Education Matters - News impacting schools, teachers and students
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Bright young minds awarded career kick-start

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Left to right: Advertising and Brand Manager at Victoria University Matthew Hazel poses with 2015 Work Experience of a Lifetime Leo Burnett Winner and Brentwood Secondary College’s Carlin Stephenson and Leo Burnett Account Director Sarah Lock.

Nearly every Year 10 and 11 student completes a work experience, but only a few make their peers say, “Wow.”

Thanks to Victoria University, seven such students in the state benefited from a rare opportunity to work directly with some of Australia’s top brands, including: BONDS, Mushroom Group, Leo Burnett, Nova Entertainment, Hacer Group, HM Group and Quest.

In its second year, Victoria University’s “Work Experience of a Lifetime” challenged students state-wide to an interactive online competition to showcase their career passion in a compelling visual or written entry. Winners were selected by an expert panel to take part in a week-long, immersive work and mentoring experience in late September.

Winner, Carlin Stephenson from Brentwood Secondary College, said the opportunity to work with global advertising firm Leo Burnett is a step towards attaining his dream job.

“Learning from the most creative people in the industry was amazing. I can now say that I’ve worked with one of the top five advertising agencies in the world,” Stephenson said.

Professor Peter Dawkins, Vice-Chancellor and President of Victoria University, said two additional placements were offered this year, along with a more diverse range of partner organisations, following a strong response to the inaugural Work Experience of a Lifetime programme in 2014.

“More than 60,000 pupils undertake in excess of 4 million hours of work experience every year with the hope of uncovering insights into their potential future. Victoria University believes it is vital that students, educators and businesses all work together to ensure every hour of that time is well-spent and we are proud to be supporting top student talent in their career development,” Dawkins said.

Andrew Woodhead, Creative Director at Leo Burnett Melbourne, said his team is dedicated to fostering talent and believes the structured placement provides a fantastic overview of the workings of an integrated agency.

“Carlin was immersed from day one in a range of disciplines to help him develop a sound understanding of the opportunities within the industry. We gave him a taste of the filming, design and sound production involved in creating some of Australia’s most recognisable brand campaigns, including Honda, 7-Eleven and Peters Ice Cream,” Woodhead said.

How your Ssudents can get involved   

Work Experience of a Lifetime” is open to all Year 10 and 11 students in Victoria. Career counsellors from all high schools generally receive collateral in May. For more information, to view entries, or to see how your students can apply in the future, visit: www.vuworkexperience.com.au.

 

Science in a secondary state school

Science is an integral component for a progressive, creative and innovative nation, and we need to engage students early with science to provide them with extensive opportunities to experience, engage, problem solve and ‘get to know’ science, writes Sarah Chapman.

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How decisions are really made

 

When it comes to making decisions, we’d like to think logic prevails. We consider options and choose rationally. Not quite. In fact, the majority of decisions are actually not based primarily on logic. Logic usually enters the picture well after the decision is made, in order to rationalise our choice, writes Darren Stevenson, Extend Managing Director.

The logical part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, operates with our full awareness but is very slow at processing information. It critically examines evidence, compares options and thinks through situations. That being said, the majority of decisions are not made using this rational approach.

Most of our decisions are made in the emotional centre of our brain, the limbic system. In contrast to the prefrontal cortex, the limbic system is lightning fast and almost solely functions as part of your subconscious. With the exception of intense emotions such as anger or fear, we are generally not aware of the constant activity of our limbic system. And yet most of our decision making comes from the limbic system.

There’s good reason most decisions are subconscious. The amount of information in our day to day lives is more than our slow moving conscious brain can handle. Humans take in an average of 11 million bits of information per second from our busy environments but can only consciously process a maximum of 40 bits of information per second. Therefore, the ratio of subconscious to conscious processing is more than 99.9% subconscious!

With that much subconscious thought it comes as no surprise that most decisions, big and small, are made subconsciously, based on what we feel, and then supported by logic. When you’re looking for a home you have your ideal style and suburb on your list of requirements. But it shouldn’t surprise you when you find your “perfect” home with one less bedroom and two suburbs out of your ideal area. You hear yourself say, “The sunroom could be a guest bedroom and this suburb is better anyway.” Sound familiar?

With so much subconscious influence, how do we take charge of our decision making to make the right choice each time?

1. Accept you feel with your head
Decisions based on emotion are still made with your brain. And our limbic system draws on memory and stored knowledge, to form gut feelings. Don’t ignore how you feel. These feelings often stem from experience.

2. Limit your alternatives
When there are three or more alternatives, we make poorer decisions. Our brains cope best with two alternatives, so if there is a decision involving more than two options, narrow it down before making your final choice.

3. Create a story
To engage the limbic system more consciously create a story, paint a mind picture or demonstrate a future to which you can relate. This will help you see your choice more clearly based on your image of the future.

It helps to acknowledge the roles of the different parts of your brain to make the right decision at the right time, for you.

Extend is a leading provider of high quality Outside School Hours Care services within primary schools throughout Australia. Visit extend.com.au to read more useful articles for school leaders.

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The NAPLAN risk – data can fail to identify a school’s real needs

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Some state governments have considered linking the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) data to school funding. Although the perceived benefits of this funding model may indicate the education outcomes of schools can be lifted, Jo Anderson, Lecturer in Inclusive Education at the University of New England, has told Education Matters that the issue is more complex.

What are some of the perceived benefits of linking NAPLAN data to school funding?

There are perceived benefits because NAPLAN purports to assess to the basic literacy and numeracy skills, and also because one of the things it measures is the national minimum standards. So we’re talking about looking at a standardised test that gives a minimum standard skillset that all students should reach, but really with the national minimum standard we’re looking at 100% of students, ultimately that would be the ideal. So it’s about a perception that it can target those really basic needs – the literacy and numeracy skills that all students are going to need to be able to engage with all the other areas of the curriculum.

What are the challenges of linking NAPLAN data to school funding?

Well there’s a few big key issues. One of them is around participation in NAPLAN. We know that every year we’ve got declining numbers of students participating in NAPLAN, and the other thing is that that’s not consistent across schools or sectors. You could have two schools that are almost in one community, one school might have 100% participation, the next school will have 80% participation. So when you’re looking at linking funding to NAPLAN and you haven’t got data from all the students in the school that can cause issues when they do impute data because you’re not getting a really accurate representation. So there’s a risk of the data actually not identifying clearly where the real needs are.

Also, students with an intellectual disability are exempt from sitting a NAPLAN test, along with students that don’t have English as their first language. We also know that a lot of the students who are absent for NAPLAN testing tend to be students with learning difficulties that sit at the bottom end. So none of those students are having their data counted in the NAPLAN data. Which again means that you are at risk of actually not really identifying where the needs are.

What are the downfalls of penalising schools for their success?

Well that’s a really interesting one. Schools will implement a program – if their results are poorer they get additional funding and they can put in some really good programs in place. But we know with education that for programs to be successful, theyneed to be sustainable, and they need to be ongoing and long-term. The problem with the NAPLAN data is that because it’s set every two years, each year you’re testing a different cohort of students. So one year a cohort of students could do quite poorly and the school gets some additional funding. In the next lot of tests, the school can actually perform quite well but it’s a different cohort of students that’s being tested. So if the school was to then be penalised, they’re going to lose funding even though the students who need it still need it, but also as I said you need funding for the long-term.

Schools need to know that they’re going to get this funding for five years so they can actually put some really good programs in place, and know they’re going to be able to sustain it to see students through their years of schooling. If you’re looking at employing additional staff, buying additional resources, all of those things, that needs to be sustainable over time. And with improving literacy and numeracy skills, there’s no quick fix. It’s not about a quick fix, it’s about sustained intervention that’s going to build and improve outcomes for kids.

What are your suggestions for what schools and governments can do with NAPLAN data?

Although I’m at university now, I’ve just come out of working in the school system for many years and working in leadership roles in schools, and I think it can be very useful for schools to drill down into the individual student data. For individual students it’s quite useful to see what areas within literacy and numeracy are areas of need and areas of strength. You can see patterns within classrooms, so there might be a Year 5 classroom where students are particularly struggling in inferencing, and so you can see that you need to put some support in there. So schools can use it in that way.

I think it’s a useful tool if it’s used in conjunction with a whole lot of other data. That’s one of the things the Gonski review acknowledges – that NAPLAN is a data set that is available. It’s the onlystandardised data set that we have across the nation. But it needs to be used in conjunction with a whole lot of other sets of data. There’s so much data out there, I think that NAPLAN certainly has its place as a small part of that big picture data can give. However, when we’re looking at that national level or even at the state level, I don’t think it should play any more of a role than just one part of the data puzzle.

In schools, if you get inside the data and actually have a look at what the students are doing, what their areas of strengths are, where they need to build, perhaps as a school there might be some areas of weakness, then you can target some professional development for teachers and maybe target some additional support staff in the classes. So it does have its place in that way. But then again, you’ve still got some schools where you’ve got large numbers of students who are not sitting NAPLAN, so they don’t actually have that data. You need to make sure you’ve got data for all the students in your school so that you can use it to inform planning and teaching for all students, not just ones that do sit NAPLAN.

Do you have any suggested improvements for NAPLAN going into the future?

That’s a really good question. It’s a really tricky one because as soon as you look at any testing regime, obviously it needs to be done in a way so that it’s manageable. I certainly think by making NAPLAN available online for students it becomes more accessible, but also you can start to have higher expectations, or drill down a little bit more into some of the literacy and numeracy skills. One of the questions around NAPLAN is, is it really testing? Does it really test reading? Does it really test spelling? And I think if we looked at using digital technologies, then perhaps we could make sure that NAPLAN is really testing what it purports to test.

Now that we have a national curriculum, I do wonder whether rather than relying so heavily on NAPLAN it would be better to look at making sure that we perhaps increase moderation and get more consistency around the assessments that we use within our schools to assess the outcomes of the curriculum that the school students are working on, and perhaps look at report card data and at strengthening some of those things. It gives a bigger picture. One of the things with NAPLAN is that there’s no story behind the data. And when you lose that story behind the data, you run a risk of not really capturing that student or the essence of the learning of that student.

I think once NAPLAN goes online that will open up a whole lot of opportunities. We certainly need to work at making NAPLAN more accessible to the cohorts ofstudents that are currently exempt. Given that NAPLAN has the prominence it does federally and nationally, they don’t have any voice in that data at the moment, so I think that needs to be something that we need to work on.

 

 

 

Primary school science – highlights and pitfalls

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Science is rarely given top priority on a primary school agenda, but as a nation, if we are to compete on an international level, we must engage more people with science, writes Danielle Spencer.

 Teaching our next generation is a privileged position and it could be argued that teachers generally enjoy their job, try their best and love working with children. Primary school teachers afford a special position as they work with such young learners. As generalists, primary school teachers must teach the breadth of the curriculum; from English to Art, from Science to Geography. Every primary school teacher I know often laments of just how to fit it all in a 25 hour week. Then take out the time for sports days, special event days, excursions or additional non-curricular activities. It is a difficult juggle. It is also difficult to be able to maintain the same level of enthusiasm for each subject area, let alone possess a depth of content knowledge for each curriculum area. Effective science teaching though can encompass many aspects of literacy and numeracy and this is where we should place an emphasis, on making these links between science and the real world. The decline of student’s interest in science as they progress through their schooling is well documented and this is worrying for Australia. If we don’t capture a child in their primary years and hook them on to science, it becomes increasingly difficult to develop an appreciation and interest in science and what science can offer – primary school science and primary school teachers hold the key.

The introduction of the Australian Curriculum (ACARA) has proven to be a double-edged sword to some. Although ensuring a national consistency in curriculum content and explicitly defining learning intent that students must achieve at given year levels, the national curriculum is content laden. Individual state education departments have developed curriculum documents in response to ACARA, however many of these too are overloaded. For beginning teachers and teachers not as comfortable with the teaching of science, to be able discriminately unpack these documents and make relevant curriculum decisions that address the needs of their specific learners can be tortuous. Additionally, many primary school teachers admit to having limited content knowledge themselves, especially in the fields of physics and chemistry, which makes curriculum decisions even more difficult. Consequently, their enthusiasm for the subject area wanes, their ease at which they communicate science with their class suffers and teachers develop a poor self-efficacy around teaching science. Given Hattie’s research1, that greatest influence on student performance and educational outcomes is the teacher, it is vital that we support our primary teachers in the teaching of science.

There are many barriers to effective science teaching in primary school but resourcing and the time to prepare resources would be amongst the top barriers for many primary teachers. The long list of consumables, such as baking soda, batteries or vinegar, must be replenished and primary teachers usually pay for these consumables out of their own pockets. Many schools have limited stocks of science equipment so teachers constantly make-do. Re-used cups become beakers, and plastic plates become petri dishes. Whilst primary teachers are typically highly resourceful and extraordinary recyclers, these practices de-value the importance of science and best practice is threatened. Unless science has been given priority on a school agenda, purchasing science equipment from a limited curriculum budget becomes problematic. Some primary schools, having developed positive relationships with their nearby high schools, are able to borrow scientific equipment but for many schools this is not possible. Then, once resourcing has been established, the primary school teacher does not have the luxury of a lab tech. Primary teachers must themselves prepare and organise equipment for group or individual work. Afterwards, they must find more time to pack up and clean everything. Science delivery in primary schools is financially burdensome and time consuming for teachers.

Inquiry-based science learning that gets dirty and untidy, where children direct their own learning, can also be tricky with young learners. Group negotiation and collaboration become necessary skills that teachers must explicitly teach. When you couple a difficult cohort of children, with a primary teacher who is not comfortable teaching science, inquiry learning in science suffers.

Science is rarely given top priority on a primary school agenda. Principals, themselves being pressured from above, are concerned with raising their performance in high-stakes National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) testing. The data gleaned from NAPLAN plays a huge driving force in school agenda. Literacy and numeracy become the school focus. Primary teachers, regularly involved in training and in-servicing around literacy and numeracy, often feel pressured to focus on these areas at the sake of other learning areas.

Consequently, science is often delivered with a strict time constraint or relegated to the afternoon sessions. Scientific literacy is often not given equal importance despite Australia’s need to raise scientifically literate students as well. The evidence from the 2012 National Assessment Program – Science Literacy (NAP-SL)2 highlights that just 51% of Australian students perform at or above the proficient standard of scientific literacy. For our indigenous students, the percentage of those performing at or above the proficient standard was just 20%. Students in rural or remote areas and those whose home language is not English also perform worse. Government and primary school administrators must address this concerning lack of scientific literacy in our young learners.

If, as a nation, we are to compete on an international level, we must engage more people with science. It is worrying that our primary students do not perform better on an international scale. Results from the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS)3 highlight that 29% of our Year 4 students achieved at or below the low international benchmark. Almost 1:3 children were unable to think scientifically. Carried out every three years, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) surveys 15 year old students from 65 countries around the world in mathematical, scientific and reading literacy skills. Our international ranking in PISA in scientific literacy has not changed since 2006. Whilst we do perform well, there is a large variance in student performance.

Despite all the barriers to teaching science in primary school, and the apparent poor results in national and international testing, there are countless cases of wonderful practices, some incredible teachers of primary science and individual schools that do their utmost to prioritise science. You only need to review some of the winners of the Australian Prime Minister Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching to see exceptional and inspirational teachers of primary science. Winners such as Brian Schiller (2014) who creatively incorporates science across the curriculum (even to Japanese) and Cheryl Capra (2007) who developed an astronomy program at her local school and became a NASA partner school. There would be countless other, unrecognised teachers out there in our primary schools doing similar things just because they love science. These teachers encourage their young learners to participate in regional, state and national science competitions, like NATA’s Young Scientist of the Year Competition which has hundreds of entries each year. Schools hold events such as science fairs or science competitions to celebrate National Science Week. In the highly recommended CSIRO Visiting Scientist and Mathematician Program, schools are making partnerships with real-life scientists, engaging their students with science professionals and exposing their students to the possibilities of science careers. These cases need to be celebrated and shared so that more teachers and schools will attempt them.

The major advantage of teaching science to young learners in primary school is that it can be so much fun. Teaching science can be easy, as you can feed off a child’s innate sense of wonder and curiosity with their world. Most children want to make sense of their world and science activities that are relevant and linked with real-world activities are well accepted. There are endless possibilities to highlight science in action. Young children are typically not afraid to display their wonder at discovering new phenomena. The noise of discovery from a child is infectious for the teacher and provides an instant feedback of learning.

At Mitchelton State School in Queensland, science is slowly becoming embedded into our schooling fabric. Three years ago, SC@M or Science Club at Mitchie was established. From the first intake of just 22 students, current enrolment in SC@M is 62 students. SC@M is an extra-curricular weekly science club, where the emphasis is on learning science through play. The major aim of SC@M is to instil a love of scientific curiosity. The focus of each term differs, from Earth Sciences, Chemistry, and Physics to Biology. Student learning is facilitated through a range of experiences that involve students experimenting with various phenomena. It is loud, messy and an incredible amount of fun. Additional extra-curricular science clubs have been launched as well. SC@M in Space, Astronomy Club and a Robotics Club are both in their second year. SC@M in Space Astronomy Club was fortunate to have a long–standing relationship with a Visiting CSIRO Scientist. Students from Mitchelton State School have been awarded with prizes in the national 60 Second Science Contest and NATA’s Young Scientist of the Year competitions. Principal Maria Berriman has recognised the value of science and the value of up-skilling all teachers. With some twisting and intricate juggling of the budget bucket, she has restructured staffing to include a Science Coach position one day each week. The Science Coach’s role includes working collaboratively with teachers and assisting teachers to develop capacity in their teaching of science. Mitchelton State School aims to encourage all students to engage in scientific pursuits and established the “Young Scientist of the Year Award” in 2014. This perpetual trophy is awarded to a child who may not necessarily be a top academic performer in science, but rather a child who embodies a love of science and science learning. The inaugural Young Scientist of the Year had been a member of SC@M since its inception, as well as both the Astronomy and Robotics Club, entered any science competition she could and was an avid and involved learner in class. It is children just like this that we need to foster through primary science.

In commenting on hopes for the future for science education in primary schools, we must hope that science is given priority, not just on an individual school agenda but also on a national agenda. The budget bucket is not endless and unless science is viewed as equal priority in primary schools it can be overlooked. Financial assistance to resource science effectively is necessary. These resources include both physical and human aspects. To deliver quality and effective science, primary teachers need the equipment and the knowledge to do so. I was fortunate enough to be part of the Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA) Science Teachers Exchange to Japan in 2014, an experience that was a career highlight and one that I could not recommend highly enough. Japan, one of the highest performing nations in PISA, places a great importance upon learning science in primary schools. Primary schools we visited had an enviable well-stocked science room. Students from Grade 3 and above are taught three hours of science each week. Teachers are well supported to develop an understanding of science process and science content. Graduate teachers are supported in their beginning year through a senior mentor teacher. Principals are highly involved in science training with their teachers and provide significant support through workshops and feedback. There are lessons there for us here in Australia. We need to support our teachers. Primary school teachers do amazing things every day yet there is a limit of what we can achieve in isolation and when unsupported. Primary school science is so rewarding. Unfortunately this view is not held by every primary teacher due to weighty constraints. Imagine the endless possibilities, if only science and primary teachers were given endless support.

References

  1. J Hattie 2003, ‘Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence?’ paper presented to Australian Council for Educational Research Annual Conference, Melbourne, 19–21 October.
  1. Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority 2013, ‘National Assessment Program – Science Literacy Year 6 Report 2012.’
  1. S Thomson, K Hillman, N Wernett, M Schmid, S Buckley & A Munene. 2011. ‘Highlights from TIMSS & PIRLS 2011 from Australia’s perspective.’
  1. S Thomson, L De Bortoli, S Buckley. 2012. ‘PISA in Brief, Highlights from the full Australian report: PISA 2012: How Australia Measure up. The PISA 2012 assessment of students’ mathematical, scientific and reading literacy.’

Danielle Spencer is a passionate primary school teacher, currently in her eleventh year of teaching. With a long and extensive background in paediatric nursing, Danielle particularly enjoys teaching science and discovering the world again through a child’s eyes. Danielle upholds inquiry-based learning as best practice and she aims to promote the discipline of science within her school community. After completing a Graduate Certificate in Primary Science in 2011, Danielle established an extra-curricular science club at Mitchelton State School. She currently coordinates the three extra-curricular science clubs at Mitchelton, SC@M (Science Club at Mitchie), SC@M in Space Astronomy Club and Robotics Club. Danielle also currently acts as Science Coach at Mitchelton State School.

Danielle has been an author for online science journal Australian Science where she has written on various aspects of science pedagogy in primary schools. She has delivered regional conference sessions and been involved in facilitating state-wide training on science literacy and pedagogy. In recognition of her dedication to primary school science and her innovative work practices, Danielle was awarded a Peter Doherty Outstanding Teacher of Science Award in 2013.

Australian Science Teachers Association

Founded in 1951, the Australian Science Teachers Association is the federation of Science Teachers Associations from all Australian states and territories. It is the national professional association for teachers of science and a powerful voice influencing policy and practice in science education. Please visit www.asta.edu.au for more information.

 

 

 

Teaching a mixed-year class: how to tell the time IN ONE LESSON

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Larisa has 18 years’ teaching experience and currently has a mixed-year class comprising children from Prep, Year 1, and Year 2. She had heard about the EasyRead 3 Step Time Teaching System and was curious to see if it had any merit – this is her story.

Prep are not expected to learn anything other than o’clock. Year 1 move to o’clock, half past and a bit of exposure to quarter past and quarter to. Year 2 also do this and then start to move into 5 min increments etc.

It has been my experience with EVERY class that they really struggle with the concept of time, particularly minutes TO the hour.

After researching your system, I got our classroom clock off the wall and grabbed some whiteboard markers. I told the kids I was going to draw all over it but that it would help them learn to tell the time.

First I wrote the numbers (minutes) around the frame of the clock on the ‘past’ side, counting the minutes as I went. Then I started on the ‘to’ side doing the same thing.

After writing all the minutes on, I drew a line down the middle of the clock and wrote ‘past’ and ‘to’ on the glass and I then showed them their new clock.

I then randomly set the hands and modelled to them the 3 step process a few times…the lights started to go on in their heads!!!!

So I thought I would start with the Year 2s and I gave a time to each one and got them to use the 3 steps; 100% success here. Then Year 1s and Preps were keen for a turn so I did the same thing with them…helping them and explaining as I went.

We played a game with it, whereby if the kids got their turn correct they got a point. There were 16 kids in the class that day and the score was 16-0 to the kids. It was brilliant EasyRead 3 Step Time Teaching System works so easily and I was impressed with the immediate results.