Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How to make science more interesting

When I did science at school I found it to be the most boring of all subjects.  Whereas it should be an opportunity to do practical experiments, it invariably became a case of balancing scientific equations as written paper exercises.  No wonder that, apparently, the number of science graduates is plummeting.

Even in primary schools science seems to be having a reduced role.  The science fair in the province that I am living in now happens only every two years.  Most schools, including my own, only offer the science fair to selected students, meaning that a vast majority have a limited opportunity to take part in a subject that is key to producing the innovative citizens who will lead to our societies dealing with the many dilemmas and problems that our communities are sure to encounter over the upcoming decades.

Perhaps we need to look at ways in which we can make science a far more appealing and exciting subject.  One such approach is taking place in the United Kingdom.  To find out about what is happening in the UK, click here to read an article in the education section of the Sunday Times.

Monday, December 27, 2010

How to achieve your New Year's Resolution

I believe that the principles outlined in this short You Tube video by Dr Richard Wiseman re achieving New Year resolutions could also be applied to students achieving learning goals.  Take 59 seconds of your time to find out the five factors that will enable anyone to achieve their goals.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Using Ipods to Boost Reading Comprehension

I really like this Apple education profile on the use of the Ipod Touch in an elementary school in the United States.  The impact on improving reading comprehension makes for very interesting reading and viewing; a compelling case for using Ipods in any school that is looking to improve literacy levels. 

The presentation starts as follows: 

'iPod touch has transformed the learning experience for fourth-grade students at Central Elementary School in Escondido, California. These students are excited about learning. And they have the test results to prove it.'

To see the full presentation, click here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Make the most out of your incredible brain

This Google Talk presentation contains a wealth of fascinating facts about that capacity of the human brain and strategies to make the most of the brain's potential. It's 52 minutes long, but well worth the time it takes to watch (especially for New Zealand teachers who are on their summer / Christmas holidays).

However, if you find the Dr Medina's presentation style a little overpowering I have taken a summary of some key points, as given in the most useful Amazon review, of the book that he discusses in the talk. These key points can be found below.

I particularly like the information on the benefits of exercise to enhance the capacity of the human brain.

The points below were identified by Dr. James T. Brown in his Amazon review of John Medina's book.

I. Some parts of the brain are just like a baby's and can grow new connections and strengthen existing connections. We have the ability to learn new things our entire life. Medina states this was "not the prevailing notion until 5 or 6 years ago." So much for the "you can't teach and old dog new tricks excuse." The old dog line is exposed for what it really is...an excuse.

II. Humans can only pay attention for about ten minutes and then need some kind of reset.

III. The brain can only focus on one thing at a time. This is further rationale on the futility of multi-tasking.

IV. Exercise increases brain power and aerobic exercise twice a week reduces the risk of general dementia by 50% and Alzheimer's by 60%.

V. There is a biological need for an afternoon nap.

VI. The brain is very active during sleep and loss of sleep hurts cognitive and physical ability. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Zealand's Fantastic Education System

Have a read of this excellent article, published in the New Zealand Herald about the success of New Zealand's 15 year old students in maths, science and English compared with other OECD countries.

It's interesting to note that the achievement of our students is not due to National Standards, but do take note of the levels achieved by those countries that have implemented their own versions of National Standards.  It makes me wonder what on earth our Ministry is thinking and who is advising them.

This makes me proud to be a New Zealand teacher!

Warwick Elley: Our forgotten 15-year-old classroom stars

By Warwick Elley
5:30 AM Monday Dec 20, 2010

Why aren't we celebrating our international success in education, asks Warwick Elley, emeritus professor of education.

New Zealand students were ranked fourth out of 34 OECD nations in reading literacy, fourth in scientific literacy and seventh in mathematical literacy. Photo / APN

In a year when our news was dominated by reports of earthquakes and mine tragedies, collapsed companies, droughts and cricketing disgrace, it was great to learn that our 15-year-olds are still in the top echelons of the OECD in reading, science and maths.

In the latest survey, New Zealand students were ranked fourth out of 34 OECD nations in reading literacy, fourth in scientific literacy and seventh in mathematical literacy.

Why isn't it front page news?

Why don't we celebrate the achievement of our schools in producing so many bright students, with so little per capita expenditure?

At this time, when schools are completing their academic year, and plaudits are being handed out to our top sports teams, business leaders and media stars, we should be congratulating our rank and file teachers for drawing the best out of thousands of children, and showing the world that we still have a great education system.

As in all past OECD surveys, New Zealand students were shown to achieve near the top, surpassed only by countries with ethnically homogenous populations such as Finland, Korea and Japan.

A quick glance at our results in literacy shows that our mainstream Pakeha students had a mean score higher than any other country. We may value our ethnic diversity, but we should also allow for its influence on educational outcomes when evaluating the quality of our education.

This year we showered congratulations on our All Whites, for making it into the top 50 nations in the soccer world.

Our 15 year-olds were fourth in the OECD survey.

This year we celebrated when our Silver Ferns defeated Australia in netball. Our 15-year-olds beat Australia in reading, science and maths. This year we proclaimed our All Blacks as heroes for shutting out South Africa, Australia and each of the UK teams. But so did our 15-year-old students. Did anyone notice?

There is much more to learn from the comparative results of the OECD survey.

While New Zealand students maintained their position near the top, Australian authorities are deploring their "significant decline since 2000" on all the skills measured.

The Ministry of Education in England has called for wholesale reform as their own report shows that, in the survey of all 65 nations that participated in the survey, their students slipped from seventh in 2000 to 25th in reading, eighth to 28th in maths and fourth to 16th in science.

Meanwhile, another country we like to compare ourselves with, the United States, languishes well down the scale, around the average of all OECD countries. So much for former President George W. Bush's hopes for the No Child Left Behind programme.

All three of these countries spend more per capita on education than we do, yet all show lower performance levels.

Perhaps there is a lesson here for our Minister of Education.

Throughout this period, 2000 to 2009, all three of these countries have had in place a system of national (or state) standards in primary schools, with annual compulsory assessments, reports to government and league tables designed to rank their schools.

We too are introducing a system of national standards, compulsory assessments, reports to government and league tables in our primary schools.

How long before we start to drop off the top of the OECD scale? It is no wonder that teachers in all these countries are continually protesting against the obvious drawbacks in this system. It is of note that the significant decline in the Australian figures was caused largely by a drop in the proportion of high achievers.

Is that where we are heading?

It is true that the latest survey still shows a wide dispersion of scores among New Zealand students.
We have more high achievers than other countries, but still too many at the lower end of the scale. However, the proportion of Kiwi students who did not reach Level 2 - the OECD benchmark of being able "to participate effectively and productively in life" - was 14 per cent, not the much-vaunted 20 per cent claimed by the Government.

These under-achievers are readily recognised in this survey. They can be identified by gender, by decile level and by ethnic group, but repeated studies overseas show us that compulsory assessment and league tables do not change them.

The Minister of Education may welcome the positive feedback she is receiving from some parents about clearer reports of their children's achievement levels, but only 5 per cent of principals believe that they will help under-achievers.

The problems lie not so much in schools' efforts, but in such social problems as poverty, dysfunctional families, and home language traditions. In a year of frequent teacher-bashing, we should recognise that we have many dedicated, competent teachers, doing great things for our children's minds, and our future national prosperity.

Merry Christmas New Zealand teachers. Pat yourselves on the back.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Google Docs - What a great presentation tool!

I believe that applications are what you make of them, and more often than not it is simply a case of taking the time to experiment with something that we aren't fully familiar with before we can make a true assessment of how effective it can be as a learning tool.  Case in point; check out this You Tube clip on what can be done with Google Docs Presentations:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Learning French Online

In 2011 I will be teaching Year 7 and 8 students French. Before I start this process I want to develop my own French language skills. Initially I looked at purchasing a French language kit; the sort with booklets, CDs, maybe even a DVD. The problem with this was that it was going to cost money.

Naturally I then looked to the Internet. Here I have found all that I need. I will be using the Coffee Break French series of pod casts. These are 20 minute weekly lessons in which an experienced French language teacher takes a non French speaking adult student through the process to learn the language.

Coffee Break French is a wonderful resource. Unfortunately, though, the full package requires the purchasing on PDF files of notes to support the audio pod casts. My way around this has been to open a window in Google Translate as I am listening to the podcast. This has enabled my to create my own notes as I listen to each lesson. I have found that this has led to me making significant process, even after only a few weeks.

It's fantastic to see what is available through the Internet to support learning in just about any area you can imagine. Best of all, a huge amount is free.

I will keep you updated through this blog of how my French language learning progresses.

Au revoir!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Google Chrome OS - I can't wait for my CR48 laptop!

Check out this CNET review of the Google Chrome OS. This could have a huge impact for schools, especially those, such as Lakeview School, which are looking to cloud computing as the future of ICT for students.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It's not always as easy as it seems!

Sometimes what seems so easy to someone with a reasonable level of skill in the area of ICT may not be so easy to others.  This is something that must always be taken into account when delivering ICT professional development.  I think this point is highlighted brilliantly in the following You Tube clip.

Friday, December 3, 2010

It's Nurture, not Nature

I have long believed that we become who we are through nurture, not nature.  If it was all about nature, then we are blessed or doomed from the start.  Anecdotal observations and experiences as a teacher tell me almost overwhelmingly that our environment plays a huge part in the success, or lack of, that we may have in all areas of our lives.  My views are supported by this article from The Dominion Post today. 

Naughtiness not genetic, study shows

KIRAN CHUG - The Dominion Post

Relevant offers

Researchers have opened another chapter in the nature versus nurture debate, finding that when it comes to bad behaviour, it is no use blaming your genes. 

In a new study, researchers have looked at anti-social behaviour and depression in children, and found that genes alone can no longer be considered primarily responsible. 

Led by the head of Otago's Centre for Research on Child and Families, Gordon Harold, the team studied the behaviour of parents and children who were naturally conceived and those conceived through in-vitro fertilisation. 

Professor Harold said the idea that depression and anti-social behaviour were primarily influenced by genes passed on from parent to child had now been called into question. 

The researchers found the same links between parental and child behaviour in the naturally conceived group and the IVF group – where there was no genetic link between adults and children. 

From their research, they found it was either positive or negative parenting practices, and not just genes, which could be linked to children's mental health problems. 

The findings had significant implications for all parents and could help them understand why some children developed behavioural problems while others did not, he said. 

"Rather than blame children's behaviour solely on the genes passed on from a biological parent to a child, look at the environments that children live in." 

The not-for-profit Jigsaw agency, which is a network of organisations working with children and families for better well-being, said the study proved the importance of the environment that children grow up in. 

The network's strategic operations chief executive, Liz Kinley, said the research was sophisticated and carried out by a highly regarded team and "absolutely reflected" the work of its agencies. 

It also highlighted the importance of early prevention in abusive environments to protect children, and also help prevent them from developing the same characteristics as their parents. 

Professor Harold said the study found parents who were hostile to their children promoted increased levels of aggression in their children. 

The study involved questioning the parents of 1000 four to six-year-olds from Britain and America.
It has been published in the international journal Psychological Medicine.