Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Children in school are like children at the doctor's...

When I was a child (and even now), I loved going to school. I enjoyed learning (most subjects) and had a great time at all the institutions that I have attended. Now some of my siblings were the complete opposite to me. They hated going to school to learn. Nunu who is now in year 8 is the same - school is attended for socialising, not really for learning. (Unless of course it’s the favourite subject being taught or a “nice” teacher’s class).

Whilst commuting to University, I was hit by a sudden realisation as I read “How Children Fail” (J. Holt). I had naturally assumed that the students I will teach would want to learn; that they would share my enthusiasm as I took them down the wonderful path of Mathematics. Of course, from the little teaching experience I have, I knew that a lot of students hated Mathematics but I was challenged by this thought. I felt that I could change the student’s perception of Mathematics and make them want to learn it and enjoy doing so.

Now Holt mentioned the fact that students are in school because they have to be there. They couldn’t care less about how the lessons go, but that they make it to the end of the day. So automatically I am fighting a losing battle.

“Children in school are like children at the doctor’s. He can talk himself blue in the face about how much good his medicine is going to do them; all they think of is how much it will hurt or how bad it will taste. Given their own way, they would have none of it.” (Holt, 1982)

I particularly like that quote for it’s made me think that although it’s good to be enthusiastic, I shouldn’t set myself up for a big fall. I shouldn’t exceed the students’ expectations of themselves (if that makes sense). Yes it’s good to push at boundaries but miracles shouldn’t be expected. I need to check back on my optimism whilst making sure the learners have at least a positive mathematical experience. That sounds quite hard too. Perhaps I need to spend a little more time thinking about what I need to expect of the students when I’m teaching them. Is it right to have any expectations?

My post was meant to be about the scripted lesson sessions I had, but in this break I can’t discuss them (no time). I find myself in bed by 10-11pm would you believe it, and am completely exhausted when I get home. The above had to be posted before I forget about it you see (!), but I do hope to post again, tonight or early morning (for I have something to do for tomorrow which I can’t imagine competing over night). And perhaps I will edit this post when I read it again, for I have four minutes to get back so no time to proof read.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Week One Review (and Family Feuds)

I'll be doing this post in chronological order for a change, as I'm pressed for time. You see I haven't got into a routine for doing "homework" which consists of "reading" so I'm awake at some unusual time trying to finish things off!

The first word that comes to mind when I think about my first week on the PGCE course is tiring. Both mentally and physically I'm afraid. Unfortunately my health is not what it used to be (perhaps due to laziness) and I find myself tiring very easily. On the other hand I've been a lazy slob for the past three months so I'm not used to the increase in physical activity, so I'm hoping this is only temporary! Mentally though, I feel like my brain is being ripped apart and broken into epsilon sized pieces. These pieces are then being put through their paces before coming together in a completely different and new way. I feel like I have a new outlook on Mathematics now. It's no longer about ME (well humour me for a second!) but it's about CHILDREN.

But hey, isn't that what teaching is all about, you ask? The children and getting the point across? Well I have to disagree slightly with that you see, and that's what this PGCE has made me realise. It is a lot about ME but not about MY MATHS. There I said it. This blog will be sucked into nothingness now - apologies! The PGCE makes you realise a lot about yourself as a person and what you tend to do a lot. Hopefully it will allow me to improve on certain things, like slowing down whilst talking perhaps. This whole "ME-ness" and trying to get a control over myself and being accountable for myself is somewhat scary. I'm not always immature etc but 30 children gazing at you with expectancy, can be quite nerving. I don't think a lot of ME is going to change, but I am on this occasion making more of an effort to smarten up!

By the way, I'm not suggesting that I shouldn't know the Maths or take an interest in it anymore. I'm merely commenting on the brain being broken up process and how it seems slightly disorientating at the moment. With time this will change, but doing a year 9 SATS paper was a shock to the system, especially when I answered "don't know" on a ratio question!

Yep - that was my homework for the weekend: answer a SATS paper correctly in the way I would, and then incorrectly in the way I think students would answer it. It was enjoyable enough, but on certain questions I was intrigued as to how anyone could possibly get them wrong. That's the gap that has to be bridged now, for one thing I have learnt is that most students don't see words but just numbers. Another thing which struck out to me was that (in my opinion) secondary school kids haven't been taught to CHECK their work. I did a question wrong at first attempt, but I always review my answers and thus realised an error. It was actually my Dad who first stressed to me the importance of checking that my answers were sensible, and later in year 10 I can recall my Maths teacher doing the same. I realise it's all about finishing the work as soon as possible and moving on to the next question, but checking and reviewing is such a powerful tool in helping ones understanding that students sometimes lose out on.

Enough of my personal rumblings. Apart from the (painful!) process of having my brain ripped apart, I have enjoyed the challenge this week has presented me. The challenge of adapting my thinking and applying it to a different situation. I have some teaching experience but it's a giant grey slab. In the same way that my brain is being broken into bits and joined again, I have to do this to my own experience to be able to teach a class of 30 kids. I am very apprehensive, as from past occasions I am known to be given a lot of "crap" from the students. Certain family members don't help by actually imitating what they think students would say to me! Meh.

I missed the first day back (due to timetable mix up) which consisted of being taught starters - i.e. what's done in the first five or ten minutes of the lesson. This is meant to an activity which brings pupils attention to maths from whatever lesson they had. You can do whatever you want in it - recap previous lesson, play maths logic game etc. As I missed this day I was in for a shock, when on Tuesday we were put into groups and asked to prepare starters to do in front of everyone! What made this doubly worse was that everyone else already seemed to know each other, and I would be making a fool out of myself in front of random people. Thankfully though I spotted someone I knew which has changed my experience a heck of a lot. (The table I was sat on didn't seem to want to engage me in their group, as of course they all were knew one another).

My post on starters is non-existent yet, as although time thankfully ran out so I didn't have to do my starter, I have yet to find "the starter" that I like very much. I have made a note of a few interesting ones, but nothing different. However I have some questions though: Should students be divided "boys vs girls" if you play a game? The competition is already there, but should you enhance that? If not boys vs. girls, how would you divide a class into two (apart from down the middle)? I mean in the mathematical sense? It might not end up being a fair test, for eg, you could say, "one team is of people whose birthday is an odd number?".

Moving on, as I said above, I have found it very difficult to answer questions incorrectly. I have a been given six questions to take to my placements to give to students to do. I can't teach them how to answer them correctly, but just note what they do and see what goes through their heads when they're doing them. This is quite challenging and I will invite your opinions on what you think students would do, when I get a moment.

Hmmm - this is going on isn't it? A quick summary of a few other things then. We had a brilliant session on data handling and it's amazing how visualising data can make a difference. Also having some comparative data and putting it into context makes a heck of a difference. One thing I learnt from this is DON'T force my understanding on students. For example when teaching mean, mode and median. Instead work on what the students know and take them slowly to my understanding.

We had a session on Professional Studies but it was mostly a recap for me as I had gone through a similar study when I did the Student Associates Scheme (link?). The key thing is not to answer any personal questions whatsoever the students might say or do. Full stop. Not even a nod of the head is acceptable. As politely as possible tell the students to "butt out"! I think that's the best advice anyone can give for as a naive Teaching Assistant, when I was a lot younger, I responded to questions and later on regretted it as the students wouldn't stop harassing me for more information. Nevertheless the discussions we had on this topic were very interesting, and trainee teachers just have to make sure that they're professional all the time.

Overall it was a very knackering week and the weekend has flown. My bones are protesting and concern is beginning to shadow my thoughts. This week will be my last week in University before I go out on a small placement. I worry about this placement because I am out of my comfort zone. I normally decided where I did placements etc. so always chose safe-ish options you see! I do welcome this challenge, but nevertheless it does worry me.

I've met a lot of really nice and friendly people on the course, and sharing our experiences and thoughts has been a very good thing. Although I do disagree heartily with what a few people say, it's still good.

I have just bracketed the title as I can't afford to diverge into that topic. It's suffices to say that I am surrounded by a lot of people who can't be happy for me. My Dads family especially. This stinks as some dislike me by "association" and others just like to create situations for me that suggest I am unhappy at how my life is. Yesterday for the first time in my life perhaps, I stayed upstairs to try and avoid everyone. I had to come downstairs to eat, which was a big mistake, but still these things happen right? I'll say it again - A I have been quite lucky in life. Certain opportunities have come to me at good times and I've tried to take them (the tutoring for example). Bitter people just annoy the life outta me - GET A HOBBY (which doesn't involve being bitter). I didn't even want to play Pro Evo for a change! At least we won't be having a family reunion for some time now. (We all get together on the day my Grandad passed away, but not for the same reasons anymore...).

Alas, I better get going now!

Friday, September 11, 2009

PGCE Secondary Mathematics (G1X1)

This week I have started the PGCE Secondary Mathematics course. The course is indeed quite challenging, though not in the same sense as the Maths degree was. The first thing I have realised is that the PGCE is somewhat harder than the Maths degree. You see when I was studying Maths, it was all about my perception and mental issues with concepts, and how I dealt with trying to understand topics. However now it is no longer about how I deal with the Maths but how I make Maths accessible for younger people. This is a damn hard thing to do! Words like social development floated in one session really made me think.

It wasn't too long ago that I was a student, but even so, I am still amazed at what wonderful beings children are (not when they're being monsters obviously!). Their capacity to learn, how they interact in certain environments, what makes them tick are a few of the things that have been brought to attention. Previously I was aware that all students have different abilities, but with children ability isn't always what influences how they respond to your teaching. There are a million and one other pressures that a child might be going through as she walks into your classroom. Gah. It's horribly scary at the moment for although I love reading about "effective teaching and learning methods", being in the classroom is another story. Will I be an effective teacher?

This post has come at the end of the week for a very good reason, as we have to write a reflective piece of work every week. Most of you would have seen past my blatant excuse for you all know too well that I will write more posts than one a week, as I am bursting to share what I'm learning! (Honestly speaking - some stuff we've touched upon has been fascinating). This week has been absolutely knackering and I confess to leaving the task I had to hand in today to the last minute. (Thus I was awake at 5am finishing it off!) Reflecting writing isn't too hard I suppose, for I do it all the time whilst blogging. However what I worry about is how "formal" they want the reflection to be. I mean, could I just print my posts (with some editing of course!) and hand them in? I suppose not for the assignments are meant to prepare us when we have to hand in work that will actually be graded. Hmmm - they use the Harvard referencing system here too, which I have yet to read up. (Wikipedia to the rescue... but on the weekend).

Now this post is very rushed as I have been desperate to post something all week, and finished early today and got home at 3:50pm as opposed to the usual 5:30/6pm. (The timetable is not very flexible). Thus I have half an hour to give you a brief summary about what to expect the next few weeks. My main "reflection on the week" post will be on the weekend, which will obviously contribute to what I end up handing in.

By the way, I accepted a bunch of comments today and I will respond to them in due course (i.e. when I'm next posting - as I've got to run now!). However a childish part of me insists on writing "who the heck is aryabhatta and what the heck has he done?" (If you follow the comments on the side it might become apparent as to why I wrote that). I am suffering from lack of sleep and if my common sense didn't save me, I would have wrote a lot more than that! Anyway, the change of routine has been hard to accommodate but give me four weeks and I should be okay.

I'll be back!