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2015 Principal’s Sabbatical Report “Singapore Mathematics”

2015 Principal’s Sabbatical Report “Singapore Mathematics”
By Wayne Bainbridge

Singapore Maths is used by the top four consistent math nations in the world, as measured by TIMSS (Trends in International Maths and Science Study) – Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan. Since its development in the late eighties, and its revision in 1992, Singapore has surged to the top of the world maths achievement and also severely reduced its underachievement tail. It is used in a number of countries on a school by school basis and in the United States by private schools, charter schools and homeschoolers. In 2014, an Australian version was launched in Australia, titled Prime Maths and made available in New Zealand in 2015.

How does it differ?

  • Concepts are introduced at an earlier age and covered in depth till mastery.
  • Fewer topics are covered in greater depth.
  • It is marketed as a complete package with a teacher’s book, course book and practice book.
  • It is sequentially based on previous knowledge and mastery.
  • Teacher’s professional learning is embedded within the teacher’s book and course book, plus the Bar Model Method “Mathematical Problem Solving”.
  • Problem solving is central for teaching and learning.
  • It is a ‘cook book’ package which provides a consistent pedagogy which covers topics in depth leading to mastery.
  • The teacher’s guide includes comprehensive lesson plans with notes to support each page in the student books to show teachers how to effectively teach each lesson.
  • The concrete materials for manipulative learning are as simple as paper clips and ice block sticks.
  • Each chapter of the books has a review which provides summative assessment.

The New Zealand Scenario
The TIMSS Year 4 results between 1995 – 2011 show that while the results in Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea all went up, Australia rose then plateaued, the New Zealand scores actually declined between 2003 and 2011.

singmaths1

Many New Zealand teachers became disillusioned by frequent changes to the Numeracy Project, rewriting of booklets and changes in testing. Many expressed the view that maths in New Zealand had been ‘dumbed down’. Mathematical concepts previously introduced in primary schools were delayed till intermediate or even secondary level, such as fractions, long multiplication, division and the use of algorithms.

Our approach has been described as a scattergun approach with the same topic spread out across different years, rather than being covered in depth to mastery. Scholastic, publishers of Prime Maths, believe Singapore introduces mathematical concepts from one to three years earlier than New Zealand and Australian schools.

singmaths2

New Zealand teachers feel unsupported in their maths learning and fall back on a variety of online resources which they need to search, download and incorporate into their planning which takes considerable time and effort. Because Singapore Maths is a complete package including professional knowledge, planning and summative review it is clearly advantageous. The publishers commissioned Lester Flockton to prepare a comparison between New Zealand curriculum objectives in relations to Prime (Singapore Maths) objectives to show how the latter fits into the New Zealand Maths Curriculum.

Underpinning Principles

The Primary Mathematics Teaching and Learning Syllabus: Singapore Ministry of Education 2012 clearly outlines the philosophical underpinning of Singapore Maths.

Principle 1

Teaching is for learning; learning is for understanding; understanding is for reasoning and applying and, ultimately problem solving.

Principle 2

Teaching should build on students’ knowledge; take cognisance of students’ interests and experiences; and engage them in active and reflective learning.

The Singapore Ministry of Education firmly believes teachers need support to deliver the curriculum and this is built into the course books used. The two underlying principles are expanded upon.

Teaching Principle 1: Problem Solving

“The learning of mathematics should focus on understanding, not just recall of facts or reproduction of procedures. Understanding is necessary for deep learning and mastery. Only with understanding can students be able to reason mathematically and apply mathematics to solve a range of problems. After all, problem solving is the focus of the mathematics curriculum.”

Principle 2:

“Mathematics is a hierarchical subject. Without understanding of pre-requisite knowledge, foundation will be weak and learning will be shallow. It is important for teachers to check on students’ understanding before introducing new concepts and skills.”

The teaching of problem solving is well illustrated by the following extract from Prime Course book 2 – after 3 years at school. Note the scaffolding:

Sample from PRIME Course book 2A, Chapter 2, Addition and Subtraction without Regrouping, Pg40
Sample from PRIME Course book 2A, Chapter 2, Addition and Subtraction without Regrouping, Pg40

Some factors which may contribute to the success of Singapore Maths in Singapore

    • Children don’t start school until they are seven, so may be ‘more ready’ for formal learning.
    • Teaching is a highly respected and well paid profession in Singapore.
    • Teachers are entitled to 100 hours of low cost or no cost professional development each year (but not necessarily release based).
    • All teachers are trained at the one site, the National institute of Education.
    • Singapore has performance pay.
    • Like many Asian countries, teachers and schools in Singapore are both highly respected and highly supported. With no social welfare systems, a parents ‘pension’ or post retirement living is somewhat dependent on the success of their child or children. Parents support their children’s education, after school tutoring is the norm, complaints are rare, any disciplinary issue is well supported by parents.
    • There is an expectation that children will do well and parents make sacrifices to ensure their child’s success.
    • Attendance at parent interviews is usually 100%.
    • ICT to support learning is provided.

In such a positively supportive environment, with a well-trained, well respected and well paid teacher workforce, the ‘complete package’ provided by Singapore Maths is perhaps more likely to be successful then it might be in countries like New Zealand and Australia which don’t have the advantages of strong societal support and respect for teachers and schools. Teachers speak with respect and pride of the support they get from their Minister and their Ministry. The present Prime Minister Hsien Loong Lee was formerly Education Minister (note; Singapore is virtually a one party state with high conformity to societal norms. Dissent is not normal).

What does a Singapore Maths lesson look like?

It looks remarkably like a New Zealand classroom lesson although classroom decorum and teacher interaction are a little more formal. In junior levels, a lot of use is made of concrete materials – plastic beads, paper clips, ice block sticks etc. There is an emphasis on children working together and children learning from each other. No doubt, some teachers may be textbook bound but those I saw ‘roved’ as in New Zealand classrooms working with individual groups while the other groups collaborated and problem solved together. Incidentally, class sizes are larger than in New Zealand with classes up to 40 students, the same size as I saw in Shanghai and Beijing.

Much is made about the reliance in Asian countries on textbooks. In the Singapore context, textbooks were used as an adjunct to the learning. The lesson started with a ‘Headworx’ type exercise of patterning, counting on, counting back and a reminder of yesterday’s lesson.

Three groups were operating but the teacher intends to move to four groups:

Group One worked on a follow up from yesterday’s lesson using the practice book.

Group Two worked on a game, then another follow up activity (but not book based).

Group Three worked with the teacher using the course book and were directed to tomorrow’s follow up activity from the practice book.

When I asked the teacher what was the most useful part of the approach and materials, she was a little perplexed because this was all she had known. However, when prompted she felt the consistent lay out of the books with a review section ‘Let’s Remember’ at the beginning of each

topic chapter; explicit learning intentions for each lesson; ‘Let’s Do’ which is a learning section done with the teacher followed by ‘Let’s Do’ practical application and then solving word problems. The consistency of each lesson based on the structure of the book have familiarity and confidence to the children. They could also use the language of instruction very well. The lesson was similar to a New Zealand style lesson and the textbook was used as part of the follow up range of activities.

Because of the haphazard nature of the New Zealand mathematics curriculum, the lack of coherent resources and in my opinion, poor pre-entry training leading to limited teacher mathematical knowledge, the structured ‘package’ approach provided by Singapore Maths with emphasis on in- built teacher knowledge, strongly suggest that this resource should be more closely evaluated by the New Zealand Ministry of Education, with a view to its introduction and implementation into New Zealand primary schools.

References

  1. Flockton, L. (n.d.). PRIME Mathematics and the New Zealand Curriculum. Retrieved from http://scholastic.co.nz/schools/teaching/pdfs/PRIME_Maths_in_the_NZ_context_Lester_Flockt on.pdf
  2. Lightfoot, L. (2009, July 2). Box clever: Singapore’s magic formulas for maths success. The Independent.
  3. PRIME Mathematics : Teacher Guide, Course Book, Practice Book. (2014). Singapore: Scholastic.
  4. Yoong Wong, K., & Hoe Lee, N. (2009). Singapore education and mathematics curriculum. Mathematics Education, The Singapore Journey world Scientific Publishing.
  5. Yueh Mei, L., & Vei Li, S. (2014) Mathematical Problem Solving – The Bar Model Method: A Professional Learning Workbook on the Key Problem Solving Strategy Used by Global Top Performer (Prime Professional Learning). Singapore: Scholastic.

Principals Delegation to China

A brief report on the Principals Delegation to China, September 2014
By Wayne Bainbridge

1. Reflections on China:
− Size.
− Scale.
− Wealth.
− Enormous Potential for New Zealand.
− That every child is a wanted child.
− Efficiency.
− Order and discipline.
− Protection of heritage.
− The apparent optimism of young people – western lifestyles, consumer drives etc.
− Internet dodgy on busy mornings.
− A country of extremes.
− Shanghai: City of Love.
− Families mean a lot.
− Highlights would be Tongli Water Village and the Great Wall of China, and on a personal interest note, the Shanghai Art Museum.

2. Reflections on Chinese Education:
− It is free!
− It is valued and supported.
− Parents respect school and teachers.
− The best schools are amazing and are at least a model for what is possible.
− Every parent attends parent interviews – it is the norm.
− Many schools honour their past with school museums.
− Schools are refurbished every 7 years.
− The principal is the absolute authority in the school.
− There is order and discipline.
− Class sizes are large – up to 40 but we heard of examples up to 70.
− In high schools, doing extra voluntary hours is normal.
− There is no MLE in China.
− Teaching is very formal. Children stand to say good morning and good bye. The teacher asks the child to stand to answer a question. Very rigid classrooms.
− The predominant pedagogy is that of oracy based on teacher input, a question, the child rephrasing the question, then answering it and then the teacher questioning for deeper understanding. Text books underpin the lesson used as a summary at the end.
− The best teachers demonstrated personality, passion, engagement and energy.

3. School Action Steps:
− Refine and strengthen Mandarin teaching within the school.
− Add after school class option.
− Begin Chinese cultural group – purchase uniforms and dragon lion costume.
− Search for a sister school.
− Develop Mandarin word charts for classrooms.

4. Acknowledgements:
Sincere thanks to Matipo Primary School Board of Trustees for supporting my visit and contributing to the airfare.
Absolute thanks to Confucius Institute, Haban and Fudan Universities for organising and funding the internal China programme.
Personal thanks to Janine Chin for the care and organization of the delegation and really going beyond reasonable expectation to ensure the success of the delegation.

Be Careful What You Wish For

By Wayne Bainbridge

In November 2013, there was great debate and hysteria in New Zealand on a big slippage in New Zealand’s PISA rankings and much ill-informed comment on our comparative standings, especially with ‘countries’ in Asia. PISA is a 3 yearly survey carried out by the OECD to compare the educational performance of member countries, in science, maths and reading of 15 year old school studies (Programme for International Student Achievement).

The ‘countries’ which led the OECD world were Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Korea. Shanghai and Hong Kong are not countries but cities and shouldn’t be compared with countries. Both are strong economies with a strong emphasis on education. When I asked Andreas Schleicher, the deputy director of PISA, why PISA included cities like Shanghai he replied that was the only place in China that they could get reliable data. The supposition is that the national data for China, if available would be significantly poorer. (Incidentally, the 2013 PISA report also attributed 21% of educational achievement was due to the strength of the economy in that setting). The 2006 darlings of PISA performance, Finland had all but dropped off the top performing national ladder in 2013. Closer examination of Finland’s data post 2006 found that Finland excluded indigenous and special education pupils from their data.

Time Magazine (Dec 4 2013) summarized the absurdity of the PISA ranking of Shanghai under the headline ‘China is Cheating the World Student Ranking System’. “Beijing must supply national data …..and not simply the results of a small majority of elite students’. Students in Shanghai and Hong Kong are better educated than students in the rest of China”

Fact: 84% of Shanghai high school graduates go to university compared with just 24% nationally. (Tom Loveless, Brookings Institute).
Many in Western countries including New Zealand immediately jumped on the bandwagon that Asian education was better and we had much to learn from the Asian region. Those advocating this sentiment need to consider the educational environment prevalent in Asia.
* Entry to teacher training is at Masters degree level.
* Huge government investment in on-going teacher Inservice and IT provision.
* Societal valuing and support of education and teachers. Truancy rare.
* Special needs children often excluded.
* Huge parental investment in education and extra curricula tutoring.
* Little arts, sport, music and creativity as part of school curriculum.
* High stigmatization of academic failure.
* With the exception of Singapore, the other Asian leaders tend to be mono-cultural. All the Asian leaders are very disciplined societies and without a social welfare system. Education success is a crucial motivator to economic success in such environments.

So what would be the implications for New Zealand for those advocating we adopt Asian practices?

The most obvious ones would be that entry to teacher training would require Masters Level. The government would invest heavily in ongoing teacher Inservice and would probably require a minimum number of “inservicing credits” for renewal of teacher registration. We would probably follow suit and exclude special education children from our data. These are all easy to implement.

The harder issues are more long term and would require really brave government actions which would be politically unpopular. We need to bring about societal changes creating a more disciplined, respectful society. This would require changes in law and order with a more punitive approach but with a corresponding strengthening of the economy with government investment in jobs and job creation and raising the income levels of lower income families. It would require a complete re-think of the place of social welfare such that becoming long term unemployment (or never employed) or going on the DPB would no longer be career options.

The status of education and its role in leading to decent employment prospects would bring about greater respect and valuing of education.
In reality, the societal changes will never happen because no government would have the balls or the tenure to make it happen. Thus those who advocate we adopt Asian educational practices, need to look at the environment they exist in and be careful of what they wish for.

Germ Warfare

There is a worldwide education trend known as the Global Education Reform Movement. It is not based on educational need nor is it driven by research-based educational theory. Rather, it is driven by political rhetoric and expediency. Its philosophy is embedded in cost saving and privatisation of education as governments seek to devolve from direct responsibility for provision of high quality public education.

The rationale of governments around the world is that it’s purpose is to improve educational outcome and standards – laudable to the extreme but is the methodology proven and will it success in its purpose? Internationally, the GERM virus is characterised by prescribing more competition between schools and school systems. Private school, charter school, secondary school academies (England), league tables (NCEA, National Standards). It is based on a market philosophy that competition between schools and school systems will raise achievement.

Accompanying this is the notion of school inspections and associated ratings, standardised testing of children and performance pay for teachers. The Finnish example (number one as the world’s best education nation for the last 10 years) is contrary to the concept of competition as a means of improving performance.

School choice is seen as a means of increasing competition and allowing parents to access high quality education for their children. Yes it does for a relatively small number of wealthy and predominantly white parents. Of course the quality of education for carefully screened and selected pupils with engaged and highly driven parents paying $12,000 – $20,000 per year fees plus laptops, sports coaching fees, overseas tours and the like will be better than that provided by open access state schools.

In New Zealand, the newly promoted charter schools will not have to employ trained registered teachers nor will National Standards apply.

Standardised testing worldwide has seen schools teach to the test (11 + exam in England for the last 30 years) and causing schools to narrow the curriculum to concentrate on reading, writing, and maths. Arts, science, sport and social science become casualties. In some countries, standardised test results are linked to performance pay.

The Finnish system is based simply on equity in education – to provide a strong public education system where all children have access to good schools. All schools are equally provided for without a system of “haves and have not’s”.

Teaching is a hugely regarded profession with strong competition to enter teacher training with a Masters level entry qualification. The notion of competition and standardisation testing and competitive models is non-existent. Finnish teachers enjoy antonomy, professional trust and public respect. The Finnish government invests 30 times more in professional development of teachers then it does in testing pupils. They have adopted proven best practices from around the world. Pasi Galberg, the internationally renowned Finnish educator puts it well, “Without strong public schools, our nations and communities are poorly equipped to value humanity, equality and democracy. I think we should not educate children to be similar according to a standardised metric but help them discover their own talents and teach them to be different. Diversity is richness in humanity and a condition for innovation”.

School Underachievement; the Great New Zealand Myth

In New Zealand, there is frequent mention made of our ‘long tail’ of educational underachievement – 20% of the school population.  Schools are exhorted to do better, to work harder, to design intervention strategies and to apply National Standards as a means of positive intervention.

At Matipo Primary School (Decile 6, 410 pupils) over the last three years 92% of children right across the school, achieve at or above the National Standard in Reading. In mathematics, it is 85%.  We report separately on all cohort groups; boys, girls, Maori and Pacific.  There is little variation between boys and girls and Maori pupils generally out perform all the other cohort groups.  Pacific children consistently underperform against all the other cohort groups (when they start school their achievement gap is at the widest point, when they leave it has narrowed markedly.  In other words, school makes a difference).

We have had a number of requests to visit the school to see why Maori kids do so well here and what ‘special things’ we must do to facilitate their success.  In essence, we do nothing special.  As a school we are strong on engagement, expectation, personalizing learning, structure, routine and striving for excellence and achievement, encouragement and recognition of success in all areas.  The reason is that most of them come from two parent, employed, middle income families.  Conversely, our Pacific children come from low income backgrounds.  Because of such, they live in overcrowded, shared homes with little money to ensure adequate warmth, nutrition, health care and everyday incidental learning experiences like going for a drive to the mall or the supermarket.  They tend to come from homes without books.

The great New Zealand myth is that school underachievement is caused by failing schools and teachers.  The real truth is that it is caused by poverty and indirectly by successive government policy.  Underachievement has nothing to do with ethnicity and everything to do with socio economic status, income and poverty.

New Zealand has very high rates of child poverty, certainly amongst the OECD countries – reckoned to be between 16-20%.  Paula Rebstock’s Welfare Working Group Report linked child poverty to households dependent on benefits.  One in five New Zealand children live in a welfare dependent household.  Robstock quotes the OECD repeatedly pointing out that if New Zealand could foucs on lifting the sole parent employment rate, it would substantially improve the child poverty rate.

My premise is that if New Zealand governments wish to improve our 20% school achievement tail, then they need to radically improve and reform the economy.  New Zealand is a low wage economy with encouragement to remain so, to be internationally competitive on world markets.  But at what cost to our children?

Governments need to be acting to improve employment and the economy by investing in jobs (as for Australia’s 2011 budget), by tax and welfare reform, by job creation incentives and the like.

Essentially the best way to improve school achievement of our failing children, is to reform the economy to attack the real causes of achievement failure, which is family poverty.

Recipe for a Successful School

In September 2011 we received an excellent Education Review Office report on the school. It was highly complementary, no compliance issues and a 4/5 year return review cycle – limited to 20% of New Zealand schools.  We have had a history of positive reviews, have a healthy and growing roll and have received a number of other positive affirmations and recognitions over the years.

What is the recipe for this success?  It isn’t rocket science and the recipe is not unique to this school.  It is a number of relatively simple concepts which perhaps could be wrapped up under the heading ‘positive’ school culture!

Over the years, staff have had the opportunity for growth and innovation and exposure to a lot of leading minds both at courses and conferences and through school professional development.

John Hattie, Lane Clark, Mark Treadwell, Martyn Weatherill, Helen Baxter, Andy Hargreaves and Sir Ken Robinson have been major influences.  Young staff in particular have had opportunities to grow professionally and to try new ideas.  The school has a track record of long term, whole school professional development.  Study grants and 50% subsidy for tertiary study fees have been available.

Leadership is understood.  The role of the principal is to be the leading learner, leading learning.  Leaders lead and make decisions.  As far as possible, wide input is sought and the reasons for a decision made clear.  Transparency and fairness are important.  Professionalism, in all that it means, is promoted.  There is an expectation that staff will be well planned and prepared and that data should inform and drive their teaching.  Planning across the school has been exemplary.

Part of the success is due to strong leadership but equally critical is strong staff and actively recruiting staff members with intellect, passion, work ethic and ability to contribute to the wider corporate life of the school.  Matipo is a child centred school and that is a major factor in all that we do.  We have an incredible range of opportunities for children and proactive interventions.  This is however a balancing act as to how much intrusion into the regular life of the classroom can be balanced against giving kids the widest extra curricular opportunities.

The school has four critical drivers or pou.  These are promoted across the school and to the parent community and hopefully all staff, Board, children and parents understand these.  Our drivers are engagement, achievement, excellence and care, set in a context of structure, routine and expectation.  We expect all our children to do well in all learning areas as well as sport, arts, behavior, etc.  Our expectations and routines are clear and there are consequences if children don’t behave in a manner consistent with the expectations.  We expect and promote excellence in all areas.  We expect all children to succeed and ethnicity or poverty are not accepted as barriers.  We recognize and reward excellence and achievement.

Our major driver is engagement.  This is one of Hattie’s ‘top ten’!

Engagement of teacher to child and of child to teachers is critical.  There is an expectation that teachers will be in class before school, engaging with children.  Children must know that a critical adult in their life cares about them, trusts them, believes in them.

As part of our proactivity, at the beginning of the year, all children potentially at risk of academic failure, challenging behaviors, emotional fragility or sheer boredom are identified and plugged into an intervention programme.  At lunchtime, we have teachers involved in traditional duty but other teachers are involved in sports coaching, computer room, library, kapahaka, Polynesian club, strategic games, etc.

We have after school classes, opportunities to learn violin, drums, guitar, keyboard etc.  All teachers identify target children.  We provide home-help ‘kits’ for children not achieving.

Together, our emphasis on structure, routine, expectation, care, engagement, achievement and excellence in a proactive setting with a skilled staff, excellent resources and lots of opportunities for children, with good communication all makes up something called ‘school culture’.  It has an invisibility as well as a real presence.  Essentially, children are highly engaged in purposeful learning environments in a school without rules but with high expectations.

“It ain’t rocket science!”

We Can See The Future

In a meeting with a group of teaching staff one person said “we can’t really prepare children for the future because we don’t know what the future will be”. The group agreed with this statement except for me. I believe we can see the future and we can make some effort to prepare children for it. (Readers should also see my previous website article on ’Learning for the Future’ Report of the world’s Principal’s Conference, Singapore 2009.)

I believe the future is clear, and to think otherwise constitutes a lack of self belief in our own thinking especially lateral thinking. The future will involve more of the same as well as being different.

Perhaps we shouldn’t try to view the future as concrete objects but rather mere physical possibilities.  Nano technology, super conductors, neural controlled computer interface etc will all be a significant part of the future. But while technological change will be both dramatic and very different, human needs such as nutrition, shelter, care, love and recognition will remain the same.

In schools and classrooms now we can (and should) prepare children for the future by the following means;

*        Use of technologies (and the possibilities) as learning, entertainment and   communication tools.

*        Teaching children how to learn.
*        Teaching children how to think, especially higher ordered thinking.
*        Providing learning opportunities for laterality.
*        Encouraging open mindedness.

*        Encouraging collaborative learning both locally and digitally.

*        Using problem solving as a vehicle for some of the above areas.

*        Teaching children how to communicate including through a foreign language.

*        Interpersonal skills will become increasingly important.

*        Inclusiveness of difference and preparation for a multi-cultural world.

*        Knowledge of social justice and human rights issues.

*        Knowledge of government systems.

To say we can’t prepare children for the future is akin to burying our heads in the sand or to say we shouldn’t teach children to read because they can use audio books.

We must prepare children for the future because we need to give them the skills and attitudes to adapt to it.

Further, I think we can make some educated guesses about what the future might be and how we can prepare children for it.

The Place & Direction of ICT at Matipo Primary

There is tremendous pressure on schools to be up-to-the minute with ICT and ICT advances. Collectively, millions of dollars of locally raised funds are spent on ICT In this school, the cumulative total is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. ICT is the most expensive curriculum area in the school.

ICT expenditure is the “black hole of Calcutta”. No matter how much a school spends on ICT, the voice of Oliver is heard calling for more!

In most schools, ICT is a very expensive public relations exercise, and in some instances simply a con job.

After a lot of reflection, reading of various periodicals and articles and attendance at various conferences, the acorn has fallen on Chicken Licken’s head:
“ICT development in primary schools should be in keeping with the age of the children”.
We need to understand the reality of ICT use for 5-10 year olds and keep it simple. There is pressure from teachers to do more and buy more and keep up with new technologies when in fact we don’t use existing technologies to anywhere near their full extent.
ICT development at this school should involve;
– an introduction to the range and concept of various ICT applications and their use to support children’s learning, appropriate to the age of the child, not to adult, high school or even intermediate school uses.
– we need to introduce children to the uses of the computer, initially in terms of publishing, learning games and research to support their learning.
– we need to assist them in learning how to research and how to identify credible information, age appropriate information and how to identify key points and précis information.
– we need to assist them with publishing, editing, storing and retrieving, taking photos, accessing pictures and incorporating images into their work.
– in media, we need to expose them to the film/T.V. methodology, presenting, editing and writing.
– in particular, we need to get children to use ICT more inclusively and genuinely in their learning. ICT should be an integral part of their learning, not an adjunct.
– we do not use or harness the incredible power of the internet as a learning library. There are tremendous sites available for children and just as teachers are encouraged to do professional (hard copy) reading so they should be doing professional internet surfing. (The school website homework portal has some fabulous website links).

The future of ICT at Matipo School does not lie in constantly buying more, better or newer ICT applications.

The future needs to include;
– better care and conservation of ICT material.
– more real ownership of ICT learning by children.
– confining ICT applications consummate to the age of the children.
– teaching/learning around the areas of publishing, researching and media.
– and a major emphasis on the learning power of the Internet which will involve teacher commitment to searching suitable children’s websites.

Essential, we also need existing resources to be used to greater capacity.

Matipo Primary – Point of Difference

I attended a Retailers Association seminar and noted the answer to a question on what is the most important thing in marketing. While quality of service, value for money etc were important, the most important thing was the retailer’s “point of difference” – what made them special or made them stand out. At a recent seminar in Wellington on Authentic Learning at which I played a small part, I was asked a question as to what was the point of difference of our school. I thought it was a very good question and feel I answered it reasonably well but have since thought about it more and have expanded my thinking on what is the point of difference of Matipo School. For simplicity, I have tabulated my response.

  1. Our first point of difference is that we are an innovative and progressive school. Our school van slogan puts it succinctly – ‘school on the move’. We are committed to continuous improvement and regular reviews/audits of all aspects of the school. We were an early adopter of inquiry based learning, prime time learning concept, genuine child centred school, media production, a strong arts strand and purpose built specialist facilities, eg Arts Suite, Media Suite, playground canopy.
  2. We have an emphasis on a number of philosophical ‘pou’ which are firmly driven foundations of the school; inclusive practice, reflective practice, structure formality and routine, expectations, consequences, proactive identification and intervention, fostering traditions and offering broad value added options.
  3. In addition to our culture of innovation, we promote a culture of excellence in all that we do. We try and cultivate excellence at all levels and in all areas of the school – achievement, behaviour, campus, sport, arts etc.
  4. Our school is research driven and we have a strong emphasis on whole school, longitudinal professional development (again, adopted long before it became fashionable). We grow staff and expect all to be self responsible for on-going learning and to become life time learners.
  5. A major point of difference for us is in the strong Arts Strand. One day a week each syndicate is involved in Arts, P.E., and I.T. We are really seeing tremendous growth in dance across the school and in performance music. The 2009 production of “Bugsy Malone” was an amazing success. A number of our teachers are involved in performing arts themselves. In 2010 we are trying to raise the quality and profile of drama.
  6. The work of Sir Ken Robinson has inspired us to try to be a more creative school and to help grow more balanced children. We have made a major investment in I.T. and its use in contributing to 21st century learners is well embedded across the school. It is integral (rather than ancillary) to all classroom learning.
  7. Additionally, we have a strong Media Strand with all classes actively involved in film making and television production. Each class take weekly blocks to produce an mTV broadcast (Matipo TV) presented across the school computer network and uploaded to YouTube for wider dissemination.
  8. As a school we celebrate the cultures of our children with a week long Samoan Language Week and also celebrate Matariki Week as a cultural immersion. We are a 10 year Gold Partner with the Auckland Philharmonia, Trees for Survival Project since 1992 and a member of the University of Auckland Post Graduate Diploma in Teaching Consortium.

The amalgam of all these points of difference contributes to a very special school culture. At most times of the day there is not a lot of noise to be heard – kid are quietly engaged in purposely learning environments. They are happy, secure and confident. Student voice is encouraged. We have lots of value added options and opportunities for specialist groups, especially in media and the arts.

Our point of difference is actually what makes a difference.

National Standards Predicated By a Lie!

The rational for the introduction of National Standards was the then National Party’s education policy to raise standards and introduce plain language reporting to parents (the latter stolen from Australian Prime Minister Rudd).  It’s well documented that New Zealand has a long tail of underachievement – approximately 20%.  The National government’s solution was to introduce the concept of National Standards to follow Labour’s analysis of variance reporting and in the 90’s, achievement statements.  Because National Standards is so fundamentally flawed and so poorly introduced, given a couple of years it will fade into oblivion.  Most university academics, the teacher unions and the principals groups together with many leading educational commentators are opposed to the introduction of National Standards.  The government and the media clearly support their introduction.

What was the lie on which National Standards were based?  In 2007 the Education Review Office produced a report on assessment in schools.  Various excerpts were selectively used to imply that schools were not doing enough to raise the achievement of children and were making poor use of assessment data to inform their teaching.  The report quotes;

In about half the schools (52%) the teachers used assessment information to inform their teaching and learning programme.  Less than half (44%) used worthwhile information.

This extract is the basis of the National government’s national standards and is widely quoted as their rational.

Unfortunately (as quoted by Kelvin Smythe) neither the government nor Ministry used the very next sentence in the ERO report;

“Figure 5 shows that 90% of primary schools were able to demonstrate their student’s achievements in the curriculum areas of English and Maths…….”

“Figure 6 shows 88% of primary schools were effective at demonstrating progress in English and 82% in maths”

“almost all primary schools had made literacy and numeracy key learning priorities….in most schools the teachers had built a shared understanding of how, when and why to measure student achievement in these areas”

Why then was the original selective quote so out of kilter with the original 52% figure – because it was based on the average figures for all curriculum activity like health, social studies, P.E., music etc which schools do not assess so vigorously and for which teachers produce qualitative rather than quantitative information (Kelvin Smythe).

This is the deliberate lie or distortion on which National Standards has been predicated and the facts deliberately ignored by the Ministry and their apologists.  The reality is, according to ERO, that schools were assessing well and using the information to inform their teaching and to raise the achievement of the 20% tail.

A number of principals and schools were adamantly opposed to National Standards, some were in favour, but the vast majority resigned to trying to implement them but, very sensibly, asking for a year’s delay in order to implement the new initiative in an ordered, informed way.  ‘No’ was the emphatic answer of the Minister and the Prime Minister.

What is the result?  – A complete botch up with confusing and changing information, a lack of resources, muddled and under-resourced inservice leading to ‘non aligned’ principals walking away in despair.  If National Standards is implemented at all it will be because of the good will and effort of principals and staff.  The promised in-service is poorly delivered with anecdotal comments from facilitators saying “they were making up in the morning what they would say in the afternoon”.  There is no money for relievers so schools have to pay $250 per day per teacher for staff who attend the courses.  For some schools this may potentially cost $5000-$10,000.  No teacher-only-days are authorized unlike for the introduction of NCEA and the NZ Curriculum.

Interestingly, not one person at the Ministry of Education is willing to put their hand up as authors or project directors of this ill conceived, hurried, muddled piece of party politics being transformed into political policy.  It is a complete and utter farce and based on a lie, a deliberate piece of distortion.