Friday, January 22, 2010

BST - Bloody Stupid Transparency

There's a new acronym in town. We have the GST, the tax we had to have. Now we have the BST. The Bloody Stupid Transparency we had to have.

I noticed an article in the West that TISC had released statistics describing schools percentages of students that achieved their first preferences for university. The West (in typical media fashion) has then released this information with a bit of spin and gloss.

In this age of the BST, the inference is that if students are getting their first preference then schools are obviously superior in their counselling processes.

It is of course a load of complete nonsense. Students have an expectation of a TER score based on their school scores, outside of the top 5% their actual TER can vary substantially due to scaling (how their class does in comparison to the state) and a host of performance issues. Having a range of scores is a sensible solution to a variable situation.

If high percentages are getting their first preferences (outside of the top 5% where students typically are in courses where none more difficult exist), it actually indicates poor student counselling. Students should be aiming to reach for the sky, not just set their goals on the safe options.

The main issue analysing 1st preference data is that this form of transparency in a competitive market encourages schools to dumb down student expectations to promote the school "1st preference" success and subsequent positive publicity (or prevent negative publicity).

Again the statistics are being presented in a primitive fashion with no real causal effect established indicating whether students are better prepared or should have actually aimed higher.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Smacking is good for children under 6

Here's a non-PC article quoting research that smacking (not abuse of) young children is beneficial. 2600 children were sampled and it showed that smacked children under 6 were more likely to perform well at school, perform volunteer work and aspire to university.

To all those from the smacking generation, finally some research that shows smacking might be ok after all.

Being a dad with an eleven month old, I think I still have some serious reservations :-)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Advice for kids in a new year


So it's a new year.. new teachers.. new situations.

What can a student do to fare well in a new year.

1. Come with a great attitude.

I don't mean suck up. Mainly I mean come ready to work. A new teacher has no expectations of you, even if you have had them in a previous year or have known another sibling. If you are willing to work, you will be noticed. If a teacher sees that you are working hard, and need some extra help, they will always be more willing if they can see if you have tried.

2. Follow instructions and come prepared.

This seems obvious, but a faster way is not always the better way in mathematics. If you can lay your work out properly from an early age, it's a skill you don't have to learn in year 11. Neatness is something people attribute to braininess (don't ask me why) - but don't let this be an excuse to be slow! ..and don't waste time asking for materials that could be spent working!

3. Sit with people you can work with

If you get to seat yourself, then stay with people you can work with. It can be hard, and sometimes you will need to have a quiet word with the teacher to move you elsewhere. Good students are the people that can help you when you are stuck and the teacher is with someone else that needs help. Remember to help others as what goes around...

4. The teacher is on your side unless..

Teachers are not in it for the money. They get a buzz out of seeing you learn. If you prevent others from learning you are killing their buzz. Expect to get squashed.

5. Be on time and prepared

Being on time is more than being at class when the bell goes. Homework arrives on time. Assignments arrive on time. If you know multiple assignments are due at the same time, spend some time in the library and miss that of so important TV show or MSN.

6. Do your best

Don't loaf. Ability will only take you so far, at some point you need to learn a good work ethic. It's easy to coast. Find ways to stay motivated. Race yourself. Try and get more correct answers next time. See how far you can get without asking the teacher a question. Use notes and worked examples given by the teacher. Make your next test the best result ever.

7. Failure is the path to success.

If you fail, don't give up, see it as learning what not to do. When you fail you learn about what you do not know. This is important. Identify what it is you need to learn and when you get an opportunity find out how to do it. Always, always, always do your corrections after assessment.

8. Read ahead.

Read the text book before school starts. Understand as much as you can. Know what you need to ask the teacher about. If you already know the basic stuff, it will give you time to learn it in more depth during class and with the help of the teacher.

9. Leave the playground in the playground.

Get used to putting your mind in work mode when you enter a classroom. Walking into a classroom high fiving and calling out to friends as you walk in (normally late) is a sure way to get on the wrong side of a class and teacher.

That's it!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Misleading league tables

Today is a sad day. A whole year's effort that can be summed up by a parent saying our results based on league tabled published in the West are in the bottom four in the state. This will discourage parents from entering kids in our school, in a year where getting kids is tough due to the half cohort.

Yet, if I go on last years experience, each of the kids listed as sitting four or more TEE subjects, that wanted university entry, will be in university next year or will have deferred for the following year.

For some they will go through the front door and it is a fantastic achievement whether it is with a 60 TER or 99.5 TER. Students reaching their goals is where our focus should be. They have made it with little parental support, limited schooling, some with ESL backgrounds and with a host of social issues.

For some, they are the first students to graduate year 12 in their families. For others, just the opportunity to try for university is an achievement for this generation - a goal which may still eventuate through a uni entrance programme or other 'back door' programme.

At least the independent schools stood up and said the publishing of these tables was wrong.. It's a pity the department and our politicians still don't accept that these tables give a false representation of what is happening post school.

Misleading and a poor use of statistics.

Here is our state Minister's recent comment on the topic. It credits teachers with using a range of assessment to assist in teaching a child and recognises that change is required but does not recognise the damage caused by releasing data that ignores this information!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Headlines rather than journalism

The poor journalism at Channel 7 continues with a sensationalist report aimed at placing doubt on teacher quality by drawing conclusions from statements that were not causal.

The headline stated that teacher quality was the main reason for state school improvement, whereas Neil Hunt (the principal of Churchlands SHS) stated that teacher improvement programmes were a major factor. A poor quality teacher cannot improve, teacher quality has little to do with the quality of improvement programmes.

Sharon ONeil called for schools to closely examine student statistics. This also is not a statement about teacher quality. Underlying this statement is the fact that lower student input in year 7/8 means that lower student output in year 12 is also likely. Where state schools competed outside of the big five with competitive entry (Perth Mod, Churchlands, Rossmoyne, Shenton, Willeton) then there is something very good going on in those schools and they should get a pat on the back (Belridge, Duncraig etc.).

Should we fire a new teacher because they are gaining experience? Should only teachers with experience teach at higher levels? Is a C result for a class of disaffected kids worse than an A result in a talented and motivated class in a green leafy? How do we measure quality and their results? Teacher quality is not a quantifiable measure of a school.

Furthermore, I suppose the media thinks that saying it's the best achievement in years is help but it is disingenuous if you then immediately show that state schools are performing worse than private and independent schools - they have re-inforced the gap especially if connections to catholic and SES status are not also drawn. Sensationalist, with little purpose and damaging to the sector. A report completely lacking journalistic integrity.

If the media continues to bash state schools then we can't expect to close the gap to the private sector. We ask a lot of low SES kids, when they compete with kids with strong educational backgrounds. To compete effectively we need to attract more middle class kids that have clear examples of the benefits of an education.

I understand that some level of criticism and improvement must be publicised for parents to again get confidence in the public system, but we have to be careful in its implementation and remember that the core of the issues faced are as a result of poor government management, planning and implementation over a long period of time (especially during the OBE implementation). To scapegoat teachers as requiring "quality" improvement (inferring that teachers in general lack quality without stating whom, what or how it will be fixed), damages the integrity of the system and does not attempt to address the underlying issues causing the fall in standards.

For state schools to improve they need to attract the full range of students, not just those that can't afford private education. If the current trend continues, most state schools will become part of a safety net, ending in continued inequity for low SES families.

For the profession to increase in status and output, we need to acknowledge the good work done, manage improvement where necessary and ensure applicants have the capability and training to do a good job. I'll leave it to the experts to manage how these changes can be brought into effect.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Combinations & Permutations on the CAS Classpad330

The factorial(!) button is found in the soft keyboard under the abc tab (hit the up arrow next to 'z' and the '1' turns into a '!' (like with a computer keyboard). It's probably worth looking for (or making) an eActivity to speed it up a little.

Going through the first two 3C exercises in Saddler, the easiest way I've found to use the calculator is to open the softkeyboard, press cat tab, scroll to N (using the alphabet at the base of the softkeyboard), highlight nCr, press INPUT and seperate the n & r values with a comma from the hard keyboard.

(Update 1/2/2009): One of my students found another way via softkeyboard->mth tab-> calc->nCr which is a lot simpler and nPr is also there!

When you need to use multiple functions just rehit the INPUT button with nCr still highlighted. Completed the whole of 3C Ex 1A & B with a combination of no calculator and this function.


I don't have my calculator books here, so this will have to do until I get back to school.

Here's a link to an index of other CAS calculator posts.

Expectations of low SES students

Low expectation is something that can be easily reinforced. It can be environmental (like praising effort instead of achievement), it can be by omission (such as not making information public that would promote academic behaviour), it can be through antisocial behaviour (such as allowing bullying of academic kids) or peer associated pressures (such as girls not wanting to appear smart).

The challenge for the community, schools, teachers and parents is to prevent these negative re-enforcers.

I ask parents of friends how their students are doing and they have no idea whether they are good enough to attempt university. I get comments like - "they're getting level 'x' whatever that means - the comments from teachers are always very positive!". Parents can help motivate students without accurate information about their student. Our PC reports are doing them a disservice.

I asked lower school students how many of our students make it to university each year. The predominant response was zero to four students. The actual number is between 20 and thirty or nearly 2/5 of the cohort that stays until year 12.

The majority of students, at year 8/9, actually think that university is unobtainable. The scarier fact was in a middle school environment middle school teachers rarely teach upper school classes and can't recognise the students that need to be informed, coached and supported into university pathways.

When I asked yr 10/11 students, "What classroom scores were needed to enter university?", they answered 80+. This is not only an unrealistic target for many students but also plainly wrong, it is far lower for the majority of courses.

When I sat with teachers and we looked at standardised testing scores and sought to identify potential yr 9 students for university pathways, no-one (including me) had any idea what we could call a benchmark score before considering student attitude, school results and work ethic to start the process of identifying university bound students. We will figure it out more accurately over a number of years (if tests are kept standard) because we are interested but what of the teachers that are classroom cohort focused instead. They will rediscover similar information by the end of the year.

I start my masters this week (all going well) and the broad topic I have chosen to investigate is: "What tools are available to identify university bound students, what programmes are available to guide students into university and how effective are they for low socio-economic students?"

If you have any ideas, I would love to hear about them and include them in my research. I look forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Games in 2010

I've been playing a few new games this year that have been great fun.

Twilight Struggle is a great two player game that focuses on the events of the cold war. The US and the USSR fight for influence throughout the world in order to gain supremacy. Each game takes about two hours, so I'm not sure about implementation in the classroom, but we're addicted and have been playing for a couple of hours each night. Twilight Struggle is published every couple of years by GMT games and was about $60 pre-ordered over the web.

Three quick games that are great for the classroom are from Fantasy Flight games Silver Line series - Citadels, Condotierre and Colossal Arena. Citadels is a great game for up to 5 (after five it becomes a bit slow), easy to learn and has a great element of backstab and competition. Condotierre is a game about medieval/crusader Italy, where players fight for control of emerging city states. It has a really dinky board but has some real meat in the gameplay that is accessable to students. Colossal Arena is the surprise of the three as the betting mechanic and card flow develops as the game is played. All three of these games can be taught in minutes and promote consideration of strategy for future games. They have a real magnetic quality. Each can be picked up for under $40 online.

Anyone that has played 500 and #$%hole knows that trick and bluff based paired card games can be engaging, strategic and addictive. Tichu (supposedly played by 600 million chinese players every day) is no exception. It has a weird flow and is seemingly random until new strategies emerge the more it is played. I played it with 500 players that were very critical, but I would love to play this more with people that have a more open mind to exploring this game. A tichu deck can be created from a normal deck (and marking up four special cards mahjong, phoenix, dog and dragon). The rules can be found online.

I had a quick game of Sorry Sliders ($15 at Toys r Us) which is a great little dexterity game. Similar to the ending in ludo, players try to reach the end of their target and other players try to eliminate them. It's a great game for the end of a small class or for kids 7-12 on a rainy day.

I found a great new online store - A weird name but he does have a lot of unusual and hard to get games. Ordering was simple and delivery was fast. I was impressed.