Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Charter for Compassion

I can't help but be taken by 2008 TED Prize winner Karen Armstrong's desire to get people of all faiths together to write the charter for compassion. Presently, religious fundamentalism can been seen to dominate the world's perceptions of religion and additionally create deep divides between differing faiths. The charter for compassion aims to show that all faith's share in the 'Golden Rule' in one form or another, that of showing compassion for others. We can all contribute our thoughts on this principle here. There is more to bind faiths together than to force them apart.

On watching the video I am also moved by the power of story telling. From an educational perspective the potential power of students we teach gathering the thoughts of others (students on values, community on issues close to their heart and so on) and sharing them as a collection of stories is a powerful way to communicate. I'd love to know if anyone has done anything of this sort and would like to share their experiences...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Reflections from Australia - Part 3 (QLD Schools)

This final entry deals with some highlights from schools in Queensland – to actually do a comparison of the assessment systems between NSW and QLD would require some pages. I can’t being to compare the highly prescribed ‘dot points’ and high stakes HSC external examinations of NSW with the flexible internally assessed system in QLD (but with the unique Core Skills Tests in Year 12 to moderate against). Both systems are so fundamentally different that creating a national qualification system (as is being talked about) would require the worlds greatest diplomats to manage and organise, good luck I say!

The schools I visited were largely in the Brisbane area. My first Queensland school was Cleveland District State High School, about 1 hour 15 minutes east of Brisbane by train. The reason for visiting the school was because my school has had music exchanges with Cleveland and they are similar schools in make-up. Cleveland is a co-educational state high school with a roll of about 1200 students. The day was structured with 8 periods, each of 35 minutes, though most ran as double periods. Of interest was the fact that seniors, Year 11 & 12, attended school on Tuesday – Friday for extended days (8.30 – 3.25) and did not attend school at all on a Monday. An interesting class I observed was the schools SRT class (Science Research & Technology). In these classes students were in a purpose built lab with 15 computers and desks for working in. Students were working on finding out about certain aspects of science – the first class using lego to find out about gears and the relationships between gears. The second class were doing extended projects – all self-generated and well resourced. These ranged from making different types of coloured fireworks, experimenting with mouse memory, exploring rocket trajectory, crystal formation, plane flight and so on.

John Paul College is a large co-educational private school about 20 minutes from the centre of Brisbane. It has a large campus which hosts three schools – primary (1000 students), middle school (800) and secondary (750). The growth in the school is occurring with an approach toward students being sent to private primary schools. All students are required to lease a laptop from Grade 4 (our Year 5). Students bring laptops to class and spend a large amount of time using them. The schools are also set up with permanently mounted data projectors and staff members each have their own laptop/tablet for use in class. All classes I observed involved students working independently on research or tasks using the internet and laptops in class. Courses were organised on-line on a ‘workspace’ where students and staff could access material from anywhere.

The senior school (Grades 10-12) had very modern and well maintained facilities and was undergoing a Consultation Process for the next 10 year upgrade. I also observed the school assembly in which an amazing array of top awards (state and national) were given out for academic, sporting and cultural achievements. The school had a relaxed but focussed feel – students were easy to engage with and very polite (behaviour management is not a term necessary at the college). It was a real insight to see inside a private school and to see what difference the privilege of money can buy (but see earlier blog post). Interestingly, State Academies are attracting top students away from private schools so the school has gone and introduced the International Baccalaureate to try and compete in this respect.

The final school I visited was Holland Park, a state high school of about 520 students. A particular highlight was the time I spent with the literacy co-ordinator of the school. The school has received numerous awards for the literacy programme they run. Students spend 35 minutes (1 period) out of each of the 3 core subjects (Science, Maths and English) at Year 8 and 9 to improve their literacy skills and work through a series of literacy booklets. The students are ability grouped to give them access to different materials. The literacy program had shown students reading ages increase 2-3 years each year for some of the lower groups and students all improving above their yearly increment by being involved in the programme. The program had 3 foci: Tools of the Trade (decoding and grammar), Reading for Meaning and Critical Understanding.

The Fellowship offered me opportunities to enjoy times in schools and it was a privilege to visit. It also offered me a fantastic opportunity to have time away with my family, which we all relished.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Reflections from Australia - Part 2 (NSW Schools)

As I mention on my earlier blog-post, I recently had the opportunity to visit schools in Australia as part of a Woolf Fisher Fellowship. The focus of this posting is to mention some the highlights of visits to three NSW schools.

The first school I visited was Caringbah High School, a State Selective High School. There are about 8 selective high schools in Sydney, these are schools which have academic entry criteria good academic success. Selective schools provide an academic state education and are very popular. Students get selected to attend before Year 7 via the Selective High School Test in Year 6. One of the special programmes that ran out of Caringbah was a NASA supported space education programmes which had a Martian exploration context - looking for life on Mars. This has involved microbiology – looking at what is needed for life, mechatronics fun with a local university – remote controlling rovers, and use of the IMAX cinema to view Space exploration images on the BIG screen. The programme has also been extended into the local primary school with Year 5 & 6 kids visiting to have a similar course, this time supported by the Year 8 students at Caringbah. The programme appealed to me because of the way education became more seamless and links were made between the high school and both the university and local primary. I am sure all parties benefitted from the interactions and I feel all too often educational institutions work in isolation from one another when such links may prove very fruitful.

My next visit was Strathfield Girls, a successful state school with ESL students making up around 80% of the population. One special class I visited was a Year 10 ESL targeted class. This was team taught by a Science teacher and the ESL teacher. The teacher set up the practical work and the ESL teacher taught in the class with specially prepared resources. What amazed me was the ESL teacher was also a trained Science teacher. She was therefore able to create high quality resources with relevant science content and contexts and which specially targeted improving the language skills of ESL students. This team-teaching approach with ESOL students is a model I would love to see around any school I taught at.

Georges River College - Oatley Senior Campus is a senior college – Years 11 and 12. Senior colleges, like Selectives, arose from State attempts to stem the flow of students to private schools. The College formed about 4 years ago by drawing the year 11 and 12 students from three local schools. These schools have now become year 7-10 Junior Campuses. They are all Georges River College (GRC) but have different sites. School periods at GRC-Oatley Campus are 75 minutes long (this was common across Australian Schools), four of these on the average day split with 2 main breaks, each 30 minutes long. The campus was the site of an old teachers college and the school had a relaxed but mature feel about it (not dissimilar to a university). Students took responsibility for their attendance with the use of swipe cards - now there's an interesting idea!

One of the things I particularly liked about Georges River was their promotion of “The Oatley Way”. When I think of my own school, do we have a “Freyberg Way” and if we do, is it they way that we should be celebrating? I think articulating a school way could be a great way to highlight some of the values the school is focusing and promoting within the school community.

Next post...Queensland Schools.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reflections from Australia - Part 1

I recently had the opportunity, as part of Woolf Fisher Fellowship, to visit Australia and look at the educations systems in two States. I visited schools in Sydney to explore the NSW system and similarly Brisbane to get a sense of the QLD system. The majority of schools I visited were state schools, though I did visit John Paul College, a privately funded school in Brisbane. The contrasts between state and private were obvious, not in the quality and enthusiasm of the teachers, nor noticeably in the nature and attitude of the students, but in the infrastructure and resources. John Paul had wireless internet throughout the school, all teachers had an IWB, their own laptop provided by the school, permanently mounted data projectors, class printers and every student has a leased laptop. The nature and type of lessons that could be supported through the available technology was markedly different from other schools. Linked with the observation is the alarming fact that some 35% or so of Australian students attend private schools. Furthermore, while private schools have typically been secondary there is now a significant growth in private primary education. For example, John Paul College had about 1000 students at its primary campus with approximately 700 in the middle school and slightly less again in the senior school. The growth in private education stemmed somewhat from under-resourcing in the public system over the last couple of decades. My concern is that this movement towards a private system could become a reality for New Zealand. With National due to form a government any day now I have fears that the funding required to allow state schools to meet the needs of 21stC learners may be a distant hope, though I would dearly love to believe they will make good of their promise that they will "Future proof schools with better ICT facilities and integrated ICT access within the teaching spaces throughout schools" - I just have my doubts
. Lack of decent funding to state schools, coupled with John Key's recent promises of increased funding for private schools, serves only to widen the gap between state and private schools. Contrary to Key's beliefs, extra funding to private schools does not provide more access to other less well-off kiwi families, it just means the ‘haves’ become ‘have-more’s. NZ Governments need to seriously consider their investment into state education to ensure all students have free education that meets their needs and caters for diverse learners. This will need to involve funding in infrastructure and resources – such as broadband with decent bandwidth, computers for students and teachers (and not just a lease scheme, but properly funded), along with creative vocational programmes that are not confined to school timetables, but are appropriately funded to allow students relevant educational pathways. Without this NZ risks following the same path as Australia, which only left States scrambling to find ways to address the issue through the creation of selective schools and academies. In my mind these seemed only to add another tier to the school ‘class’ system [though there were some great things going on too, that's for my next blog post]. It is a right of all citizens to have a first class public education system and this is necessary for the future of the country. The sooner governments begin to recognise this the better. We watch and wait for action...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Demo Utter for my blog

Hi just trying to post an utter to my blog so that I can check on the cross-posting.

Mobile post sent by steedy using Utterli. reply-count Replies. mp3

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mole Day Celebrations

This was part of the famous mole day celebrations in my Year 13 Chemistry class at school. Mole Day of course arises from Avagadros number 6x10^23 and is from 6am - 6pm on the 23rd of October. The celebration consists of horrendously bad jokes told by Malcolm the mole (who yes, is a hedgehog hand puppet, but try find a mole hand puppet!). Here's an example... Q: What was Avagadros favourite dip? A: Guacamole (ha ha ha he he!!!). The special mole day cake is shared after we sing Happy Mole Day. Oh the celebrations of Chemistry. Anyway, check it all out on this video...