Encouraging girls to pursue math and science
September 2009; Pages 90–91
Despite the fact that the achievement gap between boys and girls in mathematics has virtually disappeared, fewer females than males go on to pursue careers in engineering, computer science and the physical sciences. Research suggests that this may be due in part to cultural scripts and expectations, as well as to matters of girls' academic self-concept in mathematics and science. Studies have indicated that from an early age, girls are less confident in their mathematics ability than boys, even when the academic achievement of both groups is the same. As girls with high academic self-concept in mathematics and science are more likely to pursue further study in these areas, it is essential to address girls' perceptions of their ability. Valuable strategies for doing so include teaching students that academic ability is not innate, but can be improved; they can also introduce students to women who have excelled in maths and science, and serve as role models. A third strategy involves providing in-depth, valuable feedback about students' learning. Research has indicated that providing informational feedback can improve students' confidence. Informational feedback is feedback that praises effort, identifies mistakes in problem-solving, and that identifies improvement and use of particular strategies. Vague feedback or feedback that praises ability rather than effort should be avoided. Informative feedback can increase students' likelihood of seeking help from teachers and can help students, and particularly girls, focus on correcting specific errors rather than on perceptions of their abilities. By using ongoing, formative assessments, teachers can develop a greater understanding of their students' current understandings, and can then provide specifically targeted feedback that corrects mistakes, praises efforts, and praises students' ability to improve. Doing so can increase students' self-concept in mathematics and science, which may lead to their pursuing further study in these areas.
Key Learning AreasScience
Volume 72 Number 1, September 2009; Pages 39–60
The use of diagrams to solve mathematical problems is an important skill for students to develop. The authors examined the role of diagrams in the problem-solving tasks undertaken by 194 Grade 6 students in Cyprus. The students completed a series of equations, some of which were accompanied by diagrams. Students were encouraged to use these diagrams in solving these equations, but for other items, were encouraged to use their own methods, including diagrams, to solve the problems. Interestingly, the presence of diagrams accompanying test items did not increase students' performance in solving problems. Many students focused on surface features rather than structural features; poor performance may also have been associated with lack of familiarity with using diagrams in problem solving, as well as difficulties in interpreting diagrams. Students found matrix diagrams, which depict information about relationships between pairs of items in different sets, easier to work with than network or hierarchy diagrams, which show local and global connections, and power or precedence structures respectively. However, the degree of interrelation between the structure and the representation of the problem also influenced performance. Diagrams helped some students solve problems, but made problem solving more difficult for others, which may relate to particular visuo-spatial abilities and learning styles. Students who previously encountered difficulties in problem solving tended to benefit from working with presented diagrams. The results show that students need guidance in developing their ability to create diagrams in solving problems, and in interpreting existing diagrams. Teachers therefore need to provide students with opportunities to use presented diagrams, as well as invent their own solution strategies, including the use of diagrams. They should provide problems without diagrams at first, and then introduce diagrams that could be used in the solution of these problems. This process would help students by first encouraging them to search for and apply their own solution, and second to guide them in solving a problem or comparing their strategies with the teacher's. These approaches may enhance students' strategy flexibility, as well as their representational flexibility and general problem-solving skills.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsPrimary education
Using graphing software to teach about algebraic forms: a study of technology-supported practice in secondary-school mathematics
Volume 71 Number 3, July 2009; Pages 279–297
The use of graphing software to teach secondary students about quadratic and linear forms is a popular approach among secondary mathematics teachers. Using classroom observations and interviews, the authors examined two teachers' perspectives and classroom approaches around using graphing software with their Years 8–10 students in England. The teachers' approaches to the lessons involved a number of similarities, and they shared similar perspectives about the functionality of the graphing software. The software helped students produce graphs quickly and accurately, meaning that students could move more quickly through a lesson. Because of this, the teachers could allot more time to investigation of different formulae and graphs, and had time to address extension material. The ability to quickly design graphs also meant that students could engage easily in trial and error and prediction tasks; the software also offered ways for students to understand the correlation between a graph and an equation by using colour-coding or shading. The teachers perceived that the software also promoted students' interest in mathematics and facilitated peer exchange; both teachers encouraged students' exploration of the software and the sharing of findings. The teachers were able to pose extended, open-ended learning opportunities for more advanced learners, or support lower achieving learners by offering more structure and limiting investigation to more specific topics. However, the success of the software was highly dependent on the teachers' guidance and the resources they provided. Both teachers introduced or reviewed key mathematical topics and software techniques at the beginning of the class, guided how students used and interpreted the software, and encouraged questioning and feedback. The lessons cycled through whole-class, individual, and small-group learning depending on the material being covered, and closed with review, sharing of findings, or extension exploration. Both teachers worked with prepared investigative worksheets that closely followed the recommended materials provided with the software, meaning that their lessons were well-suited to the technology. While the technology facilitated ease of graphing and exploration of topics, the teachers' careful lesson design and reactive teaching approaches were crucial to guiding and supporting students' learning.
Key Learning AreasMathematics
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)
Volume 20 Number 3, June 2009; Pages 287–306
Declining achievement in science among students in the USA has led to calls to address the quality of science teaching in secondary education. In light of research that indicates that quality teaching can positively affect student learning, the authors examined the classroom effectiveness of 11 science teachers, as well as the impact of their instruction on student achievement. Although the teachers had all undertaken extensive professional development in inquiry-based teaching and learning, their classroom effectiveness varied significantly. 'Effective' teachers were those whose instruction was purposeful and engaged students in meaningful work, and whose lessons were well-designed and implemented according to student needs, and were likely to enhance students' understanding of science. When assessed, their students significantly outperformed students of teachers whose approaches failured to capture these elements. Achievement gaps between white and minority students narrowed with effective teachers, and in some instances virtually disappeared. The authors interviewed three teachers, two of whom were effective, and one ineffective, to examine how they had arrived at their current preferred classroom practices. Both effective teachers demonstrated significant motivation for change, and had taken advantage of opportunities to improve their practice. They drew on their personal experiences with students, as well as extensive professional development experiences, and worked to develop supportive, collaborative relationships with other teachers, all of which helped direct and improve their classroom teaching. Both teachers created investigative, inquiry-based classrooms, and saw themselves as a 'guide' to facilitate student learning. They were open to and positive about professional growth, and saw their professional development as an ongoing, lifelong process. They were unconcerned about state tests, feeling that their students had strong content knowledge. In contrast, the ineffective teacher felt that as a student he had worked best as a 'pen and paper' learner, and his classroom approaches reflected this. While he occasionally attempted to use investigations, he conceived of them as rewards or for promoting student motivation rather than for effectively teaching science. Unlike the other teachers, he used drill and practice methods to prepare students for state accountability tests, and was competitive about improving his students' yearly achievement on these. Unlike the other teachers, he was averse to professional development, feeling that there was no need to change his traditional approach. While professional development can improve quality of teaching, teachers' own belief systems are highly influential on their classroom practices and their attitudes toward developing and changing their practices to promote meaningful science learning.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsMiddle schooling
United States of America (USA)
Volume 35 Number 6, December 2009; Pages 891–907
Closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems have been introduced into a wide range of British schools, as a means to reduce crime and foster a safe environment; they also raise ethical issues. The author examined the use of CCTVs at eight schools in Britain, to identify how they were used and their perceived impact on student behaviour. The research involved interviews with eight school staff. They worked at eight different schools catering to varying age groups spanning the primary and secondary years. Two education system security experts were also interviewed. In all the schools, CCTV cameras were situated at the main entrance. Here they were primarily used to control entry of visitors but also allowed staff to monitor and reprimand tardy students. Elsewhere in the school CCTV cameras could also be used to detect 'dangerous outsiders', including ex-students, but were used primarily to monitor current students' movements and conduct within the school, including areas such as computer rooms. In this respect they were of limited effectiveness. The generally sporadic placement of cameras meant that students could easily move to an unmonitored location. In addition, students were often only marginally aware of, or concerned about, the presence of security cameras, meaning that despite the use of cameras to deter students from misbehaving, students were unlikely to modify their behaviour through self-policing. An additional use of CCTV cameras was to establish evidence of misbehaviour, to be presented to the students, and sometimes their parents. The use of CCTV systems for the social control purposes outlined has ethical implications. It indicates a value shift from attempting to reform individuals' social attitudes, toward a system that relies on external systems to deter misbehaviour and facilitate punishment, and implies a deficit approach regarding young people's behaviour. The potential ethical and moral costs of these changes in how social control in schools is exercised should be critically examined.
Subject HeadingsBehaviour management
Creating enabling classroom practices in high poverty contexts: the disruptive possibilities of looking in classrooms
Volume 17 Number 3, October 2009; Pages 251–264
Drawing on evidence from PISA 2006, the authors contend that inequality in education has grown in Australia, with the relationship between social background and educational achievement stronger in Australia than in similar countries. The authors observed classroom practices in four substantially disadvantaged secondary schools in New South Wales to examine how structural and organisational processes of learning may be affecting learners' outcomes. They found that despite the very different contexts and variation within the different schools, the observed lessons were extremely similar across schools, and followed set 'scripts' that usually involved teacher-centred, passive styles of learning. Students generally entered the room, were asked to sit down, listened to the teacher, were given a resource from which they were to work, worked together or individually on the task, and then handed in or presented their work before leaving the room. Teachers acknowledged that these practices were widespread, but felt that they helped maintain control of classrooms. Other reasons for adhering to the script included not feeling confident or experienced enough to relax the script, or feeling that their subject area limited their ability to do so. The classroom script was seen to be informed by experiences of 'what works'; it was often passed down by longer-serving teachers and was perceived to be informed by local knowledge and the local context. The authors argue that new scripts need to be created that prioritise learning of control, and that involve collaboration, problem solving and dialogue. This is especially important for students in disadvantaged schools, who are often highly dependent on schools to help them develop these skills. Schools need to develop new knowledge about what can be achieved in their particular contexts, and how this can be used to support the professional development of teachers and leaders.
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
New South Wales (NSW)
Teaching and learning
Volume 50 Number 2, June 2009; Pages 115–127
Leadership in disadvantaged primary schools brings with it specific additional demands. In England, these issues include supporting struggling children, dealing with parental concerns and budget issues, as well as school performance and matters related to crime and vandalism. The authors examined the reasons why a range of English principals remained in challenging schools. Their research involved a survey of 16 primary principals, 6 of whom were subsequently interviewed; another 3 principals were also interviewed. Several themes were identified in the principals' responses. While leadership was considered particularly demanding in disadvantaged schools, these leaders identified a number of strategies, and abilities or other qualities that enabled them to cope. They included assertiveness, a capacity to make quick decisions, setting high expectations of their schools, and a sense of camaraderie with their communities, drawing on the personal experience of growing up in disadvantaged backgrounds. Most principals tried to avoid taking work home, and stressed the importance of taking leave. The principals also enjoyed the variety involved in the job, as well as the challenges, especially the challenge of turning a school around. Having a variety of support networks within and outside the school, such as support from colleagues, or from 'heads council' groups, was influential to their retention. The principals had all invested in their schools, and were committed to their goal of helping students achieve their potential, from which they achieved substantial job satisfaction. They felt rewarded by the ability to make a difference to children's learning and the school's success, as well as by working with appreciative parents. Only one principal highlighted salary as a very important factor in encouraging him to stay in his post. However, the authors note that the principals were of similar ages and backgrounds, and shared similar pedagogical approaches and perspectives, and that their leadership roles had been established before current policy approaches that demand increased accountability of principals and their schools. All of these issues should be taken into account when considering preparation and retention of future leaders.
Subject HeadingsSocially disadvantaged
School and community
Volume 35 Number 3, June 2009; Pages 391–411
High-stakes assessments and examinations are a significant source of stress and anxiety for secondary students. To examine causes of assessment-related stress, the author interviewed 34 Grade 10 students in Britain during various stages of their Key Stage 4 studies. Students identified three sources of pressure: self-imposed pressure, pressure from parents, and pressure from teachers. Students were influenced by their own academic and occupational expectations, the expectations of others and by fear of negative judgements. Pressure usually functioned to motivate them to improve their achievement, but could also result in threats to students' self-esteem, resulting in stress and anxiety. For example, teachers usually acted as supporters and motivators, but their emphasis on the importance of high-stakes exams could result in worry, particularly if teachers' expectations were seen as being unrealistic. Students' own perceptions of the importance of these examinations also influenced whether they felt stress or anxiety. Parents' comparisons of children with high-achieving family members, and parents' preoccupation with particular high-status occupations, could increase stress over examination achievement. Academic self-concept in particular subjects, rather than globally, was a predictor of exam stress; low academic self-concept was related to low confidence and perceptions of examinations as being stressful. Preparation for exams was a strategy used by students to increase their confidence in their performance and to manage their fear of failure. Forms of preparation seen to reduce examination stress included learning examination techniques, and completing past examinations in the classroom, as this helped students learn how to answer questions and familiarise themselves with the examination format. Coursework could contribute to students' stress, particularly when assignment deadlines were close together, or when it immediately preceded high-stakes examination. Staggering coursework was seen as a supportive action, and could result in reduced stress.
Subject HeadingsSecondary education
Volume 45 Number 3, August 2009; Pages 351–374
Evidence-based practice (EBP) has been accepted and adopted in many professions and is demanded by the US Government for reasons of accountability. However, EBP has not been widely addressed in educational administration, for two reasons. The first relates to school culture prompting educators to treat 'local, anecdotal knowledge as being more powerful than empirical data', in part due to its perceived relevance to their school contexts. The second relates to the fact that educational administration effectively comprises two different schools, with one practice-based, and the other based on espoused theories. Espoused theory is theory that intends to provide objective judgements, while action or practice-based theory is based on practical insights and values. Because of this disjunct, educational administration programs are not homogenous in the material they teach. Barriers to EBP therefore include practitioners' and researchers' different interpretations of and attitudes toward empirical evidence; difficulty of implementation due to social resistance, inadequate knowledge, inadequate infrastructure; and lack of access to appropriate empirical evidence. Competing definitions and approaches should be addressed to provide a clearer knowledge base and research focus, and administrators should aim to work collaboratively toward evidence-based reform.
Subject HeadingsEducation policy
United States of America (USA)
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