Grounds of future play

21 09 2010

Two weekends ago I went to an education resources expo at the Brisbane Convention Centre – mainly as a bid to get freebs. I arrived a little late but still managed to catch some of a seminar, a few free posters, petted a snake and a lizard, and entered in as many lucky draws as possible (and possibly signing my boss up for swades of spam – sorry…).

Two things caught my eye in particular. And I’ll share one now – The SmartUs Digital Playground (their Finnish website).

The whole set up is very futuristic. Kids are issued with RFID smart cards that can be recognised by readers scattered throughout the playground. They login at the main portal and are assigned a task (run from point A to B via C three times, or something more complex) and the computer records their time. This time is recorded on an international online network where kids from different schools, or even different countries, can compare each others times and records.

Additional tasks and learning can also be integrated by assigning different nodes answers to a multi-choice quiz. This also comes into play by the presence of a dancepad hooked up to the main video monitor of the playground as well. This can be used for quizzes, fitness, dancing or simon-type games.

In Finland, it even became the basis of a family/children’s gameshow which involved celebrities and national atheletes, called FunTzu. Again, these TV scores were uploaded online, so schoolkids could challenge their idols. Unfortunately I can’t find any videos of the TV show – but after some searching I have found a news item of Asia’s first SmartUs playground in Hong Kong which shows how it works.

Tapping into children’s natural competitive behaviour, and then combining it with social media and massively multiplayer gaming Lappset have really hit the mark (or market). The only real downsides to it I can see are the initial outlay costs (which you can guess would be quite high) and also the pitfall of having ‘standardised cookie cutter playgrounds’ that don’t have their own individual community flavour. There also might be other hudles here in Australia given EQ’s stance on students and social networks.

Let’s Dance

18 08 2010

Beach Ballerina Girl by Mike BairdOne of the things about being prepared to teach primary school is that, with a few exceptions¹, you are expected to teach across the curriculum in every area of learning.For many of my fellow students this meant the fear of being asked to teach Maths, Science, and Technology. No sweat for me, I’m a biologist. But how about something like the Creative Arts?

Luckily, I consider myself a bit of a homo universalis – and dabble a bit in the Arts myself. I was on Australian Idol, thank you very much. You can look at my Flickr to see I enjoy visual arts – mostly photography, collage and sometimes drawing. I also did senior Drama at high school, enjoy the occasional roleplay, and will compulsively consume any movie available to me. But then there is the final dimension of the Arts – Dance. Now some people might consider my singing pretty bad, but that’s nothing compared to catastrophe produced by the uncoordinated disrhythmic spasms of my lanky frame to sounds.

Despite around four years in the schools music tour group, the grace to perform dancing more complicated than a rocker’s headbang tended to elude me. Luckily though, it was gracelessness, not denseness that prevented me from carving up the floor, so the general theory of dance as well as handful of moves from country, jazz, ballroom, hip-hop and other genres still lies buried within my neocortex – so I can fulfill the age old teacher’s mantra – Those who can’t, teach.

Below is my basic dance lesson for middle to upper primary students (8-12 year olds), which could probably be adapted for lower secondary. I used it in my government interview portfolio to demonstrate, that while I am the highly desired young, male math and science primary school teacher, I am oh so much more (and modest, too!²)

Using curriculum language, the lesson aims to give students the opportunity to create with peers a series of simple rhythmic patterns of swinging movements with various body parts to a 4/4 time signature to synthesise a short movement sequence for presentation to the class.

Read the rest of this entry »

It is voting time again

17 08 2010

That’s right, I am crawling back to blog about important happenings this week in Australia.

It’s National Science Week.

It seems I’ve missed out on alerting you to vote for your favourite Aussie scientist for the Eureka prize (I would have been supporting Evans and Smith for proving the intellectual and communicative exploits of chickens).

But it is not too late to start voting for your favourite new Aussie species discovered this past year. Given that this year’s theme is biodiversity it’s a pretty appropriate poll.

Place your vote here.

Nominees are:

  • Opera House Barnacle (Calantica darwinii)
  • Kimberly Froglet (Crinia fimbriata)
  • Sea Spider (Paranymphon bifilarium)
  • Steve Irwin’s Tree Snail (Crikey stevirwini – I kid not!)
  • Spinifex Ant (Camponotus triodiae)
  • Pink Handfish (Brachiopsilus dianthus)
  • Cape York Amber Fly (fossilized) (Chaetogonopteron bethnorrisae)
  • Bacchus Marsh Wattle (Acacia rostriformis)
  • The Bandalup Buttercup (Hibbertia abyssa)
  • Truffle-like Mushroom (Cribbea turbinispora)

More new species and biodiversity stuff at the bushblitz website including a free teacher booklet (just in case your school somehow missed out, or your from another country).

Jim’s Story: Engine bodies and body engines

15 05 2010

This is taken from my Science Education textbook, The Art of Teaching Science. Is this a science lesson gone wrong? or a science lesson gone right?

Snapshot 10.1

Jim (not his real name) was explaining homeostasis to his Year 12 biology class. Homeostasis is the process where bodily inputs and outputs are balanced to maintain a constant internal environment. To model body temperature regulation, Jim used a car engine’s cooling system to show how heat input and output are balanced. Read the rest of this entry »

Away and be gone

10 04 2010

The big wide world of the future looms ever closer with every passing moment.

Every time some one reminds me that June, practicals, and then graduations are only “a few months away” I sense it.

Thankfully some stress can fade away this week, as I have finally gotten away my application to Education Queensland. Hopefully they will see it within in their graciousness to bequeath upon me some kind of position to tide me over until my sister’s wedding next year, and the money to reach Canada for it.

In the pre-service teacher careers seminar I attended the EQ representative did say that “early February” was a good time to submit applications to maximise the chance of mid-year appointment. Perhaps I am a little late. But, given this seminar occurred in late February, I am not sure quite what I was expected to do about that. Read the rest of this entry »

Creativity unleashed

22 11 2009

I mentioned in my last school post (the one about set ups), that I’d used a modified version of The Future Is Wild‘s animal design activity.

While TFiW is more focused on evolution and decent with modification, my class was currently focusing on a more ecological unit – what roles do different organisms have in an ecosystem, how do they interact and how do we classify them.

Previous lessons had gone through self-made classification schemes, traditional classification schemes (e.g. The Classical Greek), and scientific classification schemes. The two scientific classification schemes were taught in my classes. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s the set up (You need this)

5 11 2009

The major lesson learned over the last month is that no matter how awesome I am, I am not a magician.

Teacher’s cannot expect to walk into their classrooms, open their box of tricks, and have children play along gleefully (not even with music and white powdery ingestables).

What is really important for setting up a classroom for a smooth and successful learning journey^ is just that – the set up. It is so easy to gloss over this, and I certainly have been a lot. I mean these kids have been in school for eight years already, they know how a classroom learning environment works by now*. Reminding them of that is not my job as a middle school teacher, right? I should be able to just dive right into my lesson, yeah? These guys should know how to work in groups already, surely?

Wrong. Wrong. And more wrong. And apparently “group work” needs to be replaced with “co-operative learning”. Read the rest of this entry »

School is out

3 11 2009

I survived!

Hooray! Huzzah! All limbs and most senses still intact. And there is a whole month left for the real teachers to try and undo the damage I did and set those poor little souls back on the right path. Yippee!


Last day of practical teaching was last Friday (I got a cute card with pretty colours!). I handed in my post-prac report and philosophy statements in yesterday. And today was spent cleaning and dealing with the Race that Stops the Nation. Oh, and tomorrow I’ll have to return to school because I stole my supervising teacher’s Math text (Sorry!)

Standard broadcasting will recommence shortly, starting off with the main lessons learned about dealing with living and breathing students, Education Queensland, classroom controversy, and the terrors of technology integration in the classroom.

Thinking mathematically: Man vs. Machine

11 10 2009

My first mathematics assignment was an essay on the role of calculators as teaching tools (not just a computing device) in middle years classrooms. From this, I have been able to adapt a few of the techniques I researched into lessons and activities for my year 8s.

Man vs. Machine is a lesson I adapted from an activity from Creative Mathematics Teaching with Calculators (Amazon). Essentially a flashcard quiz, students have to solve the problems as quickly as possible. Some problems require a calculator, some can probably done faster in their heads.

I created a fancy-pants activity sheet for this lesson*. I think activity sheets appear to work very well to scaffold students in this age group. There are still several students who take a long time to write stuff down and draw up charts – this is from either lack of ability and tools, or a need to make it look pretty and perfect. That said, there are some problems with activity sheets that I might mention in another post.

For the lesson summary click through.

Read the rest of this entry »

Out on Prac: Is this really how you want to spend your time?

11 10 2009

I am fresh off my first week as a pre-service practice teacher. Three more to go.

I have been assigned to a rather large state high school (no names please). I am workingwith one of their many (I think there are at least seven!?) year 8 classes (that’s 12-14 years old). I am working with two overseeing teachers on the student’s “core” classes – Maths, Science, English and SOSE (“Studies of Society and the Environment – a humanities amalgam). I have also snuck in a double period of Japanese with the same class into my schedule. This will give me a chance to see how second-language eduaction works in Queensland.

Pracs are important for pre-service teachers. There are some skills you cannot learn without opportunity to test them in the field. Teaching groups of your peers is not quite the same as teaching actual rambunctious twelve year olds (though some may have the same maturity and social skills). Getting things to work just right is as much trial and error, building relationships, and luck, as much as it is having the knowledge.

I had my own trial and error, building relationships, and luck, rollercoaster ride at the end of this week. My overseeing teachers were away for several lessons on Thursday and Friday – so I was working with substitutes. Unsurprisingly the first one was a bit chaotic, but then Friday’s lessons went quite well (not perfectly, but well). I was impressed that most of the students who misbehaved on Thursday recognised their behaviour was inappropriate and took steps to improve themselves.

The main thing that I learned did not work was contributing to classroom noise – funny that.

  • Raising your voice – negative and antagonistic
  • Talking over children – how can children obey instructions if they don’t hear them
  • Using vocal calls for silence – I was trying countdowns from five – too long, too noisy.

Things that do work are usually silent and get children to reflect on their behaviour. This way things are not inappropriate because you say so, but because they know so.

  • Stay calm – don’t let external sources (like an ICT failure) affect your attitude to the students
  • Waiting for silence – instead of talking over them
  • Silent cues for silence – hands on heads is working great for me, even it might seem a little primary school.

And there are some things I’m not sure of yet.

  • Asking inattentive students to repeat instructions – is it embarrassing?
  • Reminding students of school’s core values – potentially nagging?

Another good technique was to write the time we would start a video at on the board, and delay it as children misbehaved; although, in the end, one student messing around with some magnetic props erased it altogether. Not perfect yet.

Image credit: 我要生氣! by sizumaru from flickr (CC by A.ND)


1 09 2009

Games at - Sneeze Another part of the multiliteracies project was identifying relevant texts to use with students to teach grammar and other concepts. In this day and age it’s important to recognise non-written grammars (colours, lines, vectors etc.) and digital texts. So I am able to use flash games as learning aides.

Sneeze! is a gem of a game. Very simple and illustrative. Use your single loaded sneeze to infect as much of the level as possible.

In addition to all the pretty colours – which set the mood, and add meanings – there’s also some audio to get children to analyse too.

Hattip to Nature’s The Great Beyond.

Unit: Swine flu and you

1 09 2009

What would you do?

For my multiliteracies assessment I have planned out (somewhat) a Swine Flu/Public Health unit for a hypothetical group of year 7s. The unit combines essential learnings mostly from the Key Learning Areas of English (we had to include English) and the Health in HPE (which suits disease units better than Science standards).

A main part of the unit planning task was to come up with multiple outcome tasks for our students, that would cater to a range of diverse learners. Gone are the days when everyone is expected to hand in a written information report. We had to design our tasks to combine not only multi-modes, but also cross-genre tasks.

The tasks I set this imaginary groups of four students were:

  • An animated morality play: Students would script and create an animated (stop-motion, flash-based, cut-outs) narrative short film that will educate a peer-level audience on appropriate disease prevention and control strategies during an influenza pandemic. This group would have some help in accessing technical expertise from a high school AV club (one good thing about a hypothetical classroom of hypothetical students with hypothetical tasks meant we could hammerspace mentors and equipment). Outcome: Script. Character outlines. Final edited video.
  • Expert interview podcast: Students would identify and approach a small number of relevant community opinion leaders (doctors, scientists, nurses, school officials, mayors etc.) to interview. They would then use excerpts of the interviews to assemble an audio podcast on disease prevention and control in the event of a local influenza outbreak. This group would also receive guidance from our friendly teens in the AV club. Outcomes: Question plans. Opinion leader profiles. Final edited podcast.
  • Public health campaign: Students will design an entire school-based public health campaign that would encourage peers to engage in activities that prevent and control spread of influenza. The school’s art teacher has thankfully volunteered to help students produce printed materials (posters, pamphlets etc.). Outcomes: Multiple campaign materials. PowerPoint and group oral presentation of campaign to class.
  • Digital art gallery: Students will create a digital art gallery centred on a specific theme related to pandemic prevention and control. Students select a variety of images and illustrations, decide how to arrange them appropriately to create a user-friendly interactive display. Each picture needs to be accompanied by a short amount of text. Outcomes: Digital gallery – pictures, captions, layout and interface.
  • Recommendation report: Students will research pandemic responses around the world and produce an information report that compares these with actions taken in Australia and then provides recommendation on actions Australia should enact in the future. The report is for the Federal Minister for Health and will have a cover letter that provides a synopsis of the reports findings. Students will also provide a small resource folder that reports on ‘further reading’ resources the minister could use. Outcomes: Cover letter/synopsis, information report, recommendations, resource folder.

What sort of learners do you think each task was designed to cater for? Do you think I missed out on a particular group of learners with these tasks? Do you have a preference for which task you would like to be allocated if you were in my hypothetical class of year 7s?

What do you think of the idea of students being set different assessment tasks? Is it fair? Is it realistic?

You may notice that some of these tasks overlap in both content, genre and modalities. This is deliberate. After all, I cannot be expected to teach five totally distinct learning outcomes to a single class at the same time (or am I?) All students are working towards the HPE Essential Learning to “understand how to/apply skills to promote health and wellbeing” among other things.

Note: This assignment has been handed in and is currently being marked. The above outcome tasks have been somewhat refined from their original state.

What does a (good) maths teacher teach?

30 08 2009

Think about that question… do you know the answer?

Along with English (or as it is known: “multiliteracies“) unit this semester, I’m also doing a math subject (or as it is known: “mathematics”).

While mathematics still mathematics, there’s still been several shake ups in pedagogy and terminology since I went to school: For example “times tables” are now “number facts”.

The weird thing in doing research for last weeks assignment (which is my excuse of the month for lack of updates), is finding out a lot of these “new fangled” concepts are not that new at all. I found “number facts” in some books almost as old as me (late 80’s).

Another concept I think is quite relevant is the “Three Facets of Mathematics” from Payne and Rathmell, which appears to date back to 1975 (some NCTM publication).

The basic idea is that what people do with math needs to make sense. Being able to punch in symbols and get an answer might get you an A+ on the test – but real world situations are not frequently symbolic (symbols are possibly more prevalent in a digital society) – understanding concepts is much more important than interpreting symbols.

Payne and Rathmell add two other ways of illustrating concepts that students need to be familiar with – a physical or visual representation (e.g. two circles joining three circles), a verbal representation (e.g. two more than three, add two and three), in addition to the symbolic (2 + 3 = ?). The symbolic needs to be recognised as the most abstract and complex of these illustrations, so should really be introduced after students understand the concept (or at least near the end of reaching that understanding). The other point of using three facets of math is that the language used in each illustration needs to match up.

This “math has to make sense in three ways” really came clearer when we were dealing with dividing by a fraction. When dividing we often think of it as partitioning or sharing into equal groups. [20 ÷ 4] becomes “I have twenty apples, and four people: how many apples can I give each person?” This will not work with fractions. [20 ÷ ¾] will not become “I have twenty apples, and three quarters of a person, how many apples can I give this twisted remnant of a human?” It’s either nonsensical (you don’t get three-quarters of a person) or not the question you are trying to solve (the midget gets all the apples [or maybe ¾], he’s one, right?).

In dividing by fractions we need to use another interpretation of dividing – quotitive, or rather than asking “how many do each get”, ask “how many can I give out”. [20 ÷ 4] becomes “I have twenty apples, and I am giving out baskets of four: how many baskets can I give out?”. This will work with fractions. [20 ÷ ¾] becomes “Each student needs three quarter pieces of fruit, how many can I feed with 20 apples?” This can then be transformed visually as shown below.

What, you don't like cyan apples?

And this language can be used for situations beyond slicing (fruit and pizza connect well with schoolkids). You could also use volumes. Below is “I have a 20L of wine in a barrel. How many bottles can I fill (each bottle contains 750mL, or ¾L)? Although, I’m not sure if wine is a responsible illustration to use for 8th graders.

Alcohol affects your perception of scale. Shuttup.

I still like the slicing representation better. To me it will explain the algorithm step-by-step. First, multiply by the denominator 4 (to get the number of slices), and then divide by the numerator 3 (to get how many groups of three quarters there are all together) to reach your final answer. You can then move the students onto to pizzas (eighths) to check that the algorithm holds for different denominators. Then perhaps move them to non-slicing situations and see that the algorithm still holds (or does it?)

Really lame pictures by zayzayem.

Answer: “STUDENTS”. (Smart ass, yes. But it should be true for all teachers of all subjects.)

No, really? Teachers use sarcasm in staff meetings

12 08 2009

via the AiR some time ago

This is an interesting academic paper (draft?) investigating the use of sarcasm, relying on conversations taped at school leadership team meetings. It is not a surprise that teachers (or anyone, really) use sarcasm (I was actually watching UK series Teachers, when I was reading throgh this) – this was just the setting that served a more sociological investigation into what sarcasm is and how do people use it. Something the authors say isn’t studied enough.

The author defines sarcasm as “ a witty or ironic remark used to evoke laughter, tease, challenge, or criticize.” He then subdivides each episode of sarcasm into these different categories. The number in brackets is the number of times such a usage was identified during the taped meetings.

Joke (20) Sarcasm in which one or more individuals make others laugh without targeting another individual.

Tease (11) Sarcasm in which one or more individuals playfully mock another individual.

Criticize (21)Sarcasm in which one or more individuals criticize another individual (either present or absent), program, or event.

Challenge (5) Sarcasm in which one or more individuals challenge another individual’s statement.

Other (4) Episodes identified as sarcasm that fit neither the above categories nor a single new category.

Going by modes you could say that the main uses of sarcasm amongst school staff are to make jokes and criticise. Joking is all well and good, but criticism sounds a little negative. You could further merge the tease, criticize and challenge categories into a “hostile” category, in which sarcasm is used to confront another individual, or bring down a program or event. That makes “negative” use of sarcasm far more prevalent than joking.

I’m putting negative in inverted commas, because the authors make some attempt to suggest that sarcasm is a tool used to make the confrontation less hostile. The point against the other party is still made, but it avoids a big kerfuffle. Such as an example when a remark is made about a teacher arriving late for the meeting and grabbing a muffin. The sarcastic comment lets everyone know that lateness is being watched for, but keeps the mood light.

The researchers only investigated dialogue that occurred between staff at the school. Do people vary in their use of sarcasm when with friends rather than co-workers? Or, more importantly in the educational setting, how about when dealing with students? Not only can poor use of sarcasm damage rapport building, but bad habits of teachers would surely rub off on students.

New tech = New lit: Deconstructing the sms-ay

27 07 2009

First week of university down. It looks like they might actually try to teach me something.

One of the units I’m taking is Multiliteracy in Middle Years. It involves identify and using different text types (in the classroom), and identify and also teaching your students which grammar is suited to the textual style. To explain the latter, the lecturer gave us this example – it’s the first few lines of what a 13 year old UK student submitted when asked to write an essay about what they did last holidays:

My smmr hols wr CWOT B4, we usd 2go2 NY 2C my bro, his GF & thr 3 :- kds FTF. ILNY. it’s a gr8 plc.

Anyone … ? I think she* visited Kuwait or something.

Some of you are probably smacking your heads in disbelief at that little effort. Grammar Nazis are possibly having fits. It is not even consistent, the writer ignored quite a few punctuation points and vowels, but then decides that an apostrophe for “it’s a gr8 place” is deserved (correctly).

What should a teacher do when confronted with this?

Read the rest of this entry »