Monday, 29 April 2013

Some days you eat the bear...

other day's the bear he eat's you.

From The Big Lebowski. Often I think this is a pretty fair reflection of teaching. Or work. Or life in general.

There, that is life. Life is one day of being top of everything and another day of feeling down in the dumps.

I have solved it!

Or something.

There are lots of teachers who I talk to, both in the flesh - face to face not naked- and over Twitter who seem very peeved off at the moment.

I know myself that I am feeling pretty down about the job at the moment. It doesn't take much to knock me out of my rhythm and I have spoken before about the need to keep moving forward and maintain a positive outlook.

It is hard though. Especially this time of year with pressure coming at us from all quarters. SLT (who themselves are under pressure) piling it on, students who just want to be free and out in the sunshine, parents who want to know why/what/where is going on and obviously external factors OFSTED/exam entries/coursework moderation etc.

This is all aside from our general teaching and test/book marking and sweeping the floor with a broom up our arses.

Oh and lets not forget that we should have shorter holidays and longer working days.


What was I talking about?

Oh, yeah. Staying positive.


Actually personally it isn't too bad. Come home, put on some loud and heavy music (RUSH), drink copious amounts of tea and remind myself that I would not be earning as much as I am in another job, followed by looking at how many days until the next holiday.

Sounds materialistic and simple but I think when you're down it's whatever helps get you through?

I have been given lots of advice over the course of my teaching 'life' but I think the important things that float up to the top are sometimes the hardest to remember.

  1. it is a job
  2. focus on what happens in the classroom first

That's it for me. 

It is a job, nothing more and nothing less. Yes I am a professional and I am proud of what I do, but at the end of the day I am not going to get ill or sacrifice what is really important in my life for it. 

What happens in the classroom/lab/plaza that is my domain and ultimately what I am judged first and foremost on. So if you are having a bad time, make something that you are going to enjoy teaching. Bring it back around so you enjoy lessons. It doesn't work all the time or with every class but if it happens once it will start to happen more regularly. 

Remember schools seem to run on opinions. If people have a high opinion of you staff/students/SLT then you tend to get more leeway to get other things done (in my opinion).

Plus I don't consider planning a fun lesson (for me) to be work. As I enjoy it. 

So lets puff our chests out, raise our heads, enjoy the sunshine and remember it is a 3 day weekend this weekend ;-). 

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Course changes, museums and long journeys with Eagles...

Afternoon, to give you the full story of my very busy day we must go back a week.

Looking at our department 'headline figures' it was put to me that there were rumblings that we may need to offer BTEC or equivalent for some of our learners as GCSE was not suitable. This lead me to do a search of some alternatives provisions for some of our learners and come up with a plan. This was put to the department for mulling over (with other suggestions) the basics are thus;

  • The top 2 sets do 3 year GCSE course years 9-10 core and year 11 additional - so end up with 2 GCSE's in science. 
  • The bottom 3 sets do 1 year AQA entry level in year 9. Those that excel at this course and achieve a gold/silver go on to do the double award in years 10 (core) and 11 (additional).
  • Those who really are not suited to GCSE do OCR Cambridge or BTEC. 
This all seemed good to our department as 1 not being too complicated and 2 giving all abilities a chance to achieve. 

So I went off to my AQA exam feedback meeting today feeling like some form of ball had started rolling. 

Now here's where the fun begins.

Firstly I must sat commuting from Maidstone to London was expensive but other than that fairly painless (I could get used to it if I was to work at one of the museums for instance...).

Anyway the first weird moment was when I saw that the conference centre was opposite broadcasting house. This was unexpected despite having route planned how to get there and where I was due to be. It is a very strange feeling when you see something you have seen in pictures , heard their output and then suddenly see it in the concrete. 

So the meeting begins with the very charming and witty Nigel English who is the chair of the chief examiners for AQA. A very lovely and knowledgeable man and he seemed very sad that this was the last of these types of meetings which he is allowed to give due to a change in rules. This I think is a mistake as personally I learnt a lot from him today and feel better armed to help my department drive forward and improve standards in our exam preparation.

The following are a list of the things which I learnt today, I will try to go through them a bit to clear up any confusion!
  1. From 2015 all exams will be terminal.
  2. From 2015 here will be no tiering of exams - similar to how the iGCSE works.
  3. Performance tables (league tables) will be split into English + Maths, EBAcc and Value added.
  4. Even if students take triple science only the best 2 will count towards the EBAcc.
  5. The performance tables are based on the % of cohort taking GCSE science NOT the entire year cohort.
  6. GCSE science will only be double or triple. There will be no course for single award science.
  7. Alternative science courses (not double or triple) will still run (computer science, agriculture etc) but will not count towards EBAcc or performance tables.
  8. Not all have to do GCSE science but so far no word on whether science is still a core or whether students could drop science to pursue other courses... 
  9. Terminal means end of course, so if the students do double award in years 9 and 10 they will sit all exams in year 10  (but be up against year 11's from other schools) however if they do their courses in year 11 ALL exams are in year 11. Which means they may have 6 science exams + other GCSE's in year 11 (or 9 exams if triple) which is going to be a very heavy duty timetable.
  10. Yesterday Michael Gove mentioned plans for a 'technical baccalaureate' though there was no details about it today just conjecture it seems the TecBacc is a post 16 only course. It is however worth keeping an eye on.
There, and that is before we talk about what the course was actually about!

The headline themes for me are the lack of single award (weird as we were discussing this yesterday) and the fact that we will only get reported on the students we choose to enter to GCSE. Almost like there is an expectation only to put our 'best' or most likely to get C's into GCSE and everyone else can do what they want so the results look good...

Does this mean that science GCSE's will have a reduction in people taking them but those taking them will all be A-C grade students. Then moderation will drop those C candidates lower...? 

Or at least that's how it feels. I am not going to try and pull it apart any more because I don't want to colour peoples views. Would like to see what other people think.

OK now that part is out the way part 2 was about issues students seem to have with certain exam questions. Or at least skills within the questions. 

Explanations must be an explanation - that is not just a list of facts. In 5 mark questions you need 5 points, there is no longer the 3 from 5 best fit scenario. Your explanations have to link ideas and not just be a series of 'points made'.

Evaluations have to have a positive and a negative for each point and a justified conclusion. Evaluations h Get students to ask themselves if they have made 5 valuable points and a justified conclusion at the end of the evaluation questions. These have to be comparative statements. For example 'this one is cheaper' rather than 'it is cheap'.

In the longer extended prose questions - which are poorly answered across the board - these are general level questions to be answered by higher and lower abilities. As such they are judged at a standard grade C level. Which means (from what I could gather) the answering and marking of them has to deal with the level first and the content secondarily. 

What does this mean? Well a good well structured coherent answer will be looked at as being level 3 (worth maximum marks) and then will be found its mark on a 'best fit' basis. This has probably been explained badly by me but hopefully you get the idea (feel for answers is very important).

So that was the crux of my course. Before I move on I have one thing to get off my chest. If the chair of examiners tells you what a student was awarded, don't argue, accept it and try to see why and how the student got that mark and why you were wrong. In fact teachers everywhere need to stop moaning so much! Yes it is a hard job and we have a lot to moan about but bloody hell, there were people today who just wanted to complain and/or get someone else to justify their teaching practice. Which isn't what the course is about. For balance I should point out that a lot of the colleagues there were amazing and very insightful plus a lot of fun to talk to. 

Trying to make the most of my day and sort my head out I hopped on a tube and headed to South Kensington.

Naturally I went to the Natural History Museum first. Whilst this was as excellent as ever I felt I needed to be around more science and engineering things so help me think about something that came up in my mind during the meeting. So off I wandered to the Science Museum to engulf myself in some brilliant innovations and inventions. 

What was worrying me was the following; 'what do we mean by education?'

This is such a deep and multi-layered question but I think we all know what it isn't. However let me share my train of thought with you.

At uni I took a compulsory course in biochemistry. I was not very good at it or very interested in it. I do remember the following quote that was on our handbook - "The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled." - Plutarch.

I also remember the Einstein quote on imagination being more important than intelligence. That always sticks in my mind as I perceive myself to be a fairly creative and imaginative person - so it makes me feel good. 

How is this relevant? Well the current changes seem to be intent on being based on learning facts (filling vessels) which means more time will be spent learning and writing rather than doing (reducing the use of imagination). So what is the solution, is there a solution?

Unfortunately the museum closed before I was able to come up with something witty and post worthy. However I do offer the following little thought;

We are programmed by evolution to question, to do and to learn. It takes a lot of effort on our part to undo 3.5 million years (ish) of evolution and create a situation where learning is not valued and the act of gaining knowledge is seen negatively. 

What is the justification for this state of things? So one country can show off to another? Or one government can point score against another? 

Learning and understanding run deeper in our species than we often give it credit. Learning is for life not just school, and this often gets forgotten. We need to ensure that students (of all ages) have the tools for life long learning. 

That should be our goal.

I do not know where standardized testing fits into this and my idea may not be practical but I do know that a system from 10 years ago does not fit in today's society where information is so readily available. Surely it is more important to have the skills to interpret and use the information you have found than just to be able to recall some facts. 

For instance I could find out what tactics were used in a football match. I could memorize them and recall them to my friends in the pub. I don't have the skill to know when to employ them in a match!

I am sure I will get some people shouting at me for that but I dunno, I just feel that where we are going is not what I signed up for. I wanted to be a teacher 1 because my job sucked but 2 I love watching people learn, whether from me directly or them taking what I have said and moving on the next step. As soon as that is lost to a succession of vessel filling, well I doubt I will stay as a teacher.

To finish on a very random note...

Leisurely went back to Victoria Station to catch a train to Maidstone. Wandered to the train no care that people were running to get it. Decided if I could not get this one then it was sunny so would just wait for the next train and read. The doors started beeping so I casually hopped on the train. 

Wandering from first class to the next available carriage I found a space where I could stand until a seat became free. I noticed some people looking at two older gentlemen with long hair and black t-shirts. 

Those two gentlemen were Timothy B. Schmidt and Joe Walsh from the Eagles (scream!?) who were on their way to the Maidstone studio to record and interview for Later With Jules Holland. 

Randomly one of the people they were talking too was a Leeds alumni (as am I) as was their 'handlers' son. Plus a tech guy for another band on Later... was sat opposite them (randomly). All in all it was very surreal! 

By the way Joe Walsh has a very dry sense of humour and spent most of the journey doing sudokus and Timothy B. Schmidt is a very nice polite man who thanked me when we left the train for wishing them 'fun' on the show. 

What a twisty turn-y day!