5 ways to gain the confidence to teach technology in the primary classroom

Gone are the days of a blackboard at the front of a classroom and a noisy printer connected to a bulky computer up the back. In today’s classrooms, from the age of six, students are using robots to learn about problem-solving, coding and programming

But how do teachers cope with new technologies increasingly being used in the classroom?

Berwick Fields Primary School classroom and technology teacher Anita Green has embraced the use of robots and other new technologies at the school, providing students access to a range of technologies, from iPads and laptops to programmable robots. Younger students, from Foundation to Grade 2, can borrow Bee-Bots for coding, while other technologies used by students include Edison robots, Chromebooks and Lego Mindstorms.

However, Anita admits that one barrier to the introduction and optimal use of technology in the classroom can be a lack of confidence among teachers, who might not be familiar with the newest technologies or feel intimidated by the knowledge of the students.

Drawing on her own experience of ‘upskilling’ – from her role as a classroom teacher and maths specialist to a role teaching technology and robotics – Anita has the following tips for those looking to build their technology knowledge and skills:

  1. Sign up for professional development. I am enrolled in a two-day course later in the year and I’m definitely looking forward to it.
  2. Learn from your colleagues. I know there are various teachers in the school who know a lot about technology and are almost experts in robotics.  They have been amazing and shared their wealth of knowledge with me as well as forwarding on a range of documents and lessons to help me.
  3. Join a Digitech group. I have joined the local ‘Digitech’ group, which is a network of local schools that hosts meetings once or twice a term to talk about technology in their school.  Even if you can’t attend all the meetings, being on the mailing list is helpful.
  4. Do your research. I have purchased a few books on teaching technology that were recommended to me by others. I also use Google (or Pinterest!) to search for good ideas, and when I find a useful site (or I am recommended one). I tend to subscribe so I can get their emails and see any new resources that come up.
  5. Have a play. I definitely believe in hands-on learning.  Over the Christmas holidays, I took home some Edison robots, as well as one of the Lego Mindstorms and a Chrome book, and had a play. It is the best way to learn!  The Edison robots, which have been the focus of my work this term, have several books with series of lesson plans which are so easy to follow.  They have been great!  These are available on their website.

Green said that apart from some teething issues, such as charging devices or connection problems and teacher confidence and knowledge, technology could play a vital role in the classroom, engaging students and preparing them for a digital future.

“The benefits must outweigh the practical issues because we keep persevering! Given the size of our school, we have almost full-time tech support which is really handy. And a lot of teachers are willing to learn, which is great.

“I find the students are really engaged in digital technologies. I think digital technology is important for their future so it should be in the classroom each day in some way shape or form.”

Celebrating the trailblazing female doctors and scientists of World War I

While relatively few in number, female scientists and doctors made a big impact during World War I. From testing mustard gas on their own skin to running field hospitals in the face of “indescribable filth and vermin, evil smells, no rations, no lights, a hospital full of ill and dying men”, they revealed their skill and competence in the most difficult conditions.

However, these women have largely been ignored in historical accounts, which have tended to focus on the experience of wartime manual workers, who were far more numerous and left behind more readily accessible evidence.

A Lab of One’s Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War explores the lives of some of the extraordinary women who helped pave the way for the female science and medical professionals of today.

Caroline Haslett

Caroline Haslett was just one among many thousands of young women whose lives were transformed by the First World War. Through their struggles, setbacks, and successes, they collectively influenced future generations. Her experiences illustrate how the War permanently altered scientific, medical, and technological prospects for women. A suffragette with a weak school record, she became an eminent international consultant on the domestic uses of electricity, educational reform, and industrial careers for women. She used her influence to alter the scientific careers of countless schoolgirls all over the world.

Haslett was judged a lost cause by her teachers because she never could learn how to sew a buttonhole. As a teenager, she left her Sussex village for London and—to the alarm of her strict Protestant parents—joined Emmeline Pankhurst’s suffragettes. When the War started, she was working as a clerk in a boiler factory, but during the next four years she was repeatedly promoted to replace men who had left to fight. By 1918, she was running the London office, visiting customers such as the War Office to discuss contracts, and astonishing staid civil servants with her expertise in a man’s domain. After being trained as an engineer by her enlightened employers, in 1919—still in her early twenties—Haslett began managing the newly founded Women’s Engineering Society. She was determined to consolidate and expand still further the opportunities for women that had recently opened up. Electric technology—dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, washing machines—would, she believed, free women of drudgery, liberating them to lead a higher form of life. She envisaged “a new world of mechanics, of the application of scientific methods to daily tasks . . . a great opportunity for women to free themselves from the shackles of the past and to enter into a new heritage made possible by the gifts of nature which Science has opened up to us.”

At the end of the War, three million women were working in industry. Like Haslett, some of them had the advantages of good grammar and the right sort of accent, but many were relatively uneducated—domestic servants, barmaids, and shop assistants who had seized the opportunity to escape from their menial occupations.

Martha Whiteley

The chemist Martha Whiteley graduated with a University of London degree when she was twenty-four, but, lacking either rich parents or a husband to support her, she spent the next eleven years teaching. Although no hard evidence survives of her ‘Dear Diary’ feelings about following this route, her frustration is suggested by the fact that for several years she was carrying out scientific research as well as working to earn her living. In 1903, she joined the staff at Imperial College London.

When the male lecturers went away during the War, Whiteley was put in charge of the experimental trenches and the temporary workshop installed just outside the main chemistry laboratory. Putting on one side her research into synthesizing barbiturates and other drugs, she shifted to examining gases. And there was only one way for her group to do that effectively: by testing the gases on themselves. Although they did not share the fate of other wartime chemists, who died through such self-experimentation, they went through some unpleasant experiences. Over thirty years later, in a lecture designed to inspire female students, Whiteley described how she had examined the first sample of mustard gas to be brought back to London. ‘I naturally tested this property by applying a tiny smear to my arm and for nearly three months suffered great discomfort from the widespread open wound it caused in the bend of the elbow, and of which I still carry the scar.’

Whiteley received several tributes for her wartime research. She must have felt gratified to have an explosive named after her—DW for Dr Whiteley—and also proud to be awarded an OBE. More unusually, she was celebrated in the press as ‘the woman who makes the Germans weep’ because of her research into tear gas.

Isobel Emslie

Living and dying on the edge of danger, female doctors – including many from Australia – had an enormous impact on the eastern front and its local populations. Most obviously, they rapidly acquired the surgical expertise needed for treating wounded soldiers, and countless affidavits testify to their patients’ appreciation. In addition, they ran maternity units, cared for refugees, researched into infectious diseases, and introduced preventive health programs.

In the summer of 1918, Dr Isobel Emslie successfully applied to become the commanding officer of a hospital funded by American donations and based in Ostrovo, ninety miles west of Salonika. ‘Just fancy me a C.O. at my tender years,’ she wrote proudly to her mother; ‘I should have been 20 years older & worn hob-nailed boots & flannel.’…

During the last four years, all the women had witnessed appalling devastation and misery, but nothing matched what they encountered now. As their wheels spun in axle-deep mud, they were passed by Bulgarian refugees and bewildered Serbian soldiers plodding along between piles of discarded ammunition. Never again could Emslie see a jay without shuddering to remember the birds pecking at the decaying corpses of donkeys and horses. On the fifth day, as the snow swirled around them, they knew from the stench that they had arrived. Priests mumbled the last rites as they wandered among the hundreds of injured soldiers lying on a stone floor, still in their uniforms, swarming with maggots and lice. Patients wailed continuously as surgeons operated without anaesthetics on a deal trestle table; Emslie never forgot ‘the floor swimming in blood . . . the pails crammed with arms and legs and black with flies’.

Sanitation was of paramount importance. It had become a standard joke that whenever the Brits got together in Serbia, their conversation began with lice and ended with latrines. The women immediately installed incinerators, washed the woodwork with paraffin, cleaned up the water system, and began peeling off the men’s ancient, blood-soaked bandages. Even after forcing the slightly less sick to leave, they had 450 patients suffering from wounds, dysentery, and the virulent Spanish flu that killed so many healthy young men. The housekeeper reported that Emslie looks such a young C.O., but she is most capable, and has made wonderful strides to bring order out of a colossal chaos. . . . [W]e had to tackle a Herculean task to battle with indescribable filth and vermin, evil smells, no rations, no lights, a hospital full of ill and dying men, and everyone tired out.

On top of converting an old barracks into a clean hospital, she spent much of her time in bureaucratic nagging to ensure their food supplies. And as well as all that, she found herself responsible for local civilians in villages up to fifty miles away. Most Serbian doctors were either dead from typhus, recuperating in the south of France, or opening lucrative practices in Belgrade. Constantly busy, the women had little time to ruminate on the horror. Three weeks after they arrived, the Armistice was declared, but they hardly noticed it. For them, the day’s exciting news was that Rose West switched on the hospital’s new electricity system.

A Lab of One’s Own Science and Suffrage in the First World War by Patricia Fara is available from OUP Australia.

A Lab of One's Own

Why flipped learning makes sense in the STEM classroom

By Andrew Douch

The current generation of STEM teachers is the first that must choose between teaching important skills and teaching urgent skills. In the past, there was no difference — the important skills were the urgent skills. Now there is a fork in the road, presenting a threshold challenge for STEM teachers that flipped classrooms can help us overcome.

“Importance” is about how much something matters. “Urgency” is about how soon it matters. In previous generations, it was understood that the more knowledge students had when leaving school, the better their career prospects. The urgency of exam preparation incentivised students to learn the important skills that would later underpin their career success. But that is no longer true.

There is a growing, collective understanding among STEM teachers that the skills that prepared yesterday’s students to thrive in a knowledge economy are inadequate preparation for today’s students. As information continues to be commoditised and processes automated, retaining knowledge is less important than it once was. It is still helpful for a student to know the first 20 elements of the periodic table, but failing to know them is a much smaller handicap than it was 20 years ago. After all, you can ask Siri what the atomic mass of copper is, should you ever need that information.

I’m not saying, as some do, that knowledge has no value, or that looking something up (no matter how efficiently) is as good as remembering it. If students are ignorant on a topic, they have no filter through which to sift new information. In a “post-truth” world, critical thinking is more valuable than ever and critical thinking is problematic for someone who lacks the context that knowledge affords. Nevertheless, YouTube is a pretty effective knowledge prosthesis.

Creativity, problem-solving, resourcefulness, computational thinking; these are skills that have always been valuable but are now at a premium. Teachers get this. Every time I mention it in a presentation I notice teachers nodding. But there seems to be a disconnect between that understanding and the way many teachers plan their classes. Many of us still spend a large portion of our class time teaching knowledge. Why? Because in November, students will sit an exam to answer questions that in any other context would be Googleable! If we have failed to prepare them for that we will have let them down. We won’t have done any favours for our own reputation, either.

Personally, I don’t think exams effectively measure student learning in any meaningful way in 2017. But as a science teacher, I have no influence over the state’s assessment processes (“God grant me the serenity…”). For as long as exams are the gate through which students must enter to pursue a STEM career, we need to hold that gate open for them.

Therein lies the dilemma we face. Do we spend our valuable class time on the most important or the most urgent things? Do we equip our students with the skills that will matter to them most, or those that will matter to them first? Do we prepare them to thrive in the economy of the future, or to thrive in the exams of November?

I don’t think we can neglect either. But clearly there is insufficient time to do both.

Since we are unlikely to be given more time, we need to make more efficient use of the time we have.

This is where the flipped classroom comes in. A common criticism of the flipped classroom model is that it is still a fundamentally didactic, teacher-centred approach. I don’t disagree with that —if done well, I do think that it is much more student-centred than it might seem.

Nevertheless, it is not my aim in this article to discuss different approaches to the flipped classroom model, how to do it well, nor to explain how it can be student-centred (we will look at those things in my presentation at the Oxford University Press STEM Conference). The point I want to make, rather, is that the flipped classroom is much more efficient than traditional approaches.

By taking didactic learning out of the classroom, class time is reclaimed for more “important” learning tasks, those that prepare students for the economy of their future. At the same time, it allows students to cover the “urgent” content they need for exams much more efficiently. They can, for example, listen to a lesson at double speed, while multi-tasking by washing the dishes (or some other mindless chore), thereby saving precious at-desk study hours for other tasks. It also makes that kind of learning demonstrably more effective.

In many ways, I think the term “flipped learning” does a disservice to the concept of flipped learning by implying that it is the wrong-way-around. On the contrary, I think it should be the new normal — at least until we do away with high-stakes standardised testing.

Nobody races to the bank during lunchtime anymore to withdraw cash during bank hours. Instead, we enjoy lunch with our colleagues in the staff room and multi-task cash-withdrawal with our grocery shopping that evening when the bank is closed. We don’t call it “flipped banking”, but that is what we are doing! We are using technology to time-shift a necessary, “urgent” errand to make more efficient use of our time, while also reclaiming our lunchtime to rest and cultivate rapport with colleagues — both of which, are important but not urgent.

In the same way, the flipped classroom can lead us to a more efficient, effective future for students, equipping them with the urgent and important skills they need.

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Andrew Douch is an education technology consultant at evolveeducation.com.au

 

 

2014 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching

The recipients of the 2014 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science were announced at a black-tie awards dinner on Wednesday 29 October in the Great Hall of Parliament House in Canberra.

Representing the nation’s finest awards for excellence in science and science teaching, the five prizes awarded in 2014 were:

  • Prime Minister’s Prize for Science
  • Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year
  • Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year
  • Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools
  • Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools.

The prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools recognises an outstanding contribution to science education in Australia.

Helen Silvester (centre) with Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the 2014 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science awards dinner

Although not taking out the top prize this year, we are thrilled to announce that OUPANZ author, Helen Silvester has been awarded a High Commendation for Excellence in Science Teaching in Secondary Schools. This award recognises Helen’s contribution, commitment and dedication to science teaching across her career.

 

HSilvesterHelen Silvester is Head of Science at Mentone Girls’ Grammar School. She has over 20 years’ science teaching experience and a background in research at the Royal Children’s Hospital and Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. Currently working for ASTA and VCAA, Helen is also an experienced author of science textbooks including Oxford Big Ideas Science and the new Oxford Science to be launched in 2015.

 

Are you searching for knowledge?

Very Short Introduction - KnowledgeThen Oxford’s Very Short Introductions series has the answer!

The Very Short Introduction (VSI) series reaches a significant milestone this month with the publication of the its aptly named 400th title, Knowledge by Jennifer Nagel. This VSI will address classic questions such as: What is knowledge? How does it differ from mere belief? Do you need to be able to justify a claim in order to count as knowing it? How can we know that the outer world is real and not a dream?

In a small, pocket-sized format, Very Short Introductions combine key facts with authoritative analysis and an exploration of big ideas. They provide engaging and readable introductions across hundreds of topics. Written by expert authors, these books can change the way you think about the things that interest you and are the perfect introduction to subjects you previously knew nothing about.

Follow the history and evolution of this remarkable series with these infographics:

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