Term 3

Term 3 has started. I had a few changes to my timetable, some good some bad.

I lost my Year 8 class – my worst class by far (both behaviour and learning).

I also lost my Year 10 class, which left me quite upset. I had finally won them over, we were doing some really good things and I had probably connected with them better than all bar one of my classes. They are also upset.

I have, however, gained a Year 12 Advanced class. This is quietly freaking me out.

Thomas.

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Guest post from St. Ives

Recasting Australian Federalism and Government Department Structures

I propose a major streamlining of the way Australia is governed. I do not see any prospect of this actually being implemented as it would involve politicians a) giving up some power b) admitting that they have not been effective in the past c) cooperating.

Firstly I would eliminate a layer of government; an often proposed idea, butI would leave state government and abolish the local councils, leaving their powers in the hands of the state government and administered by bureaucrats administering the planning powers under the strict policies set by the state government in relation of residential dwellings and commercial decisions being made centrally by the planning department. However I will elaborate on the state structure later.

Importantly, duplication would be scrapped. Each level of government will have clear lines of authority enshrined in the constitution. State responsibilities will be enumerated and the federal government will have the power to make laws on all other matters so long as they do not impinge on states rights. This will prevent the federal government from de-facto state policy making by way of grants and financial arrangements that are currently being abused to push federal initiatives onto the states.

The federal department structure will need reshaping to reflect the new arrangements. To simplify matters I will outline how I would structure the federal ministry under the new power structure with cabinet ministers in bold and junior ministers in italics. Each cabinet minister with an * will have a parliamentary secretary who will have a roving brief within the department to fill the needs of the senior minister at a given time rather than a specific policy area.

Federal Ministry in a semi order of department seniority

  • Prime Minister
  • Deputy Prime Minister * (A stand alone office to allow the holder to focus on policy development across the government) – Minister for Infrastructure, Air Transport & Interstate Transport Projects (all other transport & infrastructure is the responsibility of the states).
  • Treasurer * –  Assistant Treasurer/Minister for Revenue, Minister for Financial Services and Regulation
  • Cabinet Secretary/Special Minister of State  – Minister for Administrative Affairs, Minister for Tourism, The Arts & Sport
  • Minister for Foreign Affairs * – Minister for Foreign Aide
  • Minister for Defence – Minister for Defence Science and Procurement, Minister for Defence Personel, Minister for Veterans Affairs
  • Minister for Regional Affairs & The Environment –  Minister for Food Security, Minister for Water and the Environment, Minster for Agriculture, Minister for Regional Services
  • Minister for Immigration *
  • Minister for Refugee Processing and Settlement – Minister for New Arrival Services
  • Minister for Trade *
  • Minister for Health –  Minister for Medical Research, Minister for Hospital Services (All other community health services become the domain of the states in return for giving up hospital administration. The states focus on mental health, aging etc)
  • Attorney General
  • Minister for Homeland Security
  • Minister for Universities, Tertiary Education, Training and Science (Note the lack of mention of schools here. The feds lose this due to their terrible meddling and education becomes a state responsibility on terms of policy and curriculum).
  • Minister for Communications, Technology and Innovation
  • Minister for Indigenous Affairs & Central Australia *
  • Minister for Employment & Workplace Relations – Minister for Social Security and Employment Services

State Ministry in a semi order of department seniority

  • Premier (Deputy Premier to be linked to a senior ministry) – Minister for Energy & Ports
  • Treasurer*
  • Minister for Transport –  Minister for Transport Services, Minister for Transport Infrastructure & Roads
  • Minister for Planning & Civic Services (ie rubbish collection, and old local gvt responsibilities) – Minister for Planning Approvals, Minister for Civic Services
  • Minister for Schools & Childcare*
  • Minister for Police, Corrective & Emergency Services*
  • Minister for Health Services (Community Health Programs, Mental Health and Aging) –  Minister Assisting the Minister for Health Services
  • Minister for Community Services** (Two Parliamentary Secretaries to help with DOCS)
  • Attorney General – Minister for Fair Trading, Minister for Gaming & Liquor
  • Minister for Regional Centres, Tourism, Sport & The Arts*

Today’s lesson

Today at school I was being observed by my ‘teaching mentor’. This is someone who I can go to (as an early career teacher) with issues, questions, and someone to bounce ideas off. It is a senior person in the school. They are also meant to critique me on what I’m doing and how I could improve.

Today I invited them into my year 9 class. The mentor needed to see me using technology to sign off on one of the NSW IT standards. So, with pleasure, I invited them into year 9 (see the previous post as to why).

I delivered a near-perfect lesson without a single technocal glitch. Everything went well. My mentor, at the end, said “You’ll have to teach me how you did all of that” in regards to the technology and what-not I was using.

I felt quite chuffed.

Thomas.

Taking time out

I have made some time today to actually sit down and write a blog post. This one has to do with teaching.

Starting last week, I had been in an email-exchange with the DET over getting a website unblocked for students at my school.

For those who are not familiar, there is a firewall that blocks websites being accessed through the school network and through school computers. It works for both students and teachers, with teachers having some more ‘freedom’ to get to the websites they might need that students don’t. It is always evolving and changing. One change of late was that Facebook and Twitter has been unblocked for teachers. A surprising move, in my opinion, but I have a few suspicions as to why they did it.

Anyway, it is possible to get a website unblocked if you can provide a reasonably reason to the people (the Web Filter Unit) who are in charge of it all. The advantageous thing for the Unit is that they can unblock website access for single school, rather than a blank unblocking. Similarly, they can even control the years in the school (like, year 10 could but 7-9 couldn’t) that can access it.

Before I go much further with this, I should introduce my class and my school to the story. My year 9 class got their laptops this year. They were rather apathetic towards them because there is a culture in the school that devalues technology and values ‘chalk-and-talk’. It has its place, of course. But as we get further and further into the 21st century, that place is being greatly reduced. When I arrived at the school at the beginning of the year, I was shocked at the state of technology in the school – there simply wasn’t any!

I was taught to teach with technology, so that might make me a bit biased towards it. But I think that if you’re not even considering the various applications of technology to teaching (which is what my school was doing) then you are severely handicapping your teachers and your students. So, knowing that the year 9’s would be getting their laptops, I set out to make this class (out of all my classes) the most digital I could.

Once the year 9’s got their laptops, I instantly started up a class blog. I was familiar with blogging. It’s not a hard thing for students to engage with either. Similarly, the dynamics of the classroom all but dictated this would be the first thing we would do. I found, after a few weeks of having students do their work on the laptop, rather than written, that they were producing far more content with more depth to their answers and (where permitting) analysis.

It came to a point, though, that sharing the work was becoming problematic. First, they were sending me emails after every lesson to see if their answers were ‘correct’. Second, and something that had been going on from day one, they were hesitant to share their work with each other. People in teaching know that kids sharing work is an important aspect to learning. Being a selective class, they were quite hesitant to do it but they were very eager to get feedback and ticks of approval.

I made the blog and then made them all a deal: I would give them the feedback that they wanted so long as they posted their work on the blog. I would put up a post that would contain the work that we had covered/was homework and then  they would comment their answers. A very simple approach, but it was effective. The kids got over the fear of their peers reading their work and started posting  it up there.

I won’t go into the educational repurcussions of this and the benefits, etc. But, suffice to say, it has ended up being a great thing for the class. After the blog, I started then started to find ways to digitise the class further.

The next step: Get rid of paper.

Of course, anyone who remembers being in a classroom knows that you can never completely ‘do’ something. Someone will forget the one thing they need, or something will be broken. So, when I say I have been trying to get rid of paper, that doesn’t mean it’s completely gone. But now, I can walk in with, say, 5 paper copies of what we will be doing instead of 30 that I would previously need.

This process wasn’t actually as hard as most people think it would be. I was already making my own worksheets. I do this for two reasons: It looks like you’re always busy (for brownie points) and it gives you better controll over what your kids are learning and what shape your lesson goes. That’s just my opinion, but it works for me.

So all I had to do, after realising that I already had the digital copies of worksheets (and other work) was find an effective way of distribution. Originally I had thought about emailing it  to students, but that idea was quickly shelved when I realised that (more often than not) I am still working on worksheets until five minutes before a lesson (and, yes, when I was still using paper copies, I would be grabbing them out of the photocopier on my way out to actually teach!). I then turned my mind to file sharing.

My first idea was to go with DropBox. I would have used this if it was unblocked by the DET filter and kids could install programs on their laptops. It isn’t unblocked and you can’t install, so I had to find a new approach.

I was alerted to a DropBox ‘alternative’ after Googling ‘DropBox alternative’. I actually found a website that provides educational alternative to all of the ‘major’ programs out there, which was helpful. But I was directed to a website called LiveBinder.

At LiveBinder, I could host files that could be downloaded directly. It works pretty much like a digital ringbinder. You have a set of tabs across the top, and then you organise your resources in them. My test run with it was NAPLAN. I had a lot of digital resources for NAPLAN that I didn’t want to print off for a few reasons. The first was that not all of them were important enough to. The second, some were very long (and, while I didn’t expect every kid to read long things online more than offline, I thought the top tier of kids would do it). But I generally believe in erring on the side of too much than not enough, so I uploaded all of my stuff to the LiveBinder for the class.

There were some lessons where we used the material on the LiveBinder. There were things on there that only a handful of people actually bothered to read (and they were the ones I expected to do that). All in all though, the file sharing approach was successful.

So, starting a new unit this week, I was in an excellent position to actually going completely digital. My kids were used to working on their laptosp or online. They had got into the habit of reading and critically evaluating each others’ work. And they we now able to get the worksheets and content delivered to them digitally. There was one more tool that I wanted to use.

A wiki.

Everyone knows what Wikipedia is. Ever since discovering it, I thought that it was the greatest development for online information building that would ever be made. And I have always harboured ideas about using it for teaching. I thought that now, more than ever, I could have a go at it. I would make it part of the assessment – building a wiki with pages that are parts of the overarching theme of our unit (which is humanism). The kids would be building their own individual articles on their laptops (using software provided to them, like OneNote), and then in groups would read and evaluate other’s individual articles to compose a final, group article. It has all the  good, meaty, educational good stuff in there. But I had one problem …

WikiSpaces, the best website available to everyone, was blocked for students.

This is where the story gets back to where I had started. I have been exchanging emails with the Web Filter Unit at the DET to get the site unblocked. When I first made my request to get the website unblocked, I was palmed off with an auto-reply saying that the website was available to teachers and not student. That was something I was aware of, but didn’t even address my issue. Then I got a human response saying that there were guidelines that I needed to follow. Again, something I was aware of and had adhered to. Then, finally, I got a third email from some high up (from the sounds of their title) and they said that I needed to email them my page so they could inspect it.

Now, while I was aware (and had even bothered to read!) the DET’s guidelines on using wikis, I had only thought about followed three of four of their extensive list of rules. Why? Because some of them are colossal waste of times for me and for other people. For example, my HT and my principal have to be walked through it. That’s something neither of them had the time for or the want for. They didn’t even like technology, so they were hardly going to pay attention. Similarly, students had to be completely anonymous. I understand that – but I was going to get them to just use their first name (anonymous enough for my liking). But, when I found out that my wiki was going to be assessed against the DET’s rules, I had to go back and make a whole lot of changes.

Did the changes help? Yeah, they probably did. And they probably made sure that the whole ‘experience’ was a bit better. But the amount of red tape to jump through just to get something like this done was so … bleh. Though, now that I’ve got in unblocked I can use it in the future.

Anyway, that’s my (small-scale) story about using technology in my teaching. There’s many more stories, and some amusing anecdotes to go with them, but I have run out of time to go into them.

Thomas.

Posting

Of late, I have had the drive and desire to post. But I simply do not have the time.

There are many things I want to share with the people who still floating in and out of here, mainly to do with teaching. One of them is blogging with the students. Another is how I’m being received in the school, and what I’m trying to do there (other than, you know, teach).

Away from teaching, I have been reading poetry. A lot of poetry. I think this is probably because of the brevity of them, but as well as the impact. I feel as though (and I feel confident in saying this) that I have finally ‘awoken’ to poetry and understand it far quicker than I used to. I would attribute that to having read ‘Paradise Lost’. But that’s a post in and of itself.

My ‘community’ (albeit diminishing) of blogging has been putting up all sorts of interesting things that I want to comment on at length, but just can’t. Of note, Jim’s discussion about universities (which is always spirited between us!) and Neil’s complete change when it comes to blogging. Both of these I would want to talk about, but I cannot find the time.

So many important and big things have been happening in my friend’s lives that have caused me to stop and reflect. St. Ive’s newest arrival … the Ombudsman’s race towards home ownership … my trip to Hong Kong with Mr. Rabbit. All things that have actually caused me a lot of thought of late, and yet I can’t stop to think about them long enough to write.

Where this blog also used to be a place where I could vent/express/mull/despair over my personal life’s events, I don’t even have time to do that. It’s actually proving to be not very healthy, as I find I am internalising most (if not all) of the emotions that I used to be getting out. I can feel this having a negative effect on the way I think and feel and act. I am more worried about the fact that I don’t know where this type of behaviour (the internalising) is going to take me, as well that I might be damaging what you might call me ’emotional health’.

Over the past month or so, I’ve come to actually solidify what my ‘world view’ is, and my beliefs associated with it. That would be a long post if ever I were to write it.

My apathy towards politics in general has, in fact, turned into a hyper-critical mind. And, from this, I am occasionally getting ideas for government policy (not with any great depth or legal consideration) that I would like to share.

Of course, there are the long standing things I have always wanted to blog about. And these things are now taking a solid shape in my mind.

I think, at the end of the day and when it comes to this blog, I am going through what I always used to go through at uni. My best blog posts (i would argue) and my most frequent activity came when university assignments and pressure were piling on. It kicked my brain into gear, and the blog gave me an outlet to express the ideas that I could form while thinking critically and using high-order skills with the assessments. As a way of putting it, this blog was a side-effect of thinking for university.

Now, though, I’m still thinking but am plum out of time to actually allow the side-effect to take place.

And that frustrates me.

This is hardly a post to say how monumentally busy I am and others aren’t, or that I’m working harder than others. It’s just a post, and nothing more.

Thomas.

QandA again

New personal bests: I was the first retweet up AND then I was the second last. First, and twice in one night.

Who’s got a cigarette?

Thomas.