In the immortal words of the Bee Gees…

“…Ah, ha, ha, ha, Stayin’ alive”.

The first day with students has come and gone, and I’m still here. Truth be told, it wasn’t anything like that bad at all: the biggest thought in my mind after a (still very flawed) first lesson was “I can do this”. Despite the feeling that I should be way out of my depth (and to a certain extent I still am) – I feel comfortable in the classroom. There’s still plenty of apprehension and I already have a massive list of things I need to work on, but having run thousands of classroom situations through my head it was a really exciting thing to see what reality looked like.

This is an optimistic post, and it’s an optimistic time. But make no mistake – this is a long road, and I have am under no illusions. The first day of school is hardly likely to be the toughest and it’s not like I’ve even met all of my students yet. But you can’t help but be happy to be feeling good after day one.

Orienting oneself

So the last couple of days have been at the school and (in and around meetings for this, that and the other) making sure that the first week or two are properly planned and that I have all the important things like keys, computer login, timetable and rooms all sorted before there are a bunch of teenagers getting in the way. I’m pretty excited to get the whole adventure started, though I came home and crashed yesterday so it’s still been a pretty full-on experience. And I’m at least feeling like this way I’ll be three days ahead of my year 10s, who will have their first day at the senior campus on Monday.

That sound you can hear is of rubber gradually moving towards impacting with the road.

The Rufus, Melodie and Julia Show

Julia Gillard and I

“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” – Winston Churchill

The carnival that has been the “initial intensive” is over. We are now essentially as trained as we will be for our first day of school (though there are still some pieces of assessment to complete). The last few days turned into a bit of a circus, as classes mixed with end of intensive events: the biggest of which was last night’s DEEWR function with Julia Gillard (the deputy Prime Minister).

Amongst all the fun and games that come with these kind of big-deal events for Teach for Australia have come some amazing pieces of inspirational oration. All three spoke last night, though it’s not necessarily their speeches last night that I’ll reference here.

Rufus Black

With a name like Rufus Black, and working as the Master of Ormond College (which has a fantastically old dining hall) in conjunction with a hint of a British accent- it seems that the Hogwarts references are inevitable. But when the chairman of Teach for Australia’s board speaks, you want to listen.

Rev. Black’s speech at our welcoming dinner has absolutely set the tone for the entire intensive experience: but more than that, has been an ongoing reference point throughout the entire time. While his story is certainly not mine to tell, the incredible roads he’s travelled and the obstacles he has overcome to eventually study my all-time dream course: ethics and theology at Oxford via a Rhodes scholarship – and the direct way he could relate that back to the belief and the commitment of his schoolteachers has almost haunted each of the associates.

Melodie Potts Rosevear

While Rev. Black’s subtle accent does wonders for the English language flowing from his lips: our CEO and fearless (I’m quite sure literally) leader delivers beautiful words despite having to overcome the obstacle of a (not especially subtle) South Carolina accent. Melodie has however, been an incredibly inspirational person for each of us. Melodie introduced us to the most beautiful concept to describe the noble cause we have signed up for -that freedom is the right to live a life that one has reason to value (from Amartya Sen).

Perhaps even more stirring though has been Melodie’s absolute determination that the state of educational disadvantage in Australia is not only unacceptable, but that it is a problem to which there are solutions. Regardless of whether you agree with her methods (and if you do disagree – you’re wrong :)), her stubborn pursuit of change in an area that hasn’t seen a lot of change in a long time comes out in almost any conversation.

Julia Gillard

Politicians are infamous the world over for being sneaky, slimy, self-aggrandizing and stuck up. But in our brief interactions with the Deputy PM, I was very pleasantly surprised. Julia dropped in yesterday to meet the associates, and to get a feel for how the experience had been (naturally with reporters in tow), before speaking at the function later last night. I think that the consensus across the room was that we heard someone speaking from a place of deep conviction: especially as she told of speaking with Teach for America alumni and Washington DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee. From the transcript:

She told of a discussion she had with a principal of a school in Washington which had been shown through testing to have fallen radically behind educational benchmarks and well behind the results being achieved in schools teaching similar children.

When she asked the principal for his analysis of what he thought should be done to lift standards, he initially struggled to offer a view and simply maintained that really everything was fine.

Finally, somewhat frustrated, Michelle Rhee said to him, ‘would you send your grandchild to this school?’

To which he replied ‘Well, if that’s the standard.’


It’s a great question. Would you send your child, your grandchild, your brother or sister, your niece or nephew to this school?

That’s the standard I want to be the Australian standard.

Teach for Australia aims at that standard and, in doing so, creates opportunities for change.

(full transcript at DEEWR Site here)

Speeches are of themselves, essentially meaningless. But when, as I’m going to go so far as to say for Rufus, Melodie and Julia, they are backed with compelling actions a speech instead becomes a powerful rallying call – and I am sure that I have become more determined to commit my professional life to confronting educational disadvantage because of the words of these three.

Pretty Pictures for the Classroom

Don’t know how many of the fellow associates who were in the tutorial the other day will actually find this, but the conversation came up about finding useful pictures and graphs for demonstrating how to read graphs, etc to students. You might want to be a bit careful about some of these, because some of them are a little bit looser than others on the conventions of graph writing, and the majority of the sites flit between being “acceptable” for the classroom and decidedly unacceptable, so I’d also be careful of not recommending too many of these sites to your students.

With the disclaimers out of the way though: here’s some of the best places I’ve found:

From xkcd - relation between bacon and health

Be very careful not to recommend this one to your students, but it’s got some fantastic stuff mixed in with some very very nerdy stuff and some jokes that are downright crass. Don’t worry if you don’t understand lots of the jokes there: it just means you have a life.

Good information design

This is a much safer site to recommend: though at times it can get slightly political (can’t we all), Information is Beautiful has an incredible collection of infographics which can communicate complex information usually in simple, easy to understand ways. My wife is a graphic designer and she is in love with this site.

This is a much less definitive recommendation: graphjam’s stuff is all about user-contribution so the quality varies from putrid to fantastic. But if you do manage to get a hold of the good ones, they are usually pretty cool/funny. The whole thing is graphs and Venn diagrams, so you should at least be able to find something useful if you look long enough. They’re certainly not as pretty though.

Indexed is a fantastic little blog I’ve been following for ages: the cute hand-drawn Venn diagrams and graphs are always good for a laugh.

Hope these have been helpful. If nothing else they’ve helped me to procrastinate a little more rather than working properly on my lesson planning assignments.

Is there any point teaching recall in the 21st Century?

Fascinating discussion over at “Dangerously Irrelevant”, in the context of a discussion with a Biology teacher about whether students needed to memorise the parts of a neuron. From the post:

“In an era of near-instant Internet search, it’s possible that knowing the parts of a neuron isn’t really that important. For example, if I don’t know what the parts of a neuron are, I probably can find a couple dozen images of neurons – with parts labeled – in about 5 seconds using an online image search engine. It seems to me that what’s more important is generally knowing what neurons are, how they work, why I should care about them, how they impact my health and well-being, how current cutting-edge neurological research may impact me in the future, and so on.

Will I need to learn the parts of a neuron in the short term so that I can understand these bigger issues? Yes, most likely. Six weeks from now, will it be important if I still remember the parts of a neuron? Probably not, because I always can look it up again. But the bigger-picture understandings about neurons and how they impact me? That’s what I need to remember six weeks from now – and six years from now. That’s the stuff that’s important. Assess on what’s important.”

“Knowing the parts of a neuron isn’t really what’s important” – Dangerously Irrelevant

This ties in with some of the things that have frustrated me already, specifically in the IT curriculum: from University down. With fact-based information being so readily available – what could the point be in me requiring students to recite facts back on their assessment? And information accessibility is only going to improve: where does that leave educators? Asking the bigger questions, or refusing to take the outside world seriously.

One of the commenters on the post thought that this video was relevant: hard to argue.

This is why I want to be a teacher

This blew me away and I had to share it.

This is why I want to be a teacher. Not because of the words Dave Eggers says here, nor the specifics of what he’s doing here. But because I want to be a part of this dream. And I believe that education does create happy families, for a happy community for a happier world. But please, don’t listen to me – watch what is going on here.

and then suddenly, in a flash of light…

… our previously unmotivated associate IT teacher did receive a call from a damsel in distress (who the teacher would like to point out was not as beautiful as his wife, but still a lovely person) and our hero did rescue the poor damsel’s essay which had been lost in the dark and murky marsh of the dragon Internet Explorer’s Temporary Internet Files. The damsel did rejoice at the return of her poor, lost essay and there was much rejoicing in the village of University College. With that our hero was rejuvenated, and reminded that in his hands lay the opportunity to raise the next generation of heroes: for who else would recover lost emails, download codecs and slay the Internet Explorer dragon once and for all if not for his IT students?

And there was much rejoicing in the land.

(although my motivation was also helped out by this fantastic article on Teach for America and their research into what makes a good teacher)

Essays, ponderings and some futility

I must admit that my “Teacher Man” posts have been somewhat absent since the start of the new year. We’re now into Week 5 of a 6 week intensive, so it would be fair to say that the assessment end of the intensive is well and truly upon us, and in many ways my time is now taken up with either working on assessment pieces or procrastinating from assessment pieces. Have enjoyed my latest essay (though found the limitations of the word count deeply frustrating) around learning theory and applying that to our specific classroom contexts. I’ve definitely become a fan of developmental psychologist Jerome Bruner: but feel certain that I will have underwhelmingly attempted to fit the relevant parts of his work into my 150 word summation. Bah – what can you do?

One of the struggles at the moment has been in working through the idea of becoming a specialist IT teacher, and the inherent limitations held within that. IT feels like it’s not always taken seriously in schools, and while everything in me would love to flare up and spoil for a fight when that happens, I have depressingly found myself agreeing with those who would relegate IT to being a niche subject.

The frustration stems from the deeply held belief that the majority of content studied in IT classes (before VCE at least) is content that really ought to be embedded in the curriculum of other subjects. Why would you learn about word-processing outside of the subject dedicated to words, or perform calculations in spreadsheets outside of the context of being interested in what the calculations produce? In the long term, I cannot see any reason why Information Technology should be taught in secondary schools other than to specifically teach “Computer Science” type subject matter (programming, database design, etc.) Even the business focussed IT applications subject being offered at VCE level should probably be swallowed by subjects like Business Management and Accounting.

Now the realist in me says that teachers generally have nowhere near the skills to make the curriculum genuinely cater for the technological aspects of their subjects, and who knows if they ever will. It’s just a bit tough to get excited about working towards being a great IT teacher when I’m not certain that “IT Teaching” as a profession will see out another decade. Ah well, I guess I”ll just have to become an impressive generalist.

Narrowing and enlarging the vision

The first three weeks of our Teach for Australia intensive is almost up: three more to go. And as the intensive has travelled along (at break-neck speed for the most part), I’ve noticed something changing in me, and more specifically in why I am here.I got into Teach for Australia, and the teaching profession more generally, because I care about young people. I get angry when people bad-mouth “kids these days”, my heart breaks when I see a kid throwing away potential because of life-situations.

But in the past three weeks something has been happening. The “vision” (for lack of a less pretentious and presumptuous term) is narrowing, but also growing simultaneously. I’ve become passionate not just about education, but primarily about educational disadvantage. Where previously I have listened and interacted with my mother’s stories from her school: I’ve instead found myself attempting to recruit her into the public system in the schools where they need her talents more. I might have found a cause that I’m genuinely ready to commit all of my energy to.

I’m sure that part of this could well be roughly akin to a whirlwind romance on school camp: and once the daily grind sets in the idealistic Geoff could all be forgotten. But it’s a nice thought at least.

Some Great Teaching Resources

Part of being a blogging nerd and getting excited about teaching has meant that I’ve done a fair bit of looking around at some really good blogs out there on teaching and education, and would certainly recommend that you check out a few.

The first blow-your-mind amazing blog I found is Dan Meyer’s dy/dan blog. Dan’s all about Maths education, and while I’m still only a wannabe Maths teacher (I’d love to teach it someday but I’ll need some study first), his approach is inspiring. Dan’s all about  “what do you do with that” and the video of him at a conference running a session on “Be Less Helpful” is long (about an hour), but worth every minute.

Dan’s “which checkout is faster” lesson got featured in places like the New York Times, Good Morning America and tonnes of other media outlets essentially just because it asked a genuinely interesting mathematical question. Take a good look around his blog, especially if you have any interest in teaching maths because the guy is amazing.

The next blog worth having a look at is by Randon Ruggles: Fifty-Nine Minutes. He’s more of an English teacher, and I was taken aback by his recent post “What’s the Point?”

Take for instance, Shakespeare and Hamlet in particular. Why oh why would 9-11th grade students want to read this play? I thought about it for a while and then with the help of my good partner in the English department, Ben Jarman, we came up with a few ideas. Hamlet has in it themes about: not trusting your parents, death, a ghost, lots of fighting, love, and a search for identity. Clearly some of those themes can be debated and looked at from a variety of different angles, but Ben and I decided first to look at those. Next was the idea and task to get students, before we even picked up the text, excited about learning and reading this amazing work of literature.. Now Ben wanted to, as he called it, “Get the Hamlet fire burning” and really get students excited about what they are learning from the beginning. I agreed with him that this was important, but struggled with exactly how to reach our students. Ben had some great ideas and he thought about really just talking to the students about the material and trying to “light the fire” that way. I thought that was good, but then I tried to consider what else would make this exciting to a student in today’s world. So I considered some sort of exciting Keynote presentation, but then I realized that even that, however cool it may be that it would not be the most exciting thing I could produce. I looked to a resource that I used a few times while student teaching – Animoto.

What I produced was this video: Hamlet Introduction Video

Fifty Nine Minutes is worth having a really good look through, and while Mr Ruggles is less prolific than Mr Meyer, it’s very worth keeping an eye on.

Thirdly I’d recommend getting onto the Edublog Awards site and having a look around for yourself. There’s some very cool blogs nominated on there and you’re bound to find a blog that has some level of interest for you.