Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Teaching Boys in the UK

For the first time in almost 6 months, I think I can say that I'll be teaching soon! I've taken a science job until the middle of July in a school in West London. It looks very different to Tamaki and it will definitely be a new challenge for me, not least because I'll be missing the female dynamic of my classroom - it's a boy's only school!

Now that I've accepted the position I've decided to do some research. 

I went to Scopus database first but it yielded a grand total of zero articles from the broad search terms "teaching boys science" - there appears to be a large gap in the literature there! 

Google Scholar was fine though. I limited my scan to the first five pages of results. I selected articles that mentioned boys achievement, engagement, motivation or perceptions in science in the visible blurbs (not just titles). Then some articles excluded themselves because they wouldn't allow me access.

Then I excluded a final article because it was about homework rather than classroom teaching, which left me with just three articles that I could get full access to without paying anything (see references below).

Article 1:
  • Self-belief and task values are predictors of achievement-related choices. It is not enough to believe that one can do something, one also has to want to do it, to pursue it.  
  • These values can be intrinsic (interest and enjoyment), attainment value (personal importance of succeeding in a particular domain), utility value (how useful the domain is) - these three values would attract someone to a domain - or finally cost value (which would push someone away). 
  • Girls aspired to careers that were not at all mathematics related, while more boys aspired to highly mathematics-related careers. Why?
  • Girls were less interested in maths, thought they were less able (despite equivalent achievement). Higher achievers across both sexes were more interested and thought themselves more able. Those who found it more difficult also considered it less useful and were less interested - catch 22 cycle.
  • Transitioning to secondary school disrupts and negatively impacts both sexes; changes to peers, having multiple teachers, increasing numbers of assessments, and higher curriculum differentiation were barriers. Longer term longitudinal studies show that students do not 'recover' post-transition. 
TLDR: Overall the first article was interesting but not practically useful for how to teach boys science, other than to plan lessons that increase interest and enjoyment, have high expectations, and shows students that what we're learning is useful in the real world - and reduce cost value which may be... their effort? Time? Silence? 

Article 2: all about the construction of masculinity and I stopped reading after 3 pages because I couldn't see the link.

TLDR: Didn't read the second article, it seemed irrelevant.

Article 3: 
  • An overwhelming body of accumulated evidence points to interest in science being formed and fairly set by age 14 (Lindahl, 2007; Murphy & Beggs, 2005; Ormerod & Duckowrth, 1975; The Royal Society, 2006).
  • The findings show that science is seen as only leading to a narrow field of careers by 12-13 year old boys (e.g. "scientist") and as only an option for "brainy" people which (within dominant discourse) is linked to middle-class (not working-class) masculinity.
  • Minority ethnic boys tend to experience particularly problematic relationships and sustained inequalities within the education system. The mainstream educational discourse locates the problematic behavior/attainment being located within the individual or "culture" rather than wider social structures. 
  • Such boys also tend to be placed in lower ability sets at school, which research has associated with providing a less interesting and challenging curriculum, lower teacher expectations, and more likely to be taught by less experienced teacher/with lower subject expertise. 
  • It is therefore unsurprising that these students are less likely to report being engaged by school science.
  • Students across sexes equally reported they would "like to study more science" (about 40% of respondents) or "have a job that uses some science" (28-34%) but only about 14-17% reported they would want to "be a scientist."  
  • The researchers interviewed Year 8 boys and divided them into common categories - two of which reflected boys who like science and who aspire to continue with it post-16 (“young professors” and “cool” footballer scientists) and three who do hold science aspirations but who have varying degrees of interest in or engagement with science (“behaving/achieving” boys, “popular masculinity” boys and “laddish” boys).
  1. Young Professors - the intellectual and academic nature of these boys' identify performances = a pride in and a foreground of high academic achievement, and a comparative lack of interest in popular culture. 
  2. "Cool"/Footballer Scientists - attempting to convey how these boys simultaneously balance their science aspirations with performances of popular masculinity; a fine "balance." 
  3. The "Behaving/Achieving" Boys - their behaviour and achievement are aligned with the values of the school and the education system in general; they were quiet, and often artistic, and their achievement is "good." 
  4. The "Popular Masculinity" Boys trying to produce normative, hegemonic but not extreme versions of masculinity by emphasizing engagement with popular "masculine" leisure activities such as football and video games; they refer to themselves as "normal" and are not excessively academic, liked science but don't want to "be a scientist."
  5. "Laddish" Boys - outside of school the term "laddish" means having a laugh, disruptive behavior, objectifying women and having an interest in pastimes and subjects constructed as masculine, e.g. football. Within schools it's associated with disruptive classroom behaviors, a lack of interest in learning and visible displays of "not working." 
  • "Laddish" boys are particularly unlikely to report enjoying science and the authors suggest that the dichotomy between popular, hegemonic working class masculinity and “brainy,” middle-class masculinity (which is associated with science) makes science aspirations particularly “unthinkable” for these boys. This may also be affected by any narrow views of the potential value of any science qualifications to labour markets they expect to enter, reinforcing that science is "not for me."
Conclusion of authors:
  • The barriers to increasing participation in science are substantial and entrenched. 
  • The researchers interpret their findings as indicating a prevailing belief that science careers are construed as not only male, middle-class and predominantly White/South Asian, but also only for the “clever” (the exceptional few). 
  • To imagine a future for themselves within science, students need to self-identify as “brainy”—an identity which is structurally more difficult for working-class and minority ethnic pupils to occupy due to the social discourse aligning privilege with academic achievement that is obtained through “natural intelligence" rather than effort.
TLDR: Boys from working-class, minority backgrounds need to be shown the value of science for a future they can envisage for themselves; either a shift in their self-belief to loftier aspirations, a growing sense of science being achievable to them, an understanding that intelligence is not fixed, or a link between science and their dreamed-of career paths (Linking to 'attainment value' and 'utility value' mentioned in Article 1). Attitudes to science and identity are quite fixed by age 14 so this should happen before then. 


Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Year 13 University Entrance

Results are in for 2016, when my goal was to increase Year 13 University Entrance in Biology at Tamaki College...

Term 1 felt long and unsettled with student's attention split multiple ways between Polyfest, new student leadership positions, their first internals and the introduction to their end of year Biology exam. It  also took a few filming sessions for me to get into the swing of Class OnAir and for all of us to settle into our rhythms.

We made our way through the first internal about homeostasis and blood glucose regulation, and most of the class at least Achieved (one needed to complete a full resit on osmoregulation but was able to demonstrate much better understanding) with some students setting high standards they continued striving to meet for the rest of the year. 

Term 2 dragged towards it's end, Term 3 disappeared in a flash and Term 4 seemed to barely exist (the same pattern that plays out every school year!) I continued to help students wrestle with new concepts until they understood and were confident with them; sometimes this was a quick process, other times took days of repeatedly returning to concepts in different ways. Occasionally students would look at me in desperation and frustration because they couldn't understand, but the wrestling continued until they could. 

That's what biology learning is sometimes. A battle. Not with me, not between me and the students, but between the students and the new information. Sometimes it is SO new and unfamiliar that it seems the content is equipped with an unfair advantage, and it's my job to give students the basic weapons of scientific vocabulary, an overall schema, or a reference to something they DO already know so they can begin to wage war in their minds, and pull and push the information until it finds it's place in their brains.

Term 3 arrived and I was getting stressed. In an act of lunacy that turned out to be pure genius I gambled on filming four consecutive lessons with Year 13, hoping desperately the filming equipment would cooperate. It so happened that in the week of filming I was introducing students to one of the most complex ideas in our 5 credit exam; biorhythms in plants and animals, which included the photoperiodism mechanism of flowering in plants. 

Filming and editing those four lessons showed me more about my teaching and more about the learning of my students than any other observations, discussions, appraisal meetings or filmed lessons put together. 

For starters, the first lesson filmed that week was the first time in something like... 40 lessons in a row that I had ALL NINE students present in my class, and happily their full attendance also coincided with the introduction of a concept!

This meant when I returned to the concept the next day and we discussed the main idea, went through revision activities, and I extended students onward - EVERYBODY was there at the same point and ready to go. They could build on yesterday's understanding. They could discuss with one another, ask each other questions, and help each other to learn collaboratively and it was just beautiful to see the boys learning together. This amazing sequence of learning was interrupted on the third day when three students were absent for various reasons.

I learned early in my first year of teaching that the building of understanding is not linear, as I arrived believing. I thought that to understand D, one must first learn all of A, then B, before progressing to C and finally mastering D. 

Now I believe the learning of my students to be far more of a spiral. I give them a glimpse of D, to hook their curiosity and show them where we're going. Then we return to the basics of A and build confidence and skill and basic knowledge, before progressing to the more complex B, and maybe venture a little into C during  same lesson. Then we return to A. Then jump to C. Back quickly through A, before spending more time on B and C. Then put it all together in D. If there's time, we return to any of the letters the students are unsure of. Maybe a quick review of A, B, C and D all together, or drawing links between them. 

That means that if students miss a day of A they will be confused, but we will return to it eventually. It will just be harder for them. Harder for me. There will be gaps in their understanding. There will be missing links, lower confidence, and will take more time - both mine and theirs - that is not always available.

Anyway, I digress. The wonderful learning taking place during the week was also interrupted by my giving of an activity outside of student's ZPD on the final day.

Without scaffolding HOW to shape their new understanding into an NCEA-style answer (because there IS a style) I expected students to sit a practice exam question, and chaos and loss of confidence ensued. They weren't filmed but it took another two lessons to build that back up again. As a result my focus in Term 4 shifted slightly to include "the art of exam answering." Moving beyond A, B, C and D, to a skill set allowing them to express that understanding.

Term 4 rolled through like a runaway truck, with some students suddenly realising how close they were to sitting their final exams and entering the unknown world! An extended last-minute (weeks long) push ensued; for some it paid off, for a few it was just too little too late. I hope the successful ones take with them the knowledge that effort is what brings (exam) success, and those who were unsuccessful hopefully learn to try harder and for a more extended period of time the next time they desire something.

Here are the exam results for Plant and Animal Responses to the External Environment AS 91603 - for the first time in four years over 50% of the students in Year 13 Biology gained University Entrance by passing at least 3 internals AND their final 5 credit exam!

Looking back I definitely enjoyed teaching during 2016, both the courses and the curious (and hilarious) students! I wish them all the best for their futures, whatever those may be. :)

Not Achieved

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Manaiakalani Online Secondary Connect

Today I was the guest speaker on a Manaiakalani Google Hangout.

 I was suprised how easy and effective Hangouts were with one person as the MC making sure people's microphones were all off when they weren't speaking, giving time for asking questions, and keeping the discussion moving. 

I spoke about how my sites and visible planning have evolved over the last 3 years. 

I also mentioned Google Class OnAir, and the Spark MIT inquiry I've been doing this year, and where to find my resources, lesson plans and sites.

This video was also on the page I presented, but I left it for anyone to watch it in their own time. Secretly I am quite proud of it! It's a summary of my year of inquiry with Year 13 Biology, focussing on improving University Entrance.

It's 7 minutes 33 but I promise it moves along at a cracking pace :)

We finished the Google Hangout with a collaborative Padlet, asking for tangible suggestions on how collaborative teaching and learning communities could be build up among secondary schools. 

Made with Padlet

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Student Voice and Agency

It's Wednesday afternoon at uLearn and I'm two thirds of the way through my presentations!


Right now I'm sitting in a presentation about student voice and agency.

Here are some things I took away from the session today: 

~  Student voice needs to be recorded to have agency.

~  Never ask "are there any questions?" - because there won't be. Rather say "what IS your question?" It tells student's it's about personalised learning, and that we need them to think. And it's ok to have a think, and then have a question.

~  If it's free, it's for me. 

~  Twitter and to quickly gain student voice, then get them to reply to each other's tweets online too. 

~  Every Thursday period one Stuart starts the lesson with everyone dancing, to a different song each week. Why? Certainly not his idea. He asked the class how to revitalise them and get them ready for class on a Thursday morning - the class said they want to have a boogie. Kids run to class for it! Two rules only: no mocking, and no sitting out - dance to the best of your ability. 

~  Student voice and agency allows teachers to get out of the way of learning. 

And finally, here's the Padlet of everyone who was in the session today, Padlets are so easily embedded!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Hui Reflection Term 3

Today in the hui we each provided five principles that we thought would be important to tell a new teacher about teaching with technology. Then we all went through and analysed the underlying assumption of each given principle. 

Here are my five principles, analysed by the people in the hui for assumptions:



Establish a routine for disconnecting from the technology when you want to communicate with the class (e.g. slant devices, remove headphones, eyes on you etc).
  • that classroom management is important - with or without technology
For introducing or reviewing new content, try to evaluate online videos/interactives/simulations/activities that are able to be paused and rewound, or that provide immediate feedback to students on how they are going.

  • Teachers can inherently spot the learning value in different tools.
  • Teachers know best how to teach.
  • Having learning student-paced helps students learn.
  • Immediate feedback helps students to learn.
  • Teachers have time to wade through the offerings on the web
Pick ONE platform for all of your visible planning/explanations/resources/work distribution and stick to it throughout the year - an online routine or online learning zone. It is VERY confusing to bounce from gmail to bio folder to short links etc to find your work.

  • that teachers have sufficient confidence and courage of their convictions to go with just one and not be swayed by the brighter and better rhetoric
  • that this doesn’t then lock you into something that is old, useless, boring or superseded by something flasher.
  • That students can’t handle different platforms easily
It is just as good to have an online presence on all of the student’s work (having all their docs open, leaving comments and repeatedly cycling through their work) during class time. They know you’re watching and helping.
-that students like feedback
-that teachers appreciate the value of giving feedback
-that feedback is critical to learning
-that students like to be monitored
Use technology to share planning and learning progressions with colleagues in an organised way, as well as recording student data by having links to student work in one place.
  • several teachers are teaching together/ in the same place/ same school/ on same project.
  • teachers believe in sharing information

Monday, 30 May 2016

Hui Reflection Day 1

Today I was at the first day of a two-day hui for the "evolving pedagogies when teaching with digital technologies" project being funded by the University of Auckland.

The main discussion point for this morning is preparing our students for their future. What does that look like and sound like currently, and what does it hope for and assume?

Thoughts about knowledge valued by the school system:
  • Is knowledge still power? We think so, but the nature of knowledge is constantly changing. 
  • What is the power of having knowledge in your head v knowledge in your device, knowing something v knowing how to find out, knowing what you know v knowing when to Google. 
  • The role of the teacher has changed from transmitting to facilitating knowledge building. 

Thoughts about curriculum, choice and learning:
  • Students learn best when they're learning about something they see as interesting or relevant. 
  • Following student interest and passions in learning v forcing students to experience new content (and form neural connections) that the education system has determined to be important.
  • What age is appropriate for students to exclusively follow their existing curiosity and passion, so they are not limited learners later in life?
  • Following on from that, is there a basic level of learning and knowledge that students NEED and would be lost without; for example, are times tables necessary any more? 

Thoughts about other things valued by the school system?
  • Skills required in the workplace such as cooperation.
  • Skills required to succeed in the current economy such as creativity.
  • Dispositions such as curiosity, love of learning and resilience in the face of difficulty.
  • Expanding students' options for their future (whatever that may look like).

Thoughts about teaching:
  • We are in a new age of access; teaching is one of the only careers where professionals consistently work outside of working hours and teachers need to consider when they are available and when they aren't.
  • In schools there seems to be a discord between innovation and mastery; moving always to the next next next idea/tool/programme before teachers can master the last, reducing consistency in their teaching.
  • Collaboration and sharing between teachers/departments/schools could reduce workload.
  • Universities do not model this and instead focus on competition to the detriment of all. 

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Reflection on MIT Inquiry

My Problem: raising Year 13 University Entrance in Biology at Tamaki College.


1. Students of 2016 are often not in biology class for many and varied reasons. Therefore, learning must be available for students online to access in their own time:
  • to catch up
  • to revise
  • to move ahead
Further to that, students must be MOTIVATED to access their learning online.

2. Blogging during the learning of internal assessment content is like walking a tightrope.

This statement from me caused great debate within a few of the 2016 Spark MIT teachers. I said that during internal assessments students blogged during the 'learning' stage; sharing what we had done in class, different activities they completed, any practicals that we did, etc. The example I gave was having students diagnose whether an imaginary patient had Type I or Type II diabetes and share their 'Doctors Chart' online. 

Students can't (on the other hand) share online any information they have analysed, synthesized, or extended from class learning or sources online. These understandings that each student has formed are their own. This distinction was made to minimize the risk of plagiarism, as well as meeting assessment conditions and authenticity requirements.  

Another teacher argued that her art class frequently post their emerging products online for peers to give each other feedback and help; and isn't this the nature of collaboration? I couldn't help but agree with her sentiment. 

However in Biology we assess the understanding of a concept that students are able to put into words and explain, analyse, or link, so to have access to another students' explanations would blur the lines of assessment as it currently stands. 

Term 1 Summary: 

1. I have been using Google Docs to create my visible planning that students can access. I had to explicitly show them that the column on the left is where their learning outcome is written, and the two columns on the right contain activities of different levels. I have used SOLO levels to differentiate the tasks.

Potential challenge: I am unsure whether my class actually understands SOLO levels, or that they are set out to gradually build understanding of a concept. 

2.   I could also be using Google Calendar, or Hapara's new Workspaces on Teacher Dashboard to format my visible planning. 

Potential challenge: I should survey my class as to which format would be the easiest for them to navigate, and which one they would be most likely to access and use to catch up or revise. 

3.   Halfway through learning the internal I surveyed students as to how they were using the visible planning document. I asked students:
  • to describe where they could find my visible planning (all of them could).

Only 1/4 of the students who had accessed it outside of class time had used it to catch up, despite every student in the class missing more than one lesson throughout the term. 

  • did they look at the learning outcomes for the unit?
  • had they used it in another way?

4.  Challenge: due to the amount of time I have lost with this class, I have not asked students to reflect on whether the visible planning was helpful during their assessment, or what I could do better/more/differently to assist their learning. However, one student took the time to respond in their weekend to provide me some feedback (which was really nice of her!) She said:

What worked:
  1. It worked for me because we have done an assessment similar to this one Yr 12.
  2. Youtube videos were more helpful than website.
  3. The topic was pretty interesting that I wanted to learn more about it.
  4. I like that the teacher was always there when I needed feedback or when I think I’m going off topic.

What didn’t:
  1. The time wasn’t long enough for me to do it my research properly.
  2. Didn’t have enough understanding for the topic and what the structure for the assessment will be.
  3. Researching helps but not so much information about the homeostasis whole cycle.
  4. The time of the assessment was not a great, a lot of distraction was on at the time.
  5. Distracted from other assessment and other stuff.
  6. I went off topic most of the time because the topic was quite interesting i guess.

So overall, the website and activities were not so useful (although, this is based off the small sample size of just one student) and perhaps I wasn't clear enough in explanations of content OR the assessment criteria. This is a rather large failing on my part; I thought we had spent plenty of time covering basic homeostasis and different homeostatic systems, but from this student's perspective perhaps I did not.  

I suspect that this student may have found youtube videos more useful during the writing of the assessment because the visible planning document provided links to class activities such as reading simple presentations and answering questions, completing interactive animations, making and placing SOLO hexagons to discuss links between concepts - rather than just providing information to use in the assessment.

The activities were usually completed in class with teacher explanations occurring before, discussions between friends occurring during, and plenty of time for questions to be asked. Perhaps as a stand-alone document this format of visible planning is not as useful for the single solo learner trying to catch up on missed class time? However, it also can't simply provide links to resources for the assessment, as students require understanding before they can begin to understand and process resources online.  

The student did also have some other feedback (to herself!) 

What I would do again if I could?
  1. Definitely my time management because I thought it would be easy so I left it to the last minute to do it.
  2. Search for a lot of information on the internet to get more understanding about the topic.
  3. Take note when the teacher is explaining the topic.

Another point to note from her feedback is around the clarity of assessments. We discussed this at Spark MIT again; isn't that exactly what we wanted when we were time-pressed at university? WHAT do I need to know to succeed? What do I have to DO? So I understand where she is coming from. We are within our boundaries to provide NCEA students with generalized marking schedules, as long as no exemplar judgment statements are included. So I have done that for their current internal, just as University students are providing with marking schedules for their assessments!  

5. Random positive outcome: some students' blogs have been so clear and concise that they can act as resources for students who missed a lesson. Case in point - Sela quickly caught up on the idea of phototropism by reading Rita's blog, and was able to create her own within the same lesson! 

Where to Next: 
  1. Find out what students need in the time that they're with me.
  2. Find out what they need if they're away and need to catch up.
  3. Find out what would motivate students to access the online tool - because success in NCEA may not be enough to overcome any barriers in formatting, clarity, lack of understandable resources etc! 
  4. Will have to survey them after school so as not to remove them from more class time, and will probably provide food to tempt them to stay! 
  5. Upgrade sites with marking schedules. 
  6. Provide time in class to interact with assessment requirements; perhaps have time in class to make own schedules? 
  7. Consider how to swap the format of online planning; back to websites with links and videos and explanations? But then I am explaining content and could potentially just be giving students answers on a plate!