Secondary teachers' responses to the new mathematics syllabus
Volume 32 Number 1, February 2007; Pages 78–80
Secondary teachers in New South Wales have commented on the State’s revised 7–10 maths syllabus, during an investigation conducted in 2005. A questionnaire was answered by 193 teachers. Three-fifths of respondents were from Government schools, one-fifth from Catholic schools, and one-fifth from independent schools. Two-thirds were from Sydney, a fifth from rural areas and 13 percent from regional cities. Most of the respondents were very experienced teachers. A second phase of the research involved interviews with 39 of the respondents. Participants were asked what classroom activities and resources they used for Years 7 and 9. The article includes a table listing the activities and resources, which include library research, textbooks, spreadsheets and the Internet. Results suggest that neither computers nor graphic calculators are widely used at either year level, and also that almost all activities are used less in Year 9 than in Year 7. These responses probably reflect the pressures of preparing students for the Year 9 School Certificate, and the generally higher workload for teachers at that level, which inhibits the use of technologies and methods not mandated by the syllabus. Most respondents approved of the flexible progression and continuum of learning allowed by the new syllabus, and the opportunity it offered for more collaboration between teachers. In the interviews, 29 of the 39 participants could be classed as ‘aspirants’ who broadly supported the student-centred learning encouraged by the new syllabus but who felt they lacked the time, energy, expertise and creativity to implement the approach it called for. They also ‘lacked a clear idea of the nature of such activities’ and wanted more practical examples and advice about them from the Board of Studies. The remaining respondents were ‘dissenters’, who resisted the new syllabus in favour of traditional approaches to teaching, and ‘supporters’, who felt competent to implement the new syllabus. The supporters had become convinced of the value of the new syllabus by reflecting on the methods that they found most useful for their own professional learning, and by drawing conclusions for the classroom situation.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsNew South Wales (NSW)
Student spreadsheets in the middle school mathematics classroom: why should teachers have all the fun?
Volume 32 Number 1, February 2007; Pages 60–63
ICT is used in primary maths classrooms as a management tool for teachers and students to allow communication amongst teachers, parents and students, and as an evaluation tool. ICT activities such as constructing interactive spreadsheets are used to engage students in learning and help develop mathematical understanding and skill. Having students construct learning experiences or problems for others is also effective, as it shows the students’ depth of understanding. The level of difficulty of a student’s questions can offer a direct reflection of their own knowledge. A suggested activity for middle school students is to construct an interactive answer-response table for younger students, using a spreadsheet package such as Excel. The article describes a strategy for helping middle students construct a multiplication grid for younger students. The spreadsheet is formatted so that younger students enter an answer in a cell, with the cell automatically turning green if correct and red if incorrect. The article is a response to a workshop run by Grovedale College’s Ken Walker and Chris Jennings, held at the MAV Annual Conference 2005.
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Argument and developments in the science curriculum
Volume 88 Number 324, March 2007; Pages 31–39
The school science curriculum often presents a simplistic model of science that excludes argument. Historically, the science curriculum for England and Wales projected an understanding of science that discouraged critical thinking, debate, and engagement with social and ethical issues raised by science. This ‘hypothetico-deductive’ model presents a world in which scientists conduct ‘fair tests’ from which they derive unproblematic knowledge. Scientists’ science and school science differ widely in this regard, as scientific ideas outside secondary school are subject to debate at every stage of reasoning. The National Curriculum failed to teach students how scientific knowledge was generated and revised, and as a result students gained a false impression of scientific enquiry. A series of new specifications, termed the How Science Works framework, were therefore introduced to the National Curriculum in 2006 in order to address this issue. This new framework requires teachers to integrate aspects of science philosophy into the science curriculum. This has resulted in less emphasis on substantive content and greater emphasis on knowledge, skills, and understanding of procedural content. However, this new framework will not significantly impact students’ perceptions of science unless it is accompanied by a culture of argumentation, debate, and discussion in science classrooms. This article analyses the implications of the How Science Works framework and its practical working within National Curriculum specifications.
Key Learning AreasScience
An unrealistic image of science
Volume 88 Number 324, March 2007; Page 119
The image of school science promoted at open days is unrealistic and unsustainable, and ultimately leads to students being disillusioned with science. Through the use of various unrepresentative demonstrations and experiments, science is presented as hands-on and exciting, rather than as the conceptually demanding investigation of nature. A British study has evaluated the use and effectiveness of practical demonstrations in promoting students’ interest in science. Interviews with science teachers from comprehensive schools in England indicated that teachers provided ‘whiz, bang, pop’ experiments at open days in order to engender an image of science as fun and exciting, despite their acknowledgement that such demonstrations are not representative of real science classes. The portrayal of atypical tasks as typical creates an unsustainable image of science, as even the most imaginative teachers cannot produce fun and exciting practical tasks for every lesson over the five years of compulsory science education. Excessive use of these demonstrations in classes also emphasises student enjoyment and positive recollection of science at the expense of subject matter. The study suggested that the image of science promoted at open days unrealistically raised students’ expectations about the nature of science, and their subsequent experiences of ‘real’ science were therefore disappointing. An honest depiction of science would demonstrate the excitement inherent in understanding nature and the real world outside laboratories.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
Take the leap: how collegiality and teamwork leads to real professional learning
July 2007; Pages 24–31
Generally speaking, professional learning teachers have failed to move on from ineffective techniques such as attendance at offsite workshops and conferences, which are usually removed from the issues that confront teachers in class. There are three elements involved in the creation of effective professional learning. The first element is the provision of adequate time for learning. Teachers’ time can be freed up in a range of ways. They include early release for students (eg by having them take part in cultural or sporting events; by grouping several classes at once into lectures; or by the use of the summer vacation). The second element is the ‘deprivatisation’ of teachers’ practice. This deprivatisation may involve observation of other classes. Ballarat and Clarendon college has a room especially built for this purpose. It may also involve the ‘Japanese Lesson Study’ approach, through which groups of teachers collaborate intensively in learning content and pedagogy. It may, for example, involve small groups of teachers collectively studying lesson plans, brainstorming new ideas during substantial blocks of lesson study time, and then trialling the new ideas observed by other teachers who offer feedback. This method tends to develop ‘a very stable approach to the writing of curricula’. Versions of it are used in the Ithaka Project and Watching Teachers at Work Week. The third ingredient of effective professional learning is relevance to the classroom needs of teachers undertaking it. It should therefore be customised, as achieved for example through the Professional Learning Teams set up under the Quality Teacher Program (QTP). They involve groups of teachers investigating ways to address a particular issue, such as formative assessment or the introduction of a thinking curriculum. Methods may include discussion, visits to other schools, and hiring consultants. Such groups should begin with a loose concept of their needs, allowing flexibility to experiment as they proceed. See introductory text on the Teacher website.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Teaching and learning
Maintenance: Where the first cut can be the deepest
Volume 11 Number 5, June 2007; Pages 1–3
Maintenance of school grounds, buildings, and equipment is often undervalued and under-funded by school boards. Money spent on maintenance is often ‘invisible’, in that its rewards are not tangible or immediately observable, and as a result, many organisations choose to defer maintenance work when faced with a tight budget. This issue of invisibility also impacts school facility managers, who are often required to speculate on the cost-savings from servicing when vying for budget allocations. Despite the intangibility of its associated rewards, maintenance is critical to the welfare of students, staff, and the school community, and neglect of facilities can waste resources in the long term. One factor contributing to the under-funding of maintenance in schools is the inflation of costs over time. School equipment, particularly audio-visual equipment, has become more sophisticated, and buildings have become more specialised in functionality with the expansion of curriculum choice. Additionally, recent developments in legislative requirements and standards relating to workplace health and safety have resulted in maintenance staff requiring much higher levels of skills and training, and therefore higher staffing costs. Budgeting concerns, however, are only one issue facing maintenance in schools. Each school must also have an appropriate maintenance plan in place, based on accurate and specific facilities data. The National Centre for Education Statistics (NCES) Planning Guide for Maintaining School Facilities recommends that schools conduct a thorough audit of buildings, grounds and equipment, documenting each item’s condition, age, repair history and replacement parts. An audit can be a costly exercise, but facilities data can be used to inform policy-making decisions, not just to enable a cohesive maintenance plan. Such a plan not only prevents equipment failure and catastrophe, but also facilitates efficient work scheduling, minimising disruptions to the school’s operation.
Subject HeadingsSchool grounds
Student achievement: a focus on leadership
Winter 2007; Pages 23–25
The Ministry of Education in Ontario has developed a framework for developing school leaders. The policy aims to enhance leaders' ability to improve literacy and numeracy achievement and school graduation rates and to close the gap between high-performing and low-performing students. Supports have included increased investment, increased staff levels and a revitalised curriculum. Three ministerial bodies have also been created to deal with literacy and numeracy, leadership development and secondary student success. The Government, school districts, schools and other organisations have worked together to create a shared vision for effective school leadership. The province-wide Leadership Framework identifies key competencies for school leadership, among them: setting directions based on shared goals; building relationships and collaborating with communities; developing the organisation through collaboration and organisational structures; leading the instructional program and securing personal accountability for student learning while also promoting collective responsibility. The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat established two initiatives which have aided the identification, development and sharing of effective and context-appropriate leadership practices. The Leading and Learning initiative identified 20 schools in challenging circumstances which demonstrated improved student achievement under one principal for two years or more. Common themes were identified among the schools. Their principals were found to be leaders of instruction and fostered a school-wide approach to literacy based on best practice and current research. The schools had a clear vision for improving student achievement, provided learning opportunities outside the classroom and involved parents and communities. Data was used to support decision making and professional learning was provided for staff. The second initiative, Leading Student Achievement: Our Principal Purpose, placed 75 principals in professional learning teams. The principals worked together to identify suitable professional development options for their local or situation-specific needs. On returning to their own schools, the principals created professional learning teams among staff and facilitated ongoing professional dialogue and development.
Volume 5 Number 1, 2007; Pages 5–7
The VELS framework emphasises the development of deep knowledge, and offers teacher–librarians in Victoria increased opportunity to mediate student learning. VELS calls for teacher–librarians to shift the focus from resource-based interventions that simply teach students to find, access and evaluate information, towards a more central role in the teaching of knowledge construction processes. Teacher–librarians should assert a role for themselves in helping students develop skills that support deep understanding, such as critical thinking, communication and reflection. This move may involve taking risks, but presents an opportunity for teacher–librarians to reaffirm the position of school libraries. Research-based methods for information literacy instruction can help students develop deep knowledge through inquiry. The Kuhlthau Information Search Process is one example. The process outlines skills across key stages of the information search process: initiation, selection, exploration, formulation, collection and presentation. The teaching interventions for each stage are selected in line with the curriculum outcomes to be achieved and students’ cognitive, behavioural and affective learning needs. For instance, students may be involved in identifying research questions or understanding the real world relevance of an issue. Other knowledge processes and outcomes include developing openness to new ideas and dealing with uncertainty, developing skills in managing time, tasks, processes and effort, and reflecting on new knowledge. The proposed framework, rationale and directions under development with the School Library Association of Victoria (SLAV) offer further direction.
Volume 41 Number 1, April 2007; Pages 10–15
Handwriting has been found to play a significant role in general literacy development, particularly composition. The improvement in motor skills related to handwriting, and the development of automatic writing, free up cognitive resources for higher level composition processes, including the planning and revision of text. The importance attached to handwriting skills declined during the 1980s as educational thought emphasised the importance of the creation of meaning in emergent writing, and reacted against an earlier overemphasis on neat letter formation. Over the last decade, however, there has been growing attention to the role played by working memory in the development of writing. Working memory refers to the storage of information for carrying out tasks. The complexity of the writing process means that it makes many simultaneous demands on working memory. Attempts to sequence these tasks over time cannot succeed due to the interrelated nature of the tasks. A more effective way to reduce demands on working memory during early writing is to make handwriting an automatic process. Evidence suggests that boys in particular are likely to benefit from measures that assist in the development of automatic writing. Researcher Carol Christensen has designed ways to measure orthographic-motor integration and to identify automaticity problems in children. Two studies have demonstrated the success of these methods in improving comprehension as well as handwriting.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
English language teaching
School Collaboration: strength in numbers
Volume 86 Number 11, 9 July 2007
Three primary schools around the town of Featherston, New Zealand, have found that collaboration has strengthened the entire community’s academic achievement. Prior to 2003, the three schools were entirely separate entities, and the absence of social interaction between students of different schools led to hostility between Catholic and non-Catholic, and rural and urban, students. When all three schools experienced a change of principalship in 2003, the schools began to integrate socially through sports clubs and cultural events. The three new principals then discovered academic trends common between their schools, and decided to run their professional development programs together. The three schools then applied to participate in the School Administration Support Cluster (SASC) program run by Massey University, which aims to help small schools collaborate to reduce principals’ workloads and explore administrative changes. The Featherston cluster identified a particular need in literacy, and through the SASC program was able to plan district initiatives and combine resources towards their shared goals of raising the level of literacy achievement in low and high achievers, targeting low-achieving Maoris. Participation in the SASC program for two years allowed the cluster to collect and collate data, and identify trends in the district that could not be observed in individual schools due to their small student populations. This data allowed the cluster to apply for assistance from the Enhanced Program Fund (EPF), the funding from which enabled the schools to employ a Special Education Needs Coordinator (SENCO). The SENCO, Jill Galbreath, works across the three schools, providing a coordinated response to identified needs.
Subject HeadingsRural education
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