Science goes walkabout
Autumn 2008; Pages 41–43
Savanna Walkabout is an online, interactive learning module developed to introduce students to the ecology of Australia’s northern savannas through inquiry-based learning. Through a range of multimedia resources the program focuses on conservation and biodiversity in the tropical grasslands that account for most of Northern Australia’s land mass. Students take part in a series of learner-centred activities, some of which call for the use of higher-order thinking skills. Students develop their own food webs based on the impact of an introduced plant species and assess the health of waterways and wetlands. They also ‘meet’ online with some of the scientists involved in savanna ecology. In this way young learners are exposed to cutting-edge scientific practice and also to the passion and motivation of researchers in this area. In the final section of the program students participate in real-world field research. They are mentored by principal research scientist Dr John Woinarski and receive detailed feedback from him on their work. Students value the opportunity to conduct real experiments with the knowledge that their results are contributing to scientific understanding of their local environment. Indigenous perspectives are forefronted throughout. Indigenous Australians comprise 29 per cent of the Northern Territory’s population. Under the Land Rights Act, half of the Northern Territory land mass and 85 per cent of the coastline are the responsibility of its Indigenous citizens, a high proportion of whom are under 15 years old. While the module’s learning activities are designed to be relevant to all students, these resources may have specific value to Indigenous students who will be taking responsibility for care of the land. In carrying out their responsibilities it will be increasingly valuable for Indigenous people to have access to Western systems of knowledge. The module was developed by the Northern Territory Department of Education in collaboration with the Tropical Savannas Cooperative Research Centre. All of the Savanna Walkabout resources are freely available online at the Environorth website.
Key Learning AreasScience
Subject HeadingsNorthern Territory
Defining a new curriculum paradigm
Autumn 2008; Page 3
Planning for the forthcoming national curriculum offers an opportunity to examine ways to make maths and science subjects more engaging and relevant for students in terms of both pedagogy and content. At present, much science and mathematics curricula in
Key Learning AreasTechnology
Subject HeadingsCurriculum planning
Taking the lead on curriculum
Volume 87 Number 5, 7 April 2008
The Sector Leaders initiative in New Zealand is designed to help schools implement the country’s new national curriculum by increasing leadership capability and capacity. The sector leaders, mostly principals, are meeting with other principals and school leaders, helping them to prepare professional development plans. The sector leaders are also helping to form professional learning communities across schools. Approximately 100 sector leaders have been appointed so far. All sector leaders are supported by leadership and management advisers. To prepare for the new curriculum schools should begin their curriculum design and review by examining their current educational values, auditing their progress towards effective teaching and inquiry-based learning, and aligning their current practices with the key competencies described under the curriculum. Schools also need to align their curriculum with the educational needs of their own community. By 2010, the new curriculum is expected to form the basis of teaching and learning in English-medium schools, while Te Marautanga o Aotearoa is being developed for Maori-medium settings. Key resources can be downloaded from the New Zealand Curriculum website.
Subject HeadingsNew Zealand
Engaging students around the world
March 2008; Pages 8–13
Promising initiatives to enhance student engagement are taking place in both wealthy and developing countries. In France, the Cycle d’Insertion Professionnelle par Alternance (CIPPA) is a program combining vocational education with booster classes in academic subjects aimed at helping students pass the senior school certificate. The CIPPA focuses on individual student needs. It emphasises aural and visual stimuli which provide for a range of learning styles and also help students who are not native French speakers. Students can undertake philosophy, journalism or literature, linked to professionals in those areas. A 1998 report found that 99 per cent of CIPPA participants moved on successfully to work or further study. In South Africa the Better Life Options program is addressing the devastating impact of AIDS on students' lives and morale. Well-trained student volunteers lead school-based introspection exercises to help other students deal with grief, anger and fear. In Australia, professional dramatists have worked with at-risk 14–16-year-olds at a Melbourne school to produce a play. The artists had to allow for low literacy levels and the challenging emotional demands of the students. The students were able to reconnect with schooling in significant ways, and bonded with the program’s liaison teacher. In South Carolina, USA, a group of rural students have undertaken a community service project in which they helped build a fire station, integrating the study of maths, science, English and VET. Developed countries vary widely in levels of student engagement. Finland, which has has achieved very high levels of student engagement, has free education and highly educated, well-paid and well-respected teachers and, notably, there is no high-stakes testing. In contrast, children in Britain have been identified in a 2007 UNICEF report as the most unhappy in the developed world, second only to those in the USA. Nearly one-third of British youth drop out of or fail in their studies. Britain and the USA are characterised by widening economic inequalities in schools and in society generally; a belief that testing can overcome those inequalities; low expectations of students among educators; and low levels of student motivation.
Retention rates in schools
Project based learning
Inquiry based learning
United States of America (USA)
Student perceptions of IWBs as a teaching and learning medium
Volume 22 Number 2, December 2007; Pages 10–16
A trial of Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) in classrooms for years 5 and 7 at Firbank Grammar School in Victoria has yielded positive results. IWBs combine a computer, a digital projector and a touch-sensitive whiteboard screen that is similar in size to a normal whiteboard. They allow access to all the functions of a computer through a special pen that activates software loaded onto the system. In the 12-month period beginning in mid-2006, 47 IWBs were installed in Prep–12 classrooms
Subject HeadingsEducational innovations
Leadership trends: how should we be preparing our leaders for the future?
February 2008; Pages 53–55
Current research on the top ten trends in business leadership corresponds in many ways to the changing face of school leadership. The article reports on an electronic survey of 247 senior executives around the world, conducted by the American Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL). The most common trend identified by executives was one towards increasing complexity, with 92 per cent of the participants stating that the challenges they face are more complex than those they faced five years ago. Another trend is towards innovative responses to challenges. Innovative companies actively promoted new ideas by devoting work hours to discussing possible innovations, or by setting up an ‘idea listserv’ where all staff can contribute and respond. Virtual leadership was also cited as a new challenge, with executives acknowledging that the skills needed to manage organisations using technology differ from those needed for traditional leadership. Frequent and clear communication emerged as a key virtual leadership skill. An increasing need for collaboration was also an important issue, as was dealing with more frequent interruptions. Both are relevant in a school setting, with principal duties beginning to be spread more widely throughout the staff body. The executives also nominated dealing with the retirement of Baby Boomer employees and addressing leadership succession as current challenges. An increasing trend towards awareness of healthy lifestyle is evident in the business world, with research indicating that executive leaders who exercise are not only healthier but are rated more highly in all leadership categories, including organisation, credibility, leading others and authenticity. Principals, like executives, must also deal with staff who may be less patient and more focused on instant gratification than in the past. The lessons schools can take from this study centre around the importance of consciously developing future leaders. An effort should also be made to identify and support those who are successful collaborators, and to investigate the policies of successful companies such as Google and Apple.
Subject HeadingsSchool leadership
Volume 29 Number 1, Winter 2008; Pages 67–68
Teachers dealing with an increasingly diverse student body must develop cultural proficiency if they are to be sensitive to the needs of students from different cultural backgrounds. A simple four-step program has been designed to help school staff develop the knowledge and cognitive skills needed to become culturally proficient. Stage 1, ‘Raising the issue’, focuses teachers’ awareness on culturally-based inequalities that they may not have previously perceived. In this stage, teachers examine relevant data from their own school. The most familiar area of inequality is in test score discrepancies, but figures for discipline, special education, advanced academic programs, course failures, retention rates and parent participation are also likely to reveal discrepancies. This familiarisation with school-specific figures may be done either as a series of meetings or as a day-long professional development session. A large-group discussion of the data should be conducted, chaired by an experienced facilitator who can offer alternative perspectives without being caught up in arguments. The discussion should have a positive outlook, focusing on possible solutions and previous success stories. Stage 2, ‘Assessing readiness’, is best carried out through staff participation in a cross-cultural simulation such as the commercially available Barnga and Ba’Fa’ or the free Brief Encounters, available from the US Peace Corps. Debriefing after this activity is most important, as this allows teachers to discuss its relevance to their own school situation. The stages that follow Stage 2 should be directed only towards those who are interested and eager to participate. They require participants to critically examine their own personal attitudes and it may be counterproductive to force people to introspect before they are ready. If the program is implemented on a three-year turnaround basis, initially reluctant teachers are more likely to participate in the later years. A subsequent article will describe stages 3 and 4 in more detail.
Subject HeadingsSocial life and customs
Linguaculture in the language classroom
Volume 42 Number 2, November 2007; Pages 4–11
The study of languages benefits from a sociocultural approach in which language and culture are seen as an inseparable 'linguaculture'. Such an approach fits well with the insights offered by some schools of thought within contemporary literacy theory, particularly those related to the ‘new literacies’ approach. With its critical focus, and its emphasis on the role of culture within language, new literacies theory points to the need to understand unfamiliar cultural assumptions and practices when studying second languages. Sociocultural learning theory has gained strength from the support of scholars who draw on the linguistic work of Bakhtin and the psychology of Vygotsky. The sociocultural learning approach contrasts with that taken within traditional forms of second language acquisition (SLA) theory, which rigidly separates language from its cultural context, does not recognise the social aspects of cognition, and often defines language simply in terms of formal rules rather than as a social practice. The sociocultural approach informs the Social Reading Model (SRM), which brings constructivist theories of literacy into the LOTE curriculum. The SRM is a reformulation of Luke and Freebody’s four resources model, and presents ‘a contextualised and culturally connected vision of language’, as recommended in the National Statement for Languages Education in Australian Schools, endorsed by MCEETYA. The article describes a preliminary pilot study of the SRM using a Japanese folktale being read by Year 9 boys at an Independent school, in which the boys were guided to notice the importance of cultural knowledge in understanding the meaning of new words. This form of scaffolded discussion helped the students to see how culture is conveyed through language and to link the abstract grammar rules they learn to meaningful aspects of their own lives.
Key Learning AreasLanguages
Subject HeadingsLanguages other than English (LOTE)
Language and languages
Teaching and learning
Psychology of learning
Factors influencing teachers' professional competence development
Volume 59 Number 4, December 2007; Pages 485–501
A study conducted in two French schools has examined characteristics of teachers and related these qualities to their preferences in terms of professional development. Sixty teachers were interviewed about their educational practices, school environment and attempts they had made to improve their teaching. The group was divided, in accordance with their level of teaching experience, into 21 Beginners (those under 30 and working for less than two years), 24 Experienced (over 35), and 15 others considered Intermediates. They were also grouped a second way, by their level of previous participation in professional development activities. There were 14 'Ordinary' teachers, who had attended only sporadic, compulsory meetings, 21 'Responsible' teachers, who attended many meetings and took part in collaborative teaching projects, and a third, 'Restricted' category with an intermediate level of participation in professional development. Interviews showed that most teachers tend to learn by themselves, with 59 per cent using reflections on classroom activity to improve their teaching. Informal exchanges of ideas with colleagues was nominated by 25 per cent of teachers. Beginning teachers were more likely to evaluate their own classes and informally ask colleagues for advice, while experienced teachers learnt more from formal meetings about educational content and pedagogical methods. Results suggest that formal professional development programs are much more useful for experienced teachers than for early-career teachers. 'Responsible' teachers were more likely than 'Ordinary' teachers to document self-evaluations of their methodologies to reuse later, exchange teaching methodologies with colleagues at other schools and use ICT to diversify their classes. The findings are discussed with reference to two industrial models, the didactique professionnelle (DP) model and the Work Process Knowledge (WPK) model. DP focuses on the cognitive organisation of an individual’s professional knowledge and how it is modified through personal experience and theoretical learning. WPK considers relationships between work experiences, the environment and professional knowledge, emphasising work as a collective activity. The results as interpreted through these two models suggest that professional development programs should focus more on collaborative activity and the collective production of meaning in the workplace.
Subject HeadingsProfessional development
Resilience: helping at-risk students
February 2008; Pages 4–6
Helping at-risk students to develop resilience requires a two-pronged approach. Destructive influences should be addressed, but there should also be a focus on strengthening children’s assets and skills. Resilience in coping with adversity springs from internal assets such as social competence, problem-solving skills, and a sense of purpose and future, as well as from a child’s external assets of family, school and community. In adolescents, approaching problems in ‘problem-solving coping mode’ is important. This involves seeking information or advice and accepting social support. ‘Avoiding coping mode’ is associated with withdrawal, fatalism and avoidance. Studies have revealed gender differences in the developmental pathways of at-risk children. Boys have more serious learning and behaviour problems in their first ten years of life than girls, but this pattern is reversed during the second ten years. The reversal may be due to the increasing social pressures and role expectations faced by young adolescent girls. Controlling aggression is a major problem for adolescent boys, while girls of the same age suffer more from problems of dependency. For both genders, relationships with friends play a very important protective role. Children who have suffered abusive behaviour can be seen as going through four main stages, with the abusive childhood itself followed by a turning point, the development of coping skills, and finally learning to deal with the past. However, groups are not always homogeneous and this process may differ from student to student. Barriers to using students’ strengths to help them overcome difficult situations tend to arise from a conflict between the at-risk paradigm and the resilience paradigm, or between seeing suffering children as victims and as possessing resources that help the child to effectively deal with the situation. If these approaches are merged, balanced early intervention programs can be developed that address risk factors and build protective factors simultaneously.
Subject HeadingsResilience (Psychology)
Premature closure and guided reinvention: a case study in a web-based learning environment
Volume 13 Number 6, December 2007; Pages 565–586
Most models of teacher education consider reflection crucial for professional growth. A case study of one student teacher suggests that barriers to reflection may be stronger than many teacher education programs allow for. The student teacher participated in a web-based program in which two of her classes were videotaped. She was asked to select a segment of the videotape that highlighted an aspect of her teaching that could be improved on. She chose a hostile interaction between herself and three students. She received feedback from two ‘critical friends’, a teaching colleague and her educational supervisor. Though the comments gently pointed out areas for improvement, they did not lead her to change the assumptions that underpinned her unhelpful behaviour. This problem is known as premature closure, where an opening for reflection and growth is not fully realised. To investigate ways to reduce the chance of premature closure, two small-scale experiments were conducted with other student teachers using the same video footage. In one experiment, half of a group of student teachers read information on non-verbal behaviour immediately before they viewed the video. The other members of the group were not shown the information. The comments of those who had been given information were much more specific and insightful than those of the other group. In the second experiment, student teachers wrote about a videotaped interaction from the perspective of one of the students involved. Comments here were also more insightful than in the baseline condition. The study suggests that allowing for reflection cycles, in which problems and solutions are not pre-defined but emerge from a discussion between student teacher and feedback giver, would be advisable in teacher training programs. Structural loops need to be built in at the beginning of the reflection cycle to ensure that possible avenues for teacher growth are not closed off prematurely. Another suggestion is that feedback be anonymous rather than from ‘critical friends’. This would likely show less concerns with politeness and face saving, and would more directly pinpoint opportunities for change and professional growth.
Subject HeadingsTeacher training
The rite way
February 2008; Pages 28–30
Even though the health and wellbeing of boys is currently receiving a substantial amount of attention, there is little evidence to suggest that this is having a tangible effect on boys' academic and social success. This may be partially due to the lack of symbolic initiation rites and ceremonies that mark a child’s passage into adulthood. In our culture, often the only common rite of passage is getting a driver’s licence. However, a number of programs emerging in
Social life and customs
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