Friday, 18 September 2015

Knowledge versus strategy

It is amazing how quickly education has changed over the time since I first stepped into a classroom! Back then, knowledge was king and the transmission of it to our students was the most important part of our job. Now though, as we all know, knowledge is a servant  at the beck and call of our index finger. We just press 'search' on google, and we have a wide range of avenues in which to pursue the knowledge we need, when we need it and in a form we need it.

I have been doing lots of thinking around how we teach Maths at Bradbury School and have had some interesting discussions with staff around which is more important when our students are learning maths- knowledge or strategy?

To my mind, the latter is the most important- if we have secure strategies in place, we will be able to work out the answer, whereas, if we only know the answer without knowing the pathway that got us there, it is a closed exercise, with no transferable application. So what is a strategy? A strategy is the mental process students use to estimate answers and solve operational problems with numbers.

It is a bit like the decoding/comprehension aspects of reading. A child may be able to read a text way beyond what might normally be expected for their age group, but without comprehension, or understanding of what is read, is that really reading? I think not. It is just an exercise in deciphering symbols of meaning without the meaning!

I remember a proud Year 1 mum told me her child was gifted as he could complete a 19 digit algorithm. While that is certainly an effort to be proud of, was the completion of this an indication of brilliance? If the child could explain with certainty, the strategy they used to complete the algorithm, the place values of the digits, the way in which the numbers related and certainly even name that number, then yes, probably. However, without that understanding, the exercise was just that- an exercise in completing a one digit algorithm 19 times, something most Year one students can do and would not have led to a deeper understanding of the way numbers work or their relationship with each other.

I have found a Maths assessment that enables teachers to identify the strategy stage (linked to developmental stages) students are operating at across all three domains: addition & subtraction, subtraction & division and proportions & ratios. it can be used from Year 1 right through to Year 6, which is great as it will help teachers identify those students who are using advanced as well as age appropriate strategies and those who are not. Each teacher is going to trial it over the year, so it will be very interesting to see what is revealed!

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

How do you choose a school that is right for you and your child?

Recently, I was asked to write some tips for families on choosing a school for their child, to be published in a local HK magazine. I often have parents ask me this. It is difficult to answer definitively, as it really depends on what you as parents, want for your child in the way of education, environment and nurturing. Here are my responses to the questions that were asked for the article:

1)     What are the considerations on choosing a primary school? (Referring to external factors)

With many different types of primary schools in Hong Kong, it is important that parents decide on  type of education in terms of values and approaches that they value and  wish their child to have. For example,  a religious school,  a local using local language or an English medium school with an international curriculum. It is also important that as parents, you feel comfortable and welcome at the school and have a good idea of the philosophy and approach to learning of the principal and staff. Have a look at the school's Mission and Vision statements. These will tell you a lot about what the school thinks is important. Ensure that the espoused beliefs are in line with your own.

2)     Why are these important factors to consider?
These factors are important to consider because schooling is a big and very important part of family life. Parents place their most precious children in the trust of a school to take care of, to nurture into learners and well rounded people. The goal of a primary school should be to instill into each child a love of learning- after all, primary school is just one of the first steps in a very long educational journey and we want our students leaving us excited and well equipped to take the next steps in their learning journey confidently.

3)     What is the most important consideration?

That you trust the school to do a good job, to nurture your child and make the best decisions for them.

4)     As a parent, how did you choose a school for your child/children?

My children went to the local primary school, with many of their friends and neighbours. I did not have the wide choice of schooling that parents in Hong Kong have.

5)     What makes a great primary school?

A good primary school has a heart for their students and endeavours to, everyday, make the best decisions for them. It has open communication with parents and they are welcomed into the school as partners.High quality staff who understand learning, are excited by their profession and are always seeking to improve their practice is also important. Additionally, the school serves as a community hub and has a family feel about it, no matter its size. A clear Mission and Vision that serves as a touchstone for all decisions made in the school is also important.

6)     What are the things parents should look out for in that stage of a child's education?
Teachers who care for and understand children and what is developmentally appropriate for them; that know how to break learning into small, achievable steps; who can support and/or extend all learners. A principal and Senior Leadership Team that parents feel they can talk to and who will listen to them. Look at classroom environments- are they bright, attractive and engaging to learn in, is the school clean and well cared for? Will your child be safe in that environment?

7)     Any tips on choosing an appropriate school? (For example, sources of information such as blogs, associations, etc)

Yes, look at the school's website. Look for and read the Principal's Blog, ask around for recommendations, but most of all, follow your 'gut instinct' about which school is right for you and your child.