Posts Tagged ‘Primary schooling’

Pot, this is kettle… Sunday Times (W.A.) provides resource for English teachers. (3)

April 4, 2016

Sometimes I do tell the Sunday Times of the writing I have found annoying.  An example:

The Editor
The Sunday Times

In your B+S supplement (and, too often, the abbreviation letters are appropriate) of 03 April 2016 page 3, one of the suggestions for a healthier life is “Swap this… book for iPad.”

Reading on, one learns that sleep quality is likely to be better if one reads a paper text rather than reading on a tablet. In Standard Australian English, if I swap this for that, I dispose of this and receive that; if I substitute this for that I use this rather than that. Your paper often uses these incorrectly. In this case, the heading should have read “Swap this … iPad for book.”

This is one of a string of errors and malapropisms which have made your newspaper a valuable teaching resource. I believe that, in your efforts to cut costs, you have outsourced editing to people who are not truly familiar with English. My occasional telephone complaints have been brushed off with “You know what we meant,” and my written corrections have not changed your performance. This shows the general public that “You know what I mean!” is a valid response to criticism of one’s English usage. So why should students bother to learn correct usage?

Although I appreciate the chance to let primary school children correct adults’ published texts – ego-boosting editing practice – I think it is time you spent the money to employ literate editors. THEN you could complain about the quality of teaching in Australia.

OK, climb trees. Now, about the rules on fighting …

January 27, 2014

Interested in , I wondered about other rules that have been, with the best of intentions, added to schools.

I know that “Saturday night is alright for a fight” was true long ago, but attacks without warning used to be “not on.”  This has changed.  And it’s not really the alcohol/ amphetamines: youths report hearing others going out deliberately NOT using the mind-altering stuffs because they want to fight better.

Pigeons in cages  may peck each other to death once they start, because they have no innate off-signal for aggression and are unable to flee.  Dogs have submission and dominance signals.  Humans have socially determined dominance and submission signals, and social rules about when to ignore them.  The later we are trained in them, the less profoundly we are constrained by them.

I have been wondering whether the increase in young adult unprovoked violence is related to the fashion for forbidding schoolyard fighting / wrestling between consenting equals.  Consider the outcomes of the rough-and-tumble:  experiencing pain; accidentally causing more damage than intended; passing on cultural rules such as “It is cowardly to attack a weak opponent” and “Don’t kick a man when he’s down;”  developing rules about “proper” ways to start a fight – and all in the years before 9 years old, the years of setting up the rules that become “just natural” in the adult mind.

Now, consider the possibility of making young boys and girls more reluctant to attack without cause and yet more resilient in the face of physical threat.  I like it.


Teaching Mathematics: not wrong, just differently right

March 4, 2011

In the usual order of presentation of fractions, the concept of ratios is left until the upper primary years.  I am not sure that approach is wise.

I have noticed that a fair proportion of those learning fractions  (even at 11 years old)   if asked to write the fraction shown by  [X X X X X O O O] (really by a corresponding set of black / white circles, an image which I am too lazy to insert here)  will write either 3/8 or 3/5.

A computer would mark both of these as incorrect.

Many teachers explain to the class that they expect students to count the coloured circles as the fractional part, and accept the 3/8 at least once, but mark the 3/5 as wrong.   Few explain that the student has seen the ratio relationship – in the time constraints of class they say  just that it is not the fraction.  The unintended lesson hits – the ratio-perceivers’ perception is flawed, they do not “see” maths.

Consider a different approach:  ask the class to “write the fractions shown by the image”.  Touch on the darkened ones traditionally being the fraction numerator, and thus the one they should use for teachers.  Welcome the 3/5,  or 5/3,and explain that the student has noticed the ratio relationship – but that it should be written as 3:5, not 3/5 (we traditionally write the smaller first.)   By using the vinculum we are saying that the bottom represents one set  divided into that many parts and the top shows how many of these parts are in the subset we are examining, whereas the ratio (:)  form says that the colon-separated sides add to make the whole.  (This format allows for cooking  ratios such as 1:1:2, basic biscuit and cake weights of butter / sugar/ flour.)

Aside: a topic for another time – like the technical terms “phone” ,”phoneme”, and “morpheme”, does the term “subset” belong in class before upper – primary?

Ask the class whether they want to investigate  ratios as well as fractions, even if they are not on the curriculum for the year (a conspiracy of learning [1]).

What can this mean to the students? The non-standard forms are seen as mathematically sound, but not the traditional (and thus  preferred) form  – just a matter of presentation, and thus not a big error.    The ratio perceivers have opened up an option for the class to explore – their perception is affirmed as being of an important mathematical relationship, though it is not the fractional one.  They just have to learn which label we use for which relationship – again, a matter of presentation – and they can go home saying “I saw ratios, and most of the others hadn’t noticed them!” .  Isn’t that better than “I suck at Maths!”?

In addition, there is the opportunity to re-emphasise that the key to fractions is that they are the relation of a current subset to the theoretical unit set, related by division of the unit set (into the number of parts shown in the denominator) and multiplication of the unit fraction by the numerator.     This is a difficult concept, but can be examined using the excellent physical approach to fractions reported by Doug Clarke [2], explicitly forming fractions by sharing (i.e. division and multiplication).  This is the key to grasping equivalent fractions  rather than “doing the sums” without understanding.

Aside:  this links to the concept of fractions as pure numbers  (How big is a quarter?  How big is one?  One what? 1/4 cup is larger than 1/2 teaspoon.)   Eventually, it also links to the concept of  percentages as special fractions where the unit set is divided into a hundred parts, so we can have fractions or decimals as numerators.  The excellent and widely used First Steps in Mathematics/Number [3],  says that percentages are special ratios – and indeed, being a subset of the special ratios called “fractions”, they are – but I think it makes more sense to link them in the first place to the immediate superordinate set.

1. Louden, W, Rohl, M, & Hopkins, S. (2008).  Teaching For Growth:  Effective teaching of literacy and numeracy.  Department of Education and Training, Western Australia

2.  Clarke, D.  Fractions as division: The forgotten notion?  Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom 11 (3) 2006

3.  Willis,S., Jacob,L., Powell,B., Tomazos,D. & Treacy,K. (2004).
“First Steps in Mathematics: Number – understand whole and decimal numbers, understand fractional numbers.” Port Melbourne, Victoria: Rigby / Harcourt Education, 2004


From Polygon Song to Michael Jackson

January 25, 2011

Thoughts on “Polygon Song” by Peter Weatherall

I was looking for ways to help children remember the polygons’ names, and was struck by a performance of “Polygon Song”,  (with students in costume singing and acting the parts) at an assembly.   At first I thought this was an unexceptionable, really  good teaching song.

Then I considered the subtext:

“Nah. nah nah, nah, nah, just a boring Square.

I wish I was a pentagon, but I am just a square.
I wish I was a pentagon, but I am just a square.
My sides equal four, but if I had one more
I’d be a pentagon and not a square

Nah. nah nah, nah, nah, just a boring Square.”

So far, not bad.

The song continues, with desire to have more sides (triangles are not mentioned) and dissatisfaction with the main player’s squareness repeated.

So, where does it go – to the amazing properties of the tesseract?  To the practical designer choosing the square above the rest?

“(Play act  the square going behind a screen with a surgeon, and bits of paper tossed out)

Well now I am a decagon, and not a square.
Now I am a decagon, and very rare.
I won’t complain again ‘cos my sides equal ten,
I am a decagon, and not a square.

When I was just a square, I thought it wasn’t fair,
So I had surgery to my geometry ….
Now look at me!

Nah. nah nah, nah, nah, not a boring Square.”

The subtext I see is :  strong social acceptance of plastic surgery to change a standard but socially less valued appearance – with bust enhancement and nose reductions being normalised, the full Jackson option anyone?

I think I may still  use the song, but as a piece to introduce the idea of subtext to older students.