Saturday, May 28, 2011

The case for learning statistics

This presents an interesting perspective on where we should be heading in mathematics education, in which we should aim towards a greater understanding of the use of statistics in everyday life.

More confirmation that cloud computing is the way of the future

Although I am already convinced, here is more evidence for the case supporting cloud computing. 

IBM opens $80m data centre
IBM says it is on track to meet the growing demand for cloud computing services after opening an $80 million data centre in South Auckland last night. 

The 5200 square metre facility, located in the Highbrook Business Park, is the largest commercial data centre in the country and will sell services to both New Zealand and off-shore clients. 

The facility was due to be opened by Prime Minister John Key in March, but was put on hold after the Christchurch earthquake. 

The centre allows for companies to securely store and access digital information, removing the need for them to own and maintain computer servers. 

IBM New Zealand's managing director Jennifer Moxon said the centre would help foster business innovation.
"As economy continues to grow, IBM's data centre will provide a platform for businesses to drive increased efficiencies, improved productivity and greater innovation," Moxon said. 

The building contains a 1500 square metre raised floor, able to hold up to 720 server racks and is kept at an even temperature by 1.4 kilometres of air conditioning pipes.

The server room hooked up to four electricity generators, capable of producing enough juice to power 266 homes. 

Despite this, IBM stressed the centre was energy efficient and designed to minimise the impact on the environment. 

NZICT group chief executive Brett O'Riley said the centre was a good example of where information technology is going. 

"The IBM data centre reinforces the importance of green ICT for New Zealand in seeking to host data nationally, and for major international players. Coupled with planned new international connectivity, New Zealand will now have an extremely compelling proposition," O'Riley said.

By Hamish Fletcher

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Facebook now available to pre-teens

I think that the move to have Facebook available to pre-teens could be a very positive and beneficial one for schools.  Used constructively, it could be used to keep students and families informed of what is happening at schools.  Additionally, the site could be used as a study forum where teachers and students can share thoughts and ideas on topics being covered in class.

As with any ICT tools and resources used in schools, the key to Facebook's success as a study tool for pre-teens will be close monitoring and clear rules and boundaries being put in place by schools for students to adhere to.

For a related story from today's New Zealand Herald, click here.  Alternatively, I have pasted the story below for you to read on this blog.

Facebook pre-teen move gets 'like' tick
Parenting and internet safety groups have welcomed Facebook's move to alter the site's regulations to permit children under 13 to join. 

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told an education forum in the US that he wanted to allow 10 to 13-year-olds to use the social networking site as a "study tool". 

He assured that the company would take a lot of precautions to make sure younger kids were safe.
NetSafe chief executive Martin Cocker welcomed the move and said many children in that age bracket were already using the site. 

"In a way, Facebook specifically acknowledging that those children are there is probably a good thing because that then means Facebook needs to think about the environment being suitable for children of that age." 

He said children under 13 were already using the site by using a fake birthdate. So when Facebook formally allowed them to make profiles they could set restrictions for pre-teens. 

"It's quite responsible of Facebook, really." 

Kiwi Families director Rochelle Gribble greeted the move but said parents needed to set rules on how their child used the social networking site.

"If it comes to the point where your child's going to have a Facebook page, then be really open to them about it. Talk to them about it and open it up to them," she said. 

"You could have some family rules around it, like 'We don't befriend people who we don't know' or 'We don't put photos of ourselves online'." 

Mrs Gribble warned parents to ensure children did not fall victim to false online profiles, like the woman dubbed the "Facebook Predator". 

"A good approach is to be aware of what your kids are doing online and to also be involved with educating them - to talk to them about how they know whether someone that they meet online is real." 

She said it was important that pre-teens were taught how to use the privacy settings and that it was a good idea for children to ask for their parents' permission before getting a profile.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Performance anxiety in the classroom

I enjoyed reading this feature article in today's Sunday Star Times.  The writer, Nicole Reed, concludes with the line:

'Yet when I spend time in my son's class and I see those beautiful innocents, some bumbling along, some racing ahead, all learning in their own way, I wonder if any job (teaching) could be more important'.

Te read the full article, click here.  Alternatively, I have pasted it in full below.

Why there's more to life than being successful at school.
HOW IT hurts to eat your words. 

I just want my kids to be happy, that's what I've always said. You know, well-adjusted, kind to small animals ... But at the first sign my son might be a reluctant student, at kindergarten when the children were encouraged to sign themselves in and he refused to pick up a pen, I panicked. Blindly. I catastrophised. I imagined a future on the dole. Without gainful employment, who would want to marry him? Dear God, would he be 50 and still living at home? 

At an interview with the principal before he started school, I voiced my fears. Dyslexia? Determined not to be one of those parents who decide, against all evidence, that their child is gifted, I threw it out there. Delusions of filial grandeur? Not me! The principal smiled kindly. "You know," she said, "often with new entrants, it's more the parents we have to worry about." 

Recently a friend's six-month-old was showing an interest in the S-bend pipe under the kitchen sink, and his mother dropped into the conversation that she'd read somewhere that this could be an early indication of brilliance. Obviously Mensa was on the cards. 

"He's probably going to be a plumber," muttered my husband. 

We live in a society that sets increasing store by academic achievement – often at the expense of everything else. I was lucky enough to do well at school. I went on to university and then post-graduate study. I've got a good memory, I can follow instructions and I know how to get what I think down on paper fast. But that A for Bursary art history hasn't made me a better person. 

I know plenty of people who bombed at school, but whose emotional intelligence way surpasses more scholarly types; people with the street smarts to get by in any situation life throws at them. 

I shared my concerns with one mum about my son's aptitude – or lack of it – for school, and she told me how when her son's teacher continued to bring up his perceived weaknesses, she had to fight the urge to retort: "Well he's really good at sports, he could teach you a thing or two about how to dress, and you know what, maybe he's just thick. Somebody's got to be." 

How fresh. How real. The relief. And yet ... and yet, still I find myself surreptitiously scrutinising the reading charts on the class wall when I'm doing parent help in my son's class, ever so casually grilling him as to how the other kids are going with skip counting in 10s. He couldn't care less. He's got friends. Someone to eat his lunch with. Someone to chase a ball with. He's happy. It's me fretting. Not because I expect him to be an A student, but because I don't want him to feel a failure. 

There's an extraordinary clip on YouTube in which the English-born writer and international adviser on education, Sir Ken Robinson, challenges the whole paradigm of our current education system. Unlike most other areas of the modern world, he says, schools are still based on 19th-century ideas. An institutionalised, standardised way of teaching and examining, he believes, makes no allowance for the different ways and time-frames by which people learn. Ultimately, he claims, classrooms are killing creativity. 

National Standards play right into the anxieties of the modern hothouse parent. (Not to mention those old coots who harp on about the three Rs. How in their day you bloody well knew how to conjugate a subjunctive verb and if you didn't, you'd bloody well get the strap.) 

My son's school, a decile 10, is one of those 240 branded a "rebel school". Our incredible principal doesn't disagree with the idea of a set of standards by which schools are guided, but she is disquieted by the haste and confusion with which the policy has been constructed and delivered. She writes with great heart on the subject. "Our children are a quirky lot – arty; oral; creative; sports fanatics; we have our academics, who thrive on traditional ways of learning; and we embrace our growing numbers of right-brain learners, who are often also twice exceptional, displaying some dyslexic tendencies, making physical writing a nightmare, but who may just have that Booker prize-winning novel in their hearts ready to be dictated as an electronic digital novel! 

"We have children who are not yet reaching our achievement expectations for them – for some, it's because we haven't yet quite worked out how to light the fire within them; for others, it's a timing issue – we just have to keep on keeping on, and revisiting and revisiting and revisiting! And for some, we are still struggling to override the social, emotional or psychological barrier of attachment disorder, poverty, or social inequality that interferes like a wall in many aspects of their school lives." 

My cousin is a teacher at a decile 1A primary school in South Auckland. Its decile rating means that in monetary terms the community in which it's located is as poor as it gets. Most of the kids start school at a massive disadvantage. Until a year ago there was no kindergarten in the area, so few had been pre-schooled. Many come from families where the parents don't speak English and are shift workers, so they're seldom around to put in the time with homework. There's no discretionary dollar for annual holidays or even a trip to the zoo, hence no breadth of experience to draw on. 

"Under National Standards, we're supposed to be all the same," says my cousin. "So we're all apples, but if you take our kids and you take the kids at Remuera Primary – and I use Remuera because under National Standards we're all the same, right? – then our kids aren't even on the same playing field." 

Despite this, however, both she and her deputy principal were at pains to make clear to me that their kids do achieve. "Their brains aren't smaller just because they grew up poorer. Within three years they've generally caught up. As teachers we just have to work that much harder to get them there." 

I never considered teaching as a career. On paper it has neither the power nor the glamour of, say, law. And it definitely has none of the financial remuneration. Yet when I spend time in my son's class and I see those beautiful innocents, some bumbling along, some racing ahead, all learning in their own way, I wonder if any job could be more important. 

- Sunday Star Times

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Serenity Parenting - we may as well just give up trying!

I read an article in The Dominion Post today titled 'Why parents should just learn to relax'.  The gist of the article is that parents who strive to give students every opportunity; sports, music lessons, tutoring, are really just wasting their time.  It's not the effort that goes into raising children that matters, it's the genes that they are born with. 

The article is based on the ideas of Bryan Caplan, who believes that nature rules over nurture.  I am strongly in the other camp; nuture over nature.  My experiences as a teacher overwhelmingly demonstrate that children from any culture or background who are exposed to a wide range of experiences and opportuunities are more successful, content and happier.

I have found another version of the article in the UK Guardian newspaper (which doesn't charge and online subscription for content).  Click here to check it out.

While you are reading the article, I'll be driving my daughters to ballet, helping with homework or French lessons, or taking them to Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand, and I'm quite sure that we're all going to enjoy the experience!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

It's not the teacher, but the method that matters

This is the first paragraph from a fascinating article that appeared in the New Zealand Herald today.

Study: It's not teacher, but method that matters
A Canadian study found college students learned more from teaching assistants using interactive tools than they did from a veteran professor giving a traditional lecture.

Click here to read it in full.  It may change the way that you think about teaching.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Boys-only classes - New Zealand schools using this aproach in co-ed schools

This article from the Sunday Star Times highlights two New Zealand co-ed schools that are running single sex classes.

Boys get room to learn in single-sex classes
BOYS-only classes are helping lift pupils' school marks. 

A co-educational state primary school started trialling the segregated classes to see if boys would achieve better without the distraction of girls during their lessons. 

Staff at Dawson Road School in Otara realised five years ago their senior boys were "switching out" of learning. 

Angela Funaki, principal at the south Auckland primary, says junior boys started on an even footing with the girls, but by the time they were in Year 5 they'd fallen behind. 

Without asking the Ministry of Education's permission – Funaki says they didn't have to – the school started an all-boys Year 6 class. 

The class's style is "active/passive" – the boys do a passive activity like writing for a while then move to something on the computer or a quick run around the confidence course, then come back to their writing.
The approach "most definitely" lifts their achievement, Funaki says. 

"The big difference we notice is an attitudinal change," she says. "They are interested in learning again, want to be involved in everything that's happening in the school [and] a lot start to take on more responsibility. We've also found it's improved behaviour in the playground." 

The school doesn't have a corresponding girls-only class but they do have classes with fewer boys. There is also a quiet, girls-only area in the playground where they can go to avoid rugby balls. 

Funaki brushes off a suggestion that segregation reinforces gender differences. 

"The boys mix with the girls a lot – in sport, at assemblies. It's just during class that they're not mixing with them." 

Down the road, Yendarra School is running a boys-only class for the fourth year. Principal Susan Dunlop says the school "saw a need to do something better for our senior boys". 

The decile-one school trialled a single-sex class and the results were so marked the class became a permanent fixture. Behaviour, achievement and attendance all improved. 

"We have a class competition each week and the boys' class is always in the top," Dunlop said.
This year, the boys-only class is for Year 3 and 4 students. 

"We thought we could catch them earlier," Dunlop said. 

Parents now ask if their boys can be put into the single-sex class. 

Palmerston North's Roslyn School this year launched a boys-only class for 8 to 10-year-olds. 

Deputy principal Matt Schmidt says the traditional classroom approach wasn't working for some boys and "if your foot doesn't fit the shoe, you don't change the foot, you change the shoe." 

The new "shoe" doesn't have desks and boys sit on the floor, around three big low tables. 

They also start their day off with a "pretty rigorous" fitness programme. Class teacher Ewen Mason says boys like to work in an informal way so there are cushions, bean bags and computers for them to use. 

Parental support has been "pretty overwhelming".