A great kiwi school tradition

The great kiwi school working bee is responsible for lots of New Zealand's school facilities and infrastructure.

It is about more than saving money (or doing things schools can't afford from their operations grant), it is about building community.

Last weekend it was a real pleasure to join in with the volunteer families for an afternoon moving sand and putting up a shed. It was also a rare chance to take my dog Murphy to school for the day without too much hassle.

Often a mainstay of rural school community life, those of us in the city still have a lot to gain from the school working bee. A big thanks to Sunday's team. You can see some more pictures here.

I am so sick of hearing the 1 in 5 line

The National Party were very clear before the last election that they would launch a 'literacy and numeracy crusade'. I have no problem with that.

The National Party were very clear before the last election that they would implement a 'national standards' policy. I have no problem with that.

It was all very open, written in the manifesto and there for voters to give their tick to if they liked it. And a majority did. I like democracy.

The National Party are now the elected government of New Zealand. State schools are schools of the state. We must follow the laws enacted by the elected government. I have no problem with that.

What drives me nuts is the inability of the Minister of Education to give any answer to any question about how the mere existence of national standards will improve standards of achievement. The only answer I can find is that "1 in 5 children leave school without required literacy and numeracy skills". She parrots this one-liner out at every opportunity. There is no other depth to her reasoning. I am really keen to hear more from her. I like debate and enjoy listening to all sides of an argument.

I want my minister to speak, clarify and explain, beyond just saying that "1 in 5 children leave school without required literacy and numeracy skills".

What does 1 in 5 actually mean?

1 in 5 means 20%. 

This is a bell curve. It shows the national expectation of performance of children in New Zealand in one of the standardised tests which we use at our school (and which we have used for years). The national statistical expectation on the curve is in brackets. The Waimairi School numbers are without brackets. Children in the 1,2 or 3 stanine band are the kids the Minister of Education claims are the shocking 1 in 5. 

Yes, of course there are 1 in 5 failing nationally. In any population 20% (or 1 in 5) are going to be at this end of a bell curve. That is the very nature of a natural spread of ability across the population.

Minister, it is not shocking that 1 in 5 fail, it is a statistical reality. In this illustrated PAT graph the expectation is in fact 23% (the 4% + 19%) failing.

What sort of principal would just accept that 1 in 5 children in his or her school failing in this way? Not many of us and certainly not me.

The way that we have addressed the 1 in 5 in our school over the last two years has been through the Literacy Professional Development Project (LPDP). They have been named, they have been put into focus groups in classrooms and the teachers have been taught how to try, try and try again with an ever changing approach to teaching to move these kids away from being at risk.

And it has worked. Year on year we are helping these children be the best they can be. We don't take 1 in 5 as the status quo. We aim to make it better. We have data to show this approach is working. We are one of the schools that Trevor Mallard is talking about in this video clip.

So back to the main question. How will the mere existence national standards help the 1 in 5? 

We already know who they are. We work our behinds off to shift them upwards. What will another way of being measured do for these kids?

The distribution of children across the schools of New Zealand does not follow a nice neat bell curve. Many schools have a disproportionate number of the  '1 in 5' as their student majority. If league tables on student performance are published as a result of national standards how can any meaningful judgement about the quality of education at those schools ever be made? I hope it never happens.
1 in 5 is part of life but the uneven distribution of the 1 in 5 across a city’s, or the nation’s schools makes a for very uneven playing field. Every suburb in every town does not look like a bell curve. Certain schools have certain parts of the curve as their main pupil base.
I am not part of the tedious NZEI protest bus tour. I am not part of the Principals' Federation campaign. I am just wanting the Minister of Education, my boss, to speak to me intelligently and tell me something I don't already know. 

Yes 1 in 5 fail, I got that bit. Now tell me how national standards will help kids achieve and help teachers make sure that they do.

I'm keeping you in after school

Here we are in Room 8 at 4:30 pm on Friday last week. The kids have been at school for nearly eight hours but the questions and answers are still flowing. You can just make out the teacher on the whiteboard. He is D'Wayne Edwards, head of design at Nike. He is running the class from Los Angeles and teaching 37 other classes of children all over the world at the same time. The design worksheet the kids are working on was emailed ahead so that everyone was on the same page, literally.

This is Rock Our World (ROW) in action. ROW was started after a group of like-minded educators got together at the University of California, Monterey Bay in 2004. The challenge was to come up with learning projects that made the best use of the technology we have in our classrooms. It has proven to be a powerful, and sustainable project as it now enters its 12th round and 6th year.

All of the children involved work together to collaboratively compose a piece of music, and seeing as they are connected by this experience they also work on many other cross-curricular projects. In this round they are exploring art and design - hence D'Wayne teaching the introductory lesson. Tune in to Room 8’s blog to follow the progress

Teaching with a LISP

I'm off to the school pool, but not for swimming.

On Friday mornings it is a pleasure and a privilege to join our junior school teachers and children for 'discovery time' and so now about this time every week I find myself having to plan my teaching for the next session. The big question in my head is "how can I address the focus on key competencies and also honour our school values (specifically about learning being about knowledge and having substance)?"

Adding to my thinking process came an email from Lynda (which also reminded me what a talented teaching staff we have at Waimairi). The killer line in her email is "...help keep us all focused and to prevent our time becoming just an activity time?"

I believe the focus which Lynda calls for in her email needs to be our school-wide learning theme, which this term is a bit of a watery affair. So what has floated into my head is a memory of the Learning in Science Project (LISP). This is why I am off to the pool. Floating and sinking, making boats and rafts with all sorts of different materials, questioning to find out the children's pre-conceptions and basing the next teaching steps on their pre-conceptions.

It will be lots of fun but also powerful learning for the children and for me.

Looking back at the old LISP documents I am wondering how lots of the 'old' findings link to the new ideas in the revised NZ Curriculum. I am looking forward to discovering this. If you want to  get right into this in a big way you can read the 270 page long Literature Review into Science Education. Or you could just read this post on Bruce Hammond's blog 

I will post an update to let you know how things turn out because 'teaching is inquiry' and we need to try things out and be learners alongside our pupils.

Yes, this is another jargon-filled posting but by following the links on this entry you can try to dig deeper if you are interested or curious.