Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

Teaching Children about the Solar Eclipse

November 14, 2012


Some great links for teachers and parents courtesy of

NASA Eclipse Home Page
Includes detailed technical information on eclipses past and future.

Mr. Eclipse
An excellent resource for eclipse information, including primers for novices and plenty of eclipse photography.

Eclipse-Chaser/Bob Yen’s WAY OUT Photography
An extensive photo archive of solar eclipses.

Eclipse Chaser
A substantial solar eclipse Web site, including guides to planning a successful eclipse expedition, eclipse photography tips, an “Eclipse Chaser’s Journal,” and a photo gallery.

Total Eclipses of the Sun.
Reminisences of many eclipses, with lots of additional information and links.

Eclipse in a Different Light
Eclipse stories from Mongolia, Turkey, West Africa, and Egypt are told by a professional storyteller in a series of videos. Transcripts of the videos are also provided.

The Eclipse in History
This article from the European Space Agency briefly discusses eclipse legends as well as historical events.

Stanford Solar Center Eclipse Site
An excellent educational resource with classroom activities. Covers general eclipse topics.
A special eclipse site which may be of particular interest to pupils and teachers.

From Core to Corona: Layers of the Sun and The Solar Wind
A pair of sites with lots of intriguing pictures and diagrams explaining fusion and the energy processes in, and relating to, the sun. Greatfor middle- to high-school kids, or the most eager elementary students.

Stanford Solar Center
This site presents a collection of fun educational activities based on Solar Oscillations Investigation (SOI)and Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) data.

Astronomy in Motion: The Sun
A brief story of the sun as a star, plus fun solar activities; best for elementary school use.

Tracking a Solar Storm
How do we know when the next solar storm will affect Earth? Learn the answer to this question and more.

SOHO: The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory
This site for the spacecraft observatory SOHO features live data, mission information, a photo gallery, and classroom resources. One of the instruments aboard SOHO is the LASCO, which blocks the light from the solar disk—creating an artificial eclipse—in order to see the sun’s corona.

Space Weather Prediction Center
This site provides real-time monitoring and forecasting of solar and geophysical events, including current space weather, solar images, and auroral activity.

Helioseismology Tours
Pages from the Stanford SOLAR Center pointing to educational resources relating to helioseismology.

Solar Data Analysis Center
Massive resource from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Includes current solar images and latest events.

Click on the link to read 10 Art Related Games for the Classroom

Click on the link to read 5 Rules for Rewarding Students

Click on the link to read Tips for Engaging the Struggling Learner

Click on the link to read the Phonics debate.

The Education Version of “Moneyball”

December 23, 2011

The continued debate between private and public school funding tires me out. I am a big believer of a well-funded (i.e. wisely funded) public school sector as well as a thriving private school sector. There is no reason why parents can’t be given choice and why supporting private schools must come at the expense of quality public education.

This is where the “Moneyball” analogy fits in.

Moneyball is the true story of Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane. Oakland is severly restricted due to the lowest salary constraints in baseball. Winning means beating teams with much better infrastructure and player payment capacities. Billy is presented with the unenviable task of finding a winning team with the miniscule budget offered. Together with a Harvard economics major, a system is devised that uses statistical data to analyse and value players they pick for the team.

Public schools need to take the same approach. Just like the big baseball teams of the time, plenty of money is spent on public schools, but much of it is wasted money. I look at education in a very traditional way. Whilst it is ideal to have the best sporting fields, technologies and building designs, none of these ingredients has been proven to be essential for teaching and learning the curriculum. The school across the road may be able to give each child their own i-Pad, but that shouldn’t explain a marked difference in maths, science or english results. A teacher should be able to deliver on the curriculum with or without such devices.

Whilst many get worked up when Governments subsidise private schools, there is a good reason why they do it.

1. It takes billions off the budget bottom line. This saves Governments money, resulting in reduced taxes and smaller class sizes in public schools.

2. It allows private schools to lower their fees. This is crucial for parents who are by no means wealthy, but are prepared to scrimp and save (and sometimes take on multiple jobs and a second mortgage) to get their children into private schools. These people should be commended. They work long hours, weekends, give up overseas travel and big screen TV’s, just to give their kids the best education possible. Government subsidies allow that to happen.

In Australia, the Government gives $13,000 to every public school per student. Private schools get $5,000. Factor in to the equation that many private schools are not elite schools with truck loads of money and resources (I work in such a private school, where I earn considerably less than a public school teacher), and you realise that the subsidy shouldn’t detract from a thriving public education system.

By constantly drawing attention to private schools, we risk bringing the private school system down to the public level. What we should be doing instead is trying to get the public school system improved to the level where it gives its private school equivalent a run for its money. That way, you have a private school that sets the bar for top quality education and a public school system that is structured to be able to go toe-to-toe with them based on prudent spending, good decision-making and a workforce of supported and fairly paid teachers.

The Stigma of the School Dropout is Sometimes Unfair

November 28, 2011

For some reason, society seems to have an issue with “dropouts” who choose a trade over completing high school.  Whilst I am not in favour of someone chosing to drop out without a legitimate Plan B, I highly respect people who make the choice to become plumbers, builders and electricians, even when it’s at the expense of finishing high school.

Australia’s Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, is right to push for the opening of trade schools in preference to virtually paying students off for completing school. School and University is not for everyone. There are teenagers much more adept at taking on a practical trade than writing essays, working through trigonometry problems and making sense of chemistry.

Paying students just to finish school (it’s the parents that get the money) achieves a lot less than it sounds. Often it doesn’t translate into higher education training and it doesn’t guarantee that there will be marked differences in the takeup of the dole.

Mr Abbott wants to investigate a return to the former Coalition Government’s scheme for technical high schools and school-based apprenticeships.

Mr Abbott declined to endorse a Labor Government election promise to pay families $4000 to help keep teenagers in school longer, saying the spending would have to be appropriately targeted.

“The other point I want to make is that it’s all very well keeping kids at school past year 10 but they’ve got to be the right kids being kept at school past year 10,” Mr Abbott told Sydney radio 2UE.

“A lot of kids would probably be better off in the long run leaving school at year 10 and getting an apprenticeship rather than staying on doing an academic or quasi-academic time at school when in the end it’s the practical trades that we need.

“I mean, one of the great initiatives of the Howard Government was to try to foster these school based apprenticeships to try to get back to a considerable extent towards, if you like, technical high schools.

“And I guess I’d want to carefully study this and make sure that the right kids are getting the money and that we really were keeping the right kids at school because if you’ve got the wrong kids at school it can end up like a glorified occupational therapy basically.”

He told reporters later: “It’s important that some kids stay at school and go on to university, it’s also important that other kids get a good technical education.”

I don’t like the “pigeonhole” mentality society seems to employ. Such thinking makes it hard for people to take different routes and make changes that are right for them. The popular opinion isn’t always the right one for the individual. All countries need active and educated members of society, but they also need good tradespeople.
School is not for everyone. If you have a passion for a trade, don’t hesitate, go for it!

Proposal to Adopt Shooting as Part of the Curriculum

October 4, 2011

“Where did you learn to shoot like that?”

“I learnt it at school.”

I have long said that there is rampant extremism in our educational system.  Educational thinking lacks balance and is certainly devoid of common sense.  Too often good intentions become crazy ideas because they are taken too far.

To read that the New South Wales Education Department would even consider for a brief moment a proposal to bring target shooting into schools just made me shake my head in disbelief.  Of all the stupid, irresponsible, insane ideas (and there’s too many of them to count), this one surely takes the cake:

High school students could be allowed to shoot guns during school hours under a plan by the NSW Education Department.

An internal department submission has revealed an advanced plan to allow target shooting into extra-curricular programs at the state’s 650 high schools, The Daily Telegraph reported on Tuesday.

It comes after the department consulted the NSW Shooters and Fishers Party and shooters associations about how to roll out target shooting into schools.

Deputy director-general schools Gregory Prior said the department was yet to make a decision about the issue.

Readers in the US might not flinch at such a program, but we in Australia do not have the right to bear arms in our constitution.  As a matter of fact, being in possession of a firearm is illegal.  Why on earth would we want to encourage in any way, shape or form the use of guns?

Sure it would engage disillusioned students.  It would be an absolute hit, I have no doubt about that.  But what kind of message would you be sendin?  Ask the kind folks of Columbine whether they think this initiative has merit.

Why can’t they think of responsible and productive ways to engage students?  Why does educational thinking continue to lean towards the radical instead of the sensible?

The Classroom of the Future

September 11, 2011

The Australian has an interesting examination on a method of teaching that is starting to become quite popular.  It is known by several names such as “agile learning” and “personal learning”, and it is the polar opposite from the orthodox “chalk and talk” method of teaching.

Below is an excerpt of the article:

None of that happens at Our Lady of Lourdes, in Seven Hills, in part because the number of children flowing into the room hasn’t stopped at 30, or 35, or even at 50. On the contrary, the average “class size” is 120. The children here aren’t even required to sit in a certain seat or face the front of the room, in part because there isn’t really a “front” of the room. In fact, the school doesn’t have any four-walled classrooms. It has large, well-designed “learning spaces” with bits of wall here and there. There are no desks as such; there are round tables with tub chairs, an L-shaped lounge with scatter cushions, a tall table with hydraulic bar stools and a comfy, carpeted area designed for children who want to sprawl on the floor. “It probably looks nothing like the classrooms you knew as a child,” says principal Steven Jones.

That’s for sure. What lesson could these students – some of whom are tapping away at Apple Macs, some of whom are lying on their stomachs with their heads in books, some of whom are actually headed outside – possibly be taking? “I believe it’s ‘maths’,” he says, wiggling two fingers from each hand near his ears to signal that he doesn’t mean “maths” like you and I do. “But we don’t really have ‘lessons’. We teach the curriculum, but not in the way you would remember. The days where the teacher would stand there saying, ‘Everyone sit down and listen to me’, they’re gone.”

To be clear: the curriculum stays the same – all Australian schools are required to teach certain things – it’s how the children go about learning that is changing. Teachers work in groups, not to pour information into their students but to guide them as they set about finding things out for themselves. The rules for student behaviour in these spaces differ between schools. In some cases, children are free to get a snack from their bags; in others, they can roam from one part of the space to another or take their work outside.

Whilst I enjoy witnessing change in educational methods (as anything broken requires fixing), I worry about replacing one philosophy with its polar opposite.  In my view, every child is different and needs to be catered for according to the skills, learning styles and qualities they posses.  Some will thrive in a self-directed environment, some will need rigid routines, some will enjoy having freedoms and some will need imposed discipline.

I find myself tinkering my style to suit different classes and different students.  That’s my duty.  If I teach all classes and students in the same style, I will get nowhere.  But from my experience, it isn’t about revolutionary change but rather minor, incremental change.

My gut feeling with this new innovation is that when we have some real data about its effectiveness we will find that it works brilliantly for some students whilst failing to ignite others.

Which was basically the problem this method sought to address.

Education on Climate Change, Not Scare Tactics

July 10, 2011

No matter how strongly teachers may feel on the subject of climate change, there is no place for scare tactics in a Primary classroom.

PRIMARY school children are being terrified by lessons claiming climate change will bring “death, injury and destruction” to the world unless they take action.

On the eve of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s carbon tax package announcement, psychologists and scientists said the lessons were alarmist, created unneeded anxiety among school children and endangered their mental health.

Climate change as a “Doomsday scenario” is being taught in classrooms across Australia.

Resource material produced by the Gillard government for primary school teachers and students states climate change will cause “devastating disasters”.

Australian National University’s Centre for the Public Awareness of Science director Dr Sue Stocklmayer said climate change had been portrayed as “Doomsday scenarios with no way out”.

The fear campaign must stop.  It is a manipulative and immature tactic by a desperate Government.  Our job as educators is to empower and motivate not scare our students senseless.

I refuse to teach Government resource material that has the potential to frighten my students.

Helping Our Children Make Sense of Natural Disasters

March 16, 2011

Below is an article from Michael Grose’s Insight on how we can help our children cope with Natural disasters. After last week’s catastrophe in Japan, the earthquake in Christchurch and the floods in Australia, I thought it was timely to make educators aware of it.

Help your children make sense of natural disasters

By Michael Grose

The Queensland floods and the Victorian bushfires continue to wreak incredible havoc on so many people’s lives and will no doubt leave an indelible imprint on our collective psyches. These two natural disasters will be brought into our living rooms via the media over the coming days and weeks.

As adults we all want our children to live carefree lives and keep them from the pain and even horror of tragedies such as natural disasters. In reality we can’t do this.

So what is a parent, teacher, or other caring adult to do when the natural disasters fills the airwaves and the consciousness of society? Here are some ideas:

  1. Reassure children that they are safe. The consistency of the images can be frightening for young children who don’t understand the notion of distance and have difficulty distinguishing between reality and fiction. Let them know that while this event is indeed happening it will not affect them directly.
  2. Be available and ‘askable’. Let kids know that it is okay to talk about the unpleasant events. Listen to what they think and feel. By listening, you can find out if they have misunderstandings, and you can learn more about the support that they need. You do not need to explain more than they are ready to hear, but be willing to answer their questions.
  3. Help children process what they see and hear, particularly through television. Children are good observers but can be poor interpreters of events that are out of their level of understanding. Sit with them. Ask them questions to ascertain their understanding.
  4. Support children’s concerns for others. They may have genuine concerns for the suffering that will occur and they may need an outlet for those concerns. It is heart-warming to see this empathy in children for the concerns of others.
  5. Let them explore feelings beyond fear. Many children may feel sad or even angry with these events so let them express the full range of emotions. They may feel sadder for the loss of wildlife, than for loss of human life, which is impersonal for them.
  6. Help children and young people find a legitimate course of action if they wish. Action is a great antidote to stress and anxiety so finding simple ways to help, including donating some pocket money can assist kids to cope and teaches them to contribute.
  7. Avoid keeping the television on all the time. The visual nature of the media means that images are repeated over and over, which can be both distressing to some and desensitizing to others.
  8. Be aware of your own actions. Children will take their cues from you and if they see you focusing on it in an unhealthy way then they will focus on it too. Let them know that it is happening but it should not dominate their lives.
  9. Take action yourself. Children who know their parents, teachers, or other significant caregivers are working to make a difference feel hope. They feel safer and more positive about the future. So do something. It will make you feel more hopeful, too. And hope is one of the most valuable gifts we can give children and ourselves.

Children’s worlds can be affected in ways that we can’t even conceive of so adults need to be both sensitive to children’s needs and mindful of what they say and how they act in front of children.

In difficult times, it is worth remembering what adults and children need most are each other.

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