Intuition – A Teacher’s Best Frenemy

I’m naturally a very intuitive person: the monotony of choosing to be explicit about minute details bores me to tears. The beautiful thing is that more often than not, that intuition has proven an invaluable trait. It allows me to think strategically, to go big picture with ideas and to often troubleshoot classroom issues before they arise. It’s a beautiful thing, and thus my intuition is my best friend as a teacher.

But the sad truth is that my beautiful intuition is also my enemy. By trusting my instincts rather than meticulously recording what goes on for individual students, I miss things. Students miss concepts I’ve tried to teach because they’ve looked competent, and I’ve found out later they were too proud to ask, or just didn’t realise they didn’t know what they didn’t know.

So I’m learning to change: my intuition is no longer the badge of honour it might have once been, but rather a powerful (if unreliable) tool in the toolkit, used but not depended on. I’m trying desperately to get into the habit of recording more, being more explicit with questions as well as answers and at least pretending to care about the details.

Plus – I do really like the frenemy neologism.

Best job in the world

This is how happy I am!

We’re now most of the way through the first week of the school year, and I’m feeling struck by the re-remembering of just how much I enjoy this job. There’s plenty to get frustrated at: unhelpful students, unhelpful teachers, administrivia, meetings, negative teachers, blah blah blah, but the fact of the matter is that this job (and probably even in this exact school and these exact classes) is exactly where I want to be right now.

Happiness all round really. I’m hoping it lasts.

Not magic

One of the real highlights of the TFA mid-year intensive was spending some time hearing from behaviour-management guru Bill Rogers for a couple of half-days. While we were debriefing with some drinks afterwards I had a rare moment of insight and commented that “the tough part about all this will be when we get in the classroom and find out that this stuff’s not magic”.

Sure enough, I got back into the classroom and realised that while the strategies we learnt are fantastic (and make no mistake, they’ve changed the way I manage the classroom), they aren’t magic. The tough kids are still tough, kids still want to disobey instructions whether they are given as a stupid question or as a clear direction. The fact remains that we’re dealing with teenagers: independent, intelligent (and it’s important to remind myself of that one), human beings with their own sets of ideas about how they should approach any class. Sadly, but also happily, there is no magic to do away with that.


We’re already almost halfway through the term at this point, which is a frightening thought. It does feel like most of my students are finding some rhythmn in my classes: the students I’ve had some trouble with are starting to submit some attempt at the work set and I’ve got some of my more enthusiastic students ready to work hard enough to stretch themselves. But I think probably the most frustrating thing about being a first-year teacher is just never quite knowing how much you can expect your students to already know, and the level to which you can expect them to engage in some “higher-order” thinking.

The most obvious example at the moment is that I’ve set my year 10 class a Web Development exercise that another teacher has commented she would probably set for year 12s. Part of the problem is that I’m desperate for students not just to develop sites for the sake of it, but to do so with a purpose and an audience in mind. And it is starting to feel as though that jump to thinking about who is going to visit a site and why they would be there is almost a jump too far for some of the troops. But I’m very hesitant to just have students creating sites without thinking through these things: as far as I’m concerned I don’t actually see there as being much value for a student’s life if they are learning application-specific skills in an application they are never likely to see again.

I guess part of the deal is about allowing space for really high goals, but not being too disappointed if nobody gets there.

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.

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.

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.