Sunday, November 18, 2012

Screencasts and Prezi

During the year I have created a whole heap of screencasts for my students.  I put them on edmodo and it has become an important part of my teaching method.

I have wanted a way to organise them so that students can easily find the one that they want as scrolling back through the year is not very practical..  One of the science teachers at the school showed me prezi and I thought it might be useful as a graphic organiser.

If the loading process wasn't so prone to failure, I'd say it was a great product.  It's come a long way since I last used it, but ready for mission critical work I'd say not.  It's a frustrating tool to say the least.

A couple of things I learned during my prezi journey.

1. Be prepared to reload the edit page 10-15 times before the prezi loads successfully in edit mode.
2. Keep the prezi size down and don't overuse the zoom function (make things too small or too big)
3. It only works with IOS 5 on an iPad (and to update to IOS 5 requires a rebuild of the iPad resulting in data loss when the restore fails due to antivirus being overzealous.. grr..)
4. The save to file function in prezi is a lifesaver.  Any time that you want to display a prezi in front of people (eg in front of a class), save it to a file - don't rely on it online, it will fail on you every time - even if it worked perfectly when you tested it two minutes before.
5. Get your login validated as an education user.  It's worth the extra functionality.

Anyhow.. the important bit. It's nearing christmas so I thought I'd share my prezi of screencasts created during 2012 for 3AB MAT and 3AB MAS.

Be prepared to reload the page up to 10 times before the prezi loads successfully (it may repeatedly error - don't worry there's probably nothing wrong).  It's annoying but worth the wait to see how we could present information in the future.

Please remember that each screencast was created in about 5 minutes each in response to student questions - they are not meant to be a comprehensive examination of each topic.  In many cases they are not sequential with the Saddler text.  They are only meant to supplement class teaching (and are a part of my reflecting on my own teaching practices).

I know at least one of the screencasts in particular is full of mistakes (I must have been asleep that day!).  A great part of the screencasts is when students find errors or query against their understanding - it's a real indication they are watching for context rather than just accepting everything in front of them and a part of why I believe they have been successful.

The sound volume is low because I'm doing these when the little ones are asleep at night.  If anyone is interested in how to do a screencast (it's stupidly easy), reply below and I'll write a little tutorial.

Friday, November 9, 2012

IOTY Award

Each year an IOTY is given to someone that has done something rather silly in education.  This year there were a few candidates.  My personal favourite is the one most recent.

Currently (as reported in the West) education (teaching) staff are being declined travel requests.  The interesting thing is that (on my reading) the travel requests as reported in the West are only related to airline travel.

Not so!

Recent requests for support from head office have been declined because support staff are not allowed to use government vehicles to come to schools.  This means that critical support required to examine statistical data and perform professional development within schools prior to the 2013 year is being denied for a few dollars of petrol.  These supports onsite are important as they bring together school staff with neutral advisors that can drive critical change and provide confidence to make courageous decisions.

To the person that decided that this is a good idea and changed a good idea (reducing travel where benefits cannot be clearly justified) to a poor idea (trying to save a few dollars and in so doing reducing the effectiveness of teaching programs) deserves the IOTY for 2013.

To the mystery person poorly implementing a good idea... the IOTY goes to you!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


The next round of NAPLAN data is being released and the issues with summarised statistics arise.  In low socio-economic schools this data is damaging and will close schools - not because of poor teaching but because of cohort changes.

Let's take a sample school.

General assumption:
NAPLAN scores have dropped over four years.  Obviously something wrong with the teaching staff.

Examining raw data:
Increase in students with little or no schooling (refugee intake)
Opening of new school nearby attracting higher performing students
Half cohort was generally a weak group due to many students (and siblings) moving to private schools in yr 7 (entry to secondary schooling early was a significant factor in parents choosing schools in yr 7 coupled with aggressive marketing by private schools to maintain student numbers)
High turnover in experienced staff
Decrease in general school attendance (and students not attending at all) - increase in overseas holidays in yr 8, truancy, mental health issues
Issues with changing curriculum and yr 7 content not being taught to the level required by NAPLAN in public primary schools
Inability to move on students with little or no interest in schooling
Strong increase in performance of high school ready students (what high school teachers are trained to do) and low levels of improvement of students that are at primary levels during yr 7/8 (area of improvement for the school).

The issues make it hard to compete with local private schools.

None of these factors are taken into account by a one number summary, nor does it take into account the lead-in required to cater to a new circumstance that the school is experiencing (in this case a much higher number of low ability students).  Even if the school diagnosed the problem, reacted and implemented cohort specific solutions (including structural changes to better cater to low ability students), it takes lead time and strong leadership to identify and implement actions that have significant impact on NAPLAN statistics and student learning.  Yet in many cases a lower NAPLAN score will be seen as a teacher issue, comments driven by the misuse of statistics.

Furthermore, little analysis is done to see where systems are working and where changes in the pipeline have caused a significant positive change in student results.

Lastly, by releasing this data to parents (rather than aggressively seeking the problems and rectifying it within schools) a downward spiral commences.  A school with a low NAPLAN score does not attract good students, thus the score continues to drop each year and student numbers fall.  Senior school offerings reduce as student numbers are not sufficient to sustain courses.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Professional Development in Schools

At the moment the department lives between a rock and a hard place with professional development.  The new Australian curriculum requires a level of professional development to be successful but the department lacks the resources to implement it.

To do it properly requires a slow implementation over many years with a commitment to each year being implemented with a focus on contextual differences between schools.  A drip feed approach, working hand in hard will work but requires a range of strategies, ICT and monitoring that the department is not geared towards nor has a track record in being able to deliver.

What can be done with a relative few has been shown by the oft maligned Curriculum council (now known as SCASA), during the Mathematics NCOS rollout.  Rom, Malachi and crew did a good job of defining the curriculum succinctly and then supporting teachers understanding curriculum points.  The moderation process (albeit unwieldy and requiring personal statistical attention to maintain integrity) has worked to lesser and/or greater degrees.  Understanding the scope of assessment has not been an ongoing problem.

No such names can be readily placed for Australian curriculum.  There is no level of confidence in the process by teachers at this time.  The assessment model and levels of assessment is still a big black hole.

I'm not saying curriculum support branch aren't trying to help.  They are.  I think they need a little more practical and visible leadership and release from some of the hamstrings of the past.  Rather than being apologetic about what they can't be, they clearly need to focus on what needs to be done.  If they let go of the fringe materials (such as first steps) and focus on key requirements (specific learning area focuses (new content, changes to scope and sequence, what needs to be delivered, when it needs to be delivered) they may be more successful and useful.  Without commitment to a process at best they are going to be ill focused, at worst ineffective.

I would start by redeveloping the communication model.  The portals used are ineffective as they require teachers to log on to view them.  Start with Principals (where a solid communication network exists) and then work down.  Focus on Learning area objectives to reach Australian Curriculum guidelines and disseminate information to HODs and HOLAs.  Develop an online approach.  Get some money to do it properly and quickly - no two year processes, 10 weeks max each project using subject experts (I know expert is a bad word, but only because the experts of the past had a barrow to push and were academics or failed teachers - get the old crusty teachers of math that have taught effectively in the classroom, the statistics exist to identify who they are).  Couple them together with some of the new teachers that use ICT effectively who know better ways to distribute information.  Produce useful resources and teachers will be hooked.  TDC's were effective in this in that they produced usable resources - this time more time needs to be taken to ensure these resources are good.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

The vacuum left by the lack of strong leadership

The difficulty of generating genuine momentum in a school is often underestimated.  There are key events in a school year that can undermine any attempts at real change:

The start of the school year is a busy time, bedding down classes, getting courses started and finalised, organising small groups.
Identification and creation of semester one resources and assessment
By week four or five behaviour issues tend to arise as students become more confident with how far they can push boundaries and these boundaries need reset.
Mid term reports start about week 10.
Preparation for first semester exams, followed by exams
Semester 1 reporting
Reallocation of students failing subjects
Identification and creation of semester two resources and assessment
Senior School subject selection for year 10/11 and course counselling
Student references
Mock and ATAR exams
Semester two exams
Semester 2 reporting.

Any new projects need to have staff with capacity to commit to a new project.  IWB's don't get installed and implemented without leadership.  Laptops don't get used miraculously.  Tablets are just plastic without knowing how they can be used.  National curriculum doesn't just happen any more than NCOS was a cakewalk back during that implementation.  Kids don't turn up to after school classes for long without engaging materials and presenters.  EPW's don't get written, online tutorials and environments don't get made and students don't get the additional help that they need because taking people to task about their output is too hard and it's easier to load up those willing to have a go.

When leadership models fail, nobody knows who is doing what and what their load is - or worse still there is little care as long as "my" task is being done.  Flat management is prone to this - with everyone busy yet with little prioritisation being done at any level - there is no focus on schoolwide goals.  The loudest person gets their task done, anyone that raises a hand to say that there are higher priorities gets told it's the same for everyone - just get my task done.  At worst, the place just drifts along on platitudes and mediocrity.

I've come to the conclusion that the "it's the same for everyone" is garbage.  Poor management makes no attempt to rectify this.  They may make token attempts to acknowledge those working hard, but saying thanks does not make up for the extra hours required to "just keep things rolling along" and can take the gloss off a rewarding career.

This is where I am today, thinking.. well.. there's a lot that needs doing, yet the need to do them is not a priority by the school.  I'm not going to spend 10-15 hours each weekend indefinitely developing the math programme (five years is enough) without some compromise happening somewhere.  With a young baby and a three year old it is not sustainable any more.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Profiling Students

Profiling students is an important part of generating self image and developing student goals.  These goals keep them focused during the difficult years of senior school.

Sadly, often profiling is a haphazard event, and I'm not sure it should be this way.  Today, small schools have limited options for students, especially as the half cohort travels through the system reduces subject offerings.  If we put subject offerings and student profiles together, career options could be made more transparent.

Medical via University (Science Degree, RN, Medical Sciences etc)
Human Biology 2A, 3A Maths, Psychology 2A , English 2A, Chemistry 2A
Medical via Tafe (EN):
Human Biology 1A/Integrated Science, 1DE Maths, English 1A (and 3 of Media, Art, Psychology, WPL or cert courses)
Arts via university

By generating profiles that are supported by the timetable, students can aspire to these pathways and these can be published throughout the school so that students understand what they need for these subjects.

This could be taken further into lower school so students can aspire to higher learning.  Students in 8D need to aspire out of it or seek alternate pathways (and be given reassurance that this pathway is viable).  These alternate pathways need to be developed to build self esteem and empower lower ability students.  Lower school pathways may look like:

8D and business studies, (C grade average or lower)
8A/B/C, (C grade average, B grade or higher in selected vocational class)
8A, Extension Math and English (B grade average or higher)

Now students have reason for taking extension classes or participating fully in options classes.  There is a clear return on effort - a trait of the current millennial generation.

Each lower school "generalist" profile needs a profile champion that builds the self esteem of students and focuses on the positives of each profile.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Engaging parents through Edmodo

Edmodo is a product that I have used a lot this year.  With continuing use of ICT I have noticed that the effects are often not what is expected.

The most recent effect is the re-engagement of parents in education. Parents have felt disengaged from education due to (I think) the closed door nature of classes.  Parents have expressed that they are afraid to teach their students as they do not know the correct way to present mathematics.  Often they can complete a problem but have difficulty with using the correct working.

Now, having marked a few teachers work, this is no real surprise as teachers use a wide variety of techniques to solve problems.  A method ok in year 8 is a big no no in year 9.  Balancing method in year nine is where I most often put my head in my hands as students often have no real connection made to BIMDAS(order of operations), nor to where a new line of working (formal algebraic notation) should be used.

Edmodo, by presenting board work online (such that parents can access it), is starting the process of re-engaging parents in high school education.  They can see what homework is set, what teaching method has been used and what the mark was on a test - such that they can help  a student revise/relearn/correct any practices that are not up to scratch.

It has also relieved pressure on teachers as comments like "You haven't taught my child that", or "I didn't know my student was doing poorly" are now not as potent - the information has been available all along.  It gives parents back a role in the teaching process as the primary carers (at least for the other 14 hours of the day) - something that has been lacking in recent years, especially where parental knowledge is not sufficiently great to understand the difficulty of engaging and teaching students.

Is it a pathway to parents again understanding that teaching is a real skill and that for the most part teachers are doing a reasonable job?

The counter side is that it will expose dodgy teaching techniques and (through increased scrutiny and transparency) open teachers to criticism.  The lack of use (as stated before in a previous post) may also expose a teacher at risk, as posting information online is often the first thing to go when available time is poor.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Types of teachers

There are a number of different types of teachers.  Support at critical points in careers make or break teachers.  The availability of this support is something that is often in question.

Who can supply this support?

Collegiate support is the first line of defence.  Supportive colleagues is important to navigating the issues of the teacher gaining competency.  A colleague with the ability to support another is worth gold in an organisation (not only giving lip service but also providing practical help).  Without that support I know I wouldn't have made it through my first few years of teaching.  I'm pretty grateful to these people.

The second line of support is friends, family and the community.   Without this support, a teacher could not have made it through university, much less the first year of teaching.  It's a hard time learning classroom management and tying together content, pedagogy and support requirements can continue for many years.

The third line and last line is administration.  The strategies available at this level are pretty dire.

For those with limited support at a family level, in schools under stress with limited ability to provide collegiate support, administrative support is going to be fairly limited and action fairly direct. The half cohort has placed a number of schools in this category - with considerable pressure placed on relatively few. Filling in the gaps from this point is predictable.

I have thought that is why teaching is full of assertive personalities that "win over" students rather than  those that have the best teaching ability (with regard to content and pedagogy). Teaching also has a few teachers hiding beneath the radar, giving good grades but doing the bare minimum.

I know that assertive and avoidant teachers are not all, but it would be good if those that were good at teaching, trying hard but not "assertive" also found their place through support at critical times.  These people could make phenomenal teachers in the right location.