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Changing Education From The Ground Up – Sir Ken Robinson

I have always loved listening to Sir Ken Robinson talk about education. I love that he puts ideas out there and is not afraid to challenge educators or the education authorities.

This was an interesting speech. He is always a very engaging speaker, and offers some humorous insights, throughout but it seemed a bit milder than some of his earlier talks (or maybe that was me). However it is still worth listening to. The video, created in conjunction with the RSAis 24 minutes long. One part that struck me was “you cannot improve education by alienating the profession that carries it out. It would be like trying improve medicine by vilifying doctors. You can’t do that!” Hence education needs to improve from the ground up not by politicians making edicts but by encouraging those who are teaching. Our education departments here in Australia need to listen to this as well.

Sir Ken Robinson addresses the fundamental economic, cultural, social and personal purposes of education. He argues that education should be personalised to every student’s talent, passion, and learning styles, and that creativity should be embedded in the culture of every single school.

Russian Roulette: a prequel to Alex Rider series

A surprising novel as I did not expect another book that related to the Alex rider series but this is a welcome addition. I have only just finished and I have boys eagerly awaiting it.

I love the proliferation of good series for young adults, specially for boys. Many of our boys are not really adventurous (or great readers) and when they find a book they like, they would rather re-read it than take a chance on a new book that they might not like. Series make it much easier for me. If I can help them find a series they like they (and I) are very relieved. A few books they feel they have a connection to. After they have read a series,  we go to the “if you liked…., you might like……” approach.

My idea is to get them into the habit of reading and reading books that they enjoy. It is slow but with little steps we aim to increase their positive reading experiences.


Russian RouletteRussian Roulette by Anthony Horowitz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was surprised to find this book. I enjoyed the Alex Rider series and thought like many others that it was finished which was the cause of much sadness for many of my students.
In a way it is a prequel to the Alex Rider series. It was fascinating to discover how the Alex Rider’s biggest enemy, the Scorpia assassin Yassen Gregorovich, came to be the man we encountered in the Stormbreaker. It was fascinating to see this character as a boy. We learn how brutally Yassen’s (born Yasha) family and childhood was ripped away. We see how he is forced into one difficult situation after another. He has to make many decisions that eventually lead him to be that character in the Alex Rider series. It is interesting to compare Alex and Yasha as boys. The characters are very similar but their circumstances drive them in completely opposite directions. It does however make the reader see Yassen in a different light and we fell some empathy this contract killer. In Russian Roulette the connection between Yassen and the Rider family is explained and why Yassen does not kill Alex when he had the chance at the end of Stormbreaker.
This was a good book and a must-read for all the Alex Rider fans.
Website: http://www.alexrider.com/Home

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Boys and learning – 6 strategies for the classroom

I work in a boy’s school so educating boys is something I have been passionate about for many years. Many of those in education are concerned about the lack of engagement that boys have in their education.

When I first started teaching I worked in a girl’s school and followed up with a co-educational school in the country. Here we had concerns about girl’s education. Many girls left school without finishing year 12 and less went into further education. We were especially concerned with the way girls dropped out of maths and science in years 9-10. We had several programs running to try to change some of these trends. Boys did better in education until the 1980’s when thing began to change and the statistical data showed the turn around. Since the end of the 1980’s boys have been out-performed in the K-12 classroom by girls. The data shows that boys still score a little higher in science and maths, whilst girls do better in language and humanities areas but overall boys are being outstripped by girls.

This is the case in Australia and the following infographic about educating boys (based on US data) was interesting in that there were some marked similarities.

The infographic started out with population data – visual representations of birth rates and kindergarten enrollment. The first interesting thing was that data showed that almost twice as many male students as female students repeat kindergarten, and approaching triple the number of male students diagnosed with a learning disability compared to female students.

The number of girls graduating from secondary school seems to correlate with Australian statistics.

The proportion of male and female students remained fairly constant throughout primary and in the initial years of secondary schooling, with the number of male students exceeding female students by about two percentage points, up until Year 11. In Year 11 there were slightly more females than males, and in Year 12 females exceeded males by 3.2 percentage points.  (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2012)

More women than men also participate in higher education in the US which is also the case in Australia.

The other part of the infographic I particularly liked was at the end, with the advice about what schools can do to educate boys.

The 6 strategies for engaging boys in the classroom that are recommended are not ground-breaking and I have certainly seen them used in school. The library staff have also worked with teachers in the classroom to use the strategies. No doubt many could add to the strategies with example of their own but they are worth reiterating:

  • Design lessons that end in the creation of a product.  I would add make it authentic and shared with more than the student and the teacher. One simple example: In the library we love to run the book trailers that our students create for their English teachers about the books they have been reading. It works to publicize the books in the library and the boys like seeing their work on our big screen.
  • Structure lessons as competitive games. 
  • Require motor activity. (We have all seen the research that talks about the physicality of boys so we need to find ways to harness this and use it in learning situations. It does not have to be a major exertion but just some movement.) One example I have been impressed with at our school: One of the maths teachers regularly starts her year 7 lessons with a small foam ball that the boys throw to each other. As the boy catches the ball she asks a question that he has to answer. She uses it as a way to revise work from the previous lesson as well as reinforce some of the maths rules. They have a chance to answer a question as it goes around the classroom for 10 minutes.
  • Allow boys to address unsolved problems and use opened questions.  especially problems that have a real-life application or that they have some affinity with.
  • Combine team work and competition. Some simple examples: The literature circles in year 7 have given us some opportunity to try this out. This year we offered a pizza lunch for the class that read the the most books in the Premiers’ Reading Challenge. The boys encouraged the less-able readers and congratulated them as they finished a book. They also offered suggestions about what others might like to read. The Book Spine Poetry competition in book week also worked as groups of year 7’s  combined to create poems.
  • Focus on self-direction and  independent discovery. Assist boys to become more self-reliant and questioning. We have a year 8 science project (WASP) that most of the boys love. The library staff get involved in the research component at the beginning of the project.
    This program was designed to allow the student the freedom to investigate a scientific topic of their choice. Students had the option of conducting a scientific investigation on a topic of their own choosing or build a working model of an invention. The aim of WASP is to stimulate ongoing interest and participation in science. The program encourages independent enquiry-based project work as well as giving students the opportunity to present their achieve-ments to a panel of judges from the Science faculty.

No Boy Left Behind
Source: TopMastersInEducation.com

Shaun Tan’s newest book: Rules of Summer

I have been waiting impatiently for Shaun Tan‘s newest work Rules of Summer (published by Hachette Books.)

An email (from The Little Bookroom) came today reminding me that it is available tomorrow in the bookshops. Of course I did not need to be reminded about availability but it did remind me to forward the email to others on staff and to send out a tweet as well.

Rules of Summer, is a deceptively simple story about two boys, one older and one younger, and the kind of ‘rules’ that might govern any relationship between close friends or siblings. Rules that are often so strange or arbitrary, they seem impossible to understand from the outside. Yet through each exquisite illustration of this nearly wordless narrative, we can enjoy wandering around an emotional landscape that is oddly familiar to us all. (YouTube)

Combining humour and surreal fantasy, Shaun Tan pictures a summer in the lives of two boys. Each spread tells of an event and the lesson learned. By turns, these events become darker and more sinister as the boys push their games further and further. (Hachette)

There are some great supporting videos for the Rules of Summer available on YouTube.

Video 1 was published on 10 June 2013 and Shaun speaks about what Rules of Summer is about and where the ideas came from.

Video 2 was published on 10 Jun 2013. In this video Shaun speaks about how he came up with the theme behind his new book Rules of Summer, available from 8th October 2013.

Video 3  was published on 2 September 2013. Here Shaun explains his drawing process and explores the potential meaning of a particular image from Rules of Summer,

There is more about Rules of Summer on here for extra detail and images.

There is an added bonus this time: There will be a Rules of Summer Exhibition that is open for a brief space of time (3 days)

  • The Venue: Bright Space Gallery, 1st Floor, 8 Martin St, St Kilda. Vic 3182
  • Dates: Friday 25th October – Sunday 27th October 2013
  • Gallery Opening times: 12 – 5pm
  • Price: FREE   If you want to book for group/school bookings please email them