Developing an overall school mathematics plan
Volume 30 Number 1, 2015; Pages 6–9
The article discusses the ‘big ideas’ of mathematics, as a useful framework around which to organise mathematics teaching; it then suggests procedures for setting up a school mathematics plan. Big ideas are high-level concepts, central to maths, which serve to unify and deepen students’ understanding of subordinate concepts. For example, the big idea of ‘equivalence’ means that a given mathematical value can be represented in different but equivalent ways. This idea embraces more specific ones, such as the idea that numbers ‘can be decomposed or partitioned in an infinite number of ways’, and that numbers ‘can be named in equivalent ways using place value’. Teachers can use big ideas to plan units. Teachers will also aim to relate the big ideas to the mathematics curriculum’s four proficiency strands: Understanding, Fluency, Problem Solving and Reasoning. There are several steps in developing a school mathematics plan. An initial step is to identify the demands of a proposed curriculum on teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge, with regard to statistics and probability, measurement and geometry, and number and algebra. Another preliminary planning step is to invite teachers to reflect on important issues underpinning maths teaching, for example, asking them to identify the key elements of a curriculum, or to spell out their own philosophy of mathematical learning. An important component of a school mathematics plan is to ensure that teachers discuss how each topic they teach relates to other topics, and also how a given topic is developed across year levels, at in years just below and above their own. Such planning will offer teachers a deeper understanding of each topic, and may also help to ensure consistent language and methodology is used throughout the school.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Teacher perspectives of 'effective' leadership in schools
Volume 36 Number 4, 2015; Pages 36–40
The article discusses ‘transformational’ and ‘instructional’ models for principal leadership, in terms of their nature, popularity and effectiveness. The transformational leader characteristically focuses on inspiring and stimulating staff, and setting the conditions for an effective working culture. Transformational leadership is also seen as a way to encourage collaboration and support for risk-taking. While transformational leaders demonstrate concern for individual staff members, they do not seek direct control over their work. The instructional leader focuses more directly on the promotion of effective teaching and learning. These leaders are likely to work more closely with teachers to enhance the quality of instruction, for example by jointly defining goals at the faculty level as well as school-wide level, by discussing students' test results, or by providing resources and opportunities for professional development and peer collaboration. Research has found that such leadership is ‘three to four times more effective’ than transformational leadership in improving outcomes for students. However, the transformational model has been found to be more than four times as popular as instructional leadership among school staff in western countries. To explore these issues, the authors undertook a study of the views of a group of secondary teachers on what constitutes effective leadership by principals. The study involved 18 teachers as well as faculty heads at three schools in Canterbury, New Zealand. Evidence was obtained from interviews with teachers and faculty heads, as well as from questionnaires, observations, and student data. The qualities that teachers most valued in a principal were the strong interpersonal, relational skills characteristic of a transformational leader. When they referred to the qualities of the instructional leader it was in a critical way, for example, as ‘micro-managing’. Teachers at all three schools looked for leaders who built relationship of trust, who earned respect, supported staff, and lead by example; the qualities of good communication and support were of most importance to inexperienced teachers. It may be helpful for leaders to integrate transformational and instructional approaches to leadership, perhaps building towards a greater instructional role after establishing the strong relationships that characterise the transformational leader.
Number 139, February 2015
Digital environments have created opportunities to collect new forms of data about students, which in turn allow deeper and more fine-grained analysis of students’ academic results and behaviour. Alongside traditional data, such as test scores, new learning systems and game-like software collect details of students’ actions during tasks, including the type, timing and sequence of their actions. Automated systems can also track timetables, absences, and extra-curricular activities, as well as demographic information, language and special needs. These developments have generated ‘big data’, meaning not just large amounts of data, but data designed in the first instance for use by computers rather than people. Big data is the focus of two overlapping strands of research. One strand is education data mining, which seeks new patterns in data, or new ways to interrogate it. This data is characteristically available at different levels of detail, from the fine-grained ‘keystroke’ through to whole-school levels, ‘nested inside one another’. It is used to predict trends in students’ future learning, and to keep improving the support that software can provide for teaching and learning. The other strand is learning analytics, which applies ‘known predictive models in instructional systems’, and examines data already routinely collected by schools and systems. It is used to identify factors that impact on student learning, and predict students’ future outcomes. For example, the likelihood of a student dropping out might be predicted from current patterns of punctuality in completing homework, and from class attendance and participation. The use of learning analytics at the individual school level is uncommon at present. However, the spread of digital learning environments creates large possibilities for its use in future. Examples include the use of the GPS function in students’ phones during field trips; biometric data that monitors students’ activity levels and emotional states; and facial recognition software to monitor boredom, engagement, confusion or annoyance during class time. Challenges to its use include the lack of interoperability of different data sources, lack of expertise at school level, and concerns about privacy and data protection.
Subject HeadingsData analysis
Teaching and learning
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Number 242, February 2015
While some aspects of modern education produce ‘angst and hand-wringing’ – such as international PISA scores, bullying and attrition of new teachers – the current era has also opened vast new opportunities for learning and collaboration online, especially via social media. This learning is ‘informal, social, non-hierarchical, unsupervised and “open”’ – and for these reasons, it is also forward-looking, full of vitality, and aligned to developments in the workplace. Open learning is self-driven. It is immediate, ‘just-in-time’ learning, a fact which is connected to its collaborative, collegial nature. It combines elements of fun with challenge and serious purpose. It is also an avenue for the expression of moral concerns, a fact overshadowed by popular images of the internet as a place of negativity and risk. Concerns about such interactions should prompt sensible safeguards, comparable to road safety rules, rather than a lock-down of students’ access to the online world; in fact, students are best served through immersion in online environments. The Innovation Unit and AITSL have collaborated to develop the Learning Frontiers program, which helps participating schools develop innovative links to other organisations in their communities. The emphasis on innovation and collaboration is a common feature of open learning systems in the workplace and formal education environment. Other common features include low barriers to entry, autonomy, trust, inclusivity, free exchange of knowledge, and acceptance of failures as a condition for broader success. Open systems are the way of the future for both work and learning. They contrast sharply, however, with some of the unhelpful policies now prominent in education. One example is the ‘back to basics’ approach, calling for traditional pedagogies. These calls draw for support on the education performances of countries that achieve high results by requiring students 'to work longer hours than 19th century English child factory hands’. Other problematic policies are standardised testing and high-stakes accountability, which have the effect of disengaging students and teachers.
Subject HeadingsSocial media
Teaching and learning
Volume 50 Number 1, 2014; Pages 37–59
Research has repeatedly identified a gap between the reading ability of socially advantaged and disadvantaged students. A recent study has investigated whether this gap in traditional, ‘offline’ reading is matched by a similar gap in online reading, and the practices associated with it in the online environment. The study involved 256 year 7 students at two Connecticut schools, respectively serving high- and low-SES communities. Students at the high-SES school had out-performed the other students by a large margin on previous state tests of traditional reading. For the current study the students at both schools completed two tests, designed to measure their skills in locating, evaluating, synthesising and communicating online resources, in the subject area of science (health and the human body). Tasks involved the use of email, a wiki, texting and chat, and internet-style research, all on closed systems designed to imitate the open online environment. One task called on students to research asthma, the other how energy drinks affect teen health. The students were also tested on existing knowledge of science, and provided information on their existing use of the internet. Students at the high-SES school revealed significantly superior skills in online research and comprehension. Only four per cent of students at the high-SES school had never been required to use the internet at school; the figure for the low-SES school was 25 per cent. This was despite the fact that, in the middle years, the low-SES school had more instructional computers per student than the other school. Given the growing importance of online information, it is likely that traditional measures of reading proficiency underestimate the extent of the gap between rich and poor. The research was part of a wider, five year study.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsInformation literacy
Preparing pre-service teachers to teach primary science
Volume 60 Number 4, December 2014; Pages 34–37
A team of teacher educators have designed an inquiry-based task integrating three subject areas, to be used by their pre-service teachers. The learning areas were science and technology, the arts, and studies of society and the environment (SOSE). The task contained three parts, each of which addressed all of these learning areas. The first part of the task was to identify a local sustainability issue suitable for investigation by school students, and prepare a research proposal on it. The second part of the task called on groups of three pre-service teachers to undertake inquiry-based research on the selected issue, and present a ten minute summary of the research to the class. Each student was expected to focus on one of the learning areas and work as a team to prepare the presentation. The final component of the task was to individually evaluate the project, in a reflective written report. Topics chosen for these projects varied widely. One group established an investigation into native bees in the inner-city; this project included the biology of bees as part of their coverage of science and technology, geographical locations of hives as the SOSE component, and, for the arts, the creation of beeswax 'eggs'. Another group studied the effect of food packaging on the local environment. The project included a photographic advertisement campaign designed to educate the community on the issue, an investigation into how compostable the packing was, and an account of the journey of the packaging from production to landfill. Some students found the first assessment daunting but the teaching team were able to use the integrated approach to guide students into refining their questions to prepare them for the next step. During the second assessment the teaching team saw that ‘most presentations showed a deep understanding of the content’. Throughout the course the teaching team were pleased with the results and a follow-up survey of the pre-service teachers showed that ‘the majority of students expressed positive experiences’ from the tasks.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
7 pillars of digital leadership
Number 1, February 2015; Pages 35–36
In the context of globalisation and constant technological expansion the changing role of the classroom teacher needs to be reexamined. The article explores a range of ideas on how educators may become a part of this evolution of teaching. It is based upon the ideas in Eric Sheninger’s book Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times. The article offers a range of suggestions to teachers. With today’s constant connectivity, it is easy for students to branch out and learn on their own: bring this back to the classroom by engaging students in the areas that they express interest in. Create a flexible and comfortable learning environment in which to do this. Encourage students to collaborate and listen to their peers, both online and in the classroom. Use social media to communicate and remain accessible to students, parents, and other teachers. Use this accessibility to create a positive public relation platform for the school. Be transparent in your actions and highlight positives as they occur. This will help to create a positive image for the school. This can be used to help create public pride and open doors for further collaboration with the community. Remain connected with fellow teachers and other experts in education. Use these connections to explore ideas and stay on the cutting edge of the progress made in education. Test new ideas out, then report the results to your peers. Share what worked for you and what mistakes you made. These ideas are designed to help teachers become leaders in their field and help bring education into the 21st century.
Subject HeadingsTeaching and learning
Volume 24 Number 1; Pages 17–36
A study has examined the impact of parent engagement on the academic outcomes of middle and secondary science students, comparing parents’ impact on students in year 9 against their impact in years 10-12. Researchers surveyed students in 12 science classrooms at a senior high school over two five-day blocks in autumn 2008 and spring 2009. The school, in a large metropolitan area of the USA, served students in years 9-12. For the study, students were asked about three aspects of their parents’ of involvement in their schooling. One issue was parents’ levels of assistance with homework, and in setting behavioural rules around study in the home. Another issue was parents' involvement in extracurricular activities and contact with teachers. The third issue was parents’ longer-term assistance in developing an education pathway and setting study goals. Parents of year 9 students were found to be more involved than other parents in assisting their children with homework, and in setting or enforcing behavioural rules relating to homework and academic performance. However, year 9 parents were less likely to be visit the school, perhaps because its unfamiliarity or complexity made them uncomfortable, or because the type of activities that tend to attract parent participation were not as common in year 9 as in later years. In years 10-12 parents from immigrant backgrounds, and parents with lower levels of education, were less likely to be involved at the school than other parents. However, these characteristics did not predict levels of parental involvement at year 9 level. This finding suggests that year 9, a critical time for students’ academic progress, may also be a critical time to encourage parental participation amongst minority demographic groups. Overall, parents’ engagement with their children’s education was found to be low, suggesting that more could be done to involve parents. Parents who express high levels of interest in supporting their children’s academic development should be made aware of any special programs for school science, such as science camps, or exhibits. At the same time, parents might benefit from an 'early warning system', to alert them when their children are struggling with science.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsScience teaching
School and community
Parent and child
Parent and teacher
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