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April 2019: What's News in Education

Updated: Jul 27

Heated debates on mathematics education, schools with no rewards, a prison that educates and more.



Mathematics Education

“It seems to me that scaffolding the problem is not what we should be doing. …What we need to be doing is scaffolding the problem solving, and this is quite different.” — mathematics education researcher, Dr Colin Foster on how students should be supported in problem solving.

Mathematical questions to get you thinking:

In search of some maths ed debates? Look no further.

№1 Student disabilities and capacity to learn:

№2 What is mathematical modelling?

  • From Dan Meyer: “We cannot tell teachers that some days are modeling days and some days are not modeling days.” All learning is modelling.

  • From mathematician Sol Garfunkel: “the definition of mathematical modeling… and the one all the people I know who work in the field agree on is that it begins with a real-world problem.”

  • And from Meyer again: “The distinction between the “real” and “not real” world doesn’t exist and insisting on it makes everyone’s job harder.”

What does Year 12 mathematics participation in Australia look like over time? Check out this report from the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute.

“The struggle birthed from centuries of racist beliefs, structures and practices- are abundantly present in math classrooms. This is where adolescents of color are told, ‘With enough grit and the right character, you can go to college, be successful, and achieve the American dream. You just have to wish to be white enough. And if you miss the ticket, never forget for a moment that it’s your fault.’” mathematics teacher Esther Song on equity in education and professional development.

ICYMI, a little mathematical life hack from Ben Stephens:


Early Childhood to Tertiary Education

On belonging and safety at school:

In this podcast interview, Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment Dylan Wiliam explains what’s wrong with the questioning approach of “I’ll ask a question and you put your hands up to answer” and what are more effective techniques to use instead.


Under a new clinical teaching model, six regional Australian schools are employing “teaching students as classroom assistants and a private provider delivers lectures at school, completely bypassing universities”. The approach is being used as a way to retain new teachers in the bush.


How effective is professional development for teachers? A U.S.-based organisation is seeking to overturn the industry and working with schools “so teachers could spend more time talking to — and learning from — each other.”


It’s been 50 years since Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar was released. This article dives in its enduring appeal, which “can be attributed to its effortless fusion of story and educational concepts, its striking visual style, and the timelessness of both its aesthetic and its content.”


Stories of Learners & Teachers

At the Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison in W.A., 251 inmates are enrolled in education courses, including TAFE courses and university degrees, to help with upskilling and transition to life outside of prison.


“With 20 percent of its 400-plus students diagnosed with a learning disability and about half of its kids coming from families in economic need, [Frank McCourt High School] nonetheless outperforms citywide averages on state-mandated Regents exams, graduation rates and postsecondary enrollment.” How a mastery-based model is helping this school to succeed.


Harriet Sweatman, 16, has been recognised as the Scottish Schools Young Writer of the Year. Here is her work, ‘Children must be freed from the curriculum’s chokehold’.


There’s a growing group of schools who are going ‘reward-free’ — no ribbons, certificates etc. Read about the approach being taken here and why schools are getting on board.

This year’s $1 million Global Teacher Prize has been awarded to Kenyan maths and physics teacher, Peter Tabichi. Read his story here. Australia’s own Yasodai Selvakumaran was a top 10 finalist for the prize. Here is an interview with Selvakumaran about her approach to teaching.


Meet Scott Maxwell, the 2018 ARIA Music Teacher of the Year, who transformed music education at his school.


The 2018 Indigenous STEM Award winners have been announced. The awards “recognise, reward and celebrate the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and scientists who are studying and working in the STEM field, as well as the integral role schools, teachers and mentors have.”


As part of The Shadow a Student Challenge, earlier in March teachers and principals around the world spent a day in students’ shoes. The aim? To “help school leaders redesign their school cultures.”


The Age has compiled a list of Schools that Excel (NB: schools are chosen based on improvements in VCE results in the past decade). On the list is:


Education Policy & Politics

Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Canberra, Hobart, Geelong, Byron Bay, Coffs Harbour, Cairns and Townsville. These are all cities that saw tens of thousands of students walk out of school on Friday 15 March and demand action on climate change. If that’s not real-world learning, what is?


The federal government has held hearings across Australia as part of an inquiry into the status of teaching. Here some insights from the hearings:

Brush up on your reading with these reports:

In response to the amount of overwork, stress and conflict being dealt with by school principals, the S.A. government has launched a Principal Wellbeing Action Plan. Over in Shellharbour, N.S.W., a new program has been successfully rolled out to similarly address concerns about Principals’ health and wellbeing.


“Almost 1000 students have been suspended from WA public schools for physical aggression in the first four weeks of the school year — a 15 per cent increase on the same time last year. Education Minister Sue Ellery said the figures showed the McGowan Government’s crackdown on school violence was working.


How much time is left in the lifespan of NAPLAN? According to Professor Andy Hargreaves, who has looked at the practices of other countries such as Canada, Israel and Scotland, not long. Meanwhile, the Gonski Institute for Education is calling for NAPLAN to be conducted on a random sampling basis in order to focus on system-level performance and mitigate issues faced at an individual level.


What needs to be done to tackle unfairness in school funding? School Education Program Director at the Grattan Institute, Peter Goss, explains.


Education Around the World

Japan: From April 2020, a new subject will become mandatory in Japanese primary schools — computer programming.


Singapore: “If learning is just stress and no joy, there will be little chance of sparking passion and self-motivation that drives lifelong learning.” — Education Minister Ong Ye Kung on the need for changes to Singapore’s education system.


U.S.A.: The largest-known college admissions scandal in US history has erupted. Forty-five defendants have been accused of fraud and inflicting “emotional distress” in a $US500 billion civil lawsuit.


Evaluation & Research Practices

“Unfortunately, the false belief that crossing the threshold of statistical significance is enough to show that a result is ‘real’ has led scientists and journal editors to privilege such results, thereby distorting the literature. …[T]he rigid focus on statistical significance encourages researchers to choose data and methods that yield statistical significance for some desired (or simply publishable) result. …[W]e are not advocating a ban on P values, confidence intervals or other statistical measures — only that we should not treat them categorically. This includes dichotomization as statistically significant or not” — academics Valentin Amrhein, Sander Greenland, Blake McShane, together with more than 800 signatories, are calling for a rethink on how statistical significance is used in research.

In a blog on the problem with using scientific evidence in education, teacher educator Dr Lucinda McKnight and medical doctor Dr Andy Morgan, have called “for an urgent halt to the imposition of ‘evidence-based’ education on Australian teachers.” And in response, comes this piece from teacher and researcher Greg Ashman and this piece from language and literacy expert Professor Pamela Snow. Please read.


Education researchers Dr Nicole Mockler and Dr Meghan Stacey interviewed teachers across Australia, asking about what they think good evidence is and what would be helpful in using data and research. Mockler and Stacey argue against using ‘formalised’ and ‘objective’ tools, and instead “to properly recognise the complexity of teaching, and the inherent, interwoven necessity of teacher judgement.”


Maths, Science & Tech

From Ben Orlin is this biography of Archimedes, written in anagrams of ‘Archimedes’. Perfect.


The 2019 Abel Prize, a mathematics prize modeled after the Nobels, has been awarded to Karen Keskulla Uhlenbeck “for her pioneering achievements in geometric partial differential equations, gauge theory and integrable systems, and for the fundamental impact of her work on analysis, geometry and mathematical physics.” Here’s why her work is so important.


Built for Zero is a program that uses a data-based approach to address chronic homelessness. To date, three communities in the U.S. have been successful, with a further nine ending veteran homelessness.


New evidence uncovered in southeast Australia suggests that Aboriginal people may have been living on the continent for as long as 120,000 years.


Stretching back even further in history to 125 million years ago, paleontologists have discovered “five fossilized jaws [in Victoria] from a previously unknown dinosaur”.


“A team of Boston University researchers recently stuck a loudspeaker into one end of a PVC pipe. They cranked it up loud. What did they hear? Nothing. How was this possible?” Read on.


Taste, touch, smell, hearing, sight… oh, and don’t forget magnetoreception, the ability to respond to the Earth’s magnetic field. Yes, that’s a human sense that’s been researched by a team of geophysicists and neuroscientists.

© 2020 by Michaela Epstein. 

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