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August 2019: What's News in Education

Updated: Jul 27

Debates about play, a celebration of circles and a sensitive conjecture, so much reading joy and more.

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Mathematics Education

Mathematician David Butler has done some heavy lifting for us and compiled 8 ‘useful puzzles’ plus ground rules for working through them with a group. Enjoy!


There’s something so enticing about one-liner geometry problems, like this one from Alejandro Gallardo (click the link to see the full animation):


On the theme of circles, happy 185th birthday Mr Venn! Here are some Venn diagram teasers, compiled by Alex Bellos, to get you thinking.

Over on the international stage…

After a maths (and art) activity for children in their early years? Visual artist Paula Beardell Krieg has you covered.

This month’s debate is on the topic of play:

  • From Matthew Oldridge: “Play is irrepressibly human, and we can play to learn. Playing and thinking are not at odds with each other.”

  • From Greg Ashman: “Being in favour of play is a lot like being in favour of peace and motherhood… However, when you examine it more closely, it’s merely a repackaging of the same bad ideas that have harmed students’ understanding of maths… across the English-speaking world.”

Early Childhood to Tertiary Education

Encouraging reading:

The Final Quarter is a documentary about champion AFL footballer and Indigenous leader Adam Goodes. The film, as well as teaching resources, are available for free to schools.


A U.K. study funded by the Education Endowment Foundation has found growth mindset to make no difference to students’ maths or English results.


Self-regulated learning is when students “make proactive decisions about their behaviour and learning in the absence of external constraints.” Education researcher Karen Peel explains what pedagogical practices and behaviour management approaches support this.


Research out of the University of British Columbia has found a high correlation between school students studying music and performing well at maths, science and English. The relationship was found to exist even when controlling for socioeconomic background, ethnicity, gender and prior performance in maths and English.


Why should cognitive load theory matter to teachers? How can it be implemented in the classroom? These questions and more, answered by John Sweller who has spent decades researching the theory.


How far can you stretch an educational analogy? Carl Hendrick has found the limit:

Stories of Learners & Teachers

At 17 years-old, Meg Emery has achieved something that not many of us will ever do: become a published author in a scientific journal.


How far would you go to fight for your education? Knowing that her local high school in rural N.S.W. wouldn’t be able to support her to be the first in her family to go to university, Zoe Provest moved 300km to study at Dubbo College. “She rents a granny flat, works two jobs to pay for it and spends the rest of her spare time studying.” Just wow.


Queensland PhD student, Leela Dilkes-Hoffman, “is taking on Australia’s plastic waste crisis, with her research into sustainable living set to take her across the globe.”


The da Vinci Decathlon brings together teams of students across Australia to compete in a marathon academic challenge on topics from engineering and code breaking, to art and poetry. This year’s winner was a Year 11 team from the Meriden Schoolin Sydney.

This is probably my favourite school story of the year: Two months ago, the principal of Warialda Public School in northern N.S.W., Dan van Velthuizen, began broadcasting stories to students via Facebook. Now, over 38,000 people have visited their Facebook page and stories have been read by a local pharmacist, a regional newsreader, the NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell and Farmer Geoffrey (pictured).


Taradale is 100 kilometres north-west of Melbourne and has a population of 448 people. In recent years, the local primary has gone from being a place that people avoided to the town’s biggest employer. Take a look inside.


“If we’re going to revive our culture, we’ve got to revive our languages” —writer and Aboriginal language researcher, Bruce Pascoe. In 2016, Victorian Aboriginal Languages was published in the curriculum. Since that time, “With the support of local Aboriginal communities, 10 schools across Victoria are now teaching eight Victorian Aboriginal Languages.” Here’s the story of two of those schools: Heywood and District Secondary College and Boronia West Primary School.


Education Policy & Politics

TAFE and vocational education and training (VET) is the talk of the town:

On poverty and inequalities among young people:

The last few years has seen an influx of STEM programs for schools. A report from the Council of Australian Governments Education Council has found: “There is very little robust data on which to assess the outcomes of the initiatives.”


The many shades of technology in schools:

Investment in education:

In a move to help overwhelmed new teachers, the S.A. Education Department is developing curriculum guides, including lesson plans, for all major subject areas up to Year 10.


Education Around the World

England: With a crisis in education funding, it is believed that around 200 schools “are cutting short the school week, or are actively consulting on it, because they cannot afford to educate their pupils for a full five days.”


Switzerland: The Swiss Senate has rejected a motion, to make rankings data on schools public, by 30 to 10.


U.S.A.: Several decades after the first charter schools became established in the United States, a number are now re-evaluating what they’re doing. And, on a similar theme, is this piece from a reformed ‘educationist’:

“All told, I have devoted countless hours and millions of dollars to the simple idea that if we improved our schools — if we modernized our curricula and our teaching methods, substantially increased school funding, rooted out bad teachers, and opened enough charter schools — American children, especially those in low-income and working-class communities, would start learning again.

“Even the most thoughtful and well-intentioned school-reform program can’t improve educational outcomes if it ignores the single greatest driver of student achievement: household income.”

The World: New data from UNESCO has found that UN member states are at risk of not meeting the Sustainable Development Goal of free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education for all children by 2030.


Evaluation & Research Practices

Is Retraction Watch:

A) A judge for the Australian Open

B) A watch that takes back time

C) A group of scientists who have compiled unreliable or compromised studies.

You’ll have to read this article to find out.

“[There is an illness that] plagues psychology and related disciplines (including the health sciences, family studies, sociology, and education). That illness is the conflation of correlation with causation, and the latest research suggests that scientists, and not lay people and the media, are the underlying culprits.” — April L. Bleske-Rechek, who has extensively researched the issue and how it occurs.


Maths, Science & Tech

The ‘sensitivity conjecture’ has stumped computer scientists for decades. Now, mathematician Hao Huang has proved it with “an ingenious but elementary two-page argument.” Very nice.


A spiral galaxy, as captured recently by the Hubble Space Telescope:

Fifty years after the Apollo 11 moon landing, scientists are still using samples brought back to understand the moon and its origins. Amongst them, is planetary physicist Sarah T. Stewart, whose research has upended a decades-old theory.

Over 100 hours of post-mortem scanning of a human brain has resulted in a 3-D picture that’s “more detailed than ever before”.


Why does good science communication matter? Are all scientists already proficient at communicating? And if not, how do you train the necessary skills? Ask no further, thanks to scientist Beth Bartel.

© 2019 by Michaela Epstein. 

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