Monthly Archives: February 2011

Via Tom Hoffmann's shared Reader feed came this post with a statistic that caught my eye.

About 80 percent of American teachers, for example, are female; at the elementary school level, nearly 90 percent are women.

I wondered what the stat would look like here in South Australia and the nation in general so I had a quick search. The article I found over on the ABS website focussed on the percentage for males, but I do know enough basic maths to work out that my state has female teachers at 69 percent of the teaching workforce.

The occupation of 'teacher' has historically been seen as a job for women and this predominance is increasing. In 1993 approximately 37% of teaching staff in South Australia were males but by 2009 this proportion had fallen to 31%. Teaching staff, as defined by the National Schools Statistics (NSS) collection conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), includes those in the classroom as well as principals, deputy principals and senior teachers who spend most of their time in administration (ABS 2009). Although results from the NSS collection do not allow for a distinction between males in the classroom and those mainly in positions of 'leadership', findings from 'Staff in Australia's Schools 2007', a project commissioned by the former Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST), suggest that the proportion of male teachers in Australia's primary school classrooms, for example, could be as low as 21% (DEST 2008). Whilst there are many occupations that have a workforce gender bias, debate abounds as to how (or even if) the decline in the number of males in our schools should be addressed. On the one hand there is the commonly held view that males should be encouraged to enter the teaching profession as they provide a much needed positive role-model for children but, on the other side of the equation, is the argument that it is the calibre of teacher that is important irrespective of gender (University of Canberra 1999)

The only national stats I could find were from 2005 which cited female teachers making 76% of the Australian teaching force. This cam from a research pdf (Demand and Supply of  Primary and Secondary School Teachers in Australia) from the Curriculum Corporation website. Quite possibly the statistics have changed since that time to mirror the South Australian trend. It is quite possible that our teaching workforce stats could look very US like in the near future especially as the aging teachers retire.

Just found the comparisons interesting, that's all.


As part of our curriculum renewal around the subject of mathematics, we had a pupil free day that brought author of "Teaching Primary Mathematics", George Booker to our school. As Australian schools move towards the new Australian curriculum, it was a very illuminating day to spend the day with someone who is one of Australia's foremost experts on primary Maths education. Like most days like this, I had grand plans to capture all of my learning on my laptop but a blend of flagging concentration together with frequent hands on activities meant those good intentions trailed off.

The summary for the day went as follows:

This workshop will focus on the number strand, providing a conceptual overview to the processes and knowledge that constitute numeration and in turn underpin computation. Practical activities will focus on the development of concepts and processes and the sequences of development that best produce understanding and proficiency. As well as being important in themselves, these ideas are crucial to building number sense and an ability to solve problems and communicate with and abut mathematics.

George pointed out that his work has been influenced by the work of Jeremy Kilpatrick, referring to his book "Adding It Up".

He firstly posed to us the question, "What is subtraction?" We discussed this in our groups coming up with phrases like "taking away", the "difference", and even "minus". George pointed out that we don’t tell enough stories about Mathematics. All through his morning session he kept making reference to historical events and famous mathematicians, pointing out that it all adds context to what the students are learning. My colleagues and I kept smiling at all the common mentions that connected to the documentary "The Story Of One" we had been watching with our classes over the past week or two. He also pointed that the language we use with the Mathematics classroom matters as well. If we use the terms “plus” and “minus” then we are leading kids away from mathematical concepts. This also means no more references to the traditional four operations - the Aust’n Curriculum now talks about additive thinking and multiplicative thinking and that we need more people to get to the higher level of mathematics. George also pointed out that division is the easiest operation of all but possibly the worst taught...

He took us through all of the concepts he believed should be taught from the Foundation stage (known as Reception in South Australia, but Prep in other states) through the junior primary years. Number and Algebra should take up 60% of what is taught during Mathematics lessons as a solid base in number is key to success in other areas like Geometry, Probability and Statistics. Numeration is understanding the numbers we work with and their properties. George also pointed how to prepare effectively for NAPLAN tests. He didn't advocate "teaching to the test" but emphasised that our students need to know the concepts that are being tested. Firstly, take the bubbles off the questions and get students to work only on the problem. Don't just get last year's question and give that to your class but ensure that you also provide more than the one example. He wisely pointed that only a very few students can get a concept from one example. Finally, put up six bubbles including one for “I don’t know” and “I got a different answer” as well as the 4 regular options. The point is not to get the right answer but to find out what the student is thinking.

When building the foundations, we start with materials in order to see patterns, before introduction to symbols.What turned so many people off from mathematics is being “symbol-minded” in our teaching. An essential skill for students is being able to see amounts without counting - known as subitising. What is a number? We always start with digits 0 to 9, using the ten frame pattern as a useful tool.

George also emphasises thinking and representing numbers in doubles to aid in subitising. This looks like this:

Not like this:

This arrangement forces the student to count each counter individually and does not develop the ability to subitise, while the upper frame clearly shows two equal amounts of four, that can be doubled to eight. Even if it were seven, it could be seen as two amounts of three then add the one remaining which is still embedding a greater sense of number in the student. We also spent quite a lot of time on place value, using popstick bundles and popsticks that students could easily manipulate and "rename" from tens to ones, and back again. He talked us through the correct processes for addition, subtraction and pointed out the phrase "borrowing" or "converting" was just fuel for confusing students - keep it simple and "re-name".

All through the day, he kept referring to the four strands coming from the Jeremy Kilpatrick text. Mathematics has four stage for students to develop in order - (i) conceptual understanding, (ii) fluency, (iii) problem solving and (iv) reasoning. Now, I've only scratched the surface of the day but I'm sure as I delve into his book "Teaching Primary Mathematics", more of what was covered will come to light. In the afternoon, he covered place value for large numbers and linking numeration to computation. A couple of the remnants that surface from my brain include:

Don’t teach rounding off until students can handle 4 digit numbers.
Short division = shortcut to disaster division!

George Booker recommends playing lots of number games to develop fluency, many of them with dice and simple charts.He also showed us through his own CD-ROM games which were developed over five years ago. Now I can never be sure what kids will find engaging, especially as my own sons find some very bizarre and seemingly simplistic games on the web that they find enthralling but gaming graphics and game design moves pretty fast. Some of the games reminded me of animated clip art, and I found myself wondering if George wouldn't benefit from a conversation or ten with Dean Groom to marry the essential maths content to something kids would recognise in 2011 as being game-like. Now that would be something to use in your 1 to 1 classroom!

As we move from our SACSA Maths curriculum (which he posited could not have been written by mathematicians) George mentioned that he was very pleased with Australian Curriculum and things that have been included for the first time explicitly like rounding off decimal numbers. With that recommendation, our staff have the blueprint now to see how mathematical concepts should develop throughout the primary years, a sound "bible" to refer to and a common pathway to reform our own practice effectively.


This is a cool idea. David Schwen on Flickr has a series of type based images depicting sandwiches, obviously common to his part of the world. We see some of these here in Australia but not all. I can't embed his images but I can show my own Australian variations here, quickly created on a Keynote slide and then grabbed to create a image. This could be a good exercise as part of English where the vocabulary replaces the ingredient or component within an overall object. It wouldn't be limited to food either. I can imagine a typographical house with the word "window" outlining the space where windows would go, the word "door" in the slot where the door would go and so on.

Here are my efforts, linked to a pic of the actual food. I'm not making any claim that these are uniquely Australian culinary delights, just that they are typical.




So here's the challenge to anyone who hasn't participated in a blogging meme for a while. Create your own localised type delicacy using this design format and share it around. And while we're at it, let's create a twitter tag for it and see if this idea gains momentum. #typecuisine

Mmmmm ... I feel hungry just looking at these.


I've planned to hold my first class meeting for 2011 tomorrow. In the spirit of our school where we try to find the foremost expert on a topic and model our approach on leading edge practice, I've decided to use the exemplary work of Donna Styles as my model. There is a useful site that links to all of the elements required - agendas, a problem solving model, encouragement techniques and other templates. I like the fact that this approach blends formality with social skills to remind the kids that this is a worthy undertaking where they can contribute and air opinions in a safe way without weighed down by restrictive processes.

Before getting the technology bug, Student Voice was a big interest of mine. Back at Flagstaff Hill Primary I was the staff member responsible for the reconstruction of our Student Representative Council into a Student Voice Committee structure loosely based on the model used at the time by Grange Primary School. My team teaching buddy and I would run these focussed double class meetings where we dispensed with the then current vogue of observers and timekeepers, and modelled ourselves on the formal structure of staff meetings with all conversation directed through an officious chairperson, minutes typed up on a class computer and a complex process of motions, seconders, points for and against, and agenda details. Students had to identify if their item was Information, Discussion or Decision - or it wasn't discussed!

I fostered the concept of student leaders who applied for and were elected to this specific role. They would chair and minute the various Committee meetings around the school. There was an Environment Committee, a Technology Committee, a Graduation Committee, a Grounds Committee and even a Canteen Committee. The leaders were impartial supporters, guiding younger students in the ways of fruitful discussion and clear decision making. I was lucky and had some exceptional leaders who made the whole process hum along. I see a number of them now as successful adults as outlined on their Facebook profiles. I created proformas for the various meetings and the leaders were the tip of the community service pyramid we had going at the school over ten years ago. I even applied for a position as a Coordinator in Student Leadership at a nearby school, gaining an interview but not getting the nod for the final position.

The next year, I saw the job as ICT Coordinator at Lockleys North advertised, applied and turned my back on the issue of Student Voice to focus on my fledgling edtech skills. Over the time here, I've tried to recapture the effective class meeting formula but the part time nature of the job meant that my good intentions ended up being compromised by time pressures and other responsibilities. In 2009, I found the Donna Styles resources on the web and resolved to do a better job. That year started with a fortnight long heatwave that sapped the kids' energy and I know I did not build the base for the structure to stand on its own and for the kids to really see the benefits of the various components in making their classroom a better place. This year I find myself with a great new class who appear to be very receptive to my directions and I want this to be an effective model for all of the Torrens classes if my class lead out and model the Class Meeting approach that Styles advocates.

Class meetings are not just window dressing for a classroom or lip service to the concept of Student Voice - although I've seen more than one classroom teacher sabotage the process so that they could show how these things are a waste of time and effort in my time. But a well run class meeting is a powerful thing. It allows students to take on roles that give them responsible power over their peers, it gives quiet kids a chance to verbalise their ideas and to critique others' point of view in a forum that protects them. Students make a shift over time from raising problems and airing complaints to then planning events and recognising individual and group progress within their classroom. It can teach kids that if they take the time to consult, think through alternatives and consequences, their ideas can start running and take flight. A class meeting can hopefully ignite the realisation that they can make a difference to some one else, to something else, to their community and maybe, in the future, to their world.

So, tomorrow's meeting is the first foundation for a year where I want to foster ownership of their own learning. Using an experienced person's methods should enable me to spend more time fostering the skills and voice of my students instead of re-inventing processes and structures from my prior experiences. classmeetingplans

I started a blog post intending to reflect on the first week of the 2011 school year. I scrubbed that draft last night after staring at the first paragraph for about twenty minutes. It was forced reporting and there were no anecdotes that required documentation in digital format. Perhaps it's too early ... or maybe, this blog is more about my own learning and my ephemeral interests rather than my own impact on the students under my charge.

Daily, the blogs I subscribe bring me new avenues to explore and to connect to. I can browse art and design ideas, shake my head at the insanity that is US education reform or think through potential ideas to bring into my own classroom. I'm lucky enough to work at a school where the professional learning is of a high quality and sometimes, it is draining enough to do that justice without trying to pull in all of the exciting leads I get from the network. We've been implementing Assessment for Learning, are about to delve into mathematics curricular renewal using George Booker's Teaching Primary Mathematics, have our department's Teaching for Effective Learning document at the ready and continue to become better at implementing Inquiry Learning in our classrooms.

So when Dan Meyer points to an outstanding Maths resource, I am interested. But I have to weigh up the benefit to my own practice and the time it will take away from me coming to grips with my own school's choice of maths direction which will be tightly aligned to the incoming Australian Curriculum. And I still owe Dina Strasser a properly worded response in the comments section of this blog post, but I need to delve more deeply and know what I'm supposedly using on a daily basis more deeply before trying to describe the contrasts between her own approach and an approach that we are trying to make an embedded part of my school's operation.

So, if I find something interesting in what I have to come to grips with in my own professional existence, I'll try and blog about it. I'd like to make more of an effort to participate in more online events like K12 Online or even ds106 and I need to be OK with the fact that it may be purely self indulgent on my part and that focussing on that is a viable thing to be documenting. The line between narcissism and sharing can be a very thin one.