Wednesday, February 10, 2010

So - How do I help with Maths?

Children build their understanding of Mathematics, like all things over time, through experiences they find engaging or motivating. I have outlined some of the ideas I think are important. It is certainly not an exhaustive list, but just a few ideas of things that can be done at home to support the learning taking place at school.

1. Create a daily routine for homework. The start of the school year - i.e. NOW is a great time t develop a timetable o the students activities and homework commitments. Apart from being a good maths lessons in itself, a pre-determined routine will allow your child to apply themselves to the task immediately. Also, decide where you child is going to do their homework - in front of the TV is probably no ideal.

2. Most Maths homework is designed to review concepts already covered in class. It is also designed to build upon the skills that students already have. Therefore, it is a great way to keep track of any concepts that appear to be causing difficulty for your child. This is also a great way of you checking that you understand what they are completing in class so you can help them out when they need it.

3. Know and Understand the Grade Level Expectations and Curriculum Being Used to Meet These Goals. Visit the NSW Board of Studies Website and read over the Foundation statements. They are a snapshot of what students in each stage of learning should be able to complete. You can also have a look t the K-6 Maths Syllabus and get even more detail about the content of Mathematics lessons in your child's classroom. By understanding their learning journey better, you will be more informed to support this journey.

4. Maintain Open Communication With Your Child's Teacher. Remember, your child's teacher has many students he or she must attend to throughout the day. If you or your child do not understand a concept ask a question. It is quite possible that your child has enough understanding of a concept to complete work when supported in class, but not when working alone. This information is valuable and vital to addressing your child;s learning needs. If you feel that your child needs additional assistance beyond what you are capable of providing - be it remedial or enrichment work - begin by asking the classroom teacher for guidance.

5. Ask Your Child Questions. Spend time with your child talking about Maths. Ask questions about the steps they used to solve different problems. This will often give you a first-hand understanding of their level of mathematical knowledge and development. Do they truly understand the process they used for solving the problem, or have the simply memorised and regurgitated a formula? This will also give you the opportunity to correctly identify any breakdown in understanding.

6. Review Language. Use the appropriate mathematical language in your discussions of Maths at home. Find a good Maths dictionary that uses language consistent with your child's school experience. Spend time looking up terms and concepts that come up in your child's homework that you are unfamiliar with. You may even wish to help your child create his or her own mathematical dictionary, to keep track of new terms, rules and concepts.

7. Share Real-life Math Situations. Encourage your child to think about how Maths fits into their everyday lives - while doing jobs, at the shops, in sports activities, during regular pla
ytime, in the kitchen, and so on. Then, take it one step further by requiring them to use their mathematical knowledge to solve real-live problems: How many tablespoons are in 1/4 cup of butter? Can you sort your socks by colors? Since there are nine lollies left - how many will you and your two sisters each get so that it is a fair share? These are very simplistic examples, but give you the basic idea.

8. Play Games That Encourage Mathematical Thinking or Reinforce Skills. Playing math games is a fun way to again improve math skills, and make real-life connections. Most classes play Maths games as part of the teaching and learning program, so ask your child to teach you some. When in doubt, just enjoy a good game of Yahtzee, Chess, Checkers, UNO, Battleship etc. etc.

9. Encourage Mathematical Exploration. There are toys, products and gadgets around your home that provide students with the opportunity to improve their mathematical understanding. Like what? How about

•a home calendar
•a watch
•a map or globe
•a book of mazes of puzzles (like Sudoku)
•a ruler or tape measure
•a compass
•a measuring cup
•containers labeled by size
•a scale

Helping your child with math at home is easy, fun and will make their learning meaningful. Above all, remember that by working to improve math skills, you are preparing your child for future success!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Helping your child learn to read.

Child starting school? Child struggling with reading? Know someone who is?
It's time to take a break from the heavy issues in education at the moment and instead look at what we are actually best at doing - preparing children for tomorrow. The most vital of all skills is Reading. So, how do we help at home?

Allow time for self correction
If your child makes a mistake, don't correct them immediately. Give your child every opportunity to self correct. Prompt your child by holding your finger under the word. If your child does not say the word after a few seconds, say the word.
Assist your child to decipher words by giving them clues when necessary. Ask questions referring to the picture cues e.g. 'What is the boy holding?' or compare the word with a word they know e.g. 'it rhymes with cat.' Ask your child 'Does that make sense? What word would make sense?' Your child might also be able to decipher a tricky word if he or she reads to the end of the sentence.

Check for comprehension
Discuss the story at the end. Ask your child 'What did you like about the book?' Ask questions about the content of the story. Make comparisons and let your child make comparisons, 'that's like..' Your child is more likely to identify with the story if he or she can compare it to something familiar.

Have fun with reading
Make reading fun! Choose engaging texts and use different mediums such as books, magazines, the internet, computer programs and interesting photographs and snippets from the newspaper. Read with enthusiasm and do the voices. If the text is - "'Be quiet' she whispered", whisper the words 'Be quiet'. Allow toys to participate in reading by letting the toys take turns at reading. If toys become a distraction, remove them. Play reading related games, such as 'I Spy' and rhyming and spelling games. Use time spent travelling in the car to play such games. When friends come to play, read a story to the children about characters they like and you might find that they incorporate the story into their play later.

Use reading opportunities
Words are everywhere - on signs, at the supermarket, on packages, on TV. Use these as reading practice. Your child will quickly learn that words have a practical purpose. Looking at the back cover of a DVD or navigating through a computer game can motivate a child to read.

Build and use a collection of favourite stories
Collect stories that you can read and reread. Books with collections of stories can be used again and again. Book series are useful, as your child can collect the whole series. Select book series about characters your child likes. Your child will enjoy building a collection and seeing his or her collection grow. Ordering and sorting is a powerful mechanism of learning. Your child will also enjoy hearing those stories read again and again as your child knows what happens next. Read favorite stories regularly to build your child's confidence. As your child's reading improves he or she will be able to read some of these stories to you.

Find material that interest your child
If someone gave me a book to read on 18th Century Ballet training and techniques, I would not be motivated to even open the cover. Now, although this example is a little extreme, it is important to tap into what your child is interested in. Although the subject matter may be limited in the early stages of reading, there are books on just about everything these days. Use one of the best tools available to you in the quest to find something that interests your child - talk to your local librarian. Their eyes light up when someone asks them a question about finding reading material for their kids in stead of complaining that the photocopier is broken!

Model reading
We have all seen time and time again how good children are at imitating their parents - and they don;t always choose the right behaviours to copy. So why not use this powerful bond for good. Read the paper, turn the TV off and read a book for 10 minutes. Repetition of this behaviour is sure to form a very positive image in your child's mind.

Develop your child's vocabulary
Focus on common words first, as knowing these help improve reading fluency. There are also books and resources on the internet which list common words. Use a rich and varied vocabulary. Use words from stories you have read, so your child learns how to use those words in conversation. Another important aspect of developing vocabulary is exposing children to a variety of texts instead of books from the same series by the same author. Although we all have our favourites a good balance between fiction and non-fiction and a range of style of books will assist your child to learn new and exciting words and they way they can be used.

Any reading is Good Reading
One of my strongest beliefs about reading is that any reading is good reading. If you have a reluctant reader, would you rather they read a comic book or the sport section of the evening or nothing? Use their interest in reading these materials to gradually broaden their reading experiences. Trying to force them to read material that they do not wish to will only lead to a return to their reluctant behaviours.

If you have concerns about your child's reading talk to your child's teacher. Your child may need more time or may need extra help. Don't delay - if extra help is required, early intervention is best.

Hope it helps!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Jane Caro and Chris Bonnor's Article

I can't take credit for this, but as it is related to my last post - I thought you might be interested. Just another anomoly with the new My School Website. The article is from the Herald.


February 1, 2010

*My School has highlighted vast gaps between private and public
education, write Jane Caro and Chris Bonnor. *

The Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has encouraged parents to use
the My School website to hold schools and teachers to account.

We, too, joined the rush last week to look at what all the fuss was
about. After digging around the website for just a few hours, we would
humbly like to suggest that accountability could go a little further up
the food chain.

Here's what a few hours work uncovered. According to enrolment and
staffing stats for a selection of more than 20 large (mostly 1000-plus
enrolments) metropolitan schools taken from the My School website, to
get a teacher at a large, metropolitan non-government school you need to
have about 10.1 students. To get a teacher in a large, metropolitan
government school you need 14.8 students.

In terms of non-teaching staff in schools - those employees who relieve
teachers of administrative and other support tasks - you need 21
students to get a support staff member in a large, metropolitan
non-government school and a staggering 84.4 students in a similar-sized
government school.

But, like all comparisons between schools, these stats - while revealing
- must be taken in context. The schools compared are similar in total
enrolment and geographical location, but many of the non-government
schools are K-12 schools that cater for boarders.

To check for this, Hurlstone Agricultural High School, a government
boarding school, was included in the selection, even though it is a
little smaller in enrolment size. It has 14.1 students for each of its
teachers and 60.3 for each of its support staff. A smaller
non-government school that also caters for boarders, Tara Anglican
School, has 10.6 students per teacher and 16.3 students for each
non-teaching staff member. And, as a further check, Australian Bureau of
Statistics data on student/teacher ratios back up these statistics.

So, if, as Gillard advises, there are any lazy teachers needing a kick
up the proverbial, don't look for them in a government school. Clearly
if the website is correct and government schools are, on average,
outperforming many of their fee-charging equivalents, then government
school teachers must be working very hard indeed, against the odds. They
not only teach more students, they are given vastly less support to do so.

The urgent question is: how long can they maintain this performance in
the face of such skewed staffing handicaps?

Some may point out that it may be private resources that are going into
paying for this extra staffing in non-government schools, but that still
raises the question of why we continue to generously publicly subsidise
such well-endowed schools when so many government schools are doing it
tough. Private funding drives divides between schools the world over
but, as the My School website so tellingly points out, should it be the
role of government to continue adding fuel through its funding policies?

Public school supporters and communities should be grateful that the My
School website, despite its anomalies and limited perspective, has shone
a bright light on to this glaring inequality.

It provides a clear and transparent direction about what needs to be
done to maintain, support and improve Australia's education performance,
particularly for the 70 per cent of students who attend public schools -
a direction that is not about bricks and mortar or even technology and
computers, but about teachers and the support they need to do their job
properly and help kids learn.

Government schools urgently need not just more teachers, but more
support staff.

Given the comparisons above, even if we doubled the number of support
staff in most public schools tomorrow, they still would not come within
cooee of many of their large private school neighbours.

Given such clear information and their stated commitment to an education
revolution, we confidently expect the Rudd government to make correcting
this glaring staffing imbalance its first priority. Otherwise, all
Australians should hold them to account.

*Jane Caro and Chris Bonnor wrote The Stupid Country: How Australia is
Dismantling Public Education.*

Thursday, January 28, 2010

League Tables - My School website

As a teacher, you can imagine I have been asked numerous times what I think about the new 'My School' website. Well, here it is......

The idea of accountability for schools is one which I feel is a wonderful idea. It is imperative that schools are accountable for their performance and the achievement of their students. The information gained from such analysis should allow the government to allocate resources (people and money) to the schools most in need of the support. It allows them to perform underperforming schools and work towards increasing the achievement of these schools.

Does the My School website allow this to take place? Well, my main concerns are.......

1. The NAPLAN tests used for the website are a single test. Annually schools look through their results and identify numerous under or overperforming students. The way in which this test has traditionally been used by schools is to identify general trends and guide teaching towards addressing these areas of concern. To have schools labelled as over or under performing on the basis of 2 grades results on one test is not a true reflection of the schools achievements.

2. Already many tutored students spend a great deal of time preparing a pre written response to the writing aspect of NAPLAN. As they are not penalised for not writing to the topic listed in the test, they are free to use their pre written response to good effect. Do we really believe that once schools start losing enrollments and then staff due to poor results that they will not be tempted to 'Teach to the Test'? It has already been an established practice in America and England where schools that may be identified as high achievers through their single test rankings do not necessarily provide a sound and broad education to their students, instead they perform well on a narrow set of skills. As a result, the results will not necessarily reflect which schools present the best learning programs to their students, merely those which best prepare their students for a single test.

3. Parents have been encouraged to have 'rigorous debates' with their child's Principal if the results are not up to scratch. Although this may make the parents feel better, what does it achieve? Schools are very limited in the public system in their ability to move underperforming teachers out of the classroom to further develop their skills. Many parents may find that some Principals agree with their concerns, but are unable to make any major changes to address these issues.

4. Teachers who are highly effective within underperforming schools are not going to want to stick around to be labelled as a poor performing teacher because of the results of two grades within the school. As a result, you may see an exit of the very type of teacher underperforming schools need.

5. Parents will look at the most recent data. In the case of many schools I have looked at, this year's results are not something to be overly proud of. However, by looking at the previous year's data, a very different story is presented. Instead of performing under like schools in most areas, many school are well above like schools in all areas. This issue of higher and lower performing cohorts is one which schools have faced as a challenge for many years. Do we really want to label particular grades as the 'low achievers' and have parents take their children out of these grades even though they may be achieving wonderful results just because of their peers inability to achieve at the same level?

6. The only true indication of a schools ability to meet the learning needs of its students is to look at the 'value added' to the students. By the nature of particular populations, the students have lower achievement levels when they enter the school. In many schools, they work extremely hard to achieve the best learning outcomes for the students within the school. A school's ability to grow a student well beyond the levels of growth achieved in better performing schools goes unrecognised. There are many schools whose results appear wonderful at first glance. However, this is largely due to the fact that their student population is reflective of the community which they come from. They always have and always will be high achieving. However, a good look at the value added may present a completely different picture and show that many of these schools do not achieve the same growth as their 'poorer cousins' and merely allow these naturally more capable students to continue to achieve good results whilst never getting anywhere near the true potential these students could achieve if they had teachers with the innovative and dynamic teaching skills usually found in school in areas where teachers don;t go to retire.

As I said, I actually find the idea of accountability a wonderful one. However, until schools have the support to make real changes and are provided with resources based on need and not a formula I see the new My School initiative as doing nothing but unfairly labelling some schools achieving wonderful growth for their students whilst painting others in a glowing light even if they are actually not providing the best learning initiatives for their students.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Don't forget to have fun!

As we head back to school for another year it is easy to lose sight of what I believe is the most effective tool in the learning process for students.........FUN!

For me this video shows us what happens when you add a sense of fun to a menial and everyday task. The results speak for themselves. For me - that is the job of teachers and parents. Creating a environment where children learn academic or social skills without realising it because they are having fun along the way!

A key component of early education is hands on activities and manipulation of objects. This leads to the learning of social awareness, problem solving and social skills. It is important that we maintain this key element of learning and don't become focused on 'Chalk and Talk' learning where students are expected to sit, take note an regurgitate information for assessment purposes.

For effective learning to take place, students need to be deeply engaged in what they are doing. I can't think of a better way of making this happen than by maintaining a focus on learning through FUN within my classroom and at home with my own kids.

Hello World!

Hi everyone!

I decided that as I have been blogging for the last couple of years with my classes at school, it was time to launch into the wonderful world of blogging myself!
Of course the first battle for anyone who has ventured into this world is finding a name. Now, I am sure it is obvious to you all why someone would cal their blog 'Throw The Starfish'. No? Well it comes from a story which some of you may have heard of or read, but to me sums up what we should all be doing with our life and is especially pertinent to me as a teacher..........

One day a man was walking along a beach when he saw a figure in the distance who appeared to be dancing. As he drew nearer, he could see the man was not dancing but was gently picking up starfish from the beach and throwing them back into the sea.

"Why are you throwing starfish into the sea?"he asked.

"Because they have been washed ashore, the day is getting hot and if I do not throw them back hey will die," replied the dancer.

The man looked around him and saw that the beach went on for miles and miles an that there were many thousands of starfish along its length.

"But there are too many" he protested to the dancer "You can't possibly make a difference."

The dancer smile, picked up another starfish and gently tossed it beyond the waves back into the sea.

He turned to the man and said "I made a difference to that one."

The story has been summarised and presented in many different forms often with no reference to the author. It is believed to be paraphrased from "The Star Thrower" by Loren Eiseley 1907 - 1977.

Anyway, if you have stumbled across my blog please post a comment and share your thoughts - you don't have to agree - It's good to have a different opinion.......then people will talk about you!