirs to both belong and support their income).

A welcome aside is to assist our university bound students complete their courses.  Our success is truly measured in their success and being able to give graduating students effective post-school support at critical times in their university journey may be the difference in completing their courses and failing.  Assistance may be helping them through a first year math course and adapting to a more text orientated learning style with clear language differences than experienced in school.  Support at tertiary institutions that work for a green leafy students, may not work for our headstrong students, who either do not fit in with peers well, or are too headstrong to engage in help structures and typically do not work well in groups.  It takes them time to realise that there are students less intelligent that are completing successfully their courses and that they have something to offer beyond cynicism and self deprecating comments.

I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of students seeking math teaching as a pathway into the workforce.  Having employed two of our mathematics practicum teachers in our team of four and having more on standby means that we have a pool of culturally aware teachers available to develop our mathematics department that can hit the ground running and avoid common issues found with our students.  The fact that some of these are ex-students developing their peers is a whole of community bonus.

Much of this is officially non-core to our mission, but we know that many low-socioeconomic strategies have failed to increase tertiary engagement and effect social change.  Post school programmes tied back to effective in school processes may be a factor that has not been sufficiently considered.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

IEPs and engagement

Students cannot sit and do nothing in my classes.  It's a fundamental of my classes, something introduced to me by an EA when I first started in the school.  She has now gone on to be a teacher, and I'm sure a fine one.  It was an interesting lesson to me at the start of my career.  Listen to those experienced around me and that a good EA is worth gold for what they are paid.

That's not to say all EAs are great.  Some are decidedly ordinary - the issue being how to identify when an EA is being effective or ineffective...  We need to be fair - is it the fault of the EA giving a student individual assistance, the fault of the teacher giving a poor instruction, not adequately meeting the needs of the student or are the expectations of the student/teacher/EA unachievable given a certain circumstance (medical, emotional, developmental, prior learning, attitudinal).

Given a circumstance when a student is not learning - and as HoD I am responsible for learning (where the care team are ultimately responsible for monitoring and improving behaviour/attendance through IBPs), I face a difficult task as often the circumstance of a particular student is "confidential" and the lines of communication are muddied by "who needs to know".  With "at risk" students it is common to assign an EA to assist the student remain in class and learn.  I'm not a believer in withdrawal for extended periods (students in life will rarely have personal tutors), and teachers are overpaid to be babysitters and not have students learning.

What I really need to know as HoD are the strategies that are expected to work (developed in conjunction with the care team), that the teacher involved knows what is necessary to enact the strategy, that they are equipped to do it, they have the required resources (such as an EA) and that the student is on the same page - then I need to monitor that it is in effect and check it's effectiveness. To my mind the performance contract is the IEP.  I don't need to know the condition of the student, just the main effects of it, the strategies in place to ensure learning is happening and whether it is working.

The model I describe is teacher centric and unapologetically so.  If the teacher has responsibility for learning in the classroom, then they are responsible for ensuring learning is adequately occurring - ensuring there is an effective learning programme.  If a student is refusing to work, then it is the responsibility of the EA to make the teacher aware and then the teacher to enact change.  If the assessment is that the EA is not enacting the strategy as designed - then and only then, can the EA be assessed as ineffective.

The EA/teacher role needs to be in synergy, realising that we don't live in a perfect world (things won't always work with difficult students) and with some amount of lookahead as materials will need to be modified by the EA to ensure that they are suitable for the student.  The IEP has it's place here too as it documents the role of the EA and the tasks they need to do in preparing a lesson.

The bottom line is, it costs a lot to assign an EA to a student.  If the cost/benefit analysis is not there - we need to recognise that it is an expensive intervention and that it needs to be given priority to design a new solution.  After all, in a high or mid performing class, with a skilled EA, that person could be helping ten students rather than effectively helping none.

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.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A profession that consumes the individual

One of the things to consider as a teacher is how isolating the career can be. As someone responsible for 100 students and their individual well being, it can be easy to fall into the trap of allowing the job to consume all of your available time to effectively respond to their needs.

The better a teacher you become, the more you realise you can do. The more pressure there is to perform.

Focusing on one class leads to deficits in other classes. These deficits are then questioned and you start to doubt your ability and there starts a downward spiral difficult to arrest on your own.

Then there are personal considerations when faced with students that relate directly to your life story. The child that is facing issues that you faced as a child and believe you can make a difference to their lives. A laptop computer given on loan, buying a student text, giving a few minutes extra tuition, making sure they have enough money for an excursion, advocating for a student - I know teachers regularly do these things. Knowing that it would be difficult to enjoy your weekend and satisfy your conscience if you didn't act when you had the opportunity.

Another trap is allowing a deficit of time to let you lose your support network. Being consumed by teaching can lead to a one dimensional person, having only one interest and thus having limited interest to others. This can make it a lonely profession especially when the majority of conversation you have is with minors.

It doesn't just affect you, it affects those around you. Supporting a teacher is a full time occupation. You come home tired and spent. Events of the day can overwhelm you. It can be a real pressure cooker at times, especially around TEE and reports or when the playground is on fire.

Somebody told me about the monkey analogy and how if someone passed you the monkey - it was important to pass the monkey to another (yes it was an admin person). As a metaphor for problems I think as a teacher, the tribe of monkeys needs a support network capable of dealing with them. Admin sometimes needs to remember this.

Maybe I'm a bit old fashioned. Maybe I have to look at it a bit more like a job and less like an opportunity to make a difference. I wonder if I would be able to do it anymore if I thought about it that way.

It's no wonder many teachers are a little bit more than strange.

A bigger worry is that you fail to notice it after a while :-)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Making mistakes

You know.. it would be nice to not make mistakes. It's even better when your mistakes aren't distributed to multiple schools for scrutiny. I had the wonderful opportunity of writing three assessments for moderation groups all at the same time, two tests (one for 3A MAT and one for 2C MAT) and an EPW (for 2C). Tests did not exist that could be pulled off the shelf and I didn't want to use a Curriculum Council EPW as they have been widely leaked (yes I'm looking at you Curtin University!).

Anyhow, the 2C paper had an error (three circle Venn diagrams aren't part of the curriculum) and it was one of my complex questions along with another question that I changed at a teacher request to set notation. Unfortunately by doing so it also reduced them to non complex questions. The test (although broadly covering key concepts) did not have the required complexity.

Once marked the curve for my class was badly skewed. It's a bit embarrassing as it's the first time I've taught 2C and really wanted to do the right thing by my moderation group. The test had an error in it and I had to re-issue the marking key as well as the original one had mistakes in it too.

Hopefully the 3A paper is ok (it's harder than the 2C paper and I think my students are going to get a little wake up call) and I must say - the amount of work required to write a 2C EPW should not be underestimated. If you're interested in an original 2C Finance EPW based on spreadsheets leave a comment with your DET email address and I'll forward it to you (Your email address is safe, - I moderate all comments before release and I'll delete the comment before it goes online so that the email address is not made public).

I've been flat out trying to get it all done (and interim reports) and bed down my classes. Hopefully now it will settle as all of my NCOS assessments for term one have been done and I can start enjoying myself again working on the lower school courses. Ten year 9/10 students approached me today to run an afterschool extension class again. They're fun but a lot of work when you and the kids are hot and tired.

We'll see how it goes. Bring on the long weekend!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Solving Venn diagrams where the intersection is unknown


Today in 2C MAT we came across that old chestnut, the Venn diagram with the missing value in the intersection with a number in A, B and the outside region.

In many cases the easiest way is to use a guess and check approach and a lot of the time the answer will fall out by substituting into the intersection and revising your result based on the values
A union B + the outside region = n.


Another approach is to name the segments and solve a series of equations:

a = 20-b
c = 30-b
a + b + c + 5 = 40

By substitution (20-b) + b + (30 - b) + 5 = 40
Therefore b=15

Once the intersection(b) is known, finding "A only"(a) and "B only"(b) is trivial.

I was asked the question "why teach this technique?" and my response was that it was not formally taught, it was a logical answer for a question given. We have some unknowns, we have some equations, why not solve for them? This sort of problem solving "setting up of equations" technique is common in optimisation and linear programming - why not use it in a probability setting?

I remember a particular student that was renowned for having solutions of this nature where his answers always deviated from the answer key and he had the right answer (or was on the right track) more often than not. We still call intuitive answers like this after "that" student as they forced the marker to find the underlying logic rather than application of a given method (if that student is reading this - get offline and study for your uni courses, scallywag!)

Anyhow, a third and more common approach is to rearrange the property:
A U B = A + B - A intersection B

By rearranging the equation
A intersection B = A + B - AUB

Since we know that:
AUB = U - (the outside region)

to find AUB is fairly simple:
AUB = 40-5
= 35

A intersection B = 20 + 30 - 35
= 15 (as before)

This approach does have the advantage that you can talk about the intersection being counted twice when the union is calculated by adding A + B where A and B aren't mutually exclusive.

I can't really see how this problem could be classed complex given the second method exists. Perhaps, if combined with a wordy explanation, a question of this sort could be made complex but to my mind that would defeat the purpose of the syllabus points in defining complexity. After all, why should something be classed a "complex question" if the only reason was that the question was worded to be understood by students with strong English comprehension?

Further exploring the properties of one

To find an equivalent fraction of a decimals, one way to explain it is to take the decimal part of the original number and place it over the lowest place value. Leave any whole numbers in front. (This only works for non-recurring decimals)

eg 0.123

The lowest place value is thousandths, the decimal part is 123.


0.123 = 123/1000

An alternative way to explain it is using properties of one. The idea is that
a) numerators of fractions should be whole numbers and;
b) the fraction should be equivalent to the decimal.

We can ensure the fraction is equivalent if we only multiply or divide by 1 or more importantly a fraction that is equivalent to 1.

To satisfy part a)
To make 0.123 a whole number we have to multiply it by a power of 10 - 1000 (10^3). This was a concept we had investigated earlier.

..but if we multiply by 1000 we will change the original number from 0.123 to 123 - it will no longer be equivalent.

So to satisfy part b)
We multiply by 1000/1000 (or 1!)

.0123 = .123/1 x 1000/1000
= 123 / 1000

I like this because it continues to explore how fractions are constructed, the connection between decimals and fractions and why decimal conversion works. I wouldn't try it in classes with low ability due to the possibility for high levels of confusion if understandings of multiplication and commutative properties are not properly understood.

An earlier article exploring one and fractions can be found here.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

National Curriculum in High School

The implementation of national curriculum in WA is fast becoming a farce. It lacks coherent leadership and information is not reaching teachers in a timely manner.

I'm not sure who we are supposed to be listening to or what the correct pathway is for our kids.

Some of the emerging issues.

  • WA & Queensland have year 7 in primary making it difficult to implement subject specialisation (such as requirements for science labs in science and adequately trained mathematics teachers for geometry and algebra courses)
  • The deadline for substantial implementation is two phased with all states other than WA set for 2013 and WA for 2014.
  • A definition for substantial implementation is required. It is not clear whether substantial implementation means k-10 will be implemented by the deadline (eg, for high school: staged over four years - yr 7 2011, year 7,8 2012, yr 7,8,9 2013 and 7,8,9,10 2014) or that schools will have programmes ready to start implementation by the deadline set (do we just sit in secondary schools and hope that primary feeders have it all sorted out so that we can start in 2014??).
  • Detailed curriculum documents and sample assessments have not been released, with state agreement for the curriculum dot points only happening last week.
  • Agreement on how to handle deficiencies across primary and secondary school boundaries have not been finalised. As found in the WA implementation of OBE this is indeed a real issue with grading standards vastly different across each segment (remember level 3 mathematics anyone??)
  • Urgency within the secondary segment has not occurred and a watch, wait and see mentality exists - and rightly so given the amount of change thus far.
  • Preparation for NAPLAN (being a key metric for school performance) is causing issues disrupting year 9 curriculum with half to all of term 1 being dedicated to NAPLAN preparation.
  • NAPLAN itself becomes an issue for WA as NAPLAN will be attached to National curriculum objectives and as WA will lag in national curriculum implementation we would expect WA to lag in NAPLAN results also (for a considerable time as other states will continue to improve in their understanding of national curriculum objectives whilst WA grapples with implementation and the required modifications in primary and lower secondary).
  • With declining NAPLAN scores, this has the potential to further exacerbate the decline of student enrollment in state schools as parents view poor results as further reason to enter private schools where students are already on national curriculum, having access to specialist teachers and materials in year 7.
  • It is unknown how to grade students. C Grade standards have the potential to relegate low SES schools to D & E's for all students and provide ongoing failure for our students. This is not fair nor equitable. It is also unknown what an A student looks like. Direction here is required and it is a real pitfall for early adopters.
  • Independent public schools are also affecting staffing equations in low SES areas as teachers are being poached to IPS schools and EIP's are being parachuted into these positions. This movement of experience restricts schools ability to respond to national curriculum objectives.
  • As public schools shrink in size their ability to manage content, subject and student knowledge becomes much more difficult with the loss of redundancy (more than one teacher able to teach a topic) and subject selection (fewer subjects are offered or schools are forced to distance education or busing solutions). The size of a school places the burden of implementation on a relative few (as it did during NCOS implementation) at a time where schools are feeling staffing stress both in administration and teaching roles.
It is not a good equation. At least with the OBE farce behind us, we should be better equipped to handle this one.

Click here for previous posts on national curriculum.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Increase in WACOT fees

WACOT fees have been increased by $6 to pay for increased costs of disciplinary actions and registration costs of teachers to $76 per year. This means that 3.5 million dollars is required to run WACOT or ~46 FTE at $76000 per year. Net gain to those paying the fee - really... nil.

According to Brian Lindberg (chairman of the board at WACOT) in a recent email to all teachers:

"The increase in the Annual Fee should be seen in the context of the development of the College. Bi-partisan political support was given to a discussion paper on teacher registration in 1999. "

Can you believe it is 2010 and they are still needing to justify their existence?

"Based on the 348 submissions, a Position Paper was published in 2000. It indicated that there was wide support for a non-industrial body for teachers providing that its activities would be wider than just the regulation of the teaching profession."

Not within the teaching fraternity - and given the lack of teacher involvement during formative years and questionable independence of the body it is no wonder.

"In responding to the Discussion Paper teachers indicated a preference for a body that was independent of employers and the Minister of the day, and that had a majority of elected teachers on the Board of Management."

Another reminder about how long our ineffective body delayed this happening and that our body is not independent!!

"The Board kept faith with all the recommendations and desires of teachers despite having concerns that it would be difficult to carry out all ten functions of the College without Government financial support or much higher annual fees. "

Grin - yes, we wanted value for money because we could see that this was just a way to make us pay for something we already had. Sheeting the blame back to teachers because we were right is hardly fair although predictable. I imagine only one of the 10 functions serves a purpose and that is to keep questionable members out of the profession. That is a regulatory action and should come out of tax dollars (as it is primarily an action in the interest of the public) not through a reduction in pay. Why should employees pay to police the misdeeds of a few?

"Accordingly, the Board will concentrate the functions of the College on registration and discipline only until all 46,000 re-registrations are completed." Why does it cost $76 per year for a police check to be done and a register to be maintained of teachers that have had disciplinary action?

I'm a little confused how reducing the role of WACOT to registrations and discipline will cause a $6 increase and wonder what the cast of thousands in Ascot that were doing the other 8 functions are now doing. Given that much is done electronically and most registrations should require nothing to be done by WACOT - only inefficiency can be to blame.

Most annoying things that WACOT have or have not done (regardless of who is to blame):
  • Waste money on glossy brochures (now stopped)
  • Re-registration requiring full 100 pt check again
  • Pointless accredititation process lacking any credibility
  • Organise discounts for things I don't need
  • Lack of real independance or voice on teaching matters
  • Involvement with conferences for beginning teachers (leave this to private enterprise until truly independent to prevent political interference)
Most useful thing done by WACOT
  • Prevention of accreditation of short teaching courses in WA
If a review was done, I would love to know how many people are needed at WACOT throughout the whole year (rather than just between October and February when most registrations are required to be done).

My guess is that not many are required to produce not much.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Making errors!!

Sometimes long time errors can sneak up on you and beat you over the head. I have avoided the term bar graph for a few years and was under the misconception that the width of the bar has as much meaning as the height. I always use the term column graph for discrete data drawn in bars.

I have no idea where this misconception comes from, but I will have a look through texts I have used over the last few years - I must have misread one of them (I did find a strange Histogram in one of my stat books when width of the columns was important to do with graphing different sized class boundaries). This all would have been fine if I had figured it out myself.

That would have been too easy.. Of course I was asked the question by my HoD whilst he was teaching his class and using my room (as it was air conditioned and empty) and I corrected him calling it a column graph (cringe). I should have known he was right - as he is rarely wrong.. I had to come back and eat some humble pie..

That's life I suppose.. I'm glad it doesn't happen too often!

Friday, August 6, 2010

New fun games

Well, it's been a busy year and playing games has not been high on the agenda.. but for a change I thought I'd write about the couple of games that have been fun in the classroom and others that have been fun at home.

The three big success stories of this year have been Lupus in Tabula, For Sale and SET. All three are relatively inexpensive (<$40) and can be played with groups.

Lupus in Tabula is a game that can be played with a whole class, basically heads down thumbs up with Werewolves. Some students are the werewolves, others are the villages and we all have a bit of fun lynching the wrong people. I get to stand at the front of the class and describe in graphic detail how students are ripped apart in the night. From my top to bottom class, all have enjoyed the theme and it has allowed me to discuss problem solving strategies such as limiting choices and probability to resolving social issues such as how to play fairly and that being involved can be fun. It's probably the new favourite over Apples to Apples for a whole class.

The next one is For Sale, an auction game where students buy houses and then sell them, the person that sells their houses for the most money wins. We have great laughs about who will end up living in a cardboard box (one of the houses for sale) and who will end up in the space station. This one requires a little mental maths, ordering of integers, a little recall and a fair amount of fun.

SET was the big surprise. A bit of a brain burner, students have to pattern match cards to find groups of patterns. It plays a bit like an IQ test and after you get the hang of it, can drive you batty. It's interesting that the 'smartest' kids are not always the fastest, it's an occassion where 'visual learners' (how I hate that term) can show their mettle.

Honorable mentions should be given to Leaping Lemmings, Battle Line, Ticket to Ride - Europe and Cave Troll that had some table time, but weren't all that successful.

At home, the big winners are Campaign Manager 2008, Arkham Horror, Runewars, Space Hulk and Twilight Struggle. I'd still love to get Die Macher & Brittania to the table, but I'm not holding my breath until TEE exams are over. We still have to complete proofs and stats/probability, so I'll have to have a sit down and figure the rest of the course out.

Until next time...


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ability and performance of students in year 10

Today I focused on the performance and ability of year 10 students. I really wanted to know what caused the lack of performance in students coming through from the middle school.

Issue 1: Middle School and Middle Schooling.

Funnily enough these are two different terms. Middle school is the structure - the buildings, the leadership model, the way students move between classes and the like. Middle schooling is the teaching pedagogy and curriculum. Neither came out unscathed.

Research was not positive about progress in middle schooling.

“middle schools are in serious decline in the US and UK... What is actually done within classrooms and schools is the most important thing, not structures... The most important factors for high-quality education are quality teaching and learning provision; teaching standards; and ongoing teacher professional learning focused on evidence based teaching practices that are demonstrably effective in maximising students’ engagement, learning outcomes and achievement progress.” (Dinham & Rowe, 2009)"

“the report called for a “second generation” of Middle Schooling philosophy with a focus on relationships, relevance, pedagogy and rigour, which is informed by students’ experiences and enabled through sound educational research.” (OBrien, 2009) [Referring to the Beyond the middle report]

" In a region with very low student retention, the middle years when curriculum becomes compartmentalised and fraught with judgmental selectivity was a crucial locus for confronting serious consequences, in student lack of engagement, for later achievement and retention" (Hattan et al, 2009).

“Middle Schooling movement that has been variously described as “arrested”, “unfinished” and “exhausted”." (Prosser, 2008)

"There needs to be a more systematic emphasis on intellectual demand and student engagement in mainstream pedagogy that moves beyond and capitalises on current foci on increased participation rates and basic skills development for target group students." (Luke et al, 2003)

A great article to read is Beyond the Middle Years (Luke et al, 2003) by DEEWR and then follow it up with Dinham and Rowe (2009) article available from ACER. If students don't have a workable learning environment then learning is highly unlikely.

Issue 2: Home environment

Home environment is a key aspect of demonstrable learning ability. Although the gloss has come off this idea since the Campbell report (1960) in the US which prompted black students to be bussed away from their homes into "better" environments, it is still a factor in understanding student ability and performance.

"Students performance in low SES schools significantly lower than high SES schools. Internal school-based determinants of success do not operate independently of external, context-based determinants" (Angus, 2009)

“Cost of school represents a disproportionate amount of household income in term 1 for sole parent families” (Bond & Horne, 2009)

" In the 2007 Education Costs Survey, most parents reported having difficulty paying aspects of their children’s education during the last year, particularly for sport/recreational expenses (69%), for camps (62%) and for books (60%). Almost half struggled to pay for equipment (48%) and excursions (47%)" (Bond & Horn, 2008).

“If education is going to be the means to personal fulfilment and opportunity, we need to ensure that all these young people and their families are given the support they need to succeed. If not, then the education process will reinforce disadvantage, not overcome it, to the detriment of us all.”(Dinham, 2008)

"Schooling reproduces the structure of inequality itself" (DEEWR, 2009) inferring that prejudices and low expectations are placed on working class children by the system and re-inforced by parents

Lower expectations by parents impact on adolescent performance (Crosnow, Mistry & Elder, 2007)

High level of aspiration, low chance of success (p.162) – ESL students with non-english speaking parents (Windle, 2009)

Issue 3: Ability is often not recognised

Students are unaware of their underperformance

“Honesty in recognising and reporting student ability levels (p.163) Students reported that their skill in English was much higher than assessment indicated” (Windle, 2008)

“Ability may not be recognised due to teachers failing to recognise high ability students manifesting typical low socio-economic behaviours.” (Petersen, 2001)

“Further, social and individual factors were found to affect students' attitudes and academic choices; in particular their identification with peers, school and family and student's perceptions of peer, school and family attitudes towards HE. An interesting finding arising from stage one data was that there were significant age related differences in students' attitudes toward school and learning. Students in year 10 were significantly more negative on nearly every measure than students in Year 9 or 12.” (Maras, 2007)

Issue 4: Underperformance of teachers

Poor application of new ideas has resulted in lower than expected performance for a generation of students.

"Research conducted over the last 40 years has failed to show that individual attributes can be used to guide effective teaching practice. That ‘learning styles’ theory appeals to the underlying culture’s model of the person ensures the theory’s continued survival, despite the evidence against its utility. Rather than being a harmless fad, learning styles theory perpetuates the very stereotyping and harmful teaching practices it is said to combat." (from abstract only) (Scott, 2010)

"Practice, grouping of concepts and direct instruction/frequent modelling are key element in addressing learning difficulties. Independent learning and discovery based learning is inappropriate in a learning difficulty environment." (Bellert, 2008)

“Many primary teachers feel under-equipped to teach mathematics and science. In a 2007 study of 160 Australian primary school teachers, they devoted only three per cent of their time to the teaching of science and 18 per cent of their time to teaching mathematics. There is concern that if students receive an insufficient grounding in mathematics and science in primary school, this will cause difficulties in secondary school.” (quote taken from (Chinnappan, Dinham, Herrington, & Scott, 2008).

“Curriculum alignment must occur to clearly connect outcomes to assessment.” (Hedemann & Ludwig, 2008)

“Curriculum Mapping is required to ensure minimum standards are met. Every student must have multiple opportunities to attain minimum standards. Choice of actions is required to improve performance.” (Falls, 2009)

And that was today's research!!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Thinking about information thus far

Ok research thus far,

So for students to succeed in low socioeconomic schools we require the following:

a) Parents to encourage students towards realistic academic goals
b) For students to be educated into valuing academic success and aspire towards it
c) For teachers to set high expectations and go well beyond the average expectations of a normal teacher
d) For schools to find, support and appreciate teachers that can satisfy c)
e) For government to accept that low socio-economic schools (no matter what is done) will not succeed at the level of mid to high socioeconomic schools for a myriad of reasons.
f) For tertiary institutions to get involved at an earlier stage than year 11/12
g) For corporate entities and employers to realise that there are many capable late developing students from low-socioeconomic schools able to participate in the workforce (that under different circumstances could have achieved in a tertiary environment)

That's that.. done.. tick!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Unrealistic expectations

Some students have unrealistic expectations. In the same way that some parents lower the expectations of their students, it does also go the other way.

One sector of the school population where this is common is with students of non-english speaking backgrounds. Students can be put under extreme pressure to perform, often after going through very limited schooling. It's not just a Perth thing, it was also observed in Windle's study (2009) where students reported higher understandings of English than their assessment recognised, the students had high levels of aspiration to attend university but a very low chance of success.

In the refugee population, this is a common problem, with many having had limited schooling prior to gaining residency or refugee status. It leads to exacerbate the demands on teachers in low-socioeconomic schools (as observed by Campbell Cook and Dornen, 1995), with teachers recognising ability, but requiring inordinate amounts of work to see these students through. In talking to a care worker outside the system, they raised that other issues are also common such as sleeplessness (due to hyper awareness), distrust of authority and reluctance (or over demand) when seeking assistance.

When you consider that many of these students are not eligible for additional funding, yet require lower primary assistance within a high school environment, it is easy to see why their performance can fall below school norms. Yet these same students are averaged into "my school" results. From a school perspective these students are a real problem.

For these students to be seen as a problem is a social justice issue that needs resolving. It is a real problem when moving from a searching for excellence paradigm to a market driven approach. In a pure market driven approach, these students would be excluded from mainstream education (to preserve school results and ensure that the calibre of students at a school is maintained) and placed in segregated specialist programmes. Yet from an ESL perspective (as discussed with ESL teachers) this is detrimental to their progress as their immersion to common language is a requirement for their improvement.

As a teacher it is a frustrating problem as you need to help at-risk students, but know to do so will draw attention away from kids that have higher probabilities of success. The 'greatest good' model vs the 'rights of an individual' is in firm conflict. Couple this to the higher risk that their 'other' issues may undermine your teaching programme for these at-risk students and the opportunities for success further decrease. Reverse racism (predjudice of non-minority but equally disadvantaged groups)is common, as are claims of racism if direct assistance is withdrawn. It can be a real catch-22 situation.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Career progression and an idealistic approach

I sit here still wondering if I am doing the right thing. A senior school teacher has the world at their feet, being able to teach to year 12 across all areas of your specialist curriculum is what gives you worth when seeking to further your career. I'm considering applying for a position in the middle school.

In a small low socio-economic school rarely is the full curriculum offerred (1B-3D MAT and 3A -3D MAS) and rarely will you get to teach the upper subjects as there is competition for them among those in your department. I've been lucky to be given an opportunity to teach all levels of year 10, MiPs, MwM, Discrete, 1BC MAT, 3ABCD MAT and 3AB MAS, but have rarely been able to teach any of these courses more than once. School collaboration (where students are bussed between schools for small class subjects) only makes this cycle longer. Being at the end of a cycle of students, my run at these subjects would take at least another three years (following students through from year 10) and I'm not looking forward to the slog of working with another lot of under prepared kids.

The fatigue and long repeat cycle is a factor in the constant turnover of teachers as they seek to develop depth to their understanding of the curriculum and pedagogy - many at this stage of their career seeking independent sector jobs and more pliable students. Being four years into my career, I'm looking for an opportunity to further improve my teaching and I know there is a job to do in middle school to better prepare students for high school. I've taught senior school for three years and the whole time have yearned to go back to middle school and do what I was trained to do, despite all evidence that says I am a better exclusively senior school teacher than an exclusively middle school teacher - oh for a position where I could do both!.

It has been pointed out to me by many that to not teach any senior school is career suicide. To lose the perspective senior school offers reduces the ability to bridge students into senior school and reduces your attractiveness to a potential employer. Furthermore, from the outside it would look like I was 'encouraged' away from senior school because of under performance, inability to handle the stress or lack of ability. Maybe subtly this is the case (I hope I'm still my harshest critic, my results this term have been woeful by my standards) but I think the want to move to middle school is still my choice and not something that I am not being directed towards by administration. I may also be walking away from a leadership issue in senior school as if I'm not in senior school, I won't be considered once senior maths staff seek new opportunities (conversely what would a future employer think if I'm eight years into my career and still applying for a senior position!).

Despite this, now that a middle school position has finally arisen, I have put my hand in the air and said, 'I would like to work in the middle school if I am the best applicant.' Many people have supported me in the senior school and I feel I have let a few people down by deciding to do this, as it would leave a hole and cause some instability whilst a new teacher is settled in (whereas a new teacher would have less impact in middle school especially mid-year) but I feel I can't complain about student preparedness if I'm unwilling to roll my sleeves up and do something about it. It may set me back a few years in my quest for readiness for a HoD or TiC position but if there is a job to be done (and the middle school needs to gear up for national curriculum and year 7 introduction (if it ever happens)) this is a job I can do well.

After all, I'm only really happy when engrossed in what I am doing and striving for excellence. I'm reliant on others to find areas where I can do this and need faith that they are cognizant of my career progression when utilising my skills. It's a bit harder with a newborn as I have to think about career progression a bit more than in my idealistic past, but I still feel that making it 'career' rather than 'best interests of children' the prime focus of my teaching (as I see in other 'driven' teachers) is a mistake in my case.

Ultimately, if the school needs a senior school teacher, I can do that. If they need me as a middle school teacher, I can do that. If they can find a way to allow me to do both, that would be good too.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pride in your work.

It's taken half a year but I think the message is sinking in. This week I have focused on getting students to perform to a standard rather than some fictional developmental level. I am the teacher, I set expectations on how I want things to be done and no, I don't really care how your last teacher let you do it.

Hard up against the left margin, work down the page, rule a new column if there is space for it and use it, exercise number before you start in a column, work marked from the back of the book once an exercise is complete with a red pen, one line for each line of working (why do students miss spaces??), a space between each question, each question should be written as if to be read by another human being - not in some chicken language from outer space.

Also, if I give an instruction on how to do something, pay attention and do it that way. If you are writing 4709 in words, it is four thousand, seven hundred and nine. The 'and' is important. Ninty, ninteen, forteen and fourty are not words. One equals sign per line, the question is always to be written unless a lengthy worded problem. If you are adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing vertically I expect to see clear columns for place value.

When I come into class, don't wait for me to say get out your books - just get them out. If I write notes on the board, write them down verbatim - I haven't met many students that can paraphrase sufficiently to make more succinct notes than mine. Asking what time the period ends is a waste of time - the answer will always be two hours fom now. If you fail a quiz, expect 60 questions for 'practice' over the weekend. Don't talk in my class about social events unless you can consistently get 80% in assessment - you obviously haven't got time to lose.

If you have a problem, seek help. If the problem has to do with a boyfriend, seek someone who cares - I'm only ears for maths and things that need mandatory reporting. I'm not your friend, please remember that - I'm your teacher.

.. and the funny thing is, when you lift expectation, it's easier to teach. The students respond and start to realise that you only want the best for them - tell them it's much easier to just sit back and watch them fail (or to give them phony grades that make it look like they are learning). To me setting high standards is just showing students how to take pride in themselves and their work. Building self esteem is not mutually exclusive with negative responses. I think that in many cases students need to have the bar lifted for them before they can start to do it themselves.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fatigue... and a poke at Julia..

Teaching is one of those careers where fatigue is a constant enemy. It's important to recognise (especially at this time of year at the end of an 11 week term) that you're not going to be at your best. Week 8+ is always a bit of a danger time where you can lose perspective on your successes and fall into the trap of seeing defeat in what you are attempting to achieve.

With the NCOS things have changed a little, it means that you have to press on at a time where typically you would wind down into the end of term. You really need to fit two good weeks of work in to make a good run at the mocks at the end of term 3. Kids will be feeling the pressure, admin needs reports completed, exams need marking, tempers will fray.

Yet this is also a time when teams come together and there are opportunities to do small things that can make a lasting impression. Take the time to smile at someone, guide them through a nasty spot, do an extra duty, smile when you get relief, go on an excursion, offer around a chocolate bikkie or grab some take away for the staff room. In the crucible great things can be borne.

Take inspiration from wherever it stems, much of mine at the moment comes from my daughter, where in the past I may have given up and sought another challenge, I now dig in and look at the problem again seeking new solutions. A challenge is just an opportunity yet to be realised.

I was working with my 10's and we are looking at their ability to perform in non-calculator situations. Many can't divide, and many of those can't multiply because their tables are weak. Any idiot can teach kids tables. Maybe it's time I rolled up my sleeves and planned a tables club for next year, to fix a core issue. If numeracy is the focus next year, perhaps this is one path to finding long term success.

It's also a time where many decide it's time for a change and the inner conflict occurs of the desire for stability vs career opportunity. Do you talk people into staying or encourage them to pursue other options? I don't know the answer for this other than to encourage them to seek someone with more experience to help them with the answer. Other than this blog, I have no desire to lead (or even influence) as my best leadership option is to lead by example. Whilst still learning content and gaining an understanding of leadership roles I am in no position to lead with expert power. With time, my masters, a bit of experience and teaching year 12 courses may lead me there.. but I think I have a way to go yet.

If that idiot Gillard can become Prime Minister, who knows which lump headed student will solve world hunger, cure cancer or bring about everlasting peace. Some even might remember that teacher that gave them a hard time or a bit of encouragement that put them back on a path to success.