Category Archives: Teacher Training

Book: Heinemann Chemistry 2 Enhanced (VCE Units 3 & 4)

Heinemann Chemistry 2 Enhanced cover


The best textbook for VCE Chemistry Units 3 & 4
496 pages, ★★★★★

Heinemann Chemistry 2 Enhanced (Heinemann 2) is the best VCE Chemistry textbook in existence. There are two other major brands (Nelson and Jacaranda) but Heinemann 2 beats both of them in terms of comprehensiveness and clarity.

I read the whole book from start to finish in preparation for teaching VCE Chemistry. I love the clarity, the use of full colour and the connections to real life in this book. I also love how the most difficult unit,  Unit 4, consists of hard and easy chapters in alternation! Left-brained chemical production processes are interspaced with right-brained “chemistry in society” chapters, which are easier to understand. The whole book is organised according to the VCE Chemistry Study Design, too—and the Key Knowledge from the Study Design are pasted at the start of each chapter.

Heinemann 2 isn’t perfect, though. I noticed two errors:

Page 91: the infra-red (IR) spectrum of ethanol is wrong. Compare the book’s example (top) with a typical example found online (bottom):

Ethanol WRONG Infrared Spectrum

Ethanol Infrared Spectrum

Why is the O-H stretch in Heinemann 2‘s spectrum so narrow and short?

Page 445: the bottom paragraph on tin plating is very unclear. The book uses “tin” to refer both to the “tin can” and to the “tin plating”, even though only the latter is actually made of tin. An extract from Heinemann 2 is below.

Confusing Extract from Heinemann 2

…that’s confusing!

With the exceptions of IR spectroscopy and tin plating, Heinemann 2 gives you comprehensive coverage of all the topics in VCE Chemistry. As long as you look up those two topics on ChemGuide, Heinemann 2 is the only textbook you’ll need to buy. ★★★★★

More resources might pique students’ interest, though. Try these websites:

  1. ChemGuide — succinct, text, covers VCE well ★★★★★
  2. Richard Thornley — tutorials for VCE and a little beyond ★★★★★
  3. Kahn Academy — tutorials for VCE and far beyond ★★★★★
  4. ShowMe — covers most of VCE ★★★★

And try these iPhone apps for organic chemistry:

  1. Organic Chemistry Nomenclature — revision flashcards ★★★
  2. MolPrime — great for drawing organic molecules with your finger ★★★
  3. ChemSpider — look up properties of the molecules you drew in MolPrime! These two apps work seamlessly together. ★★★

Book: Diversity and Inclusion in Australian Schools

Diversity and Inclusion in Australian Schools

Necessary primer for teachers
396 pages, ★

This book is an introduction to the level of diversity we should expect in Australian schools. It covers:

  • Linguistic diversity (ESL and native speakers)
  • Cultural diversity (including indigenous cultures)
  • Gender diversity (i.e. girls and boys)
  • Learning difficulties
  • Challenging behaviour
  • Complex communication needs (e.g. inability to speak)
  • Intellectual disabilities (as different from, and more severe than, learning difficulties)
  • Sensory impairment
  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • “Gifted and Talented” students

This book takes a highly theoretical, academic approach to the above topics. It describes what’s already being done in schools, and illustrates each topic with anecdotes from students’ perspectives but doesn’t directly teach teachers how to adapt their lessons to embrace this diversity. Even though this book was an excellent primer to the topic of diversity, I still need to read more about how to design lessons that cater to a range of learning styles in the classroom from books with a more practical focus. For my mini-project on ADHD, for example, the information in this textbook was far from adequate to make a 5-minute PowerPoint presentation. (Bizarrely, it covers deafness and gender in far more depth.)

That said, it’s one of those books that all teachers should refer to every time we meet a new form of diversity in our teaching career. It’s unlikely we’ll see all of these diversities in our first cohort of students—but it’s likely that we’ll see all of these diversities at some point in our careers. All teachers should have this book on their reference shelf.

At a hefty $79 exc. GST, this book is only worthwhile for teachers or teachers-in-training who will use this book professionally. Highly recommended for teachers. Not recommended for anyone else. 

 

Book: The Skilful Teacher

The Skilful Teacher: On technique, trust and responsiveness in the classroom

Expert, practical teaching advice.
279 pages, ★★★★

One of my lecturers at Monash University confessed to having an “academic crush” on this author when she started her teaching career. I can see why: Brookfield’s advice is useful, comprehensive and easy to read. It’s neither overly theoretical, nor weighed down by excessive branding (like the UbD and Whole Brain Teaching initiatives). I see this book by Stephen Brookfield as a one-man supplement to the PEEL teaching handbooks.

I’ve summarised some of the book’s highlights below.

First, bad classes are not your fault. Don’t take bad classes to heart.

Second, over-intervention and over-encouragement can cause negative effects: anxiety, patronisation, distrust and dependence. This begs the question: how should teachers occupy themselves when they’re at the sidelines in the classroom?

Third, I love this passage on page 90. Take a look at the images below.

photo 1 photo 2

Fourth, the book makes “critical incident questionnaire” (CIQ) a key selling point. The letters ‘CIQ’ are present on almost every double-page. CIQ forms train students to become reflective learners and provide teachers with up-to-date feedback about which ideas/concepts were taught clearly and which ideas/concepts were not. The author is a major supporter of quick CIQ forms in all classes.

Fifth, write helpful comments, whether they’re critical or supportive. Written comments should be clear, immediate, regular, accessible, individualised, affirming, future-oriented, justifiable and educative.

Sixth, don’t succumb to “conversional obsession” (the act of trying to convert impossibly stubborn students).

Seventh, manage your email trail. Which conversations might require a written record? Which conversations are best kept unwritten?

Finally, he ends with a joke. The last of 15 pieces of advice in the final chapter is written as follows: “Maxim 15: Don’t Trust What You’ve Just Read”.

Of course, everyone’s reading will be different. You’ll notice ideas in this book that I overlooked. I strongly recommend this book for any professional teacher. This book isn’t wholly relevant, but there’s a lot of relevance in this book. ★★★★

Book: Mindful Learning

Mindful Learning by David B. Strahan

Obvious, practical advice.
212 pages, ★★★★

Mindful Learning is exactly what you’d expect from looking at its title. It combines the results of four years’ collaborative research by teachers and students into how best to engage students in the learning process at school. Most of the book’s solutions are either well-established theories or are common sense. I’ve summarised four of my favourite snippets below.

First, most interesting was the “learning and face” section. Peer pressure and teacher pressure are often contradictory. Some students also feel pressured into “acting Black” or “acting Latino”, which often contradicts the wishes of their parents and teachers. Students hold the misconception that “being smart” is a “gift from birth”, and isn’t the result of tenacious practice. School students want success to be seen as effortless (“I didn’t practice for this test at all”), and failures to be seen either as inadvertent or someone else’s fault (“I forgot my homework/sports kit”).

Second, all our actions are efforts to fulfil five basic needs: security, belonging, power, freedom and fun. While this theory is by no means perfect, it’s a simple way for some students to develop more empathy. This theory comes from Glasser (1993).

Third, teaching and learning should be integrated with life; i.e. school curricula should be relevant! This is common sense, but is seldom carried out.

Finally, in a verbatim classroom transcript on page 29, a teacher asks a class how to calculate the volume of a fish. I tried it out with great success—it’s the best question I’ve ever set in a maths class. More on this later.

This book is more of a blend (like PEEL) than a brand (like UbD). It’s a collection of common sense teaching practices, and for that reason, I give it a positive review. I recommend this as a light, supplementary reading for existing professional teachers. ★★★★

Essay: A Comparison of the High-School Chemistry Curricula of China and Wales

This essay received an HD (high distinction) from my tutors at Monash.

1. Introduction

I have chosen to compare the high-school Chemistry curricula of China and Wales.

Continue reading Essay: A Comparison of the High-School Chemistry Curricula of China and Wales

Book: Surviving and Succeeding in Difficult Classrooms

Surviving and Succeeding in Difficult Classrooms

Tells incompetent teachers in dire classroom settings to “hang in there”.
160 pages, ★★

I’m so happy I’m not in a position where I need this book.

Paul Blum’s hard-hitting, “blunt, truthful account” of the UK’s most troubled schools delves into territory I didn’t know was allowed in the field of education. Contrary to the other books and articles I’ve been reading, he calls students “nutters” and “angels” on page 15. Even more extreme, on page 27, he says, “the really crazy ones will climb out of windows [to avoid detention]”.

He describes some atrocious situations: students who tell teachers to “fuck off”, parents who can’t afford phones, families who live in “poverty and squalor”, and classes with unexplained 20% absence rates. Gangs enter the school premises to attack a student towards the end of this book, and he advises his readers that “the police are probably required immediately”.

Surviving and Succeeding in Difficult Classrooms is more of a rant than a book. It alarms you to the most extreme scenarios that some teachers dig themselves into, and makes you wonder how they got there. Even though the book blames school chaos on poverty alone, I’m young and optimistic enough to believe that teachers can do something more than tolerate it, or just “hang in there”, as this book tells them to do. I think we can sabotage the fizzy drinks machine, make students more physically active during class, study pop music in English class and make everything active and relevant. We can give kids the respect they don’t get at home—even when they tell us to “fuck off”.

My favourite quote is on page 75, The Don’t’s:

10. Don’t waste too much time preparing copious written lesson plans.

There’s not much I agree with in this book, but on that line, I agree 100%.

The cover really doesn’t match the writing style. On the outside, this book is a $36.00 work of academic literature. On the inside, however, it’s a colloquial, 2-for-$5 self-help book that fails to motivate… and there are no references.

The author might like you to give this book to any teachers you know who are struggling in terrible schools. However, by offering no solutions to turn these schools around, the author’s effectively telling his readers to give up hope. If this book resonates with you, then it’s time to consider a career change. ★★

Book: Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids

Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids

Akin to a fad diet… proceed with caution!
279 pages, ★★

Whole Brain Teaching (WBT) is a happy, militaristic style of teaching that claims to grip all your students’ attention all the time. Here’s a really cute kindergarten class using WBT successfully.

This free book introduces the basics of WBT, which can be summarised in 7 “Big Rules” (all 7 of these were in the video).

  1. Class-Yes: when the teacher says, “Class”, the students respond, “Yes”;
  2. Teach-Okay: when the teacher says, “Teach”, the students respond, “Okay”, and proceed to teach each other in pairs;
  3. 5 Classroom Rules: my favourite rule is #5: “Keep your dear teacher happy”;
  4. Scoreboard: ‘Smilies’ (+1) and ‘Frownies’ (-1)  are awarded at the teacher’s discretion and recorded on the whiteboard. Net scores translate into minutes of recess, or minutes of music, at the end of each class. (I am highly reluctant to use this.)
  5. Hands & Eyes: students respond, “Hands & Eyes” and listen attentively to an important point;
  6. Switch: Used in combination with “Teach-Okay”, students will change their pair-partners upon this command;
  7. Mirror: mimic the teacher’s actions and words exactly.

Personally, I would only be comfortable using the first three of these rules in my classes.

Like me, you probably found the first video very cute. Secondary-school teachers will be thrilled to know that it’s possible to train older students in this way, too—although I don’t recommend it.

While I appreciate some of the basic ideas (such as “Class-Yes” and “Teach-Okay”), I found more and more “gimmicks” as I read on. By the middle of this book, WBT had become over-complicated and patronising. For example:

  • Students are given stars and colours, just like on eBay;
  • Students are given coloured cards with different meanings in class;
  • Scoreboards become increasingly complex to the point of absurdity.

WBT used to be called “Power Teaching” until a few years ago. The rebranding included questionable links to neuroscience. This book and its associated materials are littered with pictures of brains and tenuous talk of “mirror neurons”. This probably boosts the scheme’s popularity among laypeople, but repels the scientifically-literate with disgust.

I have three main problems with WBT. First, the references to neuroscience are almost all bunk. Second, the branding is too strong for my liking. If I were to teach like this, I’d no longer be Mr. Kennedy; I’d become a mass-produced WBT teacher. Teachers are not machines—they cannot be copied and replicated to the letter—and no teacher should try to adopt all the techniques of another person. (Any classroom successes would be accredited to the “miraculous” WBT program, while any failures would be attributed to myself.) Third, if I were to follow WBT to the letter, including all these ridiculous rules, I think my class of secondary students would grow weary and give up completely in my class. Coloured cards and eBay stars patronise adolescents, whose main objective is to appear as adult as possible. Students need to feel respected and cared for—and I think that telling secondary-level kids that “you’re a green star level 6 on the third scoreboard now—give me a ‘yaaaay!'”would turn them away.

I’m critical of WBT because I’m a secondary school teacher. It might work well in primary schools, but I’ll likely never get a chance to try it out. I will, however, steal one or two ideas from this book for secondary level if I need to—notably peer-teaching, micro-lecturing and ways of grabbing the class’ attention.

Even though I’ll probably never use WBT, this book was worth reading. It taught me three things:

  1. Classrooms are diverse.
  2. Steal good ideas from lots of people but never take too many ideas from one person (such as the inventor of WBT).
  3. Be your own brand. Don’t copy someone else’s techniques wholeheartedly—it won’t work because you have a different personality, and are teaching different students in a different social setting. What works for them might not work for you—innovate by finding your own way. Copy ideas but not whole personalities. Ultimately, be yourself.

★★

Book: The Saber-Tooth Curriculum

I just got married! I also just finished reading The Saber Tooth Curriculum

The Saber-Tooth Curriculum
The Saber-Tooth Curriculum

Classic satire full of good quotes. Subject of running jokes since 1939.
139 pages, ★★★★★

The Saber-Tooth Curriculum is a collection of seven short, satirical stories that illustrate some quirky aspects of our education system. The same Stone Age society is used as a metaphor for our modern world throughout.

Allusion to the modern world is thinly-veiled. This Stone Age society has middle schools, universities, education officials, investors, and even a national curriculum. Only humour—including humorous names of people and school subjects—separates this Stone Age society from reality.

The main messages in this book’s seven stories are:

  1. The scientific method has made absurd yet un-disprovable theories become accepted in education; (See this example.)
  2. Schools teach an outdated set of skills to students;
  3. School reform meets resistance from all angles;
  4. Universities dictate school curricula with lofty, academic content and overcomplicate education with ‘credits’, ‘units’ and rules on ‘pre-requisites’;
  5. Unions control education for the short-term benefit of society;
  6. When young people learn outdated skills, they can’t find meaningful work;
  7. All of this is extremely difficult to change.

I agree with most of these points. After graduation from Cambridge during the economic crisis with no job, no practical skills and no employers even remotely interested in hiring biology graduates, I felt I’d been cheated into some massive con. Unlike history or art, biology isn’t particularly interesting to other people, either. I would love to see curricula become more relevant to society than they are today—we’d have a more interesting, more employable crop of graduates in years to come.

Part II, The Saber-Tooth Curriculum, is the most famous story in this book. In synopsis, a cave-dwelling society refuses to alter its school curricula despite an impending ice age which completely redefines the skills required in the workplace. This story highlights how schools still teach swathes of irrelevant knowledge (too much maths, too much chemistry) and neglect the useful skills to the detriment of everyone (reading, writing, health, religion, and more).

The most incredible thing about this book is that it’s still relevant 70 years after being written! As long as school curricula are playing catch-up with society, The Saber-Tooth Curriculum will stay relevant. Recommended for anyone who went to university. ★★★★★

Essay: Student alternative conceptions in secondary level plant science

After much deliberation, I’ve decided to put this online. Here’s the first essay I wrote during teacher training. Monash University was kind enough to award it the top grade 🙂  Continue reading Essay: Student alternative conceptions in secondary level plant science

Book: STS Education: International Perspectives on Reform

Okay, I acknowledge that most of these teaching books aren’t of any interest to most people. My next book review will be an interesting one—I promise. 🙂

STS Education
Another hard-to-find book

“Please make science education relevant”.
259 pages, ★★★★

STS stands for “Science, Technology & Society”. It’s an international group founded in Oxford in 1990 with the aim of re-thinking how to teach science in today’s schools. All the authors in this book broadly agree that the science taught in schools needs to be more relevant to our daily lives. No more lofty, pointless theory. Many of you will know that I agree with that. 🙂

Instead of just “this is how nuclear reactions happen”, STS aims to add, “here are the safety, environmental and economic implications of nuclear power plants”.

Instead of just “this is how plants photosynthesise”, STS might add, “here are the implications of using biomass as a source of ethanol for cars”.

STS isn’t alone. ChemCom, SEPUP, SATIS, SISCON and SCISP, and—shameless plug—The Triple Helix are all striving towards the same goal.

I’ve summarised the most interesting chapters of STS Education below. Notice that all the authors broadly agree!

In Chapter 1, Joan Solomon argues for moral science education because the next generation will use science to have a huge influence on society. She uses the industrial revolution, the green revolution, energy crises and myxomatosis to illustrate her point (in a revised edition, she might also allude to avian flu, SARS, improvised explosives and food safety scandals). Only “moral science” classes can ensure that the next generation’s use of science is positive.

In Chapter 2, Glen Aikenhead wants to keep science education relevant. According to Aikenhead, science has made three major leaps in history:

  • First, Natural Philosophy emerged based on observations of nature. Bernard Sylvester (12th century); Roger Bacon (13th century); Nicole Oresme (14th century); Leonardo da Vinci (15th century); Nicolaus Copernicus (16th century); Johannes Kepler & Galileo Galilei (17th century) all had a major influence.
  • In 17th century Europe, the counter-reformation led to the institutionalisation of science. Mersenne, Descartes, Bacon, Huygens, Boyle and Hooke all had a major influence.
  • In 19th century Europe, the Industrial Revolution led to the professionalisation of science.
  • In the 20th century, World War II led to the socialisation of science.

Aikenhead’s point (I think) it that science keeps changing, so our education of science should change, too.

In Chapter 3, John Ziman says there are 7 ways to teach science:
(Italicised comments are my own)

  1. Relevance approach—“here’s why we should learn about X”
  2. Vocational approach—“learning about X can help you work at Y”
  3. Transdisciplinerary approach—“X is relevant to your other classes”
  4. Historical approach—“here’s the story of how X was discovered”
  5. Philosophical approach—just don’t go there
  6. Sociological approach—the best approach—”X affects us all”
  7. Problematic approach—”what would happen if X…”

In Chapter 5*, Glen Aikenhead says STS aims to fill a “critical void” in the curriculum with “human compassion”. The actions proposed in this chapter looks like an extra layer to Bloom’s Taxonomy—a seventh, “Moral” tier. After students have understood, applied, evaluated and created things in class, can they make moral decisions based upon the information given? Aikenhead proposes that 10% to 40% of science education should be “moral science” (just once, 80% is suggested).

Aikenhead also says here that STS has four purposes (again, italicised comments are my own):

  • Cognitive—plain old brain training
  • Academic—useful knowledge for life
  • Personal—improve your own life by learning to make informed decisions
  • Social action—improve the lives of others by leading by example

*Chapter 5 was the chapter on our university reading list.

Chapter 11 talks about historiography and the public’s alternative conceptions of science. “No one has explored the views of the public about historicity of science and the relationship between theories that became superseded and those that replace them”. I love that sentence. I’d like to see “historiography of climatology” taught in schools—as well as, “alternative conceptions of science”. Both, though, are touchy subjects!

Chapter 12 is sloppy. The line “…all Africans believe in the existence of the creator—the supreme God” is ignorant, and, ironically, unscientific. (They’d never be allowed to write “all Asians” or “all Europeans”, so why is “all Africans” acceptable?)

Chapter 6 is only relevant to curriculum planners (i.e. governmental organisations). I skipped Chapter 13 on India. Chapter 14’s gender debate would have been interesting in 1990 but is now out-of-date. All other chapters were of little relevance to me.

STS is already an old idea, and some of its ideas have already been implemented in curricula worldwide. However, I think this doesn’t go far enough. I want to see MTS (for maths), HTS (for history), ATS (for art) taught in our classrooms. If we understand why we’re learning such seemingly irrelevant stuff as circle theory, then we might just pay a bit more attention in class. That can only be a good thing. ★★★★

Book: EDF4004 Curriculum and Assessment

EDF4004: Curriculum and Assessment
Custom book compiled from various chapters of other books

Wordy and top-heavy. Time’s better spent reading PEEL, Oosterhof & Marsh.
290 pages, ★★★

Q: Why the strange title?

“EDF4004 Curriculum and Assessment” is a custom book that contains all the major readings for the Monash University EDF4004 Curriculum and Assessment course as of 2011 (the reading list has since changed, but the general ideas here are still relevant). The publishers have overhauled the formatting to make it consistent, added new page numbers and even a new index for this “custom book”. It’s probably only found in Monash University.

Q: What does “top-heavy” mean?

Good question. In places, this book leaves the classroom and focusses—again—too much on theory. I want practical classroom advice, not classroom theory. I’m a training to be a teacher, but this book seems more tailored either to a philosopher or a Minister of Education. I say “top-heavy” because this book is aimed at those at the top of their profession, not at graduate teachers. I didn’t need to read most of this book.

In this book, you’ll find the following information:

Curriculum Design: This book tells you how to design a curriculum from the top down. Unfortunately, the description is wordy and hard to follow, and our tutorials were much more useful in explaining the curriculum design process than this book. I used this book to make this diagram, but the notes I took in our tutorials were much clearer and more useful.

Maker’s (16-part curriculum design) Model—totally confusing, overly-theoretical re-hash of PEEL practices. Read PEEL instead.

Gardner’s (8) Multiple Intelligences—be sure to cater to all of these skills when designing assessments and assignments:

  • Intrapersonal
  • Interpersonal
  • Linguistic
  • Logical-Mathematical
  • Naturalist
  • Spatial
  • Bodily-Kinaesthetic
  • Music

(7) Aspects of Quality Learning—check that your assignments and assessments contain all these classroom aspects:

  • Processing
  • Planning
  • Linking
  • Reflecting
  • Decision making
  • Risk taking
  • Working collaboratively

Bloom’s (6-tier) Taxonomy—make sure your assignments and assessments satisfy the following modes of thinking:

  • Remember
  • Understand
  • Apply
  • Analyse
  • Evaluate
  • Create

While browsing the web, I found a previous Monash University student’s blog (coincidentally, also from 2011), who put some useful study notes online. Check out her site here. Her diagram (titled Appendix 1) combines Bloom’s Taxonomy and Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences nicely.

(5) Orientations of a curriculum—Cultural, Personal (see William Kilpatrick), Vocational, Social (see Harold Rugg) and Economic (see David Snedden).

The literature cited in EDF4004 are in overwhelming agreement that there’s been a recent call for “new basics” that take into account the “multi-literacies” that “transcend social boundaries”. Basically, play to every student’s individual strengths, no matter what those strengths are.

(8) Student Masks (by Keefe & Carrington, 2006) — students disguise problems with strange behaviour. Here’s a translation (left = what you see; right = what’s really going on).

Academic masks

  • Mask of super-competence → student may have reading difficulties
  • Mask of the clown → has ADHD
  • Mask of boredom → struggling with focus and studies
  • Mask of activity (busy doing futile tasks) → struggling to complete the work (stuck)

Self-esteem masks

  • Mask of helplessness → being ostracised
  • Mask of invisibility → low self-esteem
  • Mask of the victim (and bully, too) → talk to student then refer to psychologist
  • Mask of contempt (“school sucks”) → feels rejected by studies, socially or at home

Remember that these ‘masks’ were devised by Keefe & Carrington, 2006.

Page 122 summarises Integrating Differentiated Instruction & Understanding by Design in two concise bullet points! (There’s no need to read that two-star book now):

  • Curriculum Content—same for everyone
  • Curriculum Process—varied for each student (use a mixture of PEEL techniques)

Page 130 tells us that Aboriginals are doing terribly in Australian secondary schools.

Page 164-5 tell us how peer-assessment and self-assessment are great learning tools but teachers are seldom well-trained enough to implement them properly. In peer-assessment and self-assessment, remember to:

  • Promote the value of self-reflection
  • Set targets (or get the students to set themselves targets)
  • Develop explicit criteria (so students can’t cheat when marking)
  • Provide practice (students’ self-assessment ability gets better with time)

Page 179 tells us that parents want honest, individualistic, constructive school reports, and longer, better-organised meetings with teachers at parents evenings.

Mirroring Oosterhof somewhat, page 192 reminds us that there are four types of portfolio assessments:

  • Showcase portfolio (my best work)
  • Evaluation portfolio (all my work, graded)
  • Document portfolio (teacher’s secret record)
  • Process portfolio (student’s own progress reports)

There were only two more surprises in the rest of the book:

(1) Celebrating student achievement can be carried out in the form of brochures, newsletters, in-school displays… and out-of-school displays at (for example) supermarkets and universities. Students displaying their best work in a supermarket (supervised, of course) is a great idea.

(2) ICT can assist student learning. iPads are so ubiquitous now that students would probably rebel if you banned them from schools. Compared to the dazzling, high-resolution graphics on an iPad, a conversation with even the most informative teacher can seem like a bore in comparison. How are we supposed to compete with iPads for a student’s attention? (iPads are marvellous things, but teaching students how to use them specifically for study seems like an arduous task.)

The most useful part of this book was at the end: “how to make a grading rubric”. Thankfully, we’d already done this in yesterday’s tutorial. First column: criteria. Next columns contain high, medium and low ability descriptors for each criterion. Final column is “not shown”. Give each square points (typically high = 3; med = 2; low = 1; none = 0) and total each student’s score. This is great information, but I’d heard it already.

I see a pattern here. Is there anything about teaching that I haven’t already read? Or are all other teaching books just re-hashes of PEELOosterhof and Marsh?

Do I really need to read anything else? ★★★

Infographic: Summary of Curriculum Design Schema

I’m preferring useful, practical advice to pure theory. The most useful part of this table is the right-most column (the white one), which tells you how to design a curriculum. Enlarge it and take a look.

Summary of Curriculum Design Schema
Click to Enlarge (PDF)

Book: Integrating Differentiated Instruction & Understanding by Design

I once went to a Cambridge lecture where an adorable character spoke about the differences between ‘biochemical physics’, ‘physical biochemistry’ and ‘biophysical chemistry’ (or something like that). This book does the same thing—it re-packages existing theories in grandiose nomenclature. The result is confusing and pointless.

Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design
Clash.

Re-hash of everything we’ve learned in teacher training so far.
200 pages, ★★

I’m being overly critical of this book because it’s not on my university reading list.

This book integrates two existing educational models: Differentiated Instruction (DI) and Understanding by Design (UdB). Both are referred to by acronyms throughout.

Basically:

  • DI = foreground, teaching, corollaries, schools, students;
  • UbD = background, curriculum, axioms, content, learning.

(Confused? Me too. If you were to read the endless pages that describe where DI stops and where UbD begins, you’d be even more confused.)

Aside from complicated jargon, this book contains nothing new! The “6 Facets of Understanding” are just a reinvention of Bloom’s taxonomy. The “GRASPS Frame” for creating assessments is just a rehash of PEEL practices that are relevant to testing (get the students involved, get them to own the test, create the test, give them choices, etc.) Everything about DI and UbD was explained clearer and earlier by other people!

This book focusses so much on the uniqueness of DI and UbD that it frequently descends into senselessness. Here’s an excerpt:

Corollaries to Axiom 6

• A routine part of collaboration in academically diverse classrooms should occur between teachers and specialists who have expert knowledge about student needs and instructional approaches most likely to respond to those needs.

Why not just say, “teachers should seek advice from superiors when needed”? Big words don’t make you clever. All this book taught me is that several educational reform movements are all moving in the same direction. That, at least, is worth knowing. ★★

Book: The Content of Science: A Constructivist Approach to its Teaching and Learning

The Content of Science
$195, anyone?

Only selected chapters are relevant to secondary level science.
292 pages, ★★★

We were asked to read chapter 2 as part of our teacher training, but in my view, chapter 2 wasn’t the most useful chapter. (Chapter 2 talked about constructivism and how to overcome alternative conceptions, but honestly, it was a little unclear.)

Chapter 3 was a little better. It said that students need to make connections between:

  • the concepts they learn in different classes; and
  • between the concepts they learn in school and their personal experience.

I particularly liked a phrase in chapter 4 written by Layton (1991). He writes that researchers “need more emphasis on researching deconstruction and reconstruction”. This reinforces the idea that “kids are not empty vessels” succinctly (see TED talk below). I like this quote by Layton so much that I quoted it in a recent assignment.

Chapter 5 details how to design class projects. Author Cliff Malcolm proposes conducting group design projects in the five following steps:

  1. Analyse existing examples and present findings
  2. Choose components that your group wants to include
  3. Design your project
  4. Build your project
  5. Submit project and present your design to the class

The above approach, which is relevant to making 2D and 3D models, is also analogous to the methods of teaching proposed by Posner (1982), Osbourne & Freyburg (1985) and Chiappetta & Koballa, Jr. (2006), which deal with the scientific models in students’ minds. The teaching approach for teaching both tangible and intangible (scientific) models begins with exploring students’ existing conceptions. Discussion and experimentation should then be used to (a) find faults in the existing models, and (b) design an improved, more scientific model, which is shared with the class.

Summary of Constructivist Teaching Methods
Click to download PDF version.

Chapter 6, in my opinion, focuses too much on assessing students quantitatively. While it’s true that grades motivate students to a certain extent, allocating extra teacher-time to improving the accuracy of those grades has negligible effect on student motivation. This book goes much further than Oosterhof’s assessment manual in the range and extent of testing. This book advocates tallying every move of every student: how many times they raise their hands, how many times they daydream or chat; how many intelligent questions they ask their peers. Collecting this immense amount of data would require at least one teaching assistant in each class, and the results may be no more useful than the informal observations that a teacher makes instinctively anyway. Chapter 6 is assessment ad absurdum.

The next few chapters are only relevant to primary schools. Richard Gunstone, however, in the final chapter, describes his “P-O-E” method (predict—observe—explain), which, in my view, should accompany every demonstration done in science class. Over time, P-O-E is also a subtle way of introducing students to aspects of the scientific method. A study by Wittrock & Kelly (1984) showed that “before-during-after” approach (very similar to P-O-E) increased reading comprehension in English classes significantly.

Only half of this book was relevant to me so I give it only three stars. James. ★★★