IT and Mathematics teacher choice on educational publishing products, with 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.

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