Thursday, May 29, 2008

Man bites dog

... and other less than sensational headlines.

In today's Scotsman, an article on the introduction of (A) Curriculum for Excellence (apparently the A is optional... no-one tells me anything these days), telling us that confusion is about to reign.

Well, mebbes aye, mebbes naw. They are totally right to say that teachers want much more detail than we're currently getting, but it frustrates me to see union leaders grumping on again about lack of funding. Listen mate, it's not funding that worries me, it's the fog of fuzziness in the outcomes themselves. Give us some detail, for goodness' sake!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Math Wars: Ceasefire?

Well, I'll have to do a whole lot more googling to find out how this is going down across the pond, but I was very interested to come across a US government report on the teaching of Maths, sorry, Math in the US. Very, very thorough. I'm impressed, initially at least, by the high standards the contributors set for assessing or including research in their considerations, and can't help but think it's a much more rigorous piece of work than we have seen from (say) HMIe of late over here. Also, just look at the detail included in their recommendations for the content of what should be taught at each stage of school life, and compare it to the jelly on a stick candy floss fare of "Curriculum for Excellence" and ask yourself... are we even on the same planet?

It's quite a read - even a quick flick takes a wee while - but I'm struck by their good sense on the Math War business of "teacher-directed" versus "student-centred" approaches. Basically they say that you need both, and that any program (sic) based solely on one or the other is just plain dumb. Ah, the sweet voice of common sense! They also put out an urgent call for quality research into the effect of long-term calculator use, which again makes a whole lot of sense to me.

Quite what this means for current teaching programs in the US, I don't know. I'd be interested to hear if anyone has any news on this.

I'm in love...

After all these years, it seems that the search is finally over... I've long been a fan of the Pilot drawing pen, though frustrated that it's only available in black. But it's never felt quite right to me, for some reason, so I've vascillated between it and a few other makes when seeking a black pen for school work (Staetdler, I'm talking to you here). And what size nib to use? The 0.1 is elegant but feels a little too fragile, while the 0.3 feels a bit overkill.

And all the time the solution has been staring me in the face! Have Pilot been making a 0.2 nib for some time, or is it brand new? Either way, I stumbled across one the other day, and whahey, I'm in love! (Well, within acceptable limits of those of us with stationery fetishes, of course.) It's sharp, clean, and has all the depth and definition a jobbing sums teacher needs. Just writing with it, you can practically feel your handwriting getting neater.

Now all I have to do is persuade them to make models available in red and green... the campaign starts here.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Proof, if proof were needed...

... that all is not entirely rosy in "Curriculum for Excellence" land. Here's Prof Lindsay Paterson, all round good egg, on how education is faring just now under our new Scottish Government (from this week's TES):

Lindsay Paterson, professor of educational policy, Edinburgh University
The SNP, like other significant parties, is constrained by the National Debate consensus. This does encourage durable, evidence-based policies. The class size reductions will gradually happen and work: teachers, parents, and rigorous research support them. Universal free school meals and the ending of the graduate endowment come under the same pragmatism, as perhaps may the school examination proposals. But the consensus is balefully anti-intellectual. A Curriculum for Excellence, veneration of the vocational, and a disregard for the achievements of liberal education will be challenged only by rather daring leadership. None of the parties yet provide that.

"Balefully anti-intellectual", "veneration of the vocational", "disregard for achievements of liberal education"... ouch! It'll be interesting to see if any of this stooshie is picked up elsewhere.

For what it's worth, I do kind of see what he's getting at.

It's That Time of Year Again

Yes, once more by public demand (ahem), we here at TPIOT bring you our annual review of the Scottish exams, starting with part one: the Mathematics Standard Grades (Foundation, General, Credit - in increasing order of difficulty) which took place last Thursday in sweaty exam halls and school gyms up and down the country.

So, what's the skinny?

Well, I thought they were all pretty reasonable to be honest. Keen fans of this blog will recall that I was worried last year at the lack of testing of algebraic skills at Credit, and though this does remain an issue, I do think that they managed to produce a better paper overall. Last year's was just too darn easy, which has ultimately done no-one any favours, as a lot of pupils have ended up heading on to Higher this year when really they shouldn't have.

I've spoken with a few teachers at other schools and there are perhaps some concerns that some of the reasoning questions in Credit were a tad obscure, but I'm not sure I agree. It seems to me a pretty pathetic position to be in, when we expect every question in the exam to be one which pupils have seen before.

Meanwhile General and Foundation seemed very decent. I was pleased to see that the amount of reading in the F exam has been cut down, which is a good thing as often the less able pupils are disadvantaged by issues other than their mathematical ability when there is so much waffle going on. (I am happy to predict now, by the way, that we'll eventually be told that the worst done question was in fact the one requiring pupils to draw an angle of 80 degrees... which must have sent invigilators across Scotland scurrying to maths departments in a hurry to get yet more protractors.)

Final point: I couldn't help but notice that quite a few questions in the exams dealt with "real life" situations with a slight environmental or social tinge... that'll be SQA getting in on the "Curriculum for Excellence" jamboree bandwagon bunfight then.