Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Reinventing the Wheel

"Reinvenging the wheel" is a very common phrase in teaching, and it's one that has now most definitely come up again in my school.

It appears that textbooks are being phased out, which is of concern for a number of reasons. The key two are that:
1) We have no guarantee that the new laptop system (which is being implemented next year; all students in some year levels will have their own laptop) will actually work, so removing textbooks removes a valuable backup plan
2) Textbooks are an incredibly useful tool for educating students and for keeping teachers from having to invent curriculum that is already there.

The key reason that was given for this change is this perceived notion of teachers exclusively teaching from the textbook, telling the students to read a section and then answer the questions.

Bollocks. Sheer, utter, bollocks. For one thing, the Science textbook we use is utter, usless crap. Half of it is badly explained and the other half is factually incorrect. It mostly ignores physics and what physics is in it is utterly dreadful because all the authors were primarily biology teachers.

So the book is only a vague guide on what we will be covering in the topic. It helps keep us on track and give us a visual guide as to where in the topic we are, the questions in it are often very useful for topic revision, and often they are excellent for getting students to actually read and interpret information. For them to learn to find useful bits of info and synthesise, rather than just regurgitating facts (the number of times I've had them complain about the answer not being directly in the text is staggering; I had to point out that hey do actually need to think about what they're reading and writing).

So yes, we use the book and we often get the students to answer the questions from it so it is great because we don't have to invent the questions ourselves. But it is also useful as far as practicals go (we only need to point the lab techs to the page in the book rather than having to write up all the materials ourselves).

Now, this is a useful kick in the pants because it is forcing the faculty to look at its resources and how to pool them, rather than having scattered unit plans and things all over the school and the staff network drive but it in no way makes up for the loss of this valuable resource.

Furthermore, I am insulted by the view of the leadership that we are doing nothing but textbook work. I don't know wich teachers they've been observing, but it sure as hell wasn't anyone I've worked with. This will now mean a lot of extra work over the next few months and a lot of stress, especially if there are technological failures of the kind we've had over the past two years.

I'm sorry guys, but you need a backup plan whenever you implement something new and untested, like this laptops-for-everyone scheme. I see no evidence of a backup plan for when hundreds of students try to all log on to a network at the same time - something that hasn't actually been tested yet.

Ultranet Training Day, anyone?


  1. I dunno, everyone having a laptop worked fine at my school. Of course, we also had text books, but a lot of girls chose to just carry the text book CD around because it weighed less (and early-00's laptops weighed a LOT). Also, we had a proper IT department -- useless as they were at fixing some of my problems when I had a dud computer, the actual network worked quite well. You could even walk between buildings without your computer having a hissy fit at the loss of wifi in the middle (depending slightly on which version of windows you had).

    Is the laptop program at your school the one Rudd started? I've heard bad things about it.

  2. I have no major issue with a laptop program, but I have issues with the way it's being implemented. We don't have enough IT techs, we have had no training in implementing a curriculum which is THAT rich in ICT, and we have no back-up in case it falls flat. Our photocopying budgets have also been drastically reduced and there are only 2 staff photocopiers in the library, so the idea of having to have worksheets prepared for every lesson, just in case, is frightening. The idea of fighting with every other teacher who needs a photocopier because they didn't have a back-up ready just in case is also terrifying - what do we do with the students in the meanwhile?

    If they'd just let us keep the textbook, we'd be able to say "Right, network's down. Do this." and not worry about it.

    I don't know if it has anything to do with Rudd's plan, I just know that it's starting. I also know that the school tried out netbooks last year and they were an absolute disaster.

  3. Sounds almost like the problem is not so much the lack of a plan B (although that is a problem) as the lack of a plan A.

    "no training in implementing a curriculum which is THAT rich in ICT"

    Laptops are tools, they can be very useful tools, they will no doubt turn out to be very powerful tools in the long run [1], but they're only tools. They're not magic dust. What are you planning to do with them?

    It's November. You have 3 months and no plan A?

    [1] I'm thinking of Salman Khan (of Khan Academy) saying in one of his talks something about swapping homework and classwork... I'm also thinking that that's probably going to be the smallest of all the changes...

  4. PS: re Salman Khan, found the talk —