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 Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?

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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Fri Sep 05, 2008 3:30 am

Well, ten years ago I had not fulfilled my duty as required under Article 1 of the Irish Constitution. Now I have, and the powers that be are still continuing to ignore and obfuscate my work. In fact I have replaced the term Vedic maths with Natural Computation. In my own unique research I have discovered that the techniques described as Vedic maths were once well known and practiced in Ireland. This knowledge is still a little bit fragmented but I'm sure that my next trip to the kingdom of mathematics will confirm my thesis.
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Fri Sep 05, 2008 4:00 am

Zhou Enlai wrote
Quote :
I would be interested to know what percentage of primary school teachers or secondary school maths teachers who qualified in the last 5 years got an A in honours maths themselves.

As a piece of random information, it might be interesting but it doesn't tell us anything, because learning and teaching don't necessarily correlate; or should I say that exam performance and teaching ability are not necessarily connected - but evidence for that, one way or another, would be interesting.

Quote :
I think that maths and physics are very difficult to teach and even more difficult to learn if your teacher isn't up to scratch.

Physics should not be difficult to teach because its applications are so practical it should be possible to teach it by the scientific equivalent of 'total immersion' but this doesn't happen, partly because the the exam doesn't reward it, because the demands on the teacher are extremely high in terms of preparation and engagement and the risks for classroom management seem high. But it's a huge pity that more teachers don't take that risk.

If the teacher isn't up to scratch, we need to ask ourselves what makes a good teacher, and in answer to that, there are probably as many suggestions as there are teachers out there. I don't think that as a society we consider carefully or coherently enough what we demand and should demand from our teachers because we expect them to expand to fill all roles when necessary. Is a good teacher one who gets good grades? Or one who fosters a lifelong love of the subject in most students or one who makes the curriculum accessible to all students or one who can sense the moods of a child and know when to pass the hankies or not present a kid with an ultimatum or one who gets involved in extra-curricular activities or one who does all of the above? And if all of the above, which should be the focus, because a teaacher cannot be all things to all people all the time?

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It is certainly a systemic fault. If the teachers are not up to it then there is no point in hounding them about it. They themselves are the product of the educational system.

This is true, but it's not an acceptable explanation or excuse. There is every point in hounding a person if there are opportunities there for improvement and ...


Last edited by Kate P on Fri Sep 05, 2008 10:04 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Fell asleep mid sentence so tidying up a little...)
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Fri Sep 05, 2008 6:57 am

A lot of very interesting points from Kate P and Zhou.

There should be a minimum acceptable standard. The unfortunate thing about the grinds system is that it obscures teachers who are failing their pupils. I know of a case of a maths teacher who is so poor at her job that virtually all her pupils' parents pay for grinds. There are one or two people providing those grinds who are good teachers and are minting it. It is grossly unfair on pupil and parents - and particularly on the few not getting grinds.

The schools are there for the pupils benefit, not the teachers. There should be a survey of the numbers getting grinds and investigation of the teacher's competence in any case where they plainly aren't trusted to deliver the syllabus.

This is not about the exceptional few inspirational teachers who are special people who change lives, it is about basic competetence and delivery of the syllabus.

There must be several different things at play in why maths teaching doesn't seem to work well - pupil motivation, societal interest and support, rewards in terms of employment opportunities, the syllabus itself, the teaching aids available (and maths is ideally suited to teaching through computer programmes, like a computer game), teacher training and appointment, cpd training, lack of role models and so on.

The parents should kick up stink, but of course they are afraid if they raise their heads above the parapet their children will one way or another pay for it. Their fear may not be justified, but its a risk parents won't take. Its not in the interests of the teachers to create a more rigorous and demanding system and poor teachers either aren't coping or don't care. So where will the initative come from to change this? It should be from universities and employers, head teachers, teachers, the Department of Education and Student Councils.
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Fri Sep 05, 2008 10:55 am

Quote :
It is certainly a systemic fault. If the teachers are not up to it then there is no point in hounding them about it. They themselves are the product of the educational system.

I can't agree with that, Zhou. In terms of maths and sciences which people are qualified to teach after doing a H Dip, the emphasis on the teaching practice end of that course (at least in Maynooth where I was lucky enough to study, I don't think other establishments are very different) is on getting teachers to look at diverse and interactive ways of delivering the curriculum effectively. But a strange thing happens when those teachers get into the workplace, in that they fall back into older ways of doing things. To do so isn't an unfortunate twist of fate, it's a combination of negligence, peer pressure, tiredness and apathy in the certain knowledge that children learn better when they are engaged.

They should be hounded.

WSE should ideally give some scope for subject teachers to pool their resources and look at better ways of teaching and getting better results but it doesn't because it provides no time for teachers to meet - so meetings are held fleetingly at lunchtime, random free classes when not everyone is free and between the end of school and hockey/hurling/debating or basketball practice. It's also extremely difficult for NQTs to use their ideas, innovation and creativity when their peers, elders and betters set the agenda. When the WSE inspection starts looking for evidence of what teachers are doing during the year as a group to improve the practice of their teaching and the delivery of their subjects - rather than a single lesson plan for the day of inspection and a folder of minutes, etc, then we might see some collective improvement and collective taking of responsibility.


Quote :
A new grade of teacher, open to all, requiring the candidates to pass new exams and with a higher level of pay conditional on the teacher teaching maths primarily and doing regular re-assessment (for improved teaching methods) might do the trick.

I'm not sure if you're suggesting - as many others have in recent times - that maths and science teachers should receive a higher grade of pay, so I'll take the parts of your question separately.

A new grade of teacher would be fantastic. Teachers are paid increments based on time in the job, not on how successfully they do it. In fact, lots of grades of teachers would be fantastic - the teacher can apply him or herself to moving up a grade. However, I disagree that exams should be the basis of it, rather all of the focus should be on random inspection by a council of people trained in the nuances of teaching practice who visit all teachers without notice and look for evidence of how the teacher integrates various learning styles into his teaching, the use of resources, group work, peer teaching, self-driven learning by the students, etc. If there are exams, they should be only in the practical philosophy of teaching. Most teachers don't have time for or aren't used to reflecting on their own practice and this would be an opportunity to do so with some focus.

Should the higher level of pay be conditional on the teacher teaching maths primarily? No, No and No again. There is no reason why maths teachers should be paid more - would all maths teachers, regardless of skill or effort get this extra pay? What about the English teacher who has the same 22 hour timetable but hours of essays to mark most days? (this has always been a particular bugbear of mine, because the physical workload in English is way beyond that in other subjects) Maths is not more important than any other subject, nor do the teachers have any greater skills or qualifications or intrinsic merit that makes their work more valuable than that of any other teacher. Getting all teachers to do their job better makes more sense.

In introducing new policies to schools, teachers and management often focus on doing this with first years first and then over the years, the first years are sixth years and there is natural leadership etc... NQTs are a terrific resource; they're young and enthusiastic, usually don't have children so they are keen to stay late, work harder, get more involved. It's only in recent years that there has been a pilot project to support them in the transition from dip to teaching. This is where the changes can be made and over time - and I don't mean the 40 years of a teaching career, but through the pressure that comes to bear from students when they discriminate between teachers who do the job in an engaging way with great results and happy kids, which then filters throughout the school and encourages everyone to look at their teaching in a new way.

Quote :
However, teachers have resisted all performance assessment any discriminatory pay for years. It is highly unlikely they will agree to it now. Instead they will insist that the current maths teachers are up to the task if they get more resources or offered some voluntary training.


They have resisted this and it's one of the reasons that many good teachers leave the system - there is no meritocratic system of promotion. When I was teaching, it didn't matter how hard I worked, I still got paid the same as the person sliding through or the person doing a better job than me. The increments arrive as timetabled and there is no personal incentive to work harder though obviously, the professional incentive is there. The question has always been, and remains to be, how do we measure the effectiveness of a teacher and it's my belief that just because we haven't yet found (or perhaps looked hard enough for) a way to do this that isn't results based, it doesn't mean we shouldn't continue to look and to accept the challenge and whatever changes to work practices it may bring.

There is a way of ensuring that teachers (or indeed schools) that are innovative and effective, regardless of the class, ability, needs of their cohort and that is by constant inspection that focuses on teaching practice and its effectiveness. So you pit the teacher against him or herself rather than against the grinds school or the teacher who has the A stream.

Quote :
An alternative might be to set up centres of maths excellence (you gotta talk their language:)) where students could get free evening grinds in honours maths, physics and applied maths from talented wel paid teachers who voluntarily agreed to take on this new job with new standards. It would be a totally different job so it would not be discriminatory. It would be unfair for people in remote areas. However, that would not be a retrograde step because the current reality is that many people currenlty get grinds so the less well off and those in remote areas are suffering an unfair disadvantage as things stand.

Again, Zhou, I have to disagree with you here, though it's an innovative suggestion. Students should be getting the best teaching in their own classrooms; that's what their parents pay their taxes for. Maths clubs that take the subject out of the classroom might be a runner - but then, shouldn't the good maths teacher be doing this anyway?

People give grinds everywhere in urban and rural areas but grind schools are not about teaching, but about forcefeeding information and exam technique. I spent a week doing maths and physics in the Institute the Easter before my leaving cert and it was a total waste of time to have one man at the top of a room of 200 people reading through his notes and putting examples on the board.

People often forget that students get grinds for a variety of reasons, and not just because their teachers aren't good. Many kids who get them don't need them, and should really get off their asses in the classroom and take responsibility for their own learning rather than expecting someone else to take responsibility for them. And I say this as someone who has given grinds for a lot of years and still does one or two.

But there are a few suggestions that we haven't looked at. Getting specially trained maths teachers into primary schools might be a good way of fostering an interest in maths early on.

And if we look at the beginning, we must surely look at the end, which is the Leaving Cert which only rewards a certain type of presentation of work. That has to change. And maybe we should swop the status of applied maths and regular maths, so that everyone studies maths in a context and those few who love maths can study it pure.

Someone made the point earlier that subjects like English are easy to get points in because students who can learn in a particular way can satisfy the system and the marking scheme. As an examiner of Leaving Cert Honours English I can tell you categorically that this is not the case and anyone who puts a marking scheme beside the exam paper will see that it is the students who have made the material their own who will get the best marks. The questions are phrased in such a way that the student must narrow his focus beyond the general, learned-off answer and know the information (purpose and coherence) and must also have a good command of English (language and mechanics).

Can you bluff your way through English? I'd say definitely not, because the requirement for specific information delivered in an original and effective way, is always there. I know from marking re-checks that some students feel aggrieved when they write a superb answer to a Macbeth question and don't get full marks - but don't realise that their learned off spiel answers an entirely different question to the one asked.
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Sat Sep 06, 2008 2:14 am

All grinds should be outlawed, they are contrary to the ethos of perfection in education for all.
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Sat Sep 06, 2008 2:33 am

TheGeniusOfCork wrote:
All grinds should be outlawed, they are contrary to the ethos of perfection in education for all.

What exactly do you mean by that, GOC?
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Sat Sep 06, 2008 2:36 am

Kate P said, "People give grinds everywhere in urban and rural areas but grind schools are not about teaching, but about forcefeeding information and exam technique."

My niece at the eleventh hour got grinds with a maths teacher who was really excellent - not forcefeeding at all. A lecture to 200 is a different thing - they give them at the Sorbonne. If the material is good, and the student is motivated, they will learn.
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Sat Sep 06, 2008 2:43 am

Grind schools and grinds are not the same thing.

And the Sorbonne may indeed give lectures to 200 -UCD gives them to multiples of that. However, there is a world of difference between university and secondary school; the lectures are supplemented, usually, with tutorials and students enter the establishment knowing that their learning is in their own hands and that the lecture is merely an overview of something they need to do their own research into. This has never been part of the culture of secondary school teaching or examining.
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Sat Sep 06, 2008 4:13 am

Kate P wrote:
Someone made the point earlier that subjects like English are easy to get points in because students who can learn in a particular way can satisfy the system and the marking scheme. As an examiner of Leaving Cert Honours English I can tell you categorically that this is not the case and anyone who puts a marking scheme beside the exam paper will see that it is the students who have made the material their own who will get the best marks. The questions are phrased in such a way that the student must narrow his focus beyond the general, learned-off answer and know the information (purpose and coherence) and must also have a good command of English (language and mechanics).

Can you bluff your way through English? I'd say definitely not, because the requirement for specific information delivered in an original and effective way, is always there. I know from marking re-checks that some students feel aggrieved when they write a superb answer to a Macbeth question and don't get full marks - but don't realise that their learned off spiel answers an entirely different question to the one asked.

I think the issue is probably more that if you're good at English, you're good at it. I was good at it (O levels anyway), so I could rest comfortably with the idea that I could get a B without breaking a sweat, while English class involved no real mental effort at all - for exactly the reasons you cite. If you can do analysis on the fly, you're a good half a mile ahead of the rote learners. You won't get an A, but who needs an A?

Science, which I'm going to say I'm also good at (damned good, in fact!), is much harder. You simply cannot do thermodynamic analysis of a chemical reaction or work out the constraints on an evolving magma from first principles without knowing your stuff. So even to wing it, you still need a damned good understanding of the science. I winged Mineralogy in college through understanding thermodynamics and chemical processes, because those are the principles behind the formation of minerals. Again, I never got top marks, because to do that I'd have needed to memorise a whole bunch of mineral formulas - which would never be relevant again.

At the end of the day, Shakespeare may have been a literary genius, but he was only human, so what he could possibly be saying is bounded by the relatively narrow and familiar limits of humanity. The Universe writes what science reads, and it knows no such boundaries.
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PostSubject: Grinds and Grind Schools   Sat Sep 06, 2008 4:42 pm

Kate P wrote:
TheGeniusOfCork wrote:
All grinds should be outlawed, they are contrary to the ethos of perfection in education for all.

What exactly do you mean by that, GOC?

Just as well I don't live in Dublin. Wink

Let's take an example from my own field of expertise, namely computation. Personally I prefer to use the term computation rather than mathematics, because mathematics is very tightly bound by the strict rules of Boolean logic, whereas computation is a much more generic approach to resolving design processes in a large number of areas. When we achieve perfection in computational education we gain the ability to resolve design processes with supreme ease. Of course we use mathematical logic as one of our tools, but it is not the be all and end all of our abilities. Of course we use computers to develop computational models or to manage modern technological but we do not become overreliant on it. We may occasionally use calculators, but with a little bit of practice and the development of animated calculators their use becomes a means of education rather than a means of finding the answer to what are really simple sums.

Now, why should grinds be outlawed. On economic grounds, they create a two tier educational system. On moral grounds, some teachers choose to perform poorly in the classroom and yet give grinds in the evening. On educational grounds, grinds shift the focus from education to gain knowledge, to pedantic formulae to pass exams. They shift the focus away from the school, which has the primary responsibility to ensure that every student achieves his maximum potential.

From the most basic level they create the notion that computation is hard, when in fact if taught properly, it is coherent and concise.

Personally I gave two grinds ever in my life. The first was while doing my PhD qualifier in UCC, where I was persuaded by one of the staff, to give a grind, to a young lady. I sat down with her for an hour, and I very quickly determined that she wanted me to do the work, she in fact did not want to express any real interest in the topic under consideration. I didn't charge her, and told her there was nothing I could do for her unless she was willing to at least meet me half way.

The second had a more interesting consequence. A neighbour of mine, whose son had just completed his transition year, informed me that her son's grades in mathematics had fallen, and asked if I would tutor him. Reluctantly I agreed, and within four sessions his grades had returned to a higher level than before, his transition year. He actually didn't need grinds at all, all he needed was a little bit of confidence and some of my own techniques. However one technique caused a problem, I call it finding the equation of a line at a glance. Without getting into the technical details it is a method which lies at the basis of all Linear Algebra, and allows a student, with practice to write down the equation of a line with having to resort to the formulaic approach with all of its x's and y's flying about. When he showed it to his teacher he was told that he couldn't use it because it wasn't on the curriculum. That of course destroyed his confidence and he didn't return. There are further matters relating to this technique which directly reflect on the State Exam's Commision, and how they conduct their business in a very inept way, which leads me to the conclusion that they should be abolished.

Coming back to the general principle of grinds, and grind schools. They tend to promote the notion that a student should learn their material in a pedantic and boring way, and never develop their ability to express the own fundamental talents. This is true not only in the area of computation, but in all aspects of education. They tend to hamper rather than promote the enlivenment of true knowledge.

Is treise dúchas ná oiliúint,

Is treise oiliúint ná oideachas,

Is treise oideachas ná dianteagasc.


cheers
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:01 pm

This is a subject that both fascinates and is dear to me. As an anarchist I see education as being the primal root of a successful society and indeed, as being the primal root of a failing society. I must concede that what I'm about to say is a product of my own musings and that some of it, if not most of it, is not necessarily a product of anarchist philosophy.

I liked what TGOC has had to say on the topic. I think he might be pulling some legs with what he's had to say about grinds and slapping the educational system upside the head somewhat at the same time. If I'm wrong in this perception I apologise.

When I was a young lad, science and maths were my favourite subjects. I was always frustrated by the pace of things, always wanting to know more and bored by the endless repetition of information I'd absorbed and extrapolated upon as it was imparted to me for the first time. It was around this time that I first pondered the intent of education. As a consequence, my view regarding education is vastly different to what is considered to be the mainstream view. Allow me to sum this view in a single sentence and to extrapolate upon it afterwards. Education should enable individuals to progress their lives competently in whatever fashion they choose, however, this does not happen, we educate our children in order to consign fates to them and to strip them of their individuality. This is government policy and the current outcry is nothing more than a smokescreen that facilitates the State giving the appearence of listening and caring, whilst at the same time, maintaining the status quo. This is a pattern that has been repeated many times already and will feature often in the future.

I may be going somewhat outside the theme of maths and science, but this is unavoidable as the underlying structure behind the 'teaching' of them is the same for all the other subjects.

I'll not say more in this post as I've already written about this subject a fews years ago, I subsequently published what I'd written on Indymedia a couple of years back and it can be found here (tis not exhaustive but it does set the tone for an interesting conversation): A quick journey through enslavement - sometimes called our educational system.
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Sat Sep 06, 2008 6:37 pm

Hermes wrote:
This is a subject that both fascinates and is dear to me. As an anarchist I see education as being the primal root of a successful society and indeed, as being the primal root of a failing society. I must concede that what I'm about to say is a product of my own musings and that some of it, if not most of it, is not necessarily a product of anarchist philosophy.

I liked what TGOC has had to say on the topic. I think he might be pulling some legs with what he's had to say about grinds and slapping the educational system upside the head somewhat at the same time. If I'm wrong in this perception I apologise.

When I was a young lad, science and maths were my favourite subjects. I was always frustrated by the pace of things, always wanting to know more and bored by the endless repetition of information I'd absorbed and extrapolated upon as it was imparted to me for the first time. It was around this time that I first pondered the intent of education. As a consequence, my view regarding education is vastly different to what is considered to be the mainstream view. Allow me to sum this view in a single sentence and to extrapolate upon it afterwards. Education should enable individuals to progress their lives competently in whatever fashion they choose, however, this does not happen, we educate our children in order to consign fates to them and to strip them of their individuality. This is government policy and the current outcry is nothing more than a smokescreen that facilitates the State giving the appearence of listening and caring, whilst at the same time, maintaining the status quo. This is a pattern that has been repeated many times already and will feature often in the future.

I may be going somewhat outside the theme of maths and science, but this is unavoidable as the underlying structure behind the 'teaching' of them is the same for all the other subjects.

I'll not say more in this post as I've already written about this subject a fews years ago, I subsequently published what I'd written on Indymedia a couple of years back and it can be found here (tis not exhaustive but it does set the tone for an interesting conversation): A quick journey through enslavement - sometimes called our educational system.

I'd have to say I would see that as mixing up outcome and intent. Any system applied en masse to a large number of people by a far smaller number of people will inevitably involve standardisation. Standardisation, in the hands of the bored, the inept, the tired, or the stupid, inevitably has Procrustean results, because it is less effort to try to fit the people to the system than the system to the people. That does not mean, ever, that this is the intended result - nor, in most cases, would it be possible to find sufficient sociopaths to staff a system with such results, and staffing it with those sufficiently stupid not to realise the nature of the system would not only be counter-productive, but is also provably not what happens.

I speak here, by the way, as someone who was on permanent punishment detail in their last two years of school, and held the school record both for largest number of disciplinary punishments awarded (easy enough if you refuse to do them, since not doing one gets you two) and for suspensions without expulsion.
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Sat Sep 06, 2008 7:44 pm

Ibis wrote:
I'd have to say I would see that as mixing up outcome and intent. Any
system applied en masse to a large number of people by a far smaller
number of people will inevitably involve standardisation.
Standardisation, in the hands of the bored, the inept, the tired, or
the stupid, inevitably has Procrustean results, because it is less
effort to try to fit the people to the system than the system to the
people. That does not mean, ever, that this is the intended result
- nor, in most cases, would it be possible to find sufficient
sociopaths to staff a system with such results, and staffing it with
those sufficiently stupid not to realise the nature of the system would
not only be counter-productive, but is also provably not what happens.

I
speak here, by the way, as someone who was on permanent punishment
detail in their last two years of school, and held the school record
both for largest number of disciplinary punishments awarded (easy
enough if you refuse to do them, since not doing one gets you two) and
for suspensions without expulsion.

I love that word: "Procrustean." I had to look it up.

Intent is the problem here. Nobody intends to produce a race of mindless sheep. The intent is to produce a race of consumers and employees and doesn't require a set of sociopaths to facilitate it. The fact that mindless zombies are produced is a consequence of this, it's not the main intent, but at the same time, it is a predictable result. Decent and hard working teachers are always the focus of the blame game and have enough on their plates without daring to raise their heads and condemn the system as a whole. One cannot wage a decent offensive whilst in retreat.

Pedagogy is not a new science and the modalities of learning are not a recent advent either. Yet when compared to what we do and what is achieved, it can be readily observed that the results of our efforts are not paying off. An obvious example of this ingrained flaw is classroom sizes. In any given classroom, with between 30 and 40 kids, there will need to be about 6 different modalities employed to ensure that each kid has a decent chance of being reached and taught. Of course, this means that 5 of these 6 methods are mostly wasted on the majority of the children they are used on. Solution? Reduction on class sizes. This doesn't mean more spending either, it means efficiency and it means that kids get exactly what they need with no time wasting.

Class reduction is an obvious move. Maybe not so obvious is the fact that reducing class sizes would not mean a huge increase in resources, if any. And even if it did mean a huge increase in resources, so what? The payback of efficient and successful education would more than compensate any expense incurred. Instead, we play the old favourite, the blame game, at a national level. The curriculum may change to some small degree and folks will have had their say. Red-faced and frustrated teachers carrying the blame will go back to making consumers/sheep and we can have the same argument in a decade from now.

You say that you were a kid who held the record for punishment. You're still a very smart guy and show yourself to be very well educated. I'd humbly suggest that your level of education is so high, not due to the education system, but in spite of it.
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Sat Sep 06, 2008 8:09 pm

Quote :
It seems to me that we need to reopen hedge schools.

We had - they are called homework clubs. They receive tiny funding, and are under threat from imminent cuts. The good ones work because children for whom state school is experienced as a place of control of their community get to go to a school that their community controls.

The failure to provide any second level places at all for some of our most vulnerable children says it all.

I read your article and much enjoyed it Hermes.

Just as an aside, I don't think there is much evidence that class size is an important factor.
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Sat Sep 06, 2008 8:40 pm

Thanks for that CF.

I think classroom size is a very important consideration. A simple thought experiment illustrates this. Imagine increasing classroom sizes to 200. We could save loads of money on the number of teachers required. What if we reduced pupil teacher ratios to 1:1. If both types of school existed - which school would you prefer to send your kids to?

There is much to be made of classrom dynamics that has an effect on learning. The size of the classroom is the biggest influence on these dynamics. For example: big classrooms will more probably contain more diversity with regard to educational needs and indeed the methodologies required to meet these needs. In this example, teachers need to spend time addressing a multitude of needs which in turn means, that the teacher is not addressing the needs of the majority at any particular time.

Of course there's also the dynamic of the social grouping within a classroom. The bigger the grouping the more complex the group dynamic. The group dynamic can be and is a buffer to education (within a classroom anyway). An example of this would be class clowns. The bigger the group, the more class clowns (and the bigger the audience), this in turn introduces a new dynamic where the clowns will compete with each other to establish the supreme class clown (and make a teacher's life hell in the process) - whilst being very entertaining, this can have a very negative result on education.

The smaller the classroom size, the greater the possibility that the teacher will be able to bond with and reach individual kids in a meaningful way. Such a relationship is conducive to providing a very efficient and tempered education to kids and just as importantly, it is conducive to giving teachers job satisfaction, both of these experiences are currently missing from our education system.
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Sat Sep 06, 2008 8:46 pm

Hermes wrote:

I liked what TGOC has had to say on the topic. I think he might be pulling some legs with what he's had to say about grinds and slapping the educational system upside the head somewhat at the same time. If I'm wrong in this perception I apologise.
To me the Educational System is like a stubborn mule, lost in it's own sense of complacancy. It needs a little crack of a twig to get it's attention.

Four years ago I organised a meeting in Cork to present and discuss some of the techniques that I wish to integrate into the Educational System. The meeting was attended by parents with some children, parents on their own, some teachers, and others including the City Librarian. Despite many invitations no-one showed up from UCC or CIT. There was no representative from the Department of Education, or the NCCA, in fact all those agencies who are responsible for determining and implementing Educational policy had not even the good manners to respond to the invitation.

If my twig may seem a little bit sharp at times, it is born out of experience.

The meeting went very well, despite a certain look of pale on the faces of some teachers, at the thought that they might have to learn some more techniques. Of course I have planned for this and given the resources can produce the first phase of a teacher training course in less than 1 week.

I found out later that many of those present were really fired up and ready to start. But I could not get the resources to begin. I refuse to start without some form of planned support for at least one year. That is why at this stage it is necessary for me to articulate what I see are the deficiencies in the current system. Not in terms of the computational techniques themselves, but in terms of a system which is virtually impervious to change.

I had good teachers in school as well, in fact my final sixth year teacher was a remarkable man. He too would crack his little twig if we strayed to far from the path of knowledge he was leading us upon. But today's schools are different, with a virtual total emphasis on exam results, rather than teaching a student what the needed for their life. Of course assesment is important to ensure that a student is able to perform with simplicity and ease, but assesment should not dominate our educational system. Grinds have further exacerbated this and that is why I feel that they should be banished, and Grind Schools with them.

I know of two excellent private schools in Cork and Kerry where my ppresentations to the mathematics teachers were very well received. Interestingly both math teachers in these schools were also trained by my final year teacher. Many others I have visited treat the grind process as simply a way to provide a service to parents who can afford it.

We could also suggest that the media plays an important role in hyping up the points system, and creating the perception that grinds et. al. are an essential part of the educational process. They are great for being dramatic with headlines like 5,000 Fail. But actually getting them to seriously consider how our educational system is managed is like trying to chase butterflies without a net.

They will always hype-up thinggs OECD reports, but they never ask the question who actually supports the OECD. The OECD is not foolish enough to cut off the hand that feeds it.

bounce


Last edited by TheGeniusOfCork on Sat Sep 06, 2008 8:50 pm; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Sat Sep 06, 2008 8:49 pm

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DEEDB1E31F935A35757C0A96E948260

In reply to your last post Hermes, for some reason 30 seems to be an international norm for class sizes and I've seen both US and european reports that claim reduced class sizes haven't resulted in improvements - the pros and cons of that view are discussed in the linked article. What I do believe is that it is not a panacea and that there may be much better ways of spending the money it would cost to bring class sizes down to say 20 or 25.
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Sat Sep 06, 2008 8:49 pm

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DEEDB1E31F935A35757C0A96E948260

In reply to your last post Hermes, for some reason 30 seems to be an international norm for class sizes and I've seen both US and european reports that claim reduced class sizes haven't resulted in improvements - the pros and cons of that view are discussed in the linked article. What I do believe is that it is not a panacea and that there may be much better ways of spending the money it would cost to bring class sizes down to say 20 or 25.
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Sat Sep 06, 2008 8:53 pm

TheGeniusOfCork wrote:
Hermes wrote:

I liked what TGOC has had to say on the topic. I think he might be pulling some legs with what he's had to say about grinds and slapping the educational system upside the head somewhat at the same time. If I'm wrong in this perception I apologise.
To me the Educational System is like a stubborn mule, lost in it's own sense of complacancy. It needs a little crack of a twig to get it's attention.

Four years ago I organised a meeting in Cork to present and discuss some of the techniques that I wish to integrate into the Educational System. The meeting was attended by parents with some children, parents on their own, some teachers, and others including the City Librarian. Despite many invitations no-one showed up from UCC or CIT. There was no representative from the Department of Education, or the NCCA, in fact all those agencies who are responsible for determining and implementing Educational policy had not even the good manners to respond to the invitation.

If my twig may seem a little bit sharp at times, it is born out of experience.

The meeting went very well, despite a certain look of pale on the faces of some teachers, at the thought that they might have to learn some more techniques. Of course I have planned for this and given the resources can produce the first phase of a teacher training course in less than 1 week.

I found out later that many of those present were really fired up and ready to start. But I could not get the resources to begin. I refuse to start without some form of planned support for at least one year. That is why at this stage it is necessary for me to articulate what I see are the deficiencies in the current system. Not in terms of the computational techniques themselves, but in terms of a system which is virtually impervious to change.

I had good teachers in school as well, in fact my final sixth year teacher was a remarkable man. He too would crack his little twig if we strayed to far from the path of knowledge he was leading us upon. But today's schools are different, with a virtual total emphasis on exam results, rather than teaching a student what the needed for their life. Of course assesment is important to ensure that a student is able to perform with simplicity and ease, but assesment should not dominate our educational system. Grinds have further exacerbated this and that is why I feel that they should be banished, and Grind Schools with them.

I know of two excellent private schools in Cork and Kerry where my ppresentations to the mathematics teachers were very well received. Interestingly both math teachers in these schools were also trained by my final year teacher. Many others I have visited treat the grind process as simply a way to provide a service to parents who can afford it.

We could also suggest that the media plays an important role in hyping up the points system, and creating the perception that grinds et. al. are an essential part of the educational process. They are great for being dramatic with headlines like 5,000 Fail. But actually getting them to seriously consider how our educational system is managed is like trying to chase butterflies without a net.

They will always hype-up thinggs OECD reports, but they never ask the question who actually supports the OECD. The OECD is not foolish enough to cut off the hand that feeds it.

bounce

I must say, that that's an absolute breath of fresh air (no absolutes, I know, but ya know what I mean).
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Sat Sep 06, 2008 9:14 pm

cactus flower wrote:
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DEEDB1E31F935A35757C0A96E948260

In reply to your last post Hermes, for some reason 30 seems to be an international norm for class sizes and I've seen both US and european reports that claim reduced class sizes haven't resulted in improvements - the pros and cons of that view are discussed in the linked article. What I do believe is that it is not a panacea and that there may be much better ways of spending the money it would cost to bring class sizes down to say 20 or 25.

I dunno CF, the US educational system, if anything, is vastly worse that ours.

The report cited in the article was produced by a department worried about its budget. More to the point, this report has since been slated in many places. Here's one of the milder articles that have appeared that looks at it: LINK.

I myself prefer this countering argument: LINK.
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Sat Sep 06, 2008 9:16 pm

Hermes wrote:
Ibis wrote:
I'd have to say I would see that as mixing up outcome and intent. Any
system applied en masse to a large number of people by a far smaller
number of people will inevitably involve standardisation.
Standardisation, in the hands of the bored, the inept, the tired, or
the stupid, inevitably has Procrustean results, because it is less
effort to try to fit the people to the system than the system to the
people. That does not mean, ever, that this is the intended result
- nor, in most cases, would it be possible to find sufficient
sociopaths to staff a system with such results, and staffing it with
those sufficiently stupid not to realise the nature of the system would
not only be counter-productive, but is also provably not what happens.

I
speak here, by the way, as someone who was on permanent punishment
detail in their last two years of school, and held the school record
both for largest number of disciplinary punishments awarded (easy
enough if you refuse to do them, since not doing one gets you two) and
for suspensions without expulsion.

I love that word: "Procrustean." I had to look it up.

Intent is the problem here. Nobody intends to produce a race of mindless sheep. The intent is to produce a race of consumers and employees and doesn't require a set of sociopaths to facilitate it. The fact that mindless zombies are produced is a consequence of this, it's not the main intent, but at the same time, it is a predictable result. Decent and hard working teachers are always the focus of the blame game and have enough on their plates without daring to raise their heads and condemn the system as a whole. One cannot wage a decent offensive whilst in retreat.

I won't argue that the intent of the education system is to produce educated workers, but it's not based on methods deliberately chosen to produce conformity. It is generally recognised that modern nations need gifted and knowledgeable creatives easily capable of "thinking outside the box" - the problem is that it's extremely difficult to "produce" people like that using a mass-standardised system. On the other hand, almost any attempt to allow 'customisation' almost invariably winds up perpetuating an educational elite - a good example is the UK public school/Oxbridge system and the French "grande écoles".

Down at the "bottom" of the heap, there is always going to be an element of crowd control and keeping people off the streets, no matter what the system.

Hermes wrote:
Pedagogy is not a new science and the modalities of learning are not a recent advent either. Yet when compared to what we do and what is achieved, it can be readily observed that the results of our efforts are not paying off. An obvious example of this ingrained flaw is classroom sizes. In any given classroom, with between 30 and 40 kids, there will need to be about 6 different modalities employed to ensure that each kid has a decent chance of being reached and taught. Of course, this means that 5 of these 6 methods are mostly wasted on the majority of the children they are used on. Solution? Reduction on class sizes. This doesn't mean more spending either, it means efficiency and it means that kids get exactly what they need with no time wasting.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that any give n school, no matter how small the classes, will have teachers who can teach each of the modalities.

Hermes wrote:
Class reduction is an obvious move. Maybe not so obvious is the fact that reducing class sizes would not mean a huge increase in resources, if any. And even if it did mean a huge increase in resources, so what? The payback of efficient and successful education would more than compensate any expense incurred. Instead, we play the old favourite, the blame game, at a national level. The curriculum may change to some small degree and folks will have had their say. Red-faced and frustrated teachers carrying the blame will go back to making consumers/sheep and we can have the same argument in a decade from now.

Alternatively, you can do as the UK does, which is to change the educational system every few years based on the prevailing ideologies - removing "streaming" for example, as inegalitarian, when streaming actually allows children to sort themselves by learning style/pace.

Hermes wrote:
You say that you were a kid who held the record for punishment. You're still a very smart guy and show yourself to be very well educated. I'd humbly suggest that your level of education is so high, not due to the education system, but in spite of it.

I'd have to separate out various elements there. The teaching at my school was generally good (with a couple of exceptions, mostly maths), excellent in the sciences (and very well funded, with maybe a third of UCD's lab space for only 600 pupils), and the discipline was quite correct - I was a disciplinary problem, and an annoying one, because I didn't object to the system, but simply preferred not to apply it to myself when I didn't feel it was warranted. I was never a disciplinary problem in class - it was more a question of whether I was in class, in the right class, in the right uniform, etc. I remember one term report coming back with my Chemistry teacher saying I was "a joy to teach", while the disciplinary report said "never have I had a more corrupting influence in the house".

I don't think for a moment that I got my education "in spite of the system" - I got it because I liked learning, and had teachers who liked teaching - the education was there, and I took it. At the end of the day, what we're talking about here are the failures of the education system, not the disciplinary system that surrounds it.
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Sun Sep 07, 2008 2:04 am

TheGeniusOfCork wrote:
Kate P wrote:
TheGeniusOfCork wrote:
All grinds should be outlawed, they are contrary to the ethos of perfection in education for all.

What exactly do you mean by that, GOC?

Just as well I don't live in Dublin. Wink

Indeed. But you still haven't explained below the 'ethos of perfection in education for all' and why (blanket) grinds are contrary too it.

Quote :
Let's take an example from my own field of expertise, namely computation. Personally I prefer to use the term computation rather than mathematics, because mathematics is very tightly bound by the strict rules of Boolean logic, whereas computation is a much more generic approach to resolving design processes in a large number of areas. When we achieve perfection in computational education we gain the ability to resolve design processes with supreme ease. Of course we use mathematical logic as one of our tools, but it is not the be all and end all of our abilities. Of course we use computers to develop computational models or to manage modern technological but we do not become overreliant on it. We may occasionally use calculators, but with a little bit of practice and the development of animated calculators their use becomes a means of education rather than a means of finding the answer to what are really simple...

There are times, GOC, with respect, when I wonder whether we speak the same language to the same ends, because when I read each sentence here above, in the order in which you have composed them, I'm at a loss to find out why grinds are the bane of secondary school education, and I'm no clearer on the nature of your 'ethos of perfection in education for all' nor the philosophy that underlies it.

Is perfection the aim of secondary school education in the context of the discussion we are having here? I wouldn't have thought so. In fact, I'd suggest that aiming for perfection is just a way of implementing a more impossible standardisation. Indeed, I would have thought that for the vast majority of students in the vast majority of subjects and schools, an ethos that is based on the pursuit of perfection would be a rather unpleasant noose around one's neck. The 'ethos of perfection in education' is a highminded and noble ideal, perhaps a misguided one based on a very narrow frame of reference, but in any case divorced from the reality that all education systems are founded on the dynamic of teaching and learning between imperfect teachers and students. Perhaps you're applying the principles of maths to education, that it's possible to reduce it down to an absolute - which is why I asked the question.

And I'm glad I don't live in Dublin either. Wink

Quote :
Now, why should grinds be outlawed. On economic grounds, they create a two tier educational system. On moral grounds, some teachers choose to perform poorly in the classroom and yet give grinds in the evening. On educational grounds, grinds shift the focus from education to gain knowledge, to pedantic formulae to pass exams. They shift the focus away from the school, which has the primary responsibility to ensure that every student achieves his maximum potential.

I'd suggest the reverse logic; that a two tier society creates the sustained market for grinds.

It's a bizarre notion, and utterly unsubstantiated that teachers 'choose' to perform badly in the classroom yet give grinds in the evening. Grinds are precisely the 1:1 interaction that Hermes spoke of elsewhere, in which students have the full attention of the teacher, have their individual needs met, their confidence boosted, their information supplemented, their work corrected closely and in an interactive way... And when the right teacher is with the student in that situation, it can make an amazing difference. I wouldn't take that away from anyone and, as I've said earlier, there are many reasons why people choose to take a grind.

Grinds schools and grinds are not the same thing, and a certain amount of formula learning is required to pass all exams. Generalising here does not help. While grind schools do rely on giving students a greater knowledge of how the exam paper works, many teachers who work or have worked as examiners or who take the time to study the marking schemes, have that knowledge in the classroom. The problem is not with the grind schools, but perhaps with the exam system that feeds then because it requires students to display a certain kind of knowledge in a particular format.

It might surprise you to know that the primary educator of the child is actually the parent, and while schools obviously have a major role to play in education, there is room for all kinds of supplementary interventions in education.

I have little time for grind schools because their stated function is more or less to pile in information rather than draw out abilities and interests. They offer no extra curricular activities and little opportunity for social or other forms of interaction. Their view of 'education' is extraordinarily narrow, but I very clearly remember the mother of one very bright girl telling me, as her daughter was about to repeat her leaving cert, that she got her education at our school, but would get her points at the Institute. It strikes me as a very sensible understanding to have.


Quote :
From the most basic level they create the notion that computation is hard, when in fact if taught properly, it is coherent and concise.

I think here of Riadach's chicken and egg joke on another thread, and which came first and again, I dispute the premise on which you base your rather illogical conclusion and suggest that firstly, it's the poor teaching that creates the notion that maths is hard, rather than the grinds culture that has arisen as a result of it. Secondly I'd wonder how a grinds culture that extends to many subjects, can imply that one subject is more difficult than another.


Quote :
Personally I gave two grinds ever in my life. The first was while doing my PhD qualifier in UCC, where I was persuaded by one of the staff, to give a grind, to a young lady. I sat down with her for an hour, and I very quickly determined that she wanted me to do the work, she in fact did not want to express any real interest in the topic under consideration. I didn't charge her, and told her there was nothing I could do for her unless she was willing to at least meet me half way.

The second had a more interesting consequence. A neighbour of mine, whose son had just completed his transition year, informed me that her son's grades in mathematics had fallen, and asked if I would tutor him. Reluctantly I agreed, and within four sessions his grades had returned to a higher level than before, his transition year. He actually didn't need grinds at all, all he needed was a little bit of confidence and some of my own techniques. However one technique caused a problem, I call it finding the equation of a line at a glance. Without getting into the technical details it is a method which lies at the basis of all Linear Algebra, and allows a student, with practice to write down the equation of a line with having to resort to the formulaic approach with all of its x's and y's flying about. When he showed it to his teacher he was told that he couldn't use it because it wasn't on the curriculum. That of course destroyed his confidence and he didn't return. There are further matters relating to this technique which directly reflect on the State Exam's Commision, and how they conduct their business in a very inept way, which leads me to the conclusion that they should be abolished.

Your second example here may show an interesting misunderstanding. There are reasons why certain procedures are on the curriculum and others are not and that's because, rightly or wrongly, the student is given credit at each stage of the procedure for showing how they arrived at their conclusions. So if part a) of the question has 5 marks going for showing the equation of a line, perhaps only one of those marks, the last one, will be awarded for the answer. With respect, perhaps he didn't return because you weren't familiar with the curriculum and what he was looking for was a Leaving Cert maths grind, not a maths grind.

I say this because, at the end of the day, whether it's a driving test, a language test, an interview or a sports match, there will always be criteria for assessment and those kids (and indeed teachers) who enter the field without knowing how the scorecard is marked, can hardly expect to do well if they think they can score goals at tennis.

No matter what changes are made in the Irish system, there will always be assessment and therefore criteria and it would be disingenuous of any of us here, no matter how anarchic we are, to expect that we can have a workable system that benefits the student, education, society and indeed, if it's relevant, the workplace without both of these factors.

Quote :
Coming back to the general principle of grinds, and grind schools. They tend to promote the notion that a student should learn their material in a pedantic and boring way, and never develop their ability to express the own fundamental talents. This is true not only in the area of computation, but in all aspects of education. They tend to hamper rather than promote the enlivenment of true knowledge.


Again, you lump grinds and grind schools into the one category where they clearly do not belong because they have differing aims, strategies and natures. In a one to one grind, the student may very well have the perfect opportunity to express his own fundamental talent and see the promotion of the enlivenment of true knowledge.

Is treise dúchas ná oiliúint,

Is treise oiliúint ná oideachas,

Is treise oideachas ná dianteagasc.


cheers[/quote]
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Sun Sep 07, 2008 2:19 am

Is treise dúchas ná oiliúint,

Is treise oiliúint ná oideachas,

Is treise oideachas ná dianteagasc.


Anyone feeling kind and teacherly enough to translate ?
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Sun Sep 07, 2008 2:27 am

Hermes wrote:
Thanks for that CF.

I think classroom size is a very important consideration. A simple thought experiment illustrates this. Imagine increasing classroom sizes to 200. We could save loads of money on the number of teachers required. What if we reduced pupil teacher ratios to 1:1. If both types of school existed - which school would you prefer to send your kids to?

I'm not sure what this thought experiment proves, Hermes. 1:1 education fulltime is not a consummation devoutly to be wished - it might, in some cases, lead to better grades but it doesn't lead to a better education and it certainly won't lead to well-rounded, socially able young people.

Quote :
There is much to be made of classrom dynamics that has an effect on learning. The size of the classroom is the biggest influence on these dynamics. For example: big classrooms will more probably contain more diversity with regard to educational needs and indeed the methodologies required to meet these needs. In this example, teachers need to spend time addressing a multitude of needs which in turn means, that the teacher is not addressing the needs of the majority at any particular time.

Not so. Contrary to popular belief, teachers can actually be quite skilled in the way they manage the diversity of abilities and learning styles in a classroom but the research would say that while most students are kinaesthetic learners, most teachers teach in a visual/auditory way. The research also shows that most students learn best by doing - particularly by teaching what they have learned to another student. Teaching can be very multidimensional. For instance, it's possible to have peer teaching going on within a group work setting while students are doing something kinaesthetic and developing and using all kinds of skills. There are countless ways of practicing differentiation in the classroom. It boils down to having time for planning, as an individual and within departments. But those who practice chalk and talk are in general, not adressing the needs of the majority at any stage.

Quote :
Of course there's also the dynamic of the social grouping within a classroom. The bigger the grouping the more complex the group dynamic. The group dynamic can be and is a buffer to education (within a classroom anyway). An example of this would be class clowns. The bigger the group, the more class clowns (and the bigger the audience), this in turn introduces a new dynamic where the clowns will compete with each other to establish the supreme class clown (and make a teacher's life hell in the process) - whilst being very entertaining, this can have a very negative result on education.

Again I have to disagree in principle, because the smaller group can sometimes have a very much more difficult dynamic than the big one, where students are inclined to behave in recognisable groups displaying recognisable herd characteristics. What you describe above is actually a very important process in the development of the group dynamic, it's natural and to be anticipated.

Quote :
The smaller the classroom size, the greater the possibility that the teacher will be able to bond with and reach individual kids in a meaningful way. Such a relationship is conducive to providing a very efficient and tempered education to kids and just as importantly, it is conducive to giving teachers job satisfaction, both of these experiences are currently missing from our education system.

Teaching, at the end of the day, is all about the quality of the relationships, not just with the students but with the various groups and groups within groups and I agree wholeheartedly that good relationships are extremely important. They are not missing from our education system however partly because teachers give so freely of their time to get involved in extra-curricular activities.
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PostSubject: Re: Ireland - An Educational Disaster Area for Maths and Science ?   Sun Sep 07, 2008 2:30 am

cactus flower wrote:
Is treise dúchas ná oiliúint,


Is treise oiliúint ná oideachas,

Is treise oideachas ná dianteagasc.


Anyone feeling kind and teacherly enough to translate ?

Here you go cactus!

Instinct is stronger than skill.

Skill is stronger than education.

Education is stronger than hard tuition(I think this means grinds)
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