Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Life is about choices..

Life is all about choices but what choices did my S2 class make when asked to teach themselves Speed, Distance and Time. In my last blog before I choose to try and change inservice days I had been inspired by a great TED talk about children learning for themselves. It did occur in a different world but I took the basic idea and decided to run with it. It was awesome and they really enjoyed teaching, testing and helping each other. All I said was 'you will have two classes to prepare a 15 minute lesson on Speed, Distance and Time'. It was not the over arching question I was looking for but it did the job. I placed iPads, the Smartboard, graphic calculators, mini whiteboards and various arts and crafts at their disposal and off they went. I learned a very valuable lesson here and that was that the iPad 1 does not support mirroring though some Apps like keynote do. That means that wou cannot project whats on the screen of the iPad 1 through a projector which was a pain but we worked around it. They all wrote up lesson plans and each and very group produced a great lesson. One group sang the Roscoe H Spellgood SDT song and it was class. It was funny as well and I will enjoy showing that at their S6 graduation! A good few groups used Keynote to deliver their main points but none read directly off the screen. They also used mini whiteboards and did some fantastic formative assessment. One group used Prezi and created a really simple but effective lesson. 

I tested them on SDT a few days later and all of the class passed with flying colours. The next lesson I was absent due to development work on Lifeskills Mathematics 3 but decided to continue the trend of Peer teaching. I made up some notebook slides exactly like I would if I was taking the lesson and designated different roles to different students. One young lady took the class through the starter questions using the quadruple chocolate cookie pot to pick names at random, another took them through our daily logic puzzles and one more did the learning intention and success criteria. They then sat down and learnt how to graph equations and solve simultaneous equations graphically! It was brilliant, the classroom was there own, they helped each other, moved around and did not stop till everyone in the room got the hang of it. I did come in at one point to see 4 boys in green fluorescent football bibs but they said this helped with their designated roles and inspired creativity! One cannot get in the way of creativity.

This week they are working on presentations of famous mathematicians and again technology will be used. I am really excited because two groups have decided to make 'Word Art' Videos where they draw and do a voice over. It was inspired by a great Fibonacci video that a lady called ViHart produced. Presentations start tomorrow so I will let you know how they get on. Life is all about choices and so far everyone seems to be making the right ones.

As always onwards and upwards..

Monday, 6 May 2013

How high up is the school in the cloud?

It's the start of May already, the sun (I think it's the sun, its been a while!) is shining and exam leave is upon us. The fourths years left for exam leave a week ago and have already completed their standard grade mathematics exam. It will be a while yet till we discover has our labour really paid off but the vast majority were happy with what seemed very fair exam papers. The fifth and sixth years took their leave on Friday, some celebrated their last day of school by hosting an impromptu home economics lesson with eggs in the dining area and around the front doors.  There was also some colourful fancy dress and some less colourful and more scary in many different ways. I think one of the reasons some people could have a fear of clowns is the scary (or ugly) looking ones that turn up on days like this!

I am not a massive fan of the way the Scottish have constructed their school year but changing something like that is, way, way above my pay grade to such an extent it is but a dot in the sky to me. In Ireland school starts in September and finishs in May for the majority and those taking exams continue into June. Not so simple in Scotland, school starts in the second week of August and carries onto the end of June. Those sitting exams go on exam leave normally around now (the last week in April) and could sit exams anytime between the end of April and the first week in June. What complicates it further is that the new timetable will start around the start of June and in the space of a weekend, first years will become second years, second years will become third years and so on up the school. It is all very messy and very scattered in my opinion. There are pros to having the year structured like this. One of the massive pros is that it brings to an end the busiest time of year. At the moment there are loads of reports to write (for me first years and second years, about 70 in total), assessments, prelims and NABS to be done and marked, planning continues and must begin in earnest for next 'year' which starts very soon and things like working groups are finishing up and presentations and reports must be made. It brings a breadth of fresh air to the year and you can really focus on setting up courses. Last week was crazy and the week before that equally so. Every week since Easter has been full on and I have been trying in vain since then to catch up on my blog since then with no success. I am still 'developing' when it comes to writing this blog but forever the optimist I believe I can get a handle on it. It's not just this blog I have been trying to catch up on. I still have some work to do for my 'teaching and learning' working group and hopefully I can get that done this week. I also have to continue to develop the National 3 Lifeskills curriculum so we can implement that. Thankfully time has been given to get this done and each teacher has been given a days cover to help beat into it. Success on that front should come in the next three weeks.

The last thing I want to work on is the lessons I teach, some lessons I have taught this year have been awesome and really enjoyable for both the students and myself. I am pretty happy with the standard of lessons I am teaching but I still feel I can improve or at least do some slightly differently. Once you hit the May Bank Holiday you can take a breadth, reflect on what has been and think of what might be different if it were all to be done again. Since I have a month where I have no fourth, fifth or sixth years I can really focus on the remaining three classes and try and raise the bar again. I was watching a TED video by Sugata Mitra (http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_build_a_school_in_the_cloud.html) and thought maybe I am doing to much teaching and it is time to hand some more responsibility over to the students. Sugata Mata believes that the education system we have today, based on the Victorian system used across the British Empire is no longer fit for purpose. He believes that children given the right encouragement and not burdened with assessment can, using the tools of today learn by themselves. He experimented by leaving computers in remote villages in India for children to access and though they did not speak English (all downloaded content was in English) or had ever seen a computer they achieved incredible results in learning by themselves. If you have 20 minutes spare the video is well worth a look. His main idea is that if you give a child a 'big' question they will be able through curiosity and the interweb be able to find an answer. What I am thinking of doing is not so grand or big at all but does involve the students doing their own learning and teaching. I will take the text books off my S1's and S2's, put them in groups and pose them their own big question. Something like 'How tall is the school and how could we measure it using mathematics?' Hopefully they would come back with some Trigonometry but it would be interesting none the less. They would have to go away, research the question, collaborate in their groups and then teach the class. It will take a lot of direction I think, but I don't want to do too much more than manage their time so as not to stifle their creativity. I could then assess both the students and 'teachers' to see how they have got on, this kind of goes against the idea a little bit but I will have to think of someway to to check for understanding. I will put the Smartboard and a class set of iPads at their disposal and encourage them to go nuts. Technology will play a huge part in their lives so it should play its part. Maybe they will make a video or a Prezi or a podcast or something?! The idea is still in its infancy, I have much to think about and better run the idea past the boss but I have high hopes that we could have a lot of fun and much could be learned. I also want to make sure that the questions cover the work and topics we still have to do and that we can get it done in the time left. If it all goes pear shaped we can always knuckle down and recover the work as time is on our side. I will also try to blog it on a daily basis so as to document it, I can now blog on my smartphone so it should make life easier. I am excited, onwards and very much upwards..

In other news last week my Curriculum Leader came to observe me, as is good practice, teach my S3 class. This is my most challenging class but the hard work has payed off as the working relationship no longer suffers dips after holidays, we are getting some serious work done and most importantly we are having fun whilst we learn. The lesson went really well and everyone was happy. What was humorous about the lesson was that every single student was present. I had not had a full class on one single day for a few weeks but Murphy knowing full well that this observation was taking place decided to use his law that day! It is never a dull moment in that class as there is a lot of issues to deal with but we have a lot of fun during our learning and I hope we all get back together again before the next observation!

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

It is quite possible to work without results, but never will there be results without work

The run up to Christmas was immense and I was so tired when we eventually got to the holidays. I find myself sleeping deeper and deeper as the term ends and the holidays approach to the point that you are too tired to dream. It was incredibly busy with fourth year prelims, a parents’ night, fun time happy quizzes, Christmas concerts and some teaching for good measure. For the vast majority of time everything is awesome, students come to class, engage, have fun and leave happy, having learned something new. It’s been a fantastic school year so far with loads of highs and very few lows. What does one write about when all is going great? There are only so many times I can write about how awesome the first years are doing. Saying that, we recently changed the level they were working at: we started doing the same work as the top sets (I teach both first year second sets) and they are eating it up. They did a fun time happy quiz not so long ago and absolutely beasted it. I was very happy for them all and they were overjoyed to see the how the fruits of their labour paid off. They are a mirror image of the fourth years - they  did very little work last year, not a huge amount this year and bombed at their first prelim. As they say “you reap what you sow!”

The fourth years got a bit of a land when they got their prelim (mocks) results back. In fairness, last year was very unstable for these students; they had a few different teachers and not a lot of stability. This was compounded by the fact that they took advantage of the lack of stability and did absolutely no work last year. This was not idle preparation for their fourth year or their exam. Hopefully the prelim results will awaken them to the mountain of work we will have to get through to have any success this summer. Most of them totally bombed in their exam and some of them would have been better off using their paper to clean some windows for all the good writing on it did. All is not lost though - the upside of this is that reality is finally starting to bite and some of them are getting down to revision. We are not looking for 100%, we are looking to pass and since they can only get a 1 (>75%), a 2 (50 - 75%) or a fail (<50%), we will settle for a 2. A few students did very well and they have been moved up to the top class where, hopefully, with the aid of a great teacher and like-minded individuals around them, they will kick on and do really well. For the rest this is probably as fair as they will go in their journey in mathematics as higher maths is certainly beyond most. This is a good thing though, there is no point in doing higher maths unless you really like maths and have a good solid foundation as there is a huge workload to get through in the space of a year. For many of my students it would be too big an ask and since university is the goal for most of them they would be better off picking 5 other Highers that they would enjoy more and at which they are better. A good credit grade is almost essential to gaining university acceptance so I hope they now focus and get on with the job in hand. January is the month for the fourth year’s parent teacher evening and was a great opportunity to pass on this message. Armed with such strong statistics it would be easy to paint a pessimistic outlook for the majority of students but what would be the benefit of that? The message was simple: very little work has been done so far and there was a lot of instability last year but that is in the past, time to knuckle down and get on with the job. Everyone took this on board, we agreed strategies to help their sons and daughters and hopefully this will produce results. One lady did think that a miracle was her son's preferred option to hard work but eventually decided that it was not a good idea to bet on such odds and even if he was due a miracle it would probably be wasted on his maths exam!

It was my birthday this week and I turned 33. You would not believe the joy it brought to my students to find out that their Irish maths teacher turned 33! One young lady in first year could not stop laughing for about five minutes. The class settled down, we started to work and then she started laughing again. I asked her what was going on and she said with delight ”That means in May you will be 33 and a third!” This brought the house down much to my amusement. All I can say is she is mathematically on the ball! Onwards and upwards then...