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