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May 2019: What's News in Education

Updated: Jul 27

The mathematics of queuing, crowd walking and bubbles, plus discussions on homeschooling, quality curriculum and more.


Mathematics Education

Let’s get serious about maths…

“Researchers at Google’s DeepMind built two different kinds of state-of-the-art neural nets to see if they could be trained to answer high school math problems. The result was an E grade, and a failure to add single-digit numbers above 6.” Ouch. Read more about the research here, and check out the actual study here.


Let’s get silly about maths…

From ‘Maths Bloke’ Ed Southall:


What’s going on in this graph? 

Some more maths ideas for the classroom:

  • Year 4 teacher, Andrew Noordhoff, describes how he uses reSolve Maths by Inquiry tasks in his classroom and three protocols they are built on: 1. reSolve Mathematics is purposeful 2. reSolve tasks are inclusive and challenging 3. reSolve classrooms have a knowledge-building culture

  • It’s hard to avoid the maths in chemistry. Educator Ben Rogers explains how the Singapore bar model can help.

  • What are some ways to help support young children to develop their maths skills? Some concrete examples from Jo Chopra, Executive Director of Latika Roy Foundation, for children with disabilities.

  • The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recently held its annual conference. In case you weren’t in San Diego for the massive event, Dan Meyer has done the heavy lifting for us and put all the session slides and handouts in one place, available to download. Cheers!

Rural schools, city schools, independent schools, public schools — all are desperate for maths teachers. And they’re not just desperate in Term 4, they’re in need all the time. An article from yours truly on how we can fix the maths teacher shortage.


Early Childhood to Tertiary Education

“All children love to learn, but many have a hard time with education and some have big problems with school. Usually, the problem is not the learners — it’s the inherent bias of education and the enforced culture of schools.” — Professor emeritus Ken Robinson on the conditions needed in schools to foster natural appetites for learning.

“[I]nternational assessments have shown that the students who best understand climate change are not those that have completed new programs specifically about this topic, …but, rather, are those that do better at science overall. In other words, if the business sector wants to promote understanding of climate change, it is not new programs that are needed but improved teaching and learning of the core science curriculum.” — Ben Jenson, CEO of Learning First, on why we should be cautious about asking schools to teach something new.


Hot topic #1: Curriculum

Hot topic #2: Homeschooling

After an educational podcast to get you thinking? This piece on podcasts that educators recommend has you covered.


Yorta Yorta man, Ian Hamm, was forcibly removed from his family by government and church agencies in 1964. Now, together with The Healing Foundation, he has released a resource kit available to all Australian schools to teach students up to Year 9 the stories of the Stolen Generations.


Playful learning — what is it? Who’s it designed for? What impact does it have? A detailed piece from Rebecca Winthrop, Lauren Ziegler, Rhea Handa, and Foluyinka Fakoya at the Brookings Institution.


From University of California Irvine professor, Candice Odgers: “Whether you ate potatoes had an effect [on mental health] that was similar or somewhat larger than screen use, so why are we worried about digital technologies more than potatoes with the same type of association?” Good question.


“TEM is not a bad bit of advice, but STEM is poor advice.” — Andrew Norton, the Grattan Institute’s higher education program director, on the lack of job opportunities for science graduates, particularly those studying biology.


Stories of Learners & Teachers

To support their Year 12 students, the Tempe High School community has converted a bus into a hang-out space for the students. Tempe High principal Socrates Dassaklis said “the initiative represents a broader shift within the school and state to alleviate stress and the weight of expectations students feel heading into the HSC.”


A study by researchers out of Charles Sturt University asked high achieving Year 6 students to discuss their schooling experiences. The top reasons behind the students’ school success? “[T[heir relationships with teachers and peers and participation in extra-curricular activities”


“We know great teaching requires planning lessons that address the needs of each student. We know it requires collaboration, reflection, professional learning, and regular and detailed feedback to students. The problem is that the system doesn’t allow us to always be great teachers. Quality teaching requires significant time and energy that we simply don’t have.” —teacher Elliot Wall on how workload impedes quality work.


Queensland teacher Markus Honnef has been presented with the CSIRO Indigenous STEM Teacher Award for his work in implementing programs “that engage and change the paradigm of all students so that they can identify themselves as scientists and become aware of other career options.”


Deputy Principal Michael Smith is one of 12 educators across the country who has recently been awarded a Commonwealth Bank Teaching Award. Smith has been recognised for his work in lifting the retention rate of teachers at his school through the use of a mentoring program, which he developed.


Living Faith Lutheran Primary School has put the traditional model of teacher interviews to rest. Instead, teacher candidates do a group interview, and then a demonstration lesson. The goal? “[T]o not only learn about the candidate, but for the candidate to learn about our school culture.”


Education Policy & Politics

New releases from the Australian Government:

On the same topic- vocational education is more than just the university alternative. From Giovanni Maria Semeraro at the O.E.C.D., here’s why it matters.


The Liberal/National coalition was recently re-elected to government in N.S.W. Here’s what it means for education:

As part of a plan to make South Australia’s “education system a world leader within a decade”, principals have gotten access to online dashboards providing data on student academic and wellbeing indicators, staff engagement and culture, and parent survey results.


A royal commission into Victoria’s mental health system has begun. As part of the conversation, the Victorian Principal’s Association is urging the state government to provide mental health workers to primary schools so that early prevention can happen before students get to secondary school.


Under a new Victorian government initiative to “reduce the stigma around menstruation and ensure girls don’t miss school because they can’t afford sanitary products”, over 27 million free pads and tampons will be given to girls across the state every year.


There’s a Federal election in May. Here’s where the main parties stand on education. And here’s another detailed piece from Jennifer Hewett, National Affairs Columnist at The Australian Financial Review.


“In their lives the average adult Australian will eat about 40 democracy sausages or election cakes … so it’s important we get it right” — that’s Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers on the mathematical modelling being done by the AEC and Deakin University to improve polling places and keep queues moving.


Education Around the World

Canada: “Despite different policies in individual provinces, there is a consistent focus on giving all students an equal opportunity.” Here’s what Canada does to support educational equity.


Japan: As a key pillar of increased social security services, legislation has passed Japan’s Lower House that will give free preschool education to children aged 3 to 5 from October.


Italy: “Since 2016, Italy has provided every school with an assessment of not only the quality of its learning outcomes, but also the value it adds relative to other schools for 5th, 8th and 10th grades.” (Sounds a bit like Australia)


The Netherlands: An unevenly distributed teacher shortage is become an increasing problem in the Netherlands.


O.E.C.D.: The PISA tests have been running since 2000, and now, partly in response to criticism, are changing. Here’s what’s you can expect.


South Korea #1: High school isn’t free in South Korea. Well only until 2021. The Ministry of Education has announced that the cost of high school will change, starting later this year.


South Korea #2: With one of the lowest birth rates in the world, school numbers are dwindling. Many schools are trying something new: enrolling older adults who missed out on school when they were children.


U.K.: In a process known as “off-rolling”, one in 12 pupils (49,000) “from the national cohort who began secondary school in 2012 and finished in 2017 were removed from rolls at some point, for unknown reasons.”


U.S.A. (New York): In 2002, 100 new small schools were opened for students in the lowest-income areas of NY. This research brief examines the effects of these schools on postsecondary degree attainment and labor market outcomes.


Evaluation & Research Practices

Dr Drew Miller from the University of Newcastle has answered some frequently asked questions about the use of Randomised Controlled Trials in school settings. Check out his responses here.


Maths, Science & Tech

ICYMI, as part of the Event Horizon Telescope project, scientists have captured the first ever image of a black hole. Every other image you’ve seen up til now has been an illustration. Here are four important things that the photo tells us. And here’s what scientist Katie Bouman, from the project team, had to say:

It’s an exciting time for mathematical discoveries!

“[H]uman crowds exhibit various collective patterns that emerge from self-organization”. From Hisashi Murakami , Claudio Feliciani and Katsuhiro Nishinari at the University of Tokyo, is this research on mathematics of crowd walking (see overview here).


What’s wrong with the periodic table? According to scientists, Martyn Poliakoff, Alexis Makin, Samantha Tang and Ellen Poliakoff, the elements are ordered the wrong way around. Just as “some maps in Australia have ‘South’ at the top and ‘North’ at the bottom, but the relative position of towns are unchanged”, so too should the periodic table be rotated by 180°.

© 2020 by Michaela Epstein. 

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