When school mathematics is applied to issues that students face in their own lives, they are likely to see the subject as more meaningful, interesting and worthy of study. Such an approach also aligns school mathematics more closely to the work of professional mathematicians. The real-world use of mathematics typically involves solving ill-structured problems. To solve these problems it is first necessary to formulate them clearly, identifying variables and their relationship to one another, and discarding what is irrelevant. The next steps are to determine and apply an appropriate mathematical or physical model, then to check the validity of the solution. Students usually find it difficult to formulate a problem well. For teachers, too, the implementation of student action research involves challenges. Teachers need to decide when and how much to support students through suggestions and questioning, and allow for the different approaches that students may take in solving a problem. Teachers may also be faced with the challenge of 'not knowing all the answers'. The paper reports on a 2010 study involving teachers of year 8 and year 9 at six state schools in Queensland. It focuses in particular on action research projects carried out by students and teachers at two of the schools. At 'School A' the participating students worked through the ill-structured problem of designing a dedicated middle years' area on the school grounds. The students played a substantial role in defining the nature of the problem, with guidance and support from the teacher. Students at 'School B' undertook an investigation in which they had to compare alternative methods for paying off a car and comparing simple and compound interests for an investment. Students' levels of engagement were found to rise at both schools. The improvement was most pronounced at School A, perhaps because these students had a greater opportunity to take ownership of the project. This level of investigative freedom may itself reflect the high value that their teacher gave to developing students' quantitative literacy.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsProject based learning
Volume 82 Number 1, March 2012; Pages 61–89
A group of US researchers have undertaken a literature review to examine the academic benefits of video games for K–12 education. They found that firm evidence of these benefits, while much desired, is elusive: a 'princess in another castle'. Evidence of benefits varied between subject areas. The most promising results were in the field of language learning. In this context video games, especially massively multiplayer online role-playing games, offer a 'richly contextual immersive exolingual experience'. In one study, for example, chat with other players was found to develop grammar, usage and vocabulary as native speakers informally or explicitly corrected the linguistic expression of non-natives. Observers of these games also benefited academically through their inclusion in these rich player interactions – in some ways more than actual players, who were burdened by attention to game procedures. Some games also provide 'rich chat log files for assessment and reflection'. Learning benefits were also found for physical education in the specific form of 'exergames'. These games have been found better than traditional exercise at motivating previously inactive children of either gender, including those overweight or physically unskilled or simply under-confidant. However, learning benefits were not firmly identified in the other subjects investigated. In history-related games players tended to ignore embedded historical information as inessential to game tasks. Evidence in relation to mathematics is very mixed; it indicates the need for a high degree of customisation of games tasks to allow for variables such as learners' abilities and classroom environment. Video games offer considerable potential for science learning, including engagement of minority and female populations. However, the potential is not realised in most of the existing games intended for science learning. These games tend to present learning in terms of mastery of unrelated facts, terms and low-level concepts. They cover science topics in isolation from each other, at a low cognitive level, and without any curricular rationale. The nature of science games' programming leaves little room for users to experiment. The games' design does not call on users to identify and define problems, the two early stages of problem solving. These games need well-crafted backstories to encourage process-driven inquiry and awareness of scientific method and the history of science. Teachers also need to bridge the gap between the virtual and physical worlds to help students experience and understand physical phenomena such as force and inertia. For all these reasons, science games should be implemented 'only in concert with good teaching'. Other issues covered in the article include the definition of games, and digital learning games, the distinction between games and simulations.
Key Learning AreasStudies of Society and Environment
Health and Physical Education
Subject HeadingsMathematics teaching
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Language and languages
Re-thinking grammar: the impact of embedded grammar teaching on students' writing and students' metalinguistic understanding
Volume 27 Number 2, April 2012; Pages 139–166
A national study in England has examined whether grammar taught in writing classes improved students' writing ability and awareness of their own linguistic decision making. The study involved 744 year 8 students from randomly selected, mixed-ability classes across 31 comprehensive schools. Intervention and comparison groups were taught over a three-week period once a term, addressing the same writing genre and learning objectives. Teaching strategies for the intervention group additionally introduced grammatical constructions and terminology at points of key relevance to the genre being studied, eg how the use of first or third person positions the narrator, or how expanded noun phrases develop description. The aim was to offer 'a repertoire of opportunities' for writing, rather than set formulae. Several principles informed the teaching, including the use of grammatical metalanguage explained through examples and patterns, clear links between the grammatical concept and its potential applications, and the offering of models and exposure to authentic examples for students' consideration. The academic results of intervention and comparison students were measured before and after the intervention. Other evidence was collected from classroom observations, teacher interviews, and students' written output. Conversations were also held with one student from each class following an observed lesson, to probe their perspective as a learner. On the writing tests the performance of intervention students improved significantly more than that of the comparison students over the course of the unit. The improvement itself was significantly greater for students with higher subject knowledge, suggesting that this type of teaching may be particularly appropriate to their learning needs. Improvement was also greater in classes taken by teachers with higher levels of linguistic subject knowledge. The findings support the value of teachers having high levels of declarative knowledge, so as to answer students' grammatical questions and correct their errors, but also shows how helpful it is for students' learning when teachers are able to bring out a text's linguistic features, and its likely impact on readers. Improvement was also higher in classes taken by teachers with five to ten years of professional experience than in those where the teacher had less than five or more than ten years of experience. Overall the findings call for the nuanced application of grammar instruction within writing classes. It also suggests the need for further research on the best ways to embed grammar instruction for less able writing students.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsEnglish language teaching
Phonological-based assessment and teaching within a first year reading program in New Zealand
Volume 35 Number 1, February 2012; Pages 9–32
New Zealand has a 'long tail' of underachievement in early years' literacy. This problem has worsened since the 1980s, calling into question the current program used to address poor performance. The strategy used to assist underachievers needs to allow for the fact that they often lack the support of literacy-rich home environments. An environment with rich 'literate cultural capital' exposes children to a wide vocabulary and develops their phonological sensitivity via experience of rhymes, songs and simple word games. Such a background equips the school starter well to learn the connections between written letters and sounds, for example, and the connection between the sounds of spoken letters and the sounds used in speech. Students without this background are likely to struggle unless their phonological awareness becomes an explicit focus of instruction at school. Previous research has found that 'context-free instruction in word analysis (ie phonics) encourages full attention to the patterns that make up words', in contrast to 'ineffective context-based cues' such as looking at illustrations. The results of a recent small-scale study in New Zealand illustrate the value of a phonics-based approach. The study involved a series of phonological-based literacy assessments and instructional activities for 15 children, with results compared to those from a control group. The intervention involved daily lessons focusing on phonological-based skills, conducted four days a week for 10 weeks, at whole class and small group levels. The intervention was supported by activities, resources and games. The resources include alphabet cards and laminated letters formed into a necklace, sent home with the children with the aim of having parents involved in the child's letter-sound learning. Following the intervention, the results of the intervention and control groups were compared. The intervention students outperformed the control group on several key measures.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Engaging fluent readers using literature circles
Volume 20 Number 1, February 2012; Pages i–viii
Literature circles are groups of 4–6 students reading and discussing the same novel, taking responsibility for their own learning. These groups offer a number of academic benefits for students at any year level. They may engage students who are reading well above their chronological reading age. They encourage cooperative work and allow students to 'practice the art of conversation'. They are similar to the sorts of reading activities undertaken outside the school environment, and encourage higher-order thinking and questioning in a meaningful context, as students discuss novels' themes. Participants are assigned to specific roles within the group. Their roles require them to apply comprehension strategies such as making connections, inferring and summarising. The article reports on a trial of literature circles by New Zealand teachers taking various year levels. Feedback from the groups provides a range of suggestions for teachers setting up future groups of this kind. Literature circles may be promoted to students as an opportunity for independent work. It is useful to start with the most advanced readers, who might model the activity for later groups. Teachers' support and intervention should be flexible enough to respond to evidence of the level of student progress. Students should be encouraged to find their own solutions to problems arising during group meetings. Participating students observed that not all their peers contributed equally to the groups. Teachers need to consider ways to address this issue, eg by allowing students to rate peers as part of the assessment. Other problems included group members over-talking each other, not having the roles they most desired, and having to learn polite ways to manage disagreements. Students are more motivated when they have the chance to select which novel to study. A major resource issue is having class sets of novels that appeal to the student groups and offer opportunities for thematic discussion. Resources are available from the lead author's wiki.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
English language teaching
Inspired technology, inspired readers: how book trailers foster a passion for reading
March 2012; Pages 8–13
Students need the ability to comprehend substantial and complex texts, including novels and biographies. In 2010 a group of year 9 boys at Brisbane Grammar School participated in an action research project, a school library initiative, in which they designed and created multimodal book trailers. The initiative arose after library staff observed that reading for enjoyment declined between the middle and senior years and that many boys were reluctant to discuss reading books for interest with either librarians or teachers. It built on research indicating that boys' commitment to reading may be improved by integrating it more deeply into the curriculum, thus validating it; by connecting reading to an activity that boys enjoy; and by integrating reading with the use of technology. In particular it built on work by Gunter and Kenny on the construction of book trailers as a device to encourage reading and critical reflection on books. The participants were taken from two mixed-ability classes. After selecting a book for leisure reading, they studied the main features of a book trailer, and undertook lessons and tutorials designed to develop their literacy and their visual and technological skills. This work included an analysis activity in which they considered the construction of their novel's story. The essential structure of the trailer was predetermined, and the participants were required to meet deadlines for completing novel analysis sheets, storyboards and first drafts. Within these broad limits the boys had a great deal of scope to decide the final product. Evidence to evaluate the initiative was obtained from an initial survey that profiled the leisure reading of each boy, and from interviews with each boy, from their journal entries, and from video-conference with the boys during the construction of the trailers. Results so far show that most of the 60 participants improved their English grades during the course of the year. A further stage of the research will examine the extent to which the intervention has changed participants' leisure reading habits.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Subject HeadingsInformation and Communications Technology (ICT)
Developing a personal learning network for fast and free professional learning
March 2012; Pages 16–19
A personal learning network (PLN) is 'any group that helps you develop and learn' in personal or professional life. Face-to-face networks developed during professional work, conference attendance and professional learning sessions can be usefully supplemented with wider networks online. Online personal networks provide access to useful information, filtered to avoid information overload. They also provide forums to share professional successes and failures, and float ideas among colleagues. Like face-to-face networks they are most beneficial if approached as a two-way avenue for giving and taking. A useful way to start building an online network is to access the online presence of colleagues already known in person or through professional associations. A range of tools are available for building an online personal learning network. Blogs offer a place to share experiences, store and share resources, and reflect on professional learning. Twitter is 'brilliant for professional learning and connections', including connections to authors and publishers. The author offers a range of tips for effective use of Twitter, including the use of apps to organise Twitter feeds. Diigo is a social bookmarking service through which to share links to useful websites. Other services offer a number of ways to make effective professional use of Twitter and Facebook. (See the author's Twitter account and blog.)
Subject HeadingsSocial media
The bottom line on excellence
Volume 33 Number 10-16, February 2012
Before allocating funds for professional learning, schools and education systems need accurate information about how much they are currently spending, how local-level decisions about professional learning are made, and the manner and extent to which that spending relates to student achievement. One crucial step in accounting for professional learning is to categorise expenses. Odden et al suggest five categories: teacher time used for professional learning; the staffing costs associated with coaches, trainers and other facilitators; administrative costs; material, equipment and facilities; and travel and transportation expenses. A number of principles may help to guide schools and regional education system authorities in allocating and evaluating professional learning. Expertise should be developed at the collective as well as the individual level, to minimise variation between schools and classrooms and to encourage ongoing learning. Professional learning should be aligned to school and system goals. Combine external expertise, which should offer the up-to-date knowledge and which stands outside any local rivalries, with internal expertise, which is cheaper and which builds local capacity. Reward staff for professional learning when its benefits for student performance can be demonstrated. Professional learning should be comprehensive once focus areas have been targeted. Provide professional learning for principals as well as teachers. Support informal learning, including local, collaborative, and just-in-time learning, as well as more formal, structured forms of training. Differentiate support for educators at different levels of performance and career progression. Weight funding for professional learning toward high-need areas, eg new staff. Restrict professional development funding to authentic learning activities rather than celebrations, information sessions or routine meetings. Integrate technology into professional learning to make it more dynamic and help it address both personalised and group needs. Plan schedules to allow for ongoing forms of professional learning. The article also examines a number of issues in professional learning, specifically school education in the USA.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
United States of America (USA)
Developing Asia literacy through the Australian Curriculum – English
Volume 20 Number 1, February 2012; Pages 20–25
Literacy interrelates closely with culture and with the development of personal identity: looking deeply into the meaning of a text involves considering the cultural meanings embedded within it. For this reason the English curriculum should include opportunities for students to develop their understanding of other cultures as well as their own. In this context, the 2008 National English Curriculum Framing Paper noted Australian students' 'entitlement to develop an awareness of the literary traditions and expressions of other nations in the Asia-Pacific region'. Offering students these opportunities, however, means moving beyond a preference for the local content that is already familiar, enjoyed, and facilitated by readily available resources. The Asia Education Foundation (AEF) has 'identified different levels of articulation between Asia-related content and the learning areas of the Australian Curriculum'. The article provides examples for the subject area of English. One way to link English to Asia literacy is through a resource produced by the AEF itself, Intersections of Identity. This resource broadens students' understanding of the nature of texts while also helping students to develop their knowledge about historical and contemporary Asia, and their intercultural sensitivity towards Asians within and outside Australia. Another way to link English to Asia literacy is via literary texts that illustrate the literary traditions of Asia and, at the same time, expose students to the idea of world literature. These texts may be authored by Asian Australians who are highlighting the Asian component of Australian history, or by other Australians describing their own exposure to Asia. The article lists examples of relevant texts, by student year level. Such works offer students the chance to reflect on how texts make sense of the world and how texts may be used to develop shared cultural understandings. They also convey knowledge of Asia and its historical and current contribution to Australia. Further opportunities for Asia content in the English curriculum arise in the form of incidental references to Asian 'language, contexts and texts'. Students may, for example, examine how English language spread through Asia or the Asian origins of some English words, or study Asian media.
Key Learning AreasEnglish
Social life and customs
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