Sunday, January 29, 2012

TAFE roles and stage 3 subjects

Classes where students are taken out of school for a day and then remain in stage three courses in year 11, in the majority of cases are setting students up to fail.  A student missing for a whole day each week, in a challenging course, lacking any evident independent learning skills is not destined to pass a stage three course.

The argument that they will make it up in directed study, to my mind, holds no water.  These students fail because they have to catch up multiple classes in these study periods, lack specialist assistance at these times (teachers have to keep teaching)..  and are generally borderline students in the first place.

I'm fully supportive of students participating in TAFE courses to complement their mainstream courses, I just believe that their mainstream courses should be kept at stage two levels to ensure that they can cope and succeed when year 11 reality and expectations kick in.  Stage two courses such as 2C and 2A MAT are better suited as these can be learned independently more easily.

If we think about it, it becomes obvious why they fail.  Firstly they lack a connection to the class, as better students tend to pair up with students that are regularly available.  Notes on the board do not replace the peer and teacher assistance that they lose from not being in class.  During directed study they cannot get immediate assistance from the teacher, particularly where the text is lacking in a particular area.  Students tend to shy away from them as the questions they ask are perpetually behind the level of the class and take considerable time both from the teacher and from other students trying to catch up on a regular basis.  This catch up process is exacerbated each week in multiple subjects.  It also causes issues with homework and assignments as that day is often lost due to travel commitments.

I have said this before and I will say it again.  We have to be careful with our subject selections and review them when students are out of class on a regular basis.  We should not underestimate the impact that this has on learning for the student.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Teacher in charge

Nothing like a promotion to bring in the new year.  One of the stranger structures in the public education system is the Teacher in Charge(TiC).  It's a position between teacher and Head of department(HoD).  The pay rise is minimal, the teaching load the same as a classroom teacher and the responsibility is similar to HoD(albeit not officially).

The main issue with the TiC role is that in many implementations the actual responsibility for traditionally HoD roles lies with team and year leaders, yet little is done by them in this regard as team and year leaders are swamped with administrative and behavioural concerns.  This has caused friction between the TiC and team/year leaders in prior years, as responsibilty is passed around like a hot potato depending on the amount of effort required. In particular, student guidance for non-performance is an area that is often neglected - particularly with students that are passively resisting work (work avoidant behaviours).

Secondly, early in the year, with full load, senior school teachers(the breeding ground for HoDs) are busy bedding down NCOS and small groups, leaving little time for assisting new teachers, examining curriculum, setting up IT structures(such as mathsonline/mymathsonline/matheletics), doing research on best practices (eg. IWBs, Tablets, NC texts, new pedagogy), entering competitions and addressing minor and niggling issues across the department.

TiC is a strange position as it is a promotional pathway to Head of department, which is a large pay rise and includes a reduction in teaching load.  Small schools use TiCs where level 3 FTE is not available for HoDs.  Unfortunately what this causes is a drain of talent from small schools to larger ones as TiC becomes a pathway to HoD - something prevalent in these times, as many maths HoDs are reaching retirement age.  Our school is on it's third TiC in three years.

So, here I am entering the fray of promotional positions, doing the TiC role this year.  It's exciting in that I have increased access to management thinking and can better understand the direction of the school.   The negative is that I am used to senior management positions where robust discussion is a part of the job - my experience is that robust discussion is not always welcome in a school.

Here comes the new year!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Summer school

Today was the fifth and last day of summer school. It's an event we run for students destined for stage 3 maths in year 12. Students benefit from being ready from the start of term, are more organized and are given guidance on material to be presented during the new year.  Teachers and tutors get experience working in a university environment.

Two of the presenters cancelled just before the first day, I had been sick for the majority of the holidays and I was left with the decision of cancelling the event or trying to do the event with a relief teacher, four pre-service teachers and some student graduates from 2011 that offered to help. I had three streams of students from year 10-12, 42 students and I couldn't do it on my own.

We went ahead anyway and everyone stepped up. The students were positive from the start all the way to the last day. Some had cancelled holidays overseas to be there. Brian, our ever ready math relief teacher, stepped in when I would have been overwhelmed otherwise. The pre-service teachers responded to each of their strengths - leading through preparation, personality, warmth and enthusiasm. They completed the tasks assigned to them with the year 10's and then stepped into the gaps left by the missing presenters for the 11's and 12's. It was a real team effort and awesome to watch. 30 of the 32 students that attended on the last day said that they would be back next year, with the 2012 year 12's showing real enthusiasm to come again and give the benefit of their experience.

All of the year 12 student helpers from 2011 were fantastic, but one really shone, as he showed the new year 12's how to navigate a wide range of problems. He stayed for the entire week and demonstrated what hard work could really achieve. He had nothing to prove by coming, he was our school dux in 2011, and I hope he saw what a difference he can make in the world.

With such a large number of people coming together and actively achieving something, (especially when I was at 50%) it quickly became another of the inspirational events of my career. To watch four summer schools, and then watch the benefit for attending students during the year and the growth in the pre-service teachers, it tells me that it is more than just another school event. Hopefully those involved understand the wonderful thing they have done. There's no doubt it could and will be done better, but that as they say, is a problem for another day.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Equation editor

The equation editor in activeInspire broke with the tickover of the year and a javascript error. This has been fixed in the latest update.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas to all

A Merry Christmas to all,  may it be filled with joy, children and the gifts that fill your world with love and happiness.

Next year promises to be another great one.  I look forward to posting again in the new year.


National Curriculum

Here is a table that comes from a National Curriculum broadsheet.  It contains some interesting insights.

The first is fractions and decimals finished at yr 6.  I haven't seen many year 10 classes confidently performing four operations on decimals or fractions without a calculator.

The second is that I haven't seen many students enter year eight with adequate algebra skils.

With the movement of year 7 to high school we can address some of these issues but it does not really address the core issue of the declining ability of primary to progress students through mathematics outcomes.

The national curriculum writers seem to acknowledge this issue here, "In comparison to the Singapore mathematics curriculum, the Foundation to Year 10 Australian Curriculum: Mathematics content is introduced more slowly in the early and primary years to ensure students have the opportunity to develop deep understanding before moving on. By Year 10, the conceptual difficulty is similar to that described in the Singapore documents."

The responsibility has been placed on secondary school to accelerate through the course.  This will have an negative impact on the second tier of students to be able to absorb the information in a developmentally appropriate method through upper school.  It seems we may be revisiting the forgotten middle.

The issue of why students need extra consolidation in primary is probably more cultural than educational in origin.  With the loss of value and payoff of education in Australia, families are not supporting education in ways previously found.  With changes to compulsory education, the value of graduation has decreased as a workplace differentiator.  There are clear payoff changes exacerbated by the relatively high incomes available for manual labour related industries during mining years. Unless of a recent migrant group  - education is a social occupation.

Two parent working families have not been able to make the commitment to assisting students reach their potential.  Sadly, even families making the commitment (to embed tables, assisting with homework, taking an active interest and are reading together regularly) are not gaining the benefit as the majority now lies on the other side of the divide.  It is going to take considerable commitment by the department to turn this around, I think the community has already given up.

(...and Mackenzie reminded me of something today.. writing anything legible listening to Yogabba gabba is near impossible - having distractions in class for those who concentrate singly (like me) must be exceedingly frustrating.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The five years ago game.

Five years ago..

I didn't know how to play guitar
I didn't own an awful lot of board games
I didn't have this blog
I didn't know how to teach well
I hadn't experienced 5 years of wonderful kids seeking to excel
I hadn't worked with some exceptionally dedicated peers

I didn't have the joy of my beautiful daughter and the perspective of a parent

I miss my nana and could probably be less cynical.  All in all, I think, these past five years have been very good.

Point Systems

Extrinsic reward point systems often end in probability based rewards to reduce cost.  The more points in for the week, the higher the probability of winning a prize.  Like most extrinsic reward systems they have instant impact and then reduce gradually over the year unless continually renewed.

The system though is fairly one sided and lacks the concept of the win/win.  It's more the instant gratification/self gratification than something based in development of values, delayed gratification and development of the caring person.

I'm wondering if we could extend the points system to make a true currency of it.

Kids value when extra input is put into the classroom, they value when they can help someone else, they value when their effort contributes to something bigger, they value things that may help them improve.  Or at least this is what we want them to value.

What if kids could:
donate points towards a teacher doing extra PD to bring a clearly stated idea back to the classroom (points not generated in that classroom)
donate points towards the charity child (and the school converts them back to cents/dollars)
donate points towards the house points competition
donate points towards evaluating an overseas event
donate points towards a school speaker / event

Kids want ownership of their environment and these sorts of ideas help them get a feeling of self worth by expressing their value beyond themselves.  The feeling of self worth, I think, is a key goal.

Our kids are in an interesting place, I think it might be timely to investigate avenues for this type of idea.