Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Opening doors to the future

Now, we all get a bit proprietary about our best students. When subject selection comes around we all have a quiet chat with our students about what they intend to do and how they think they can get there.

Then we recommend courses for them.

These courses set up their higher education opportunities. In my case I sat Maths II/III exams many years ago - the new courses equivalent being combined Maths 3A/B/C/D MAT and 3A/B/C/D MAS.

I was not a high achiever in school - ending in the 50%'s or thereabouts. Achievers in high end maths tend to go into Engineering, vet science courses and the like.. obviously not a teacher like myself.

What these courses did for me though was open doors throughout my career. I was able to enter physics, chemistry, mathematics, psychology, biology, computing and ultimately teaching courses at university using mathematics prerequisites and skip bridging courses. As a programmer I could understand technical algebra and trigonometric requirements, I was able to assist my wife complete her business degree, we were able to better manage our finances to buy our first home, as company director I could understand statistical and financial requirements, calculus gave me the ability to challenge what I thought were my limits(bad maths pun) and go beyond them.

Sure I could have scored higher in Mathematics I (2A/B/C/D or 2C/D/3A/B equivalent) and probably gained a higher TEE score but thankfully my maths teacher took a punt and put me in the higher maths classes.

My point is that as a student I wanted to be a teacher at that time (..and a company director.. and married to a ballerina.. and a millionaire.. retire by 30.. pay off my home by 25 ..and be a writer..). Without higher maths I may have been locked into teaching and not do all the other stuff. My maths opened doors and raised people's expectation of my capabilities, giving me the dozens of occupations I have been involved with and the ten enjoyable years of courses at university.

Is it right to narrow a student education to maximise TEE scores for a current occupational whim rather than stretch them as far as they can go to enable future potential and enable unthought of occupations?

I emphatically think not.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Death of the Twomey Report

The Twomey report has been a rallying cry for teachers in WA when seeking salary increases. With Lance Twomey speaking in favour of the proposed EBA3, it pretty much rings the death knell of the wage claim. Without that report, there is no direct, researched support for increases of wages in Western Australia. If the union was serious about real wage change, it would have a well researched document of its own that could not be derailed like the Twomey report.

To some extent I'm glad because teacher concern about wages has removed many education issues from the agenda such as new courses of study in year 11 & 12, inequity of current grading of students in disadvantaged areas, teacher training, the development of real and useful professional development and modernisation of curriculum.

As state school teachers we need to imagine a government education system as a safety net in metropolitan areas and a limited service to rural areas. The changes to the EBA have targeted these two areas with significant pay rises. If this trend continues, these fringe services may become well enough paid to make them attractive. University entrance would be further restricted to those that can afford private education or be in the far end of the IQ spectrum capable of gaining scholarships.

I wouldn't be surprised if an 'ABC learning' type organisation starts entering the system and managing larger state schools on a profit basis. This sounded like what was described by the opposition in their education policy.

With current social changes and the reduction in public amenities provided by government, I can't see a return to well funded high schools with teachers and students able to rival private/independent schools in the near future.

As much as I would like and endeavour to make so.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Indigenous tutoring

Today I went to after school tutoring for our indigenous students. One student needed help with deciding classes for next year. Four teachers gave their opinion and the student was happy with their selection after weighing the options.

Another two year 8 students sat doing mathematics from a year 10 textbook.

One yr 9 student was completing work in old English that even the English tutor found difficult.

Three more students were completing work on computers in the next room.

We all shared a pie or two together.

... and the nicest thing was that I was thinking of them the whole time as just great kids seeking an education.

Update: heresay says our yr 8 indigenous programme produced at least 4 A's in their recent reports.. Yay!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

School ranking in WA and the need for small classes

Low socio-economic areas have the same numbers of bright kids than high socio-economic areas but with many environmental factors affecting their grades. These students are now reliant on alternate entry paths as cross state assessment (moderation) has created geographical location bias - student IQ is no longer a consideration when assessed, kids in low socioeconomic areas are no longer scaled for their environmental inequity.

One only has to look at a disadvantaged area of Perth such as North East - Girrawheen, Balga, Warwick, Mirrabooka, Koondoola, Ballajura. These areas have gone through urban renewal which means there are now pockets of high ability students and schools with little or no TEE capability left.

In 2007/2008 Balcatta SHS (31/31 students), Balga SHS (0/0 students), Girrawheen SHS (15/18 students), Mirrabooka SHS (18/19 students) and Warwick SHS (43/38 students) all had less than 50 students sitting 4 or more TEE subjects - the general minimum for front door university entry. Each school had no more than 30% of these reaching above a TER of 66%. This means that students in these schools have at maximum 15 students that are capable of traditional university entry and of supporting each other towards this goal. If we take away the ability for these schools to offer small class sizes (as is current DET policy) we are effectively closing the front door to university for students in these areas.

I suggest that alternatives such as GATE programmes are not viable for these students as they generally lack the mobility, maturity and financial capability to travel distances to specialist schools. Nor is correspondence such as SIDE an option for students that require high levels of support to succeed due to environmental constraints (I know I couldn't do TEE calculus by email).

Data used can be found here: pages 23-27.

League Tables for all schools 2000-2009 can be found here:
The myschool website can be found here

(Updated 9 January 2009)
(Updated 14 January 2010)
(Updated 28 January 2010)
(Updated 5 January 2011)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Random acts of kindness

I'm a bit of a schmultz when it comes to feel good movies.. we watched Evan almighty (and I appreciated the CGI and maths components of constructing the ark).. but more so it reminded me of the origin of my teaching career.

We don't do it for the money.

We don't do it for ourselves.

We don't do it even for the kids.

We do it because it is the right thing to do.

Each act of kindness, rough justice, happy word, stern word, direction, misdirection, care, truth, lie has the potential to make the world a better place. Who will each of our little wonders turn into to? How will they fit in the grander plan?

I try to live by my Nana's words - the gift is in the giving. If you take pleasure in giving, your next act can cure any ill feeling. Even in the final stages of Alzheimer's, my Nana can still brighten the room with a smile.

..and needless to say teaching is also kind of fun and has its moments.

EBA3, WA teachers' pay claim and DET

Trolling through the blog log I've noticed lots of searching for details on the new EBA. I'm not an expert but the best explanation that I've found (as we are still waiting on the union and DET detailed explanations) can be found here (again by Marko Vojkovic): - sadly this forum is now closed (updated 1/8/2009)

The new proposal doesn't seem to live up to the hype in the newspapers or the video release by the union (about half way down the following hyperlink.. click on the unflattering picture of Anne Gisborne for nine minutes of monotone summary):

The net result seems to be at best a 1% increase and at worst a 2% decrease after inflation is applied with significant loss in conditions. It does not seem to be inline with Twomey recommendations. We shall await more detail.

Setting goalposts for students

Once upon a time, in a land underneath our feet, students went to school. At the end of year 10 they reached a certain standard and were given a certificate. Some left for apprenticeships others went straight into the workforce and others stayed in school seeking their yr12 certificate or university entry. Class grades were generated on class norms and students that did not meet generally accepted standards repeated the year or left school. There was pressure and release for low and high performing students. Teachers focused on doing the greatest good for the greatest number of students.

Students today are carried to year 12 by their teachers and generally no longer repeat if unable to complete content. Schools are encouraged, at all costs, to get students to yr 12 and get their graduation certificate. Graduation rates and average TEE results are released in newspapers for individual schools. Statewide grades are given without taking into account socioeconomic factors. Students are now facing the inability to chose their subjects with their cohort and be prohibited occupations due to their geographical location. Students not able to achieve good TEE results are discouraged from sitting their TEE to preserve school scores and maximise scaling for 'good' students. Today, we have a focus on benchmarks, minimal performance levels and the performance of the top 10% of students. We are now much more focused on the social justice needs of outliers in our education system.

Which is the better system and which satisfies the needs of our society at this time?

Technology in education

My main criticism of technology in the classroom is that good uses of technology are few and far between. My secondary criticism is that support for hardware (computer/printer/network/projector/smartboard) and software(installation/functionality) in schools is reasonably poor reducing the required success rate well below 100%.

Here are some of my favourite issues:

  • Smartboards where lag between writing and displaying occurs or light levels need to be too low for students to be able to write without damaging their eyes.
  • Use of preprepared powerpoint presentations that direct students down a path with little concern for what they are learning - eg. with little interactivity.
  • Research time in libraries where learning time is spent preventing student access to inappropriate websites, online games, Facebook and mySpace - especially where students are clearly unable to research online efficiently when ontask.
  • Anything with the words 'intranet' or 'extranet' that students try to use as excuses for not handing in work due to technology or internet access failure.
  • Not having direct access (as a teacher) to web proxy logs for students during class.
  • Issues with students not having funds to print.
There are some great and time effective uses of IT in a normal classroom:

  • Graphics calculators and teaching statistics/quadratics/algebra/trigonometry
  • Teaching of area and bird's eye view using sites such as
  • Report writing in Word at the end of a project/assignment using preset templates
  • Brainstorming using Powerpoint and Inspiration
  • Exploring critical paths using Gannt charts in MSProject
  • Flow charts in Visio

There are some great uses of IT in an extension class I have experienced with students specifically interested in computer game design:

  • Teaching 2D geometry/linear algebra with Java (computer game design)
  • Teaching 3D geometry with Blender (animation)
  • Exploring mathematical modelling with The Sims/Civilisation/SimCity

The thing to note about effective use of IT is that it is directed at specialised tasks with either highly motivated(extension) students or students that are given limited opportunities for distraction (such as with a graphics calculator). Punitive action needs to be restricted as removing access from students(eg. stopping internet access) will hamper progress in other classes. If something can be done faster without IT, we should not use IT purely for the fallback 'but there's higher student motivation', 'it promotes reuse of materials', 'it produces materials that can be provided to absent students'. We should simply use our whiteboards/paper handouts and not change where change has a lower net learning output.