Friday, April 29, 2011

Schools embrace Facebook

Have a read of this article from the Sydney Morning Herald regarding Australian school teachers being given access to Facebook.

I'm surprised that this wasn't already the case, as Lakeview School has been using Facebook for some time.
We initially had a 'Latest News' blog, but replaced it with a Facebook page at the beginning of last year, and have since found it an excellent means for sharing the latest happenings at our school.

Aust teachers to embrace Facebook
10:10 AM Friday Apr 29, 2011

Teachers in Australia have been granted permission to use Facebook, Twitter and other social media in the classroom, the Sydney Morning Herald reported today.

Students are still blocked, however.

The former Labor government decided teachers should be able to access social media, because of the benefits it would bring.

A Department of Education spokeswoman said the change would help improve communication between schools and their communities.

It would also give staff a "greater understanding of technology being used by students".

A spokesman for the Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, told SMH the change would also help teachers combat cyber bullying.

Teachers have also been given ample warning about the dangers inherent in "friending" students.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Where good ideas come from

This RSA Animate by Steven Johnson is quite thought provoking, especially for those who are concerned about the impact of the Internet on our ability to think for ourselves (as I occasionally am!).  It's well worth four minutes of your time.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Strategies for solving problems

Research by Evan Polman of NYU and Kyle J. Emich of Cornell found that when people solved problems on behalf of others, they produced faster and more creative solutions than they did when they solved the same problems for themselves.

Polman and Emich had research participants do the following three things:
  1. draw an alien for a story they were going to write themselves or for someone else’s story. The aliens people sketched for others were more creative than the ones they drew for themselves.
  2. come up with gift ideas for themselves, for someone close to them, or for someone far away. The result: The more distant the recipient, the more creative the gift.
  3. solve the following problem:

A prisoner was attempting to escape from a tower. He found a rope in his cell that was half as long enough to permit him to reach the ground safely. He divided the rope in half, tied the two parts together, and escaped. How could he have done this?

Polman and Emich say the principle at work is something called “construal-level theory,” which in simple terms means that we think in more abstract terms about distant problems (or problems belonging to distant people) — and thinking at a more abstract level produces more creative solutions.

Based on these findings, Daniel Pink suggests these three ideas to more effectively solve problems:

1. Trade problems with someone. When you get stuck, stop hammering away at the problem and find a colleague to swap with.
2. Solve problems on behalf of someone else. Create some psychological distance from your project by pretending that you’re doing it on behalf of someone else. Use your imagination here: the “other person” could be the woman across the hall, a relative, or a stranger halfway across the world. The farther away, the better.
3. Put some distance between yourself and your project. Writers know something magical happens when you put your manuscript away in a drawer. When you come back to it a week or a month or six months later, you have a fresher, more creative perspective on the work. When you can, build some slack into your deadlines and try putting your work out of sight for as long as you can manage.

I believe that if these strategies can work for adults, they can also successfully be applied by students.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Aspirations for higher learning

This cartoon, from The Guardian, relates to the setting of higher fees for tertiary education in the United Kingdom.  I strongly believe that higher education should be available to all who have the commitment, ambition, ability and desire, not just to those who have the financial backing.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Khan Academy - What a greast idea from an inspirational person!

I love this TED presentation on the Khan academy.  The idea is so simple, and yet so powerful.  Best of all, it's available to anyone, whatever their circumstances, with an Internet connection.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Decile rating and academic performance

The statistics in this article appear to be quite conclusive, highlighting the levels of achievement depending on the decile rating of schools.  The question is, what are schools such as Mangakino Area School doing to break this trend with their high level of achievement, despite being a low decile school?

Editorial: Decile funding doesn't make up for wealth
5:30 AM Tuesday Apr 19, 2011
The league table of school examination results we published yesterday broadly confirms the view within the teaching profession that pupils' family wealth largely determines their educational success. The Ministry of Education gives every school a "decile" rating depending on household incomes in its district and last year's results reflect their socio-economic situation.

In the lowest decile of schools 66 per cent of pupils passed NCEA level 2, regarded as the minimum school leavers need for a reasonable chance in life today. In the next to lowest decile, 67 per cent passed; in decile 3, 70 per cent passed; in decile 4, 71 per cent; decile 5, 80 per cent; decile 7, 83 per cent; decile 9, 87 per cent ... Only one of the 10 deciles (6) scored worse than the category below.

The same pattern occurs for the level 1 examinations. The 10 socio-economic divisions scored, in rising order of wealth, 58, 63, 62, 66, 74, 73, 79, 81, 83, 88 per cent of their pupils passing. At level 3, the progression was 58 per cent, 60, 60, 66, 71, 72, 77, 77, 79, 86.

This consistency is remarkable, the more so because schools are divided into wealth deciles for the purpose of additional funding.

Broadly, the lower the decile the more money it is given on top of its per-pupil allocation. In all but a few categories the decile funding is not enabling the pupils to match the performance of those in the family income category immediately above them, let alone their contemporaries in the wealthiest zones.

This could mean the additional grant is too little, or it could be that no amount of extra money for the school can make up for the educational advantages of wealth at home. Wealth probably means books, computers, musical instruments, holiday travel, extra tuition if needed - a home in which educational success is valued and any cultural, sporting or intellectual interest can be developed.

There are exceptions at both ends of the income scale. It is possible for a low-income household to value education and give children a good supportive environment for study, just as it is possible to find wealthy households that do not value schooling and encourage their children to get out and earn money as early as possible. But generally, it seems, wealth determines exam results.

When league tables are adjusted for income, different schools stand out. In the lowest decile, at Mangakino Area School all pupils who sat level 1 and level 2 passed, as did all those who sat level 1 at Northland Health School, Whangarei. Hastings Boys High School, rated decile 2, did as well as many schools in wealthier places, as did Te Aute College and St Joseph's Maori Girls College in Napier, both decile 3.

Parents can study the tables we published and see how their school compares against the average pass rates for its decile. Parents of pupils at Avondale College have a right to be disappointed, as do those with children at Auckland Girls Grammar, Henderson High School, Kelston Boys, Massey High, Onehunga High, and Hamilton's Melville High and Fairfield College.

In the richer brackets of schools, Auckland Grammar, Takapuna Grammar, Macleans College, Howick College, Westlake Boys, Northcote College, Whangaparaoa College and Tauranga's Otumoetai College all recorded pass rates below the decile average. In some cases their best pupils sit the Cambridge examination but so do those of schools that did better in the national qualification.

Education experts invite us to measure each school's performance in its social setting. But unless schools can do much more to overcome social disadvantage, keen parents who read these tables will do their utmost to get their child into a wealthier zone. Perhaps the lesson is that decile funding must do better.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hands-on science with squishy circuits

This TED presentation is very cool, demonstrating that science can be taught with the most basic and simple resources. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

An inspirational teacher

I really like this passage from Anne of Green Gables (I'm reading it to my daughters).  It is about Anne's  teacher, Miss Stacy:

'Much of this was due to Miss Stacy's tactful, careful, broad-minded guidance.  She led the class to think and explore and discover for themselves and encourage straying from the old beaten paths to a degree that quite shocked Mrs Lynde and the school trustees, who viewed all innovations on established methods rather dubiously.'

Thank goodness for teachers like Miss Stacy, who are prepared to challenge and inspire children through what others may consider to be unconventional means.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

What a teacher can do ...

I really like this poem, titled 'What teachers make'.  Well worth three minutes of your time to hear some home truths and be inspired.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Exercise boosts the ability of children (and mice) to learn

It's great to see students at Lakeview School beginning the day with physical exercise.  Every time I see children doing fitness circuits on the quad I think to myself that they are being given the optimal start to their day of learning.

There is no doubt in my view that a healthy body leads to a healthy mind.  My belief is backed up by research that has shown:
  • Children's reading scores were significantly boosted when they performed a short dance exercise every day for six months (a New Zealand context for this could be Jump Jam).
  • Just five minutes jumping around at the beginning of the day results in improved concentration and more efficient learning of material.
  • The hippocampus (the part of the brain associated with long term memory) of mice that had access to a running wheel had twice the number of brain cells compared to those of mice that didn't have access to this piece of exercise equipment.
As I have stated in an earlier post on a similar theme, some teachers are of the opinion that there simply isn't time for exercise and physical education when there is so much other stuff that needs to be put into the daily programme.  My view, which is backed up by scientific evidence, is that we can't afford not to have regular physical exercise in the daily schedule if we want students to achieve to their potential.