Teachers and Authors

Science teacher on educational publishing with Tina Bean

Images of Cosmos Magazine covers

In this post, we interview secondary science teacher, Tina Bean, on the value of quality educational resources in the classroom. 

 

How long have you been a teacher and what inspired you to become one?

I have been a teacher for 10 years. I retrained to become a teacher because I wanted to give kids opportunities that I had never had. I enjoy working with teenagers in particular and I wanted those kids to be able to enjoy school and have a positive experience at school

What do you teaching and to what Grades?

I teach years 7-10 science and Senior Chemistry.

How often do you use published texts, learning resources and teacher guides for your classroom? Why do you choose to use them?

I use published resources frequently. I tend to use them to create my own resources in school that I adapt to my students. What I may use in one classroom I may not use in the other, even if I have two groups of students that in the same year. The resources that I use will depend upon what works best for the students, what I have the time to work through and work out how I will use them for my students and what level the resources are set at. Some resources are great for Gifted and Talented students but are not good for those who have learning difficulties or may be EAL/D students. I need to carefully go through each of my resources and figure out what will be best for which students.

I often choose resources that have different levels, simple over views and definition and then some work that I can give students that are working quickly through the resources and are enjoying science.

What features of an educational learning resource do you look out for? Why? 

I like my resources to have online support and little video’s included in the content that help to explain the resource. So I look for something where there may be a physical aspect for the content as well as an online platform that supports and expands on the content. I also like to be able to log in and see where my students are up to so that I can assess them and make sure that they are completing the content and understand the content. I want my educational resources to be colourful, high quality, durable and relevant to my students. I want my students to see themselves doing science not just an old fashioned notion of what a scientist is.

I work in science and it can be difficult to find experiments that will engage students. At the beginning of each year there will always be a group of students that ask if we can explode something. Obviously, that is not going to happen. However, I do want to have good quality practicals in my resources that I can work into my classes. Those practicals need to be clear, easy to implement, not require a lot of costly material and easy for students to understand. There also needs to be an understanding that neither the lab technician nor the teacher has a huge amount of time to set up really extensive practicals so any practicals need to be easy to manage and require small set up times.

What’s the most valuable thing about a high quality resource to you in your planning and classroom?

It engages the students and helps them to see science in a visual way and to want to learn more about science. A high quality resource will facilitate my teaching. I will be able to set work from the resource or work with the resource to spark whole class conversations and learning.

When I am planning I want to know that my resources are aligned to the syllabus and that I don’t have to flip back and forwards to another part of the resource, or to another resource to figure out how the resource is aligned to the syllabus. However, I don’t want to have to work through a text book from beginning to end either. I want to be able to flip to the sections that are relevant to me and to my class and ignore those that are not.

Is there a particular Australian resource that you really value? What is it and talk us through what aspects of it really work for you and your students.  

I really like the Cosmos magazines and their sister site Stileapp.com I like being able to customise the work. I love the fact that the units are updated regularly and that they are often based on new articles that are coming through all the time. I like the platform. The platform allows me to look at what my students are doing and how well they are performing. It allows me to see where a student is struggling and where we need to focus more as a class. At the same time I can always change things up if I want to and add in more content or less content.

How do students respond to high quality learning resources in your experience? To what extent can a good resource shift how engaged a student can be? Have you witnessed this happening with a particular student?

Quality resources can help to keep low ability students engaged while at the same time helping to facilitate higher level students explore on their own. I have one particular student, as soon as I gave them access to one particular resource they just powered ahead and explored everything they could. They were so interested. Others kept on working through the work that I requested them to work through, but this one particular student sat there and worked through everything, he wanted more. This is a great response from a student and I was so pleased to have access to a resource that I could use to expand his horizons and to facilitate his interest.​

Interview with Keynote Speaker, educator and Reading Australia fellow Alex Wharton

Alex Wharton is one of two keynote speakers at this year’s Educational Publishing Awards. He is Head of Middle School at Carinya Christian School, Gunnedah. Prior to this current role which still includes significant classroom teaching, he has served as an English Teacher and Head Teacher of English for a combined total of 10 years. Alex has written extensively with regards to teaching and learning resources for subject English, and presented at local, state and national conferences for English Teachers. Alex is the Copyright Agency’s first Reading Australia Fellow for Teacher of English and Literacy. Alex aims to use this opportunity to share this unique professional learning opportunity with colleagues, knowing full well this experience will further transform his own daily teaching and leadership practices within the English classroom.

 

 

What first inspired you to embark on a career in education?

I was significantly impacted by the teachers I had in my senior years of high school. They modelled to me life-long learning, a passion for your craft, and love of subject. Being in education is a wonderful way to make a tangible difference to the lives of others around you.

Is that what keeps you there now you’ve had experience in the field?

Yes! Education is about bettering others. Everyday, we are still able to develop and model to others the power of education to change the world.

You’ve just been awarded the Reading Australia Fellow for Teaching and Literacy. Can you tell us a little bit about the project you will be embarking on and what led you to want to work in this area?

I am so honoured to have received the inaugural Reading Australia Fellowship for Teachers of English and Literacy. My Fellowship is titled The Missing Peace and it is a literary analysis of the Australian representation surrounding the First Nation and non-First Nation colonial experience. A consideration of the textual representations relating to the colonial experience, this Project aims to bring together narratives from a variety of different writers to significantly inform English teaching practice.

The Copyright Agency’s CEO Mr Adam Suckling has said, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures is a cross curriculum priority (also known as the CCP) in Australian schools, but teachers are often scrambling to find great resources to bring these perspectives to life.” 

So over the next twelve months, I am using the $15,000 funding to research the representation of the colonial experience in every state and territory in Australia. This involves conferences, museums, libraries, interviews, school visits, academic presentations, and in depth research into literature.

What do you anticipate might be an outcome of your research that may impact or be meaningful to the Australian educational publishing community? 

The notion of something being missing is a key motif which drives much of our greatest Australian literature. Yet, one can only be aware of something being missing, when the knowledge of what should be there, arises. The Missing Peace is a research based, Australian literary analysis project, which seeks to address the missing pieces (oh yes, word play!) in the professional knowledge of English teachers regarding Indigenous and non-Indigenous representations pertaining to the colonial experience.

Is there a gap in what educational publishers are producing to help with Indigenous literacy? Or are there publications that are hitting the spot in your observations? 

Author Ellen van Neerven has written some fantastic content on how teaching books by Indigenous authors has a huge impact on both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. Magabala Books – Australia’s oldest independent Indigenous publishing house – is doing some exceptional and exciting work in this space, and I am looking forward to meeting with them in coming months as part of my Reading Australia Fellowship.

To change tact now, when it comes to choosing educational resources for your school, what features do you look out for? Why?

I look for curriculum mapping and alignment, that the resource is both relevant and engaging to our student learning experience. I interrogate a text for its adaptability, for its usefulness and consider ways that it can bring about transformative learning experiences for the students in our care. 

What’s the most valuable thing about a high quality resource to you for planning and in the classroom?

It is the trust and confidence that comes with using a high quality resource in my classroom. It enables me to use the resource as a vehicle to shape understanding, to build a positive learning experience, and to challenge thinking in ways which classrooms were designed for.

Is there a particular Australian resource that you really value? What is it and talk us through what aspects of it really work for you and your students.

The Copyright Agency’s Reading Australia resource suite is by far the most valuable to my work as an English Teacher. Reading Australia provides teaching resources for Australia’s greatest literature and it’s all mapped to the Australian Curriculum. It’s a resource made freely available to teachers, and written by teachers for their use in the classroom. I love that it offers quality Australian literature suggestions, accompanied by the most incredible collection of resources ranging from academic essays, to author podcasts, to units of work that I know I will love teaching and my students will love learning from. 

I think the world of the Australian education publishing sector makes an incredibly valuable contribution to our society. We are fortunate to have a sector who is committed to advancing the cause of education for the ultimate benefit of others – our students. 

 

The Educational Publishing Awards will be held 4 September 2019. Get your tickets here. 

IT and Mathematics teacher choice on educational publishing products, with Jeff Nicholson

Portrait of Jeff Nicholson

Portrait of Jeff NicholsonIn this post we interview IT and Mathematics teacher, Jeff Nicholson, on what aspects of educational resources he looks for to utilise in his classroom. 

How long have you been a teacher and what inspired you to become one?

I’ve been a secondary school teacher since 2005. I teach IT and Mathematics. Before that, I have predominantly (but not exclusively) worked in IT and that has often involved teaching colleagues how to use technology (especially in the 90s). I recall being asked (as a senior high school student) to teach the teachers at my school how to use a piece of software in the early 90s. I’ve also worked as a tutor at university teaching IT. Helping others learn technology has always been part of my life.

Where do you currently teach, what are you teaching and to what Grades?

I currently teach at a comprehensive government high school in Albury NSW. I have always worked in the public system, and have taught at a variety of schools from south-west Sydney to the western edge of NSW.

How often do you use published texts, learning resources and teacher guides for your classroom? Why do you choose to use them?

As a mathematics teacher, textbooks are invaluable as a reusable question bank resource. Even these days, repetition is a critical part of developing mathematical skills and fully worked solutions and examples underpin the teacher-assisted learning. By also providing alternative voices in how the material is explained, textbooks and other published material give the student the chance to explore other ways of understanding the same content.

What features of an educational learning resource do you look out for? Why?

As a technology-based teacher, I am particularly keen on digital resources. I don’t mind being required to own a physical copy in order to access the digital, although the time-limited subscription model to digital access is problematic. Being able to upload a task to Google Classroom (for internal use only, of course) can be very helpful. It is particularly useful for teachers to have an electronic copy they can access at home (for preparation of work). I’m always on the look-out for publishers who offer an electronic-only site licence arrangement at a reasonable price. In my technology classes, I would ideally like to be paperless and this would assist … but so far the options aren’t that good.

What’s the most valuable thing about a high quality resource to you in your planning and classroom?

Flexibility and currency. Teachers are constantly trying to innovate, and this means being able to use textbooks, or electronic versions, or additional resources that can be on screen or printed. There is no single solution in this mixed-mode education era, and being adaptable is the most helpful. In technology, the world is changing quickly that if we’re to pay for a subscription model for a textbook then we should be seeing that text updated more often.

What resources do you really value and what aspects work for you and your students?

In Mathematics the texts that have differentiated learning – easy, medium and hard questions that are colour coded in the same exercise set – are invaluable for being able to give differentiated work to students in the same class without them directly being labelled as “dumb” or “smart”. In Technology there are often ‘core’ and ‘option’ strands so texts that assist the teacher in developing an integrated program are incredible. This is the thing: course ‘units’ in schools do not always match the textbook chapters (and certainly don’t match the order). Texts that have more, and more narrowly defined, topics (rather than a few broad categories) are easier to mix-and-match in a program and will be more appealing to teachers.

How do students respond to high quality learning resources in your experience? To what extent can a good resource shift how engaged a student can be? Have you witnessed this happening with a particular student?

In my subject area, it’s hard to find any pre-published resource that ‘engages’. Mathematics texts are useful and change a student’s engagement if it provides the right level of support at the right time. Examples on the page (interspersed with the question in the exercise) assist more than a series of examples three pages earlier. I have heard and seen students react against the latter sort of text after they’ve become used to the former: “where are the examples?” has been asked more than once when dealing with a less interlaced resource.

Interview with keynote speaker, educator and Principal, Lian Davies

Portrait of Lian Davies

Portrait of Lian DaviesLian Davies is an educator and leader with a passion for global educational systems and strategies focussing on student centred learning. Lian has worked in both Scottish and English schools in the UK, developing her leadership skills while navigating a new country and education system she became an Assistant Principal and Acting Principal in NZ in 2011. Lian moved to become Assistant Principal at Templestowe College in 2016. Continuing to develop an innovative model of education, Lian is now Principal at Whittlesea Secondary College. Lian was the winner of The Educator Rising Star Awards 2018.

Lian is one of two keynote speakers for the Educational Publishing Awards Australia in 2019. She shares her thoughts on educational products below. 

 

What first inspired you to embark on a career in education? Is that what keeps you there today? 

I first considered education when I was studying at university. I became part of a peer mentoring program for students who were in earlier years of our degree course. I realised how much I enjoyed helping others learn as well as how much more I understood the work through teaching it. I signed up for a post graduate teaching course after completing my honours degree and have never looked back. The pleasure of helping young people learn is a strong driver and I love to continue learning myself.

 

You’ve worked in a few countries. What differences have you observed about educational publishing products and purchasing them across these countries (if any)?

I have worked in Scotland, England, New Zealand and Australia. Each has its own educational systems but a common theme is the need for good quality resources to support educators in delivering engaging and challenging learning experiences for students. As the years have gone on what these resources might look like has gradually changed from the standard text book to more interactive materials. Australia and New Zealand have some strong publishers and materials that are used on both sides of the ditch and educators know they can rely on them for quality and supporting students to engage with the curriculum knowledge.

 

You are passionate about student-centred learning. For those who may not know what this is could you please explain it briefly?

Student centred learning is focussed on designing learning experiences that recognise and respond to the individual needs of each student. It is moving away from the previous methods of the teacher being the front and centre and all students following the lead.

Student centred educators and schools are working to understand and support student learning, rather than focusing on how best to teach or how to cover the curriculum.

We aim to actively create opportunities for families and communities to participate as equal partners in their children’s education and empower students to lead their own learning as much as possible.

 

How and where do you see this reflected in Australian learning resources (if at all)? What further knowledge needs to be shared to make learning resources for this model/approach? Or is this being done really well already?

Learning resources are starting to reflect this by providing a variety of media for our learners to engage with. An example would be a text book having a digital version or an audio version. I know a large number of my students who use text to speech software to support them in listening to books whilst studying. I have also seen interactive activities with some digital resources that engage our learners in a way they feel is interesting and stimulating. This shift to multiple media creates opportunities for learners to engage and experience learning differently.

 

Another thing you are dedicated to is about empowering students to take control of their own learning. How do learning resources help students feel empowered? Are resources helping towards this end?

As mentioned above by providing a variety of mixed media resources that students can engage with to suit their needs is a key to empowering our young people. In an age where we are understanding more around neurodiversity we want to be able to provide options for our students to engage with a range of quality materials. Flipped learning is a popular tool and allows young people to research, watch or engage with learning topics before they come into the classroom and explore these ideas further.

 

When it comes to choosing educational resources for your school, what features do you look out for? Why? 

This can be a complex one as it depends on the subjects, the teams who are teaching and using the resources as well as the students themselves. The ability to cover key curriculum areas, whilst not limiting to only that information is often looked at. We want to support our learners to find key information but engage their thinking and learning to relevance in the real world. Engaging them through high quality diagrams, or online pictures often allows them to see things we may not have within the classroom environment. Having links to media they can look at engages our young digital natives into an environment they are familiar with and can learn from quickly.

 

Is there a particular Australian resource that you really value? What aspects of it really work for you, your staff and your students?

As a science educator I always appreciated the resources that considered not only the students with books and ebooks or apps, but also provided support notes for technicians or teachers to help with practical experiments and activities. Some of the resources had clearly spent a great deal of time considering all aspects of the learning outcomes and how to ensure everyone referring to the resources were best equipped to deliver this effectively.

 

Register to hear Lian Davies speak at the Educational Publishing Awards being held in Melbourne on 4 September 2019. 

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Interview with authors of “Powers of Curriculum” – Brad Gobby and Rebecca Walker

Brad Gobby and Rebecca Walker are the authors of Powers of Curriculum, a teacher education textbook that was highly commended at the 2018 Educational Publishing Awards. They spoke with us recently about their book, including how it makes a difference for both students and lecturers.

Tell us a bit about yourselves.

Brad: I am senior lecturer in the School of Education at Curtin University. I taught in a number of secondary schools before moving into academia to research education policy and its effects on schools. I have a passion for encouraging service educators to see the bigger picture of education, like how it is shaped by forces beyond itself. 

Rebecca: I am also a senior lecturer in the School of Education at Curtin University. Before commencing in academia, I taught in secondary schools in Australia, city and regional areas, and overseas. My areas of interest are assessment, professional experience and online education. Encompassing all of my work is the advocacy and promotion of learning and teaching approaches that support and meet individual learner needs.  I relish being able to make a positive contribution to education and the opportunity to make a difference to individuals’ learning.

What is your book Powers of Curriculum about?

Brad: Powers of Curriculum takes a sociological perspective to understanding teaching and learning in educational settings. It starts from the premise that formal education does not occur in a vacuum, and therefore the book explores historical, cultural and political aspects of Australian society that impact on curriculum, learners and teachers.

How does this resource improve educational outcomes for students?

Brad: Pre-service educators must understand the wider context of forces that shape formal education, whether that be early childhood education or formal schooling. Educators cannot adequately understand or go about their work if they do not engage with the social, cultural and political relations impacting on the education system and the lives of learners.

Rebecca: So, instead of treating educators as mere technicians of curriculum, we encourage educators to view themselves as intellectual workers. This means being equipped with the concepts, perspectives and capacity to critically interpret, interrogate and respond productively to those wider forces so as to make a positive difference to the lives of learners.

Brad: The book encourages readers to explore issues that impact on the lives of educators and learners, such as government policy, neoliberalism, poverty, cultural diversity, Indigenous education, popular culture and technology, gender norms and diverse sexualities. We want readers to connect their professional practice to an understanding of these wider forces which are often at play in education but also often ignored.

What difference does your resource make to lecturers?

Brad: We have been university educators for a while now so we appreciate what makes a useful learning resource. We used our experiences teaching in classrooms and online to create a textbook that is accessible to all readers, that carefully guides the reader through key issues, and illustrates its concepts and ideas through case studies that can be explored individually or in groups.

What was one of the highlights of writing Powers of Curriculum?

Brad: We were lucky enough to work with leading and emerging leaders in their fields. In writing their chapter, each contributor has drawn upon their expertise and their knowledge of leading edge research.

How does this resource approach the course material in a different way to others in the market?

Rebecca: This resource positions theory in an accessible and relatable manner making clear its alignment to practice. Reflective prompts, case studies and further reading provide readers with an opportunity to explore in more depth the theories and concepts presented.

Powers of Curriculum: Sociological Perspectives on Education by Brad Gobby, Rebecca Walker is published by Oxford University Press.