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Experienced teachers face skills tests

MORE than half the state’s public school teachers may become subject to the same rigorous standards and testing used to assess and train new teachers, under NSW government proposals to improve teacher quality.

Teachers who entered the profession before 2004 have been allowed to progress through the salary scales based on tenure, with no requirement for them to demonstrate any improvement or upkeep of their professional skills.

Introducing an education discussion paper yesterday, the NSW Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, said: ”Moving the teaching workforce not already part of the new scheme onto that scheme should be considered as a part of this process.”

The provocative paper suggests that because many senior teachers mentor and train new teachers, they should be made to undergo the same level of accreditation and ongoing training as those they supervise.


”Just as we want our students to be lifelong learners, the same applies to teachers,” the paper, Great Teaching, Inspired Learning, says. ”As in every profession, not every individual is able to sustain the quality and commitment necessary over time to remain in the profession.

”We need to find ways we can better support these teachers and still ensure every child is inspired by great teaching.”

Unlike those before them, all teachers accredited after October 2004 are required to undertake 100 hours of professional learning and must have their accreditation with the NSW Institute of Teachers renewed every five years.

The discussion paper says there are few financial or career rewards for teachers who undergo training at the highest levels.

”If we want more teachers obtaining higher levels of accreditation, we have to provide better professional and financial incentives for them to do so,” it says.

In NSW, 60 per cent of teachers in government schools are at the top of the teaching pay scale, most of whom have not been accredited.

The state government’s new Local Schools, Local Decisions policy will link salary progression to professional standards.

More than one in five people studying to become teachers this year had university entry scores of below 60.

The vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, Greg Craven, said a debate about the quality of teachers is welcome but should not get bogged down by the entry scores to get into bachelor’s courses.

Entry to a bachelor of primary education at the university varies from 59.45 for the Canberra campus to 74.05 for the Sydney campus.

”ATARs (Australian Tertiary Admission Ranks) are statistically notoriously unreliable the moment you go under 90,” Professor Craven said.

”It’s very convenient to universities and to anybody who wants a nice easy way of assigning a number to a student but its accuracy … is weak and everybody knows that.”

The dean of education at the University of Canberra, Geoffrey Riordan, said he supported Mr Piccoli’s concerns about entry levels and said one method he championed was to move to a graduate model.

Greater incentives through better salaries and providing postgraduate professional development was also key to attracting high-quality students of teaching.

”The salaries for graduate teachers are comparatively high; the problem is seven or eight years into teaching,” he said.

Are a lot of Japanese men perverted?

The thing is, in recent years the “weird Japan” “wacky Japan” theme has been an extremely easy, and lazy, hook for the media to hang their Japan related stories on. Since most of the Western mainstream media has decided that Japan is no longer that relevant as a major economic power/rival to the United States (role taken over by China in Asia, let’s slot that in in our neat little hierarchy) most Japan stories focus on the wierd/wacky and ‘cool’ stuff. There are also some resident expats in Japan who profit, literally or figuratively, by continuing to promote the idea that Japan is just a wacky, perverted place – even if much of the behavior that is supposed to be widely practised is just a fringe thing.

I believe that the truth is that Japanese people are no more or less perverted than people anywhere else. There is less, or rather different, censorship applied to literature and media in Japan – it is not a country bound by Judeo-Christian-Muslin mores and morality. One thing that a lot of westerners have a problem with is that nudity of any kind is not the total, absolute, gasp-worthy taboo it seems to be in some societies in the west. (I’ve seen people complain about the bath scene in the movie Tampopo where the father takes a bath with his two daughters. He’s not a pedophile, that’s a common and much approved ‘family thing’ to do in Japan.)

What facts about Japan do foreigners not believe until they come to Japan?

What are some of Japan’s best kept secrets?


DragonBox is making me reconsider all the times I’ve called an educational app “innovative.” Many educational apps are some form of flashcard, a way to enforce rote repetition and memory with some veneer of interactivity and multimedia layered on top. To be honest, I’m pretty tired of interactive picture books — yes, there are definitely some fun ones out there, but they’re not really any more “innovative” than pop-up books read out loud by an adult. It’s just an extension of the medium.

Here, though, we have an app that is allowing kids to learn a tricky subject through a gradual introduction of new rules and concepts — just like playing through an in-game tutorial where you first learn to look around, then walk, then jump, then pull out your weapons and fire, and then you’re off and running and you never had to sit down and read a manual. When the developers tested their app with hundreds of students in Norway, they found that more than 30% of them were able to solve equations after an hour of playing the game, and that rate more than doubled after two hours.

Huynh was tired of hearing that kids couldn’t learn algebra, and he was especially frustrated with the countless apps that purport to be educational but are nothing more than flash cards with some bells and whistles. He sees tablet computers as a truly disruptive technology that can change the way we teach and learn. We Want to Know did extensive testing of DragonBox in schools — often with several kids crowded around a single table — and he said he loved watching their “aha” moments when something clicked and they got it.

The downside, though, is that teachers don’t know what to do with this. They’re invested in the system, textbook publishers are invested in the status quo, and it’s hard to flip the classroom. He said in some cases after introducing kids to the app, then he would observe the teachers and they really didn’t know how to carry forward the lessons learned from the app. This will present a tricky challenge — what does a middle school algebra teacher do if kindergarteners can start learning to solve equations within a couple of hours? Certainly any good teacher would be thrilled for their students to catch on to something so quickly — but how do you then move from there to real-world applications or a deeper understanding of the principles? Certainly conventional teaching methods will be hard to combine with the app.

(Here’s a short clip of my daughters playing through parts of Chapter 4, working with each other on errors.)

One of the things about the app which Huyhn pointed out is that it does let you figure things out on your own. It doesn’t give you the answers, but it enforces the rules. If you add a card to one side, it won’t let you do anything else until you add the same card to the other side, balancing the equation. Of course, this is something that doesn’t happen when you solve equations on paper, so that’s where the practice and teacher involvement is important. The app will make sure you’re solving its equations — but if you move beyond the app to new problems, you have to remember the rules yourself.

It reminds me of playing board games on the iPad or on a computer: it’s not the same as playing in real life, but one of the distinct advantages is that you don’t have to remember all the rules yourself. If you can’t play a tile in a particular location in Carcassonne, the app simply won’t let you put it there. When you try to take a second face-up locomotive card in Ticket to Ride, the app doesn’t allow it. Play the app enough times, and the rules gradually become second nature, without having to consult the rulebook or have an experienced player walk you through it.

Of course, the flip side to that in the case of DragonBox is that you don’t learn the reasons for the rules. My kids (particularly my five-year-old) have no idea why, when you drag a card below another one, you have to drag it below all the other cards on the screen. They don’t know why cards in the numerator and denominator can cancel each other out and become a “1.” Now, you show this to an older kid who knows arithmetic and has started studying algebra, and they’ll know why these rules are there. For my kids, it’s just a matter of learning the rules of this game — and eventually I think that will serve them well — but there’s not really any theory behind it. This may be where the teacher’s involvement is crucial. It frees them up from checking over each student’s work as they solve equations, and allows them to focus on the whys of algebra.

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The Age of the Essay

How did things get this way? To answer that we have to go back almost a thousand years. Around 1100, Europe at last began to catch its breath after centuries of chaos, and once they had the luxury of curiosity they rediscovered what we call “the classics.” The effect was rather as if we were visited by beings from another solar system. These earlier civilizations were so much more sophisticated that for the next several centuries the main work of European scholars, in almost every field, was to assimilate what they knew.

During this period the study of ancient texts acquired great prestige. It seemed the essence of what scholars did. As European scholarship gained momentum it became less and less important; by 1350 someone who wanted to learn about science could find better teachers than Aristotle in his own era. [1] But schools change slower than scholarship. In the 19th century the study of ancient texts was still the backbone of the curriculum.

Differences between Netherland and Luxembourg Flags

The two are quite identical. According to “holy texts,” the Netherlands’ flag has a 2:3 ratio while the classical ratio of Luxembourg’s is 3:5. The problem arises because Luxembourg’s flag is also used with 1:2 ratio and (worse), a 2:3 one, the same of the Netherlands’ flag! Moreover, the nuance of blue is defined as “cobalt blue” for both the flags, even if in Luxembourg’s flag it is often lighter than in that of the Netherlands’.

Giuseppe Bottasini, 15 March 1995

Until 1890, the king of the Netherlands and the grand-duke of Letzeburg were one person. I’d guess that the flag colors come from the coat-of-arms of Letzeburg: barry argent and azure, a lion gules.

Anton Sherwood, 15 March 1995

The flags are of the Netherlands and of Luxembourg (as they are known internationally) are similar, but not the same, and it’s just a coincidence, nothing to do with having any common origin. As Anton Sherwood pointed out the colours of Luxembourg are derived from the coat of arms. Recently the blue has been defined as 299 in the Pantone Matching System, unlike the 286 blue in the flag of the Netherlands. It was laid down some time ago that the proportions of the flag would be 3:5 or 1:2, unlike the Dutch flag, which is always 2:3.
However, because the flags still look similar at a distance, the Luxemburgers have a distinct flag for use on civil vessels on the Rhine and elsewhere. It is a banner of the arms.

There is no international system for avoiding flag similarities, and indeed at the United Nations itself there are two pairs of identical flags: Chad and Romania and Monaco and Indonesia. Chad and Romania are absolutely identical, and whilst Monaco and Indonesia have different proportions, this refinement is lost at the UN, where all flags are rendered equal. There have been several occasions in the past when different countries have had similar flags. Until the establishment of the World Vexillological Authority we have to put up with it!

William Crampton, 20 March 1995