This began as part of a course called the Middle Leadership Development Project. For my project I chose to focus on aligning and improving the relationship between physics and maths at our school. My school had two physics teachers. In the following year the other one would move onto her next school while I remained. For the first time it was down to me to decide who would progress to IB Physics and who would be denied.
Not entirely true. The teachers never had the final say. That was someone in senior management. This person would take our advice but balance them against the wishes of the students, pressure from parents, class sizes and the IB Diploma requirements.
This left a tension within the science department. The cohort needed to be split between biology and physics. Chemistry was available but timetabling and staff restrictions meant that everyone has to take one of these two.
My solution to this process was a maths aptitude test (available here). From my perspective it was a success. I will talk more about the issues and how I set about addressing them before delving into why I think it worked.
Thanks to @miss_jayin who helped devise this.
Our school has long desired to free itself of the tyranny of exams and move towards authentic assessment. Given the freedom I had with my class I clearly should have being doing more over these past few years. I plan to take advantage of the impetus and the drastic changes in this uncertain world of COVID-19.
I teach in a British school and so we follow the British curriculum and its proclivity for high stakes standardised examinations. A far cry from Finland’s singular national matriculation examination. I am not entirely anti-exams as seems to be the trend nowadays. Nor do I believe in teaching to the test, save those final few weeks of crunch time. I do believe in regularly immersing the students in exam questions though to build up familiarity with specific idiosyncrasies, presentation and language. I definitely do not do enough project based learning. I probably attempt one or two experimental project activities per class per year. This has lead to many failures, though the few successes do get repeated and I should eventually have a repertoire of one per topic and grade.
When our school underwent lock-down the uncertainty and prioritisation of the exam classes combined with slow and vague communication from the examining bodies left the question of remote assessments hanging. Eventually we attempted to deliver end of year exams online with some measures to simulate an in-class experience, however, the overall consensus is that it was not fit for purpose. Some students had connection issues. Others disliked the digital format and struggled to edit the documents satisfactorily. Some had their answers disappear because a parent reset a router mid-exam in an attempt to reestablish their connection to a work meeting. Others submitted too early so I was required to release it back to them and then set them a separate end time. Then was the very obvious problem of cheating.
So we do not want to repeat that. We could continue to experiment with refining our procedure, or invest in those incredibly controversial remote or algorithmic proctoring platforms that detect keystrokes patterns, mouse movements among a host of other checks. That seems a little overboard for our situation even if the many issues were addressed . Knowledge can be developed and assessed in a myriad of fashions so why continue to deliver a flawed process in unsuitable conditions under overbearing procedures that further stress already emotional and anxious students. This was the time to research, experiment and innovate.
Early on in my teaching career I grew frustrated with the deciding the exact grade boundaries for internal exams. So I created two tools.
Subject Clusters – How schools can use schedules and micro-sites to minimise cross links during pandemics Version 1.0
It started as a random tweet to my epidemiologist friend Dr. Gonzales. He encouraged me to fully form this idea of how a school could be structured in the face of the corona virus crisis. I know there are many plans and proposals out there and maybe this will suit one of their contexts.
I finished working on this as soon as I was able to fit my school’s curriculum into the plan. If my school takes it further I will update and improve this write up.
Here is a scheme I have been thinking about if we are required to return to school.
Actual numbers will, of course, be different and we may rely on many teachers teaching non-specialist subjects. and limit optional subject.
Assuming 90ish students per year we can split each year into 3-4 groups. And thus the school into 21-28 groups. This will end up with 3-4 “Subject Cluster”
I teach students between the ages of 16 and 19, specialising on mathematical components of a more generalised course .
I am uncertain as to the location of the inflection point between pushing critical understanding and just mechanically working through procedures to arrive at an answer in learning maths. However, it still continues to surprises me the frequency at which the admirable pride and inquisitiveness of students hinder their mathematical progress simply because they desire to understand why techniques or methods work before they are adequately able to do so. Continue reading