School websites


I pose the above question because I am seeing a rise in popularity for teachers using sites like Mathletics, StudyLadder, MangaHigh and others as part of their learning program for their students. Now I have no axe to grind with these sites as many students do find them engaging and a way to improve their mathematical facts recall but I am concerned that in some cases, these sites are being used as "the maths programme" for the class and/or being used to address the use of technology in the classroom.

I'd love the opinion of a progressive maths educator as to the relative value of a site like Mathletics. My own personal experience with my eldest son is that the activities are easily gamed. My son is lousy at maths but has an excellent memory. He can do a multiple choice activity by trial and error, remembering the correct answer after multiple tries and just keeps restarting the activity until he gets a clear run and a memorised sequence of answers in his head. Now that might be a feat in itself but it does nothing for his understanding - and just cements all the problems that students get when trying to operate in digital abstraction when their needs are still in the physical concrete. But from his teacher's point of view, he is getting 20/20 in the set activities and looks like he has achieved mastery. I have a feeling that many of these sites have the same problem. They present mathematical learning as a correct answer scenario and can only use that data to measure progress. So, a teacher blindly substituting Mathletics (and I keep picking on this site because it is the one I am most familiar with and the one most South Australian schools are prepared to fork over precious dollars to but every education sector in the world would have its equivalents) cannot possibly know if the student is truly demonstrating mathematical learning.

The first part of my question is also part of my issue. Unless you are part of a 1 to 1 laptop school (and that is a privileged minority in the primary school sector) then you have to share fleets of laptops or computing suites with other classes within the school. Technology access is an issue that all schools have to wrestle with - using timetables, rotations and pods to make sure that the available technology is frequently and flexibly used. As we are living in a era where technology gives our students the opportunity to create, construct and reflect, then it makes sense that the majority of the technology access for our students should be devoted to that goal. These sites, in my opinion, don't fit the bill.

Am I the only one who has a problem with these sites? Is part of my problem my inability to communicate to others what the alternative - a research based comparison of city temperatures utilising web data and Excel created by my tandem partner last year with my class springs to mind - might look like?

I thought I'd take the time to highlight a few things that Australian (and in particular South Australian) teachers, schools and students will be grappling with over the next twelve months or so.

The National Curriculum.
The word in the staffroom is that schools will get their first look at the new National Curriculum sometime mid-year. We assume that our schools will continue to be guided by SACSA until we are told otherwise, but part of the new Science initiative, Primary Connections, aligns itself with the coming curriculum and does not translate easily into SACSA outcomes. With Federal dollars behind the big Science and Maths push, all upper primary teachers have been promised three days of PD over the next two years with the Maths release to follow. It does not take much of an Einstein to realise why the 11- 13 year students have been targetted first, rather than training Early Years staff first, as the Governement wants more students entering high school in the next two to three years to be eyeing off and seeking out Maths and Science options in their future education pathways.

The Controversial My School Website
This site has been stirring the pot for a while though even though its main function is yet to be unleashed. The site describes itself as:

The My School website ( provides profiles of almost 10,000 Australian schools that can be searched by the school’s location, sector or name. The website provides statistical and contextual information, as well as NAPLAN ( results that can be compared with results from statistically similar schools across Australia.

The nation's Education Minister is adamant that this information is what parents want to make informed decisions about their child's education as outlined in the Australian today:

Gillard's determination to push ahead with the publication of comparative school performance data - available to parents on a website called My School - has been met with furious opposition from the national education union.

Teachers have threatened to boycott national literacy and numeracy tests unless the federal government bans the publication of league tables. While Gillard does not support league tables, newspapers will be able to create them using the My Schools data.

As Gillard stares down the threats from teachers and in the process entering into a public brawl with the Labor union heartland, she is adamant she has the support of the majority of parents, who welcome greater transparency in school reporting.

Gillard has drawn inspiration for her "revolution in transparency" from New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein, whse reforms linked student progress and performance in literacy and numeracy to teacher evaluation. Under Klein's system, schools are graded from A to D, or F for fail. Schools that score D and F face the possibility of restructure or closure unless they lift student performance.

During a visit to Australia in late 2008 at the invitation of Gillard, Klein said information gave parents the ability and tools to demand higher standards from schools, placing the impetus for reform in the hands of parents "so that parents can raise hell".

Interestingly, school principals have only been given 24 hours prior to the official release to peruse their own school data and "like" schools that they will be compared to before potentially being queried by parents seeking clarification or drawing their own conclusions from the data on show. This will be a hot issue for quite a while yet, depending on differing parties' definition of accountability.

Local News Item Of Interest
This article caught my eye on Monday but really, anyone who finds the findings that children in low socioeconomic areas had the "lowest education outcomes and poorest achievement" to be surprising has not been listening to teachers who work in those disadvantaged areas. Maybe it is nice to see that there is some research out there that confirms what we've suspected all along. That might be small comfort to educators in other parts of the world where they are regularly told otherwise.


I know that many are raving that diigo trumps with its ultra-bookmarking and extra bags of tricks. But for many teachers I work with, is an ideal starting spot for them in the world of social software subverted for educational purposes. It's simple but powerful. Too many bells and whistles just scare nervous teachers away.

We've been trying to build a collegial network of users and I'm pushing the line that sharing favourite sites and links is much easier this way in preference to the email out to all staff with the "Have you seen this?" tagline. We've started using unique tags to tie all of the web links for our inquiry units together but some teachers' eyes still glaze over when we mention phrases like "common tags", "adding fans to your network" and "bundling tags."

Some are uneasy about the public nature of the service.

"It's only websites," supporters say.

But as my colleague and friend, Alex Hayes, has pointed out, a long term or active user of does lay out their entire digital learning history for the world to access.

But the interest is building. Our switched on teacher-librarian has been pushing the social bookmarking barrow enthusiastically and gradually more and more teachers who want to use the internet as a regular part of their learning program are realising that it is impossible to manage 300 + bookmarks in Favorites! But it is weird that a service like which has been around since 2003 is already viewed by many edubloggers as old skool when the vast bulk of teachers are only just becoming aware of the power of this simple but highly effective tool.


Back in 2003, I was part of a PLICT research grant that looked at the relevancy of South Australian School websites to their students. I've always been keen on learning about website design right from using Netscape Composer back in '97 to the various incarnations of FrontPage to the 30 hour DreamWeaver 2004 course I did last year at Thebarton Senior College. I even got our current version of the school website up and running during the April school holidays this year. But there's always been something missing from the very read-only world of most school websites here in South Australia.
At first, I theorised that it was student perspective that was the missing ingredient. That was the basis of the Research Grant where my friend and colleague, Lindsay and I endeavoured to use each others' classes to generate content to fulfil the intentions of the grant application. Well, we weren't the only ones but the research component took a back seat to the project component. So, our final report back to the other Research groups tended to outline timelines, show completed webpages and describe process. And finally, someone asked the question to which we had no answer, "How will you keep your web pages up to date?"
Well, those webpages still need to be updated after two years but now the technology exists to answer that question. A blog powered school website is that answer. I still need to do more research but what Tim Lauer's school Lewis Elementary in Portland, USA does on there on their website is absolutely spot on. Nothing is static, its blog based interface is constantly updated, it has Flickr feeds providing the images, everything is archived for reference. The step that needs to be taken by the vast majority of South Australian schools is a change from the one way, static information site where information dates very easily and one person is resonsible for puttng all together to the read/write variety where all school members can be contributors right from the principal down to the begining reception students. Now that would make it a school website worth checking regularly, and with an rss feed, techno savvy parents can have all of the school's latest stuff "pushed" to them. And those student websites created in late '03 could finally take on some life and meaning.