Tuesday, May 30, 2006

In school again.

I popped in to my practicum school yesterday for a pre-pre-prac visit. You know, just to get a few things worked out before I get my teaching timetable and all that jazz. Like ohmigod! A timetable! Periods! Bells! Assemblies! Roll call! Oh it's all coming back to me now.

I've been going through the staff handbook they gave me, and I almost can't remember living such a regimented life. Roll call, periods one and two, recess; periods three, four, five and six, lunch; periods seven and eight, home. Oh and the bureaucracy too! I only remember now how much red tape is churned out by schools, day-in day-out. Notes, forms and passes for this, that and everything else.

The head science teacher gave me a tour of the grounds, which were almost IDENTICAL to the high school I attended as an awkward teenager (which really wasn't all that long ago). Yes, the same generic designs from the late fifties. Remember back in the day when state governments mass-constructed and owned their own school buildings?

The folks are quite nice. I met most of the science faculty and the head honcho, the pricipal. Surprisingly, she was relatively young and female. Not that I don't think young women are incapable of the big job; it's just that you don't expect that sort of thing. I didn't get to meet any kids though. Not properly, at least; nothing aside from passing a couple in the corridor.

Anyway, I'm going to be observing/teaching a year eight science class, a year ten science class, and a year eleven chemistry class. My cooperating teacher is also the year ten adviser so I'll have to tag along for year ten adviser things, and I'll have to go to school sport too. And you know what? I'm a little bit excited. Squee!

I head back on Monday for a proper orientation-type thingy. Woo!

Listening to:
Title: Self Control
Artist: Raf
Album/station: Self Control/Running Away(1984)
Length: 6.07

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Woods 17 def Uni 10.

Eastwood, 17.
Sydney University, 10.
T.G. Millner Field, Marsfield.

Gosh, it's been a week already? How boring, I blogged about the rugby last week only two entries ago. Bah!

Anyway, 'twas the Shute Shield grand final between Uni and Eastwood today. And the Woods kicked arse! There were quite a few fumbles though, but they still made it through.

It all gets repeated next Saturday. Eastwood plays Uni at T.G. Millner again in the first round of the Toohey's New Cup, but this time both sides may have a few kids back from Super14 duties. Sounds like quite the game, to me.

Listening to:
Title: How Soon Is Now?
Artist: The Smiths
Album/station: The Very Best Of The Smiths (2001)
Length: 6.46

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Mikey the educator.

The other day I received my teaching practicum placement which I'm quite pleased about. It's a public high school in the western suburbs, and I'll be there for three weeks from the thirteenth of June. That's right folks: the first day of stuvac. And that's because I DON'T HAVE ANY EXAMS THIS SEMESTER!!! Woo! Instead, I've got to put up with annoying little shits enjoy the company of teachers and students, experience the ups and downs of the profession as well as participating in the facilitation of students' construction of knowledge. Oh yeah.

I go in for a pre-prac visit on Monday. Apparently I've got to dress up all classy-like.

Also, I'm now a member of the NSW Teachers Federation. Because the union makes us strong.

Listening to:
Title: Ripple
Artist: The Church
Album/station: The Best of the Church(1999)
Length: 4.31

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Woods: off to the final.

Eastwood, 28.
Parramatta, 22.
T.G. Millner Field, Marsfield.

Rock! On! The Woodies are in the Shute Shield Final next Saturday. And judging by the progess scores from Coogee Oval, it might be another match against Sydney Uni. Today's Woodies-Parra game may screen on ABC2 tomorrow from about 11.25pm if anyone feels like watching.

A Woodies lineout in the second half. Eastwood leads, 14-10.

Josh Holmes' caboose
Woodies' scrumhalf Josh Holmes in, erm, position.

Scrumhalf Josh Holmes
From behind again. Obviously he wasn't being co-operative AT ALL. I don't mind of course. Drool.

Woodies: Scrumhalf Josh Holmes
The thin blue line. Oh and Josh Holmes, too. NO I AM NOT STALKING HIM, ahem.

Listening to:
Title: Home Again
Artist: Dirty Vegas
Album/station: One (2004)
Length: 4.46

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A blow to quality television.

So Commander-In-Chief is being axed by the US network that produces it. And you know what that means: no more Horace Calloway.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Oh Matt Lanter. How will I live without my weekly fix of you?

Listening to:
Title: Where is My Mind?
Artist: The Pixies
Album/station: Surfer Rosa (1988)
Length: 3.52

Monday, May 15, 2006


I'd stepped off the train at Meadowbank after our weekly Sunday night dinner at Sarge's place. Living on his own while his parents and siblings are spread throughout continental Europe, England and Wales hasn't been the very best of experiences for my best mate. It seems to be a series of unfortunate but comical events, much like those inflicted upon George Costanza or John Becker. But I digress.

It was the second last train of the night and I'd stepped down onto the platform. Another guy in black pants and a black hoodie with a bottle in a brown paper bag had gotten off too, and as I'd walked down the platform and crossed the tracks over the footbridge, he slowly walked behind me and to the right; I got the feeling he was following me.

I immediately thought the worst. I've kind of been on edge about this sort of thing after the mugging last year, so I thought it prudent to stick within view of the station surveillance cameras, pretending to check the timetable poster on the wall. I was hoping that this guy would just continue on his merry way and that I was just being overly paranoid, or if was indeed following me, that he'd not be game enough to try something under the bright fluorescent lights and gaze of the electronic eyes.

So there I was, pretending to check the timetable poster, and the guy seemed to hang around. Then I did something one probably shouldn't do: I looked at him and made eye contact. But I recognised him; it was someone I knew. From high school. We weren't buddies or anything, but we knew each other. He was a shady character back then. You know, drugs, violence, and maybe a little crime. But that was back then. Of course, I wouldn't know about now.

Anyway, I called out his name. He looked up, seemingly just recognising me then, and we had a brief chat. And then he went away. I took the long way home from the station after that. Now, I'm not going to cast aspersions on his character. I mean after all, there are ongoing construction works at my local railway station and the access to/from the street is pretty confusing; he may have just been a little lost and was relying on a random to find a way out. But I couldn't shake that feeling of being hunted, almost. Maybe I spooked him because I didn't turn out to be a total random. I don't know.

I'll say this about him though: he isn't a bad sort. My mind ran away with me as I walked the dark streets towards home. Maybe he'd heard those rumours about me and just wanted an easy way to get his end away. Not that I'm into sexual predation or anything. Or that I'm easy.

Listening to:
Title: I Know
Artist: Save Ferris
Album/station: 10 Things I Hate About You OST (1999)
Length: 2.52

Sunday, May 14, 2006


Eastwood, 27.
Southern Districts, 27.
T.G. Millner Field, Marsfield.

Another draw. Like The Woods-Uni game, Eastwood led by a small margin until the opposition scored after the fulltime siren. Bah!

Another freezing Saturday afternoon in the stands at T.G. Millner. I don't get to see my best mate all that often anymore, and going to the rugby is one of those things that always brings us back together. I see us growing old and still going to the rugby on most Saturdays; he with his children and me with my, erm, golden retrievers.

Another ode to scrumhalf Josh Holmes. He can feed his Gilbert into my scrum whenever he'd like.

Another semi-final. Next week, Eastwood plays Parramatta at T.G. Millner in the Shute Shield semis. Woo!

Listening to:
Title: High and Dry
Artist: Radiohead
Album/station: The Bends (1995)
Length: 4.19

Saturday, May 13, 2006

How depressing.

So I worked late last night. It was pretty shyte going at the Faceless Corporation's Call Centre of HellTM: customers were especially rude for some reason, and a cock up with Faceless Corporation's national phone system had customer calls from Queensland and Western Australia pouring in to us instead of where they normally go.

I couldn't scab a lift home so I hopped on a train. It was the last one for the night on that particular line and to complete my journey home I needed to change at one of the City stations. The night was relatively young, considering that I was only coming off the last train; on a night out I usually get into the city on the first Nightride Bus.

There was about ten minutes between the arrival of my train at Town Hall and the departure of the N80. Ten minutes in which I could've decided to cross Hyde Park and head down the Golden Mile/Kilometre/Fraction Thereof, possibly indulging in the sensory experience that is Stonewall.

But I boarded the bus instead. And spent most of the trip back into sleepy suburbia pissed off that I'd wasted my Friday night. Le sigh.

Listening to:
Title: Rock Your Body, Rock [Poxymusic & Kid Kenobi's Break Your Body Rockin']
Artist: Ferry Corsten
Album/station: Ministry of Sound: Clubber's Guide to 2004 (2004)
Length: 2.59

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Woodies and pretty boys.

Eastwood, 50.
Northern Suburbs, 8.
North Sydney Oval.

I stayed home and watched the match on Aunty this weekend, and now I know the name of 'Wood's hot new scrumhalf: Josh Holmes, formerly of the Warringah club. My nether regions ache for him. The Northern Suburbs side, on the other hand, is full of pretty boys - almost, too pretty. Unfortunately for me and others who are same-way inclined, ABC2 isn't replaying the game at all this week. Bah!

Some even better news is that Sydney Uni lost to Southern Districts this weekend, so that puts Eastwood at the top of the competition! Woo!

Lastly, while we're speaking of pretty rugby boys who make my heart go boom-boom, Drew Mitchell has signed with the Western Force. It's too bad, you know; he looked good in a maroon jersey, and I don't think blue is his colour. Incidentally, the Force won their first Super14 game against the Cheetahs last night.

Listening to:
Title: Sweet Harmony
Artist: The Beloved
Album/station: Ministry of Sound: Chillout Session, Vol. 2 (2002)
Length: 3.23

Friday, May 05, 2006

Panic room.

So my Dad has turned this house even more into a prison that it used to be. See, the landlord let himself in the other day, with prior warning to us by way of letter, to install new smoke alarms. When Dad realised what had happened, he was suddenly incensed that someone has been in our flat without either of us being there to keep a watchful eye, and for a few days he frantically looked for something to be missing, simply to accuse our landlord of theft. Which he promptly did; apparently he'd 'lost' a six-thousand dollar ring, and he went to the police and filed a report. Eventually our landlord found out about the allegations and that only worsened the relations between my dad and the owner, who we've known for at least fifteen years.

Now my Dad's changed the locks and DIY installed a dodgy alarm on our front door, which I thought was a modest move, considering. You know, if it cures him of his delusional paranoia, then it's all good; all you've got to do is stick the code in to arm the alarm and then stick the code in again to disarm it. Easy. But today when I came home, the alarm went off and I shat myself. He's rigged it so that it goes off WHENEVER THE DOOR OPENS, whether it's armed or not. No normal person rigs an alarm like that. Like, ohmigod.

Fucking ridiculous. It defeats the purpose of having an alarm if it goes off regularly, i.e. boy crying wolf. So everytime I leave in the morning, everytime I come home of an afternoon or evening, and more importantly everytime I sneak out of this damned hole of hell, this ruddy electronic screech cuts through the whole block of flats. I think it's crazy enough that at my age, I've still got to sneak out. Bah! I can't live here. Last straw.

Listening to:
Title: Panic Room
Artist: Paul Mac
Album/station: Panic Room (2005)
Length: 3.39

Monday, May 01, 2006

Teaching science, III.

Commenting on Teaching science, part deux, John said:

First, to your comments on questioning, I am currently reading the Stages 4 and 5 Science Syllabus for an Engineering course I am undertaking. I found it somewhat interesting that the domain is meant to be the framework upon which students can base their questions. Aside from the fact that I doubt most of the students have read the syllabus, it is essentially written in by the BOS to think inside the box, and inside the box only. The point I wish to convey here is that the students are not really being inspired to be critical citizens at all - their "questioning of authority" is only to be as designed by the institution itself. It is almost circular: the government wants us to question it and all those in power, but only as much as it wants us to. That way, we get the impression of power through our authoritarian questioning, and they remain firmly in control.

One of the outcomes for Stage 5 science (years nine and ten) is for students to "[use] critical thinking skills in evaluating information and drawing conclusions". Identification, analysis and evaluation, in concert with each other, forms the basis of several other learning outcomes throughout both Stages 4 and 5. I'm sure that similar outcomes exist in the other curriculum areas; science is not the only curriculum area upon whom the task of encouraging critical thought falls, and I apologise if I've given that impression. Surely, through immersion across several disciplines, a student would gain some kind of critical thinking skills. Critical thought, in my opinion, is transferential. Combined aspects of it from the sciences, the humanities, and the social sciences in schools, I think, should go some way to fostering critical discourse on society.

John says that the conceptual framework, the domain, which provides a focus for student questioning, as presented in the syllabus document constrains student thinking. I beg to differ. I think that the framework provides an underlying structure for which questioning can occur. That framework, or skeleton as it were, provides a basis which teachers and students can 'flesh out', and I'll get to why I think so in the next part.

J: To the changes to the syllabi specifically, then, and the reduction in mathematical basis was, as you say, to dumb it down. Personally, I didn't chose either Phys or Chem to learn about Planck vs Einstein. Yes, their differing views are important to a fuller understanding of the relationships between politics and science, and have probably shaped the way we learn today; however, it is structured in such a way that we learn they had different views only. If, perhaps, the syllabus lead to us adopting one perspective or another and then developing our arguments for either side, we would THEN become critical citizens.

The construction of knowledge is a social activity according to Vygotsky. When one enters a field of knowledge, one can't pick and choose which knowledge to take or leave; that is pretty much all decided by societal and academic contexts. The content in syllabuses has been collated by educators, academics and bureaucrats alike for one reason or another, as representatives of their respective communities of practice - educators on behalf of teachers and schools, academics on behalf of the body of knowledge for that curriculum area, and bureaucrats on the behalf of government and ultimately or ideally, the electorate and greater society. So someone must've thought it important to include Planck versus Einstein, and probably for some of the reasons John has given.

It must be remembered, though, that the syllabus is not a stiff board that teachers and schools are bound to. Teachers, after all, are not robots implementing the law of the Board of Studies, nor are they merely just an interface between the students and the curriculum. While the syllabus provides the broad structure and essential content for teachers to implement in their classrooms, it is up to a teachers own pedagogy to facilitate the construction of knowledge and the development of skills amongst his or her students. The syllabus, while somewhat prescriptive is not overly didactic. Teachers take an active role in implementing the curriculum through the syllabus as a tool, not a cage. And at least in Stages 4 and 5 Science, a large responsibility for linking content with the domains (knowledge and understanding, skills, and values and attitudes), and the broad learning outcomes of schooling (including an unconditional goal for creating critical thinkers) lie with the teachers, within with their respective school faculties themselves, rather than it being dictated to them explicitly in the syllabus.

So rather than being an issue of the syllabus, I think that the issue that John brings up really lies with the teachers in the classroom. The specific syllabus statement says that students "process information to discuss Einstein and Planck’s differing views about whether science research is removed from social and political forces" (Stage 6 Physics Syllabus, p.51). Now a teacher isn't, or shouldn't, merely going to set a task in which to rote learn facts involved, despite that being the seeming intention of the syllabus document. If a teacher wants students to engage in deep learning, which teachers should and do aim for and in some respects are obligated to do, they would approach that lesson with some creativity to not only satisfy the syllabus requirement but to impart real, concrete knowledge and to satisfy the broad learning outcomes. Those outcomes include the development of critical thought, although not in those specific terms. There is teacher discretion in how a teacher presents syllabus content, and that creativity may well manifest itself in an approach that John has suggested.

Surely though, not every single learning outcome stated in the syllabus leads directly to skills in critical thought. After all, that which is critically thought about has its own context and its own history, so isn't that knowledge of background important? While as stated in the syllabus, it makes no mention of critical thinking, nor analysis or evaluation, surely that knowledge of sociopolitical influences and consequences of science through two different perspectives then, as used in our example, provides a basis for critical thinking through how it relates to now. Students do not have empty heads and nor do they switch off their minds when they leave the classroom. They will, on their own, whether they realise it or not, relate what they see in the world to what they have learned.

J: The humanities side isn't being taught properly to my knowledge, either by teachers who disagree with the revised structure (my Phys teacher) or just spewed it forth onto the unsuspecting class, and we were left to mop it up, absorb it, and regurgitate it in an exam without consideration being given as to what was being taught (my Chem teacher).

Science teachers who have been educated and trained to teach science and only science probably wouldn't have the experience to teach the humanities side to science. The current HSC science syllabi are only relatively new, and a large bulk of teachers have been teaching for twenty or thirty years. Some of those teachers may just be averse to change, don't understand the Board's intentions, lack the relevant professional development, or may have genuine concerns about the new content in their curriculum area. It's an issue that can only be addressed by further in-service training and greater consultation with teachers at the next and subsequent rounds of syllabus revisions. The syllabus isn't perfect.

J: I do agree to your comments on cognative development. Whilst the Year 1 student is taught that sugar dissolved in water and sand doesn't, the understanding of these principles does come later and we have been able to develop what was originally just a pocket of useful knowledge into a complete comprehension of the phenomena.

Your example of atomic theory, though, leads to an interesting conundrum. What is the purpose of early-stage (Stages 1-3 or K-6) education? If it is more to give them the foundations on which to structure their secondary education, then yes, teach them the atomic theory and all other foundation techniques, such as the Newtonian Laws of Physics or the theory of evolution (vs creationism, to keep the religious happy) here. The current syllabi across the science stream in particular does not have enough cross-linkage between stages. And this leads to a lack of enthusiasm and interest in the sciences...

My choice of example in the model of atomic theory was merely to counter Matthew's Meissner Effect/Lenz's Law example and put cognitive development into a science education context. On reflection it was probably a poor choice based on ego rather than considered decision, but I digress.

Certainly, the science curriculum over the first, second and third stages, and the fourth, fifth and sixth stages is discontinuous. But the realities of today's primary and secondary education prevent in-depth science teaching in Stages 1, 2 and 3. Where as secondary schools can have specialised science staff, primary schools as we know them have teachers with only general science knowledge, or in-depth in one particular science (often biology). Those teachers also have the demands of teaching primary literacy and numeracy to their pupils.

In as far as cognitive development goes, I would risk saying that many abstract concepts in the physical sciences would be beyond primary school-age children, where as biological sciences could be more appropriate. However, I think a better grounding in scientific method - developing hypotheses and testing them - would be beneficial, and done properly, could foster an enjoyment of discovery which would feed into later science study. My curriculum studies are only in secondary science, however, so I think I would be even less qualified to comment on that.

J: As a final point, as to your shifting focus, I can agree whole-heartedly that focus has already begun to shift. I know several recent education graduates, and they all have no classroom control at all. Because, it is impossible to teach at any school by merely "orchestrating classroom activities". If you ignore Little Jimmy who is currently punching poor Suzie, he is not going to stop. And, unless he is required to do this activity as part of the "orchestrated classroom activities", should he not be doing this. Yet, you are avoiding behaviour issues. Whilst there is a need to have a more wholly organised lesson, any decent teacher has been doing this for years already, and many issues with individual behaviour management do seem to dissipate. Even the most organised lesson can go to hell, and you will need to deal with individual behaviour. And, I am willing to bet you $10 that, in your first week of actual teaching, you will realise all of this.

As a part of a teacher's responsibility regarding student welfare, there would need to be intervention if Jimmy were punching Suzie. I was merely suggesting that, in response to Matthew's point, the focus in the classroom is shifting even further to where the main priority was the construction of knowledge - learning. Of course, behaviour and order in the classroom are major issues and shouldn't be ignored. But focusing on keeping kids behaved and then teaching them on the side as a second priority undermines what schools and teachers are and do. If that were the case, then schools would be nothing but day prisons, engaging their inmates in training for better employment prospects on the outside. While stated explicitly that schools are where students learn and where teachers teach, the hidden curriculum amongst such institutions can be wildly varied.

The way in which a teacher approaches a class, the mode of a teacher's practice for example, can have implications on the classroom. If a teacher comes into a classroom with with conceptions that his or her task is to control the class first and facilitate learning second, then that's how he or she will teach - with an iron fist and through intimidation. Pre-emptively invoking authority, either tacitly or explicitly as some teachers do, will alienate the students in one's class, even those who initially did want to learn. Engaging students on the otherhand will and does help to reduce disorder in the classroom.

John mentions that the education graduates he knows have no classroom control at all. I don't want to seem pedantic, but that implies a teacher-centred view of teaching/learning. Students need to be at the centre of educational activities for learning to be effective. But the point I want to make is that as a beginning teacher, one has not yet built a repertoire from which to draw upon. While being fresh out of university, armed with the latest theories and principles does not equal expertise, neither does experience in teaching. However, together through reflection in, on and about practice, teaching expertise in general pedagogical and pedagogical content knowledge does develop. So the teething problems in managing a class are, unfortunately, a necessary torture.

Also, in addition to his last comment, Matthew said:
In any model of modern teaching there will be situations where authority can not be questioned and the child understanding why it can not be.

For example teachers are responsible for the health and safety of the children under their care. While these symptoms might be restrictive you have situations where legally teachers must stop children from questioning authority. Again leading to a situation where children are on one hand being told to question authority and on the other being told to follow orders without necessairly knowing the reason why (often because the teachers themselves can't understand and "because the law says so isn't really a decent reasoning when discussing questioning authority".

Questioning authority is quite distinct from open rebellion. I don't think teachers do nor should stop children from questioning authority - well as far as healthy scepticism goes. It may not be practical, but at some stage a teacher would need to explain actions, ideas or paradigms held by the authority - often that's the only avenue for which information like this can reach children. Saying that "because the law says so" is a bit of a cop out, and if a teacher doesn't know why something is, then it's his or her responsibility to find out the intentions or motivations for those law or policy makers and pass that on. A simple thing like that can build trust and respect between student and teacher.

Listening to:
Title: Ocean Breathes Salty
Artist: Modest Mouse
Album/station: Good News for People Who Love Bad News (2004)
Length: 3.49