Sunday, 24 March 2013

7 Wool Felt Play Mats that Inspire Open-Ended Fun | Inhabitots

Full article can be read from the link above. 

Amazing felt and woollen natural playspaces for the mind.  If you love these you may also like the  Happy Whimsical Hearts blog, they have numerous articles and tutorials on making felt/woollen and wooden settings.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Teachers can give technology byte

Greg Whitby is the executive director of 78 Catholic schools in western Sydney and author of Educating Gen Wi-fi: How to make schools relevant for 21st century learners.

"Technology alone cannot come up with these creative strategies - that is the realm of the teacher: recognising the needs of students and marrying them with the capabilities of technology to get the best possible learning experiences and outcomes."

Full article can be read from the link above. 

We can't just ''add a pinch of technology and stir''.

One of the biggest mistakes we can make in education today is thinking that delivering computers to every student or every learning space is automatically delivering a quality 21st-century education. In a world where the range of technologies available to us and the rapid rate of change often overwhelm us, the simplest approach is to adopt the technology we are most familiar with and hang on to it. In doing so, we are behaving as though we are at the end of the digital revolution and not at the beginning of it.

....... The role of technology in learning is to engage students and to enhance the efforts of teachers. It is the skills that are developed, and the knowledge that is gained by using the technology, not the technology itself that is important. We must keep our eye on the end game at all times - delivering relevant learning to set our children confidently on the path to lifelong learning to ensure they are equipped for today's world.

A room decked out with laptops and iPods with access to high-speed wireless broadband is not a rich learning environment on its own.

The interactions between teacher and students and between the students themselves bring the environment to life and present opportunities for the technology to be useful in learning. The tools that have the most impact are those that allow for interactivity.

There is little difference between an old-style overhead projector and a data projector if what is being displayed on them is the same. Rather than showing students a static map of a country, show them a short video on the country and display some useful websites for them to follow up. Technology should be used to allow students to get involved in their learning in a way that has not been possible.

Technology alone cannot come up with these creative strategies - that is the realm of the teacher: recognising the needs of students and marrying them with the capabilities of technology to get the best possible learning experiences and outcomes.

Fears over stressed children as how-to books race off shelves

Fears over stressed children as how-to books race off shelves

''Rote learning and drilling are things from the dark past and we have to be very careful not to resurrect these … at the expense of a child's love of learning.''

Full article can be read from the link above. 

Publishing houses printing how-to guides and NAPLAN-specific workbooks have found themselves winners as parents clamour for help in maximising their children's scores.

Hinkler Books issued its own set of NAPLAN-style workbooks and preparation tests in December and already they have proved a sell-out.

The company's product manager, Helen O'Dare, said she was surprised the original 60,000 print-run of books aimed at the year 3 and year 5 audience had sold out four times over.

''It's been extraordinary. We knew they would be popular but this is extraordinary,'' Ms O'Dare said.

She said the books differentiated from the competition by being ''bright, non-threatening and including sticker rewards''.

But Australian Education Union ACT branch secretary Glenn Fowler said they were a scary illustration of how NAPLAN had begun to exert its dominance in schooling.

''The NAPLAN tests are not designed to be practised or rehearsed,'' Mr Fowler said.

''The tests are a one-off snapshot of a particular student cohort at a particular point in time, a full 10 months prior to the publication of results.''

He said it was understandable in the current climate that parents and carers felt anxious about wanting to do the best for their children. But reports of students feeling so anxious about sitting NAPLAN that they had been sick were not new and parents needed to understand NAPLAN was ''not the HSC for seven-year-olds.''

''Parents can be reassured that schooling is about a great deal more than these crude standardised tests. Every day, teachers are at work educating the whole child and providing the broadest of learning experiences.......

Sunday, 17 March 2013

What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success - Anu Partanen - The Atlantic

What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success - Anu Partanen - The Atlantic:

A great article. The Australian Government education bod's could learn a lot. Creativity, accountability, equity! Which is why I'm sure they'll pay attention to thirty or forty years.

Full article can be read from the link above. 

Everyone agrees the United States needs to improve its education system dramatically, but how? One of the hottest trends in education reform lately is looking at the stunning success of the West's reigning education superpower, Finland. Trouble is, when it comes to the lessons that Finnish schools have to offer, most of the discussion seems to be missing the point.

The small Nordic country of Finland used to be known -- if it was known for anything at all -- as the home of Nokia, the mobile phone giant. But lately Finland has been attracting attention on global surveys of quality of life --Newsweek ranked it number one last year -- and Finland's national education system has been receiving particular praise, because in recent years Finnish students have been turning in some of the highest test scores in the world.

Finland's schools owe their newfound fame primarily to one study: the PISA survey, conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The survey compares 15-year-olds in different countries in reading, math, and science. Finland has ranked at or near the top in all three competencies on every survey since 2000, neck and neck with superachievers such as South Korea and Singapore. In the most recent survey in 2009 Finland slipped slightly, with students in Shanghai, China, taking the best scores, but the Finns are still near the very top. Throughout the same period, the PISA performance of the United States has been middling, at best.

Compared with the stereotype of the East Asian model -- long hours of exhaustive cramming and rote memorization -- Finland's success is especially intriguing because Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play. All this has led to a continuous stream of foreign delegations making the pilgrimage to Finland to visit schools and talk with the nation's education experts, and constant coverage in the worldwide media marveling at the Finnish miracle.

So there was considerable interest in a recent visit to the U.S. by one of the leading Finnish authorities on education reform, Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education's Center for International Mobility and author of the new book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? Earlier this month, Sahlberg stopped by the Dwight School in New York City to speak with educators and students, and his visit received national media attention and generated much discussion.

And yet it wasn't clear that Sahlberg's message was actually getting through. As Sahlberg put it to me later, there are certain things nobody in America really wants to talk about.

During the afternoon that Sahlberg spent at the Dwight School, a photographer from the New York Times jockeyed for position with Dan Rather's TV crew as Sahlberg participated in a roundtable chat with students. The subsequent article in the Times about the event would focus on Finland as an "intriguing school-reform model."

Yet one of the most significant things Sahlberg said passed practically unnoticed. "Oh," he mentioned at one point, "and there are no private schools in Finland."

This notion may seem difficult for an American to digest, but it's true. Only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland, and even they are all publicly financed. None is allowed to charge tuition fees. There are no private universities, either. This means that practically every person in Finland attends public school, whether for pre-K or a Ph.D.

The irony of Sahlberg's making this comment during a talk at the Dwight School seemed obvious. Like many of America's best schools, Dwight is a private institution that costs high-school students upward of $35,000 a year to attend -- not to mention that Dwight, in particular, is run for profit, an increasing trend in the U.S. Yet no one in the room commented on Sahlberg's statement. I found this surprising. Sahlberg himself did not.

Sahlberg knows what Americans like to talk about when it comes to education, because he's become their go-to guy in Finland. The son of two teachers, he grew up in a Finnish school. He taught mathematics and physics in a junior high school in Helsinki, worked his way through a variety of positions in the Finnish Ministry of Education, and spent years as an education expert at the OECD, the World Bank, and other international organizations.

Now, in addition to his other duties, Sahlberg hosts about a hundred visits a year by foreign educators, including many Americans, who want to know the secret of Finland's success. Sahlberg's new book is partly an attempt to help answer the questions he always gets asked.

From his point of view, Americans are consistently obsessed with certain questions: How can you keep track of students' performance if you don't test them constantly? How can you improve teaching if you have no accountability for bad teachers or merit pay for good teachers? How do you foster competition and engage the private sector? How do you provide school choice?

The answers Finland provides seem to run counter to just about everything America's school reformers are trying to do.

For starters, Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what's called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school.

Instead, the public school system's teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.

As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg shrugs. "There's no word for accountability in Finnish," he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. "Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted."

For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master's degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal's responsibility to notice and deal with it.

And while Americans love to talk about competition, Sahlberg points out that nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable. In his book Sahlberg quotes a line from Finnish writer named Samuli Paronen: "Real winners do not compete." It's hard to think of a more un-American idea, but when it comes to education, Finland's success shows that the Finnish attitude might have merits. There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation.

Finally, in Finland, school choice is noticeably not a priority, nor is engaging the private sector at all. Which brings us back to the silence after Sahlberg's comment at the Dwight School that schools like Dwight don't exist in Finland.

"Here in America," Sahlberg said at the Teachers College, "parents can choose to take their kids to private schools. It's the same idea of a marketplace that applies to, say, shops. Schools are a shop and parents can buy what ever they want. In Finland parents can also choose. But the options are all the same."

Herein lay the real shocker. As Sahlberg continued, his core message emerged, whether or not anyone in his American audience heard it.

Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity.

Since the 1980s, the main driver of Finnish education policy has been the idea that every child should have exactly the same opportunity to learn, regardless of family background, income, or geographic location. Education has been seen first and foremost not as a way to produce star performers, but as an instrument to even out social inequality.

In the Finnish view, as Sahlberg describes it, this means that schools should be healthy, safe environments for children. This starts with the basics. Finland offers all pupils free school meals, easy access to health care, psychological counseling, and individualized student guidance.

In fact, since academic excellence wasn't a particular priority on the Finnish to-do list, when Finland's students scored so high on the first PISA survey in 2001, many Finns thought the results must be a mistake. But subsequent PISA tests confirmed that Finland -- unlike, say, very similar countries such as Norway -- was producing academic excellence through its particular policy focus on equity.

That this point is almost always ignored or brushed aside in the U.S. seems especially poignant at the moment, after the financial crisis and Occupy Wall Street movement have brought the problems of inequality in America into such sharp focus. The chasm between those who can afford $35,000 in tuition per child per year -- or even just the price of a house in a good public school district -- and the other "99 percent" is painfully plain to see.

Pasi Sahlberg goes out of his way to emphasize that his book Finnish Lessons is not meant as a how-to guide for fixing the education systems of other countries. All countries are different, and as many Americans point out, Finland is a small nation with a much more homogeneous population than the United States.

Yet Sahlberg doesn't think that questions of size or homogeneity should give Americans reason to dismiss the Finnish example. Finland is a relatively homogeneous country -- as of 2010, just 4.6 percent of Finnish residents had been born in another country, compared with 12.7 percent in the United States. But the number of foreign-born residents in Finland doubled during the decade leading up to 2010, and the country didn't lose its edge in education. Immigrants tended to concentrate in certain areas, causing some schools to become much more mixed than others, yet there has not been much change in the remarkable lack of variation between Finnish schools in the PISA surveys across the same period.

Samuel Abrams, a visiting scholar at Columbia University's Teachers College, has addressed the effects of size and homogeneity on a nation's education performance by comparing Finland with another Nordic country: Norway. Like Finland, Norway is small and not especially diverse overall, but unlike Finland it has taken an approach to education that is more American than Finnish. The result? Mediocre performance in the PISA survey. Educational policy, Abrams suggests, is probably more important to the success of a country's school system than the nation's size or ethnic makeup.

Indeed, Finland's population of 5.4 million can be compared to many an American state -- after all, most American education is managed at the state level. According to the Migration Policy Institute, a research organization in Washington, there were 18 states in the U.S. in 2010 with an identical or significantly smaller percentage of foreign-born residents than Finland.

What's more, despite their many differences, Finland and the U.S. have an educational goal in common. When Finnish policymakers decided to reform the country's education system in the 1970s, they did so because they realized that to be competitive, Finland couldn't rely on manufacturing or its scant natural resources and instead had to invest in a knowledge-based economy.

With America's manufacturing industries now in decline, the goal of educational policy in the U.S. -- as articulated by most everyone from President Obama on down -- is to preserve American competitiveness by doing the same thing. Finland's experience suggests that to win at that game, a country has to prepare not just some of its population well, but all of its population well, for the new economy. To possess some of the best schools in the world might still not be good enough if there are children being left behind.

Is that an impossible goal? Sahlberg says that while his book isn't meant to be a how-to manual, it is meant to be a "pamphlet of hope."

"When President Kennedy was making his appeal for advancing American science and technology by putting a man on the moon by the end of the 1960's, many said it couldn't be done," Sahlberg said during his visit to New York. "But he had a dream. Just like Martin Luther King a few years later had a dream. Those dreams came true. Finland's dream was that we want to have a good public education for every child regardless of where they go to school or what kind of families they come from, and many even in Finland said it couldn't be done."

Clearly, many were wrong. It is possible to create equality. And perhaps even more important -- as a challenge to the American way of thinking about education reform -- Finland's experience shows that it is possible to achieve excellence by focusing not on competition, but on cooperation, and not on choice, but on equity.

The problem facing education in America isn't the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed. More equity at home might just be what America needs to be more competitive abroad.

Gym Class Isn’t Just Fun and Games Anymore -

Firstly when was gym class ever fun and games? and secondly what's wrong with fun and games as a developmental avenue. I get sick of talking to people who believe that unless its a structured adult directed activity, then its a waste of time and energy. They perceive little souls as being on an educational conveyer belt and their job to process them to whatever the current Deptartment of ED. paramenters are (this week).   Because unless they're officially processed, they're worthless

Full article can be read from the link above.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — On a recent afternoon, the third graders in Sharon Patelsky’s class reviewed words like “acronym,” “clockwise” and “descending,” as well as math concepts like greater than, less than and place values.

Books shared space with basketballs in the equipment room at Manatee Elementary School in Lake Worth, Fla. During gym class.

Ms. Patelsky, the physical education teacher at Everglades Elementary School here, instructed the students to count by fours as they touched their elbows to their knees during a warm-up. They added up dots on pairs of dice before sprinting to round mats imprinted with mathematical symbols. And while in push-up position, they balanced on one arm and used the other (“Alternate!” Ms. Patelsky urged. “That’s one of your vocabulary words”) to stack oversize Lego blocks in columns labeled “ones,” “tens” and “hundreds.”

“I don’t work for Parks and Recreation,” said Ms. Patelsky, explaining the unorthodox approach to what has traditionally been one of the few breaks from the academic routine during the school day. “I am a teacher first.”

Spurred by an intensifying focus on student test scores in math and English as well as a desire to incorporate more health and fitness information, more school districts are pushing physical education teachers to move beyond soccer, kickball and tennis to include reading, writing and arithmetic as well. New standards for English and math that have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia recommend that teachers in a wide variety of subjects incorporate literacy instruction and bring more “informational text” into the curriculum. Many states have interpreted these standards to include physical education and have developed recommendations and curriculum for districts and teachers to incorporate literacy skills and informational text into gym classes.

But some parents say they object to the way testing is creeping into every corner of school life. And some educators worry that pushing academics into P.E. class could defeat its primary purpose.

While generations of bookish but clumsy children who feared being the last pick for the dodge ball team may welcome the injection of math and reading into gym class, the push is also motivated by a simple fight for survival by physical education departments.

.....Across the country, P.E. teachers now post vocabulary lists on gym walls, ask students to test Newton’s Laws of Motion as they toss balls, and give quizzes on parts of the skeleton or food groups.

At Deep Creek Elementary School in Chesapeake, Va., children count in different languages during warm-up exercises and hop on letter mats to spell out words during gym class.....

Friday, 8 March 2013

Free Range Kids » Mind-boggling SENSE About Play, Injuries & Rules

Free Range Kids » Mind-boggling SENSE About Play, Injuries & Rules

Loving this piece from Lenore at Free Range Kids....All I can say is halle-bloody-lujah. Just when you thought common-sense had become extinct, killed off by the flick and tick merchants at the insurance companies and and their simpering government knee-jerk reaction experts.   

Full article can be read from the link above. 

The highlights -

Look at this article, “Call to Ditch Red Tape on Playtime Safety”:  …Paperwork designed to protect children at play can be discarded, according to “seminal” guidelines issued by the Health and Safety Executive. In a plain-speaking statement,it dismisses the “misguided security blanket” of reams of paperwork that purport to prevent children from harm.

The statement went on to say that safety assessments should focus on “the real risk, not the trivial and fanciful.” Moreover, it begged bureaucrats to understand that looking at play solely through the lens of risk and liability has meant losing sight of the fact it is, overwhelmingly, health and good – not crazy and dangerous.

My friends at Common Good, the organization that tries to cut red tape and restore common sense, are, of course, thrilled that a department devoted to “health and safety” is “analyzing real health and safety instead of red herrings and black swans.” As a policy analyst there, Ben Miller, put it:
The biggest risk in most play areas isn’t bruises or scraped knees, it’s the ubiquitous fear of lawsuits that leads to red tape and replaces common sense with paranoia. Our mantra at Common Good is that people, not rules, make tings happen. We can’t regulate away every conceivable danger, but we can empower administrators to look out for children’s best interests – not lawyer’s.

The Health & Safety Executive outlined what it means to “strike the right balance” when it comes to legislating what’s allowed at playgrounds: 
* Weigh the risks and benefits when designing playgrounds and activities. (Not just the risks!)
*Understand that the purpose of risk control is not to eliminate all risk, which is, of course impossible. Instead, the statement asks us all – the government and the people – to accept that the possibility “of even serious or life threatening injuries cannot be eliminated.”
*... our goal cannot be to continually reduce risk, nor demand “detailed assessments aimed at high-risk play activities” when examining low-risk activities.