Archive for October, 2011

5 Tips For How You Can Learn More

Monday, October 31st, 2011

There are a number of reasons why we should be lifelong learners. Continuing education reaps us professional, personal and health benefits that are too numerous to list. However if you do not want to enter another classroom as long as you live then take heart as there are other ways you can be a lifelong learner. Here are five tips for ways to continue your education.

1. First and foremost is to read. Read for fun and pleasure but also read for information and research. You do not have to fear taking on heavy, dusty tomes filled with multi-syllabic boring language. There is a whole industry of writers who make history and science fun. In fact, you do not even need to read books at all. There are a lot of informative magazines that offer both general and specific information. Check them out at a large book store or your local library before selecting a few to take home. Do not overlook the wealth of information available to you on the internet. There are site and publications devoted to just about any topic you can imagine. Start with a main news site and then begin sifting and searching to find topics that interest you. The best thing about this kind of reading is that you get to pick it — not a teacher with an agenda you don’t understand.

2. Listening is an often overlooked skill when it comes to learning today. Sure listening in the classroom is important but there are people all around us who have a wealth of knowledge to share if we are only willing to listen. Open your ears and your mind. You might be surprised at what you can learn.

3. You can also learn by simply observing the life around us. What can you learn about parenting by watching the families around you? You can learn not only what to do but what not to do. What can you learn about financial planning, relationships, and just about everything else you want to know? You can learn from the mistakes of others if you only take the time to be observant.

4. If you are looking for answers then ask questions. Ask questions of experts as well as information brokers, such as librarians and teachers. You should also ask questions of people like you because they can share their experiences and knowledge.

5. Finally, the most important part of becoming a lifelong learner is simply pursuing knowledge whether it is for a specific purpose or simply knowledge for the sake of knowledge. It is not important what you decide to study and learn more about and you can change topics as often as you change your shoes if you like. The important thing is to continue opening your mind and filling your brain.

by Dee Mascle.

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Supportive classrooms

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Some students begin learning English at a distinct disadvantage, but teachers and an encouraging environment can make all the difference.

IT IS widely accepted by educationists and linguists that many children – both primary English speakers and those for whom English is an additional language (EAL) – begin formal schooling with a language deficiency.

This is not restricted to any one social class or culture. Rich children can lack language skills just like those from poorer families.

Similarly, an EAL child can excel scholastically in English while someone from an English-speaking family can produce below-average results.

Studies have shown that language deficiency is primarily caused through the lack of supportive environments — in the home, from their peer group and local community as well as from the absence of formative, language-based opportunities. In many EAL environments, where English is relegated to only something a child learns at school, significant language deficiencies often prevail.

These deficiencies impact not only on an individual’s ability to learn but also deprive learners of personal empowerment as well as the capacity to facilitate verbal and non-verbal communication. The development of social relationships can also be negatively affected.

The low importance given in some home situations or by influential peer groups to reading books and material and to such things as news and current affairs, can have a stifling effect on a learner’s English language development.

Not having sufficient opportunity to hear and use language in varying forms, EAL learners can become straight-jacketed into a limited, narrow and restricted language code that sometimes is interpreted wrongly as a lack of intelligence rather than an indication of a low-level practical skill.

Teachers’ guidance

Classrooms and school communities should become the learner’s missing “supportive” environments and teachers are best positioned to respond to language, cultural or class differences. This is particularly important in early childhood education.

Moreover, bringing the immediate family into the school community through family-support programmes and formal and informal teacher-parent contact are now accepted teacher-school roles.

Likewise, school-sponsored, adult English language courses and cross-cultural, social activity are highly recommended “external” educational pursuits.

Teachers can make the difference and readily reverse the negatives resulting from unsupportive environments.

by Keith Wright, the author and creator of the 4S Approach To Literacy and Language (4S)

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The ‘smart’ teacher

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Good educators are not determined by their race, qualifications or personality, but by their willingness to strive for the best of themselves.

DEEPAVALI was celebrated a few days ago. This festival of lights never fails to remind me of how much teachers should live up to the fact that they are called guru.

Befitting its Sanskrit meaning, a guru, like the deepam (light) is a “remover of darkness”. Therefore, teachers should enlighten.

Recently, I received three e-mails from a group of teachers undergoing their postgraduate diploma in teaching at a local university.

I had given them a talk on action research but I was surprised to note that the burning question they all sought me to answer was this: “How can I become a better teacher?”

They all desired to be teachers who would be respected and remembered fondly by their students.

In view of the nationwide concern that the quality of teaching in this country is in dire straits, I must say their question deserves a well-thought out answer.

Over the past 25 years, I have worked with, met and observed scores of good, dedicated teachers but whenever talk turns to the subject of poor teaching, fingers inevitably get pointed at a teacher’s race, level of education or years of teaching experience.

Truth is, good teaching has more to do with a teacher’s personality, character, attitude, values, personal beliefs and intelligence than anything else.

In my opinion, here is what it takes to make a good teacher. I have used the acronym SMART to exemplify the salient characteristics that I personally think make the crucial difference.

S – structured, systematic, yet spontaneous and stimulating

Yes, a good teacher is an organised person. Her lessons are well-planned, her preparation thorough and her teaching progresses from the simple to the complex and abstract. She is aware that teaching is her core business and she takes it seriously.

M – Master of the subject they teach

It was John Milton Gregory who said, “The teacher must know that which he would teach. Imperfect knowing must be reflected in imperfect teaching”.

A – Affective

In all the years I taught, my students responded with alacrity whenever I took the trouble to “affect” them positively. My personality mattered!

R – Responsible and responsive

The word “responsible” is about the ability to respond. Good teachers respond to the professional demands set by their work, leaders, superiors, colleagues, students, situations and circumstances in a way that reflects their character.

T – Thinking and reflective

Compared to a person’s academic level of education, I respect intelligence more in a teacher. The reason is simple.

by Nithya Sidhhu.

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Turn the tables on mistakes

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

Weaknesses can be changed into strengths if one is willing to think creatively and apply unconventional solutions, and the results speak for themselves.

WHAT is the first thing you do when someone points out a flaw in your idea, suggestion or product?

One natural response is to prove the person wrong by coming up with counter-arguments to defend your position. There is nothing wrong with this reaction – humans are hard-wired to fight and defend their turf.

A second, and sometimes delayed response is to quickly find ways to overcome the shortcomings or drawbacks that have been pointed out.

Naturally, when a customer points out to you why he is no longer buying your product, your immediate reaction is to put matters right by eliminating the negative elements and substituting them with those elements that are positive. This is conventional thinking.

In the constructive thinking mode, sometimes it makes better sense to not eliminate the negative but to turn it around to become your strongest positive point. This is the basis of the fourth constructive thinking tool in this series – Turn the Tables or T3.

When an innovator turns the tables on his Achilles’ heel, the competitors find it almost impossible to compete with him using traditional strategies.

by  Dr. Kamal Jit Singh.

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Innovation nation: What exactly works?

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

There are some roadblocks that need to be overcome to create a successful Malaysia.

MALAYSIA is now confronted with many challenges which can derail its development aspirations as articulated in the New Economic Model.

There are risks and there are opportunities. We need to mitigate the risks and capture the opportunities. Climate change, for example, can be a threat but the concern over climate change also offers opportunities in the green business.

However, we need the right strategies. Innovation is the potent instrument that the country needs. How does the country embrace and make innovation work?

Innovation is about generating new ideas which deliver values. These can be economic, societal or environmental. Contrary to popular belief, innovation is not just about science and technology (S&T). Innovation transcends all aspects of life but many agree S&T is a key tool of innovation.

Countries which invest heavily in S&T have achieved the most successes in innovation. This explains why the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry (Mosti) has always been committed to championing the innovation agenda.

Since its early days, Mosti has introduced many initiatives to drive innovation. Many funding mechanisms have been created.

Many institutions under Mosti including the Malaysian Technology Development Corporation, Tech­no­logy Park Malaysia, Academy of Sciences Malaysia, Sirim and MDEC have made an indelible mark on the country’s innovation agenda.

However, implementing the initiatives continues to be challenging. There are still major roadblocks that need to be overcome.

Removing such obstacles has become the strategic focus for Mosti. This urgency is felt even more with recent initiatives such as the Economic Transformation Plan (ETP) involving 12 National Key Economic Areas (NKEAs).

by Datuk Madinah Mohammad.

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Umno Youth Urge Ministry To Give Jobs To UNIRAZAK Education Graduates

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

KOTA KINABALU: The Umno Youth movement has called on the Education Ministry to give 152 Universiti Tun Abdul Razak (UNIRAZAK) education graduates in the state a chance to teach in Sabah’s rural areas.

According to Umno Youth exco member Jamawi Jaafar, he was approached by several graduates from the institution and told of their difficulty in obtaining employment.

He said most of them were graduates from 2009 until this year but had yet to receive any offer to teach in schools in the state.

“With their knowledge in education, it would be a waste if we don’t utilise it for children in Sabah,” he told reporters here today.

He said after a recent meeting with the Education Minister’s private secretary and special officer (teacher division) in Putrajaya, he was informed that the Education Ministry only took in and placed teachers from Teacher Training Institutes and public institutions of higher learning.

In this context, Jamawi, who is also Umno Youth Tenom division chief, urged for education graduates from private institutions of higher learning including UNIRAZAK to be given places to teach in schools, especially rural areas, to cater to the existing shortage.


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Gender Differences in Learning Style

Friday, October 28th, 2011

There are gender differences in learning styles specific to science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) that teachers of these subjects should keep in mind when developing lesson plans and teaching in the classroom. First, overall, girls have much less experience in the hands-on application of learning principles in lab settings than boys. This could occur in the computer lab, the science lab, or the auto lab – the principle is the same for all of these settings – it requires an overall technology problem-solving schema, accompanied by use and manipulation of tools, and spatial relation skills that very few girls bring with them to the classroom on day one in comparison to boys.

Let’s look at some of the reasons why girls come to the STEM classroom with less of the core skills needed for success in this subject area. Overall, girls and boys play with different kinds of games in early childhood that provide different types of learning experiences. Most girls play games that emphasize relationships (i.e., playing house, playing with dolls) or creativity (i.e., drawing, painting). In contrast, boys play computer and video games or games that emphasize building (i.e., LEGO®), both of which develop problem-solving, spatial-relationship and hands-on skills.

A study of gender differences in spatial relations skills of engineering students in the U.S. and Brazil found that there was a large disparity between the skills of female and male students. These studies attributed female student’s lesser skills set to two statistically significant factors: 1) less experience playing with building toys and 2) having taken less drafting courses prior to the engineering program. Spatial relations skills are critical to engineering. A gender study of computer science majors at Carnegie-Mellon University (one of the preeminent computer science programs in the country) found that, overall, male students come equipped with much better computer skills than female students. This equips male students with a considerable advantage in the classroom and could impact the confidence of female students.

Are these gender differences nature or nurture? There is considerable evidence that they are nurture. Studies show that most leading computer and video games appeal to male interests and have predominantly male characters and themes, thus it is not surprising that girls are much less interested in playing them. A study of computer games by Children Now found that 17% of the games have female characters and of these, 50% are either props, they tend to faint, have high-pitched voices, and are highly sexualized.

There are a number of studies that suggest that when girls and women are provided with the building blocks they need to succeed in STEM they will do as well if not better than their male counterparts. An Introductory Engineering Robotics class found that while males did somewhat better on the pre-test than females, females did as well as the males on the post-test following the class’s completion.

Another critical area of gender difference that teachers of STEM should keep in mind has less to do with actual skills and experience and more to do with perceptions and confidence. For females, confidence is a predictor of success in the STEM classroom. They are much less likely to retain interest if they feel they are incapable of mastering the material. Unfortunately, two factors work against female confidence level: 1) most girls will actually have less experience with STEM course content than their male counterparts and 2) males tend to overplay their accomplishments while females minimize their own. A study done of Carnegie Mellon Computer Science PhD students found that even when male and female students were doing equally well grade wise, female students reported feeling less comfortable. Fifty-three percent of males rated themselves as “highly prepared” in contrast to 0% of females.

It is important to note that many of the learning style differences described above are not strictly gender-based. They are instead based on differences of students with a background in STEM, problem-solving, and hands-on skills learned from childhood play and life experience and those who haven’t had the same type of exposure. A review of the literature on minority students and STEM finds that students of color are less likely to have the STEM background experiences and thus are missing many of the same STEM building blocks as girls and have the same lack of confidence. Many of the STEM curriculum and pedagogy solutions that work for female students will also work for students of color for this reason.

Bridge Classes/Modules to Ensure Core Skills

Teachers will likely see a gap in the core STEM skills of female and minority students for the reasons described above. Below are some solutions applied elsewhere to ensure that girls and women (and students of color) will get the building block STEM skills that many will be missing.

Teachers in the Cisco Academy Gender Initiative study assessed the skill levels of each of their students and then provided them with individualized lesson plans to ensure their success that ran parallel to the class assignments. Other teachers taught key skills not included in the curriculum at the beginning of the course, such as calculating math integers and tool identification and use. Students were provided with additional lab time, staffed by a female teaching assistant, knowing that the female students would disproportionately benefit from additional hands-on experience.

Carnegie-Mellon University came to view their curriculum as a continuum, with students entering at different points based on their background and experience. Carnegie-Mellon’s new frame of a “continuum” is purposefully different than the traditional negative model in which classes start with a high bar that necessitates “remedial” tutoring for students with less experience, stigmatizing them and undermining their confidence. Below is a list of ideas and suggestions that will help ALL students to succeed in the STEM classroom.

1. Building Confidence

How do teachers build confidence in female students who often have less experience than their male counterparts and perceive they are behind even when they are not?

1) Practice-based experience and research has shown that ensuring female students have the opportunity to gain experience with STEM, in a supportive environment, will increase their confidence level.

2) Bringing in female role models that have been successful in the STEM field is another important parallel strategy that should be used to assist your female students in seeing themselves as capable of mastering STEM classes: if she could do it, then I can too!

3) Consistent positive reinforcement by STEM teachers of their female students, with a positive expectation of outcome, will assist them in hanging in there during those difficult beginning weeks when they have not yet developed a technology schema or hands-on proficiency and everything they undertake seems like a huge challenge.

2. Appealing to Female Interests

Many of the typical STEM activities for the classroom appeal to male interests and turn off girls. For example, curriculum in robots often involves monsters that explode or cars that go fast. “Roboeducators” observed that robots involved in performance art or are characterized as animals are more appealing to girls. Engineering activities can be about how a hair dryer works or designing a playground for those with disabilities as well as about building bridges. Teachers should consider using all types of examples when they are teaching and incorporating activities in efforts to appeal female and male interests. Teachers can also direct students to come up with their own projects as a way of ensuring girls can work in an area of significance to them.

Research also shows that there are Mars/Venus differences between the genders and how each engages in technology. Overall, girls and women are excited by how the technology will be used – its application and context. Men will discuss how big the hard drive or engine is, how fast the processor runs, and debate the merits of one motherboard or engine versus another. These are topics that are, overall, of less interest to most females.

The Carnegie-Mellon Study took into account the differences of what engages female students and modified the Computer Science programs’ curriculum so that the context for the program was taught much earlier on in the semester and moved some of the more technical aspects of the curriculum (such as coding) to later in the semester. Authors observed that the female students were much more positive about getting through the tedious coding classes when they understood the purpose of it. Teachers should ensure that the context for the technology they are teaching is addressed early on in the semester by using real world stories and case studies to capture the interest of all of their students.

3. Group Dynamics in the Classroom

Research studies by American Association of University Women and Children Now have found that most females prefer collaboration and not competition in the classroom. Conversely, most males greatly enjoy competition as a method of learning and play. Many hands-on activities in technology classes are set up as competitions. Robotics for example, regularly uses competitiveness as a methodology of teaching. Teachers should
be cognizant of the preference of many girls for collaborative work and should add-in these types of exercises to their classes. Some ways to do this are by having students work in assigned pairs or teams and having a team grade as well as an individual grade. (See Reading 2 on Cooperative Learning.)

Another Mars/Venus dynamic that STEM teachers should be aware of occurs in the lab there male students will usually dominate the equipment and females will take notes or simply watch. Overall, male students have more experience and thus confidence with hands-on lab equipment than their female counterparts. Teachers should create situations to ensure that their female students are spending an equal amount of time in hands-on activities. Some approaches have been: 1) to pair the female students only with each other during labs in the beginning of the class semester so that they get the hands-on time and their confidence increases, putting them in a better position to work effectively with the male students later on, 2) allot a specific time for each student in pair to use the lab equipment and announce when it’s time to switch and monitor this, and 3) provide feedback to male students who are taking over by letting them know that their partner needs to do the activity as well.

4. Moving Female Students from Passive Learners to Proactive Problem Solvers

The main skill in STEM is problem solving in hands-on lab situations. For reasons already discussed regarding a lack of experience, most girls don’t come to STEM classes with these problem-solving skills. Instead, girls often want to be shown how to do things, repeatedly, rather than experimenting in a lab setting to get to the answer. Adding to this issue, many girls fear that they will break the equipment. In contrast, male students will often jump in and manipulate the equipment before being given any instructions by their teacher. Teachers can address this by such activities as: 1) having them take apart old equipment and put it together again, 2) creating “scavenger hunt” exercises that force them to navigate through menus, and 3) emphasizing that they are learning the problem solving process and that this is equally important to learning the content of the lesson and insisting that they figure out hands-on exercises on their own.

Research has also shown that females tend to engage in STEM activities in a rote, smaller picture way while males use higher order thinking skills to understand the bigger picture and the relationship between the parts. Again, moving female students (and the non-techsavvy student in general) to become problem solvers (versus just understanding the content piece of the STEM puzzle) will move them to use higher order thinking skills in STEM.

by Donny Milgram.

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Speaking the same language

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Those who assume a rural-urban bias should take heed of the poll of 27,200 Malaysians conducted by Jaringan Melayu Malaysia that shows most rural parents – and an overwhelming majority of their children – preferring Maths and Science to be taught in English.

ON TUESDAY, I gave the opening speech for a press conference led by the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE), allied with over a dozen other organisations, including Jaringan Melayu Malaysia (JMM), campaigning for the option of PPSMI – the teaching of Mathematics and Science in English – in government schools.

The movement counts the support of at least five Tuns (including former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who was responsible for PPSMI) and 13 Tan Sris (there are too many Datuks to count).

The Government is miscalculating the depth of public anger on this issue at its electoral peril. Those who assume a rural-urban bias should take heed of the poll of 27,200 Malaysians conducted by JMM that shows most rural parents – and an overwhelming majority of their children – preferring these subjects to be taught in English.

We are supporting the campaign not because we feel one language is superior, but because of the overriding democratic principle of allowing parents to choose.

by Tunku Abidin Muhriz.

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Schools Brace for More Budget Cuts

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

(LANCASTER, Pa.) — Educators are bracing for a tough reality: As difficult as budget cuts have been on schools, more tough times are likely ahead.

Even in a best-case scenario that assumes strong economic growth next year, it won’t be until 2013 or later when districts see budget levels return to pre-recession levels, said Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators in Arlington, Va. That means more cuts and layoffs are likely ahead.

“The worst part is that it’s not over,” Domenech said.

Already, an estimated 294,000 jobs in the education sector have been lost since 2008, including those in higher education.

The cuts are felt from Keller, Texas, where the district moved to a pay-for-ride transportation system rather than cut busing altogether, to Georgia, where 20 days were shaved off the calendar for pre-kindergarten classes. In California, a survey found that nearly half of all districts last year cut or reduced art, drama and music programs. Nationally, 120 districts — primarily in rural areas — have gone to a four-day school week to save on transportation and utility costs, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Others are implementing fees to play sports, cutting field trips and ending after-school programs. (See what’s on the chopping block for school budget cuts.)

Districts have little choice but to put off buying textbooks and technology and training teachers, said Rob Monson, a principal in Parkston, S.D., who is president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

On a recent day at Abraham Lincoln Middle School in Lancaster, teenage girls in ponytails and boys in long athletic shorts dashed across the gym, pausing their game of indoor tennis to motion “Y-M-C-A” with their arms as the Village People’s song blares from the loudspeaker. It’s a scene happening less frequently these days. Budget cuts and teacher layoffs have forced the school to cut some P.E. classes, reduce library hours and eliminate small literacy classes for struggling readers and Spanish for sixth- and seventh-graders.

Principal Josh Keene says he’s worried — not just about offering electives next year, but whether class sizes in core subjects will jump from around 25 to 35 or 40. His district received $6 million less from the state this year, which meant six staff positions in his school were cut. Even if state funding remains the same next year, the district expects to have from $5 million to $7 million less because of increased pension obligations and other expenses.

“I’m scared to death. As we continue to look at fewer and fewer non-classroom positions that are there, at some point it’s going to impact core classroom positions and that’s a very, very scary thing,” said Keene.

by Ap/Kimberly Hefling.

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Determining the Best Technology for Your Students, Your Course, and You

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

The number of technologies available to both higher education institutions and individual instructors seems to grow each day. With tools that promise to increase engagement, communication, interaction, efficiencies, and learning, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. It’s also easy to make bad choices — choices that could result in wasted money, time, or learning opportunities, all the while causing undue frustration for students and faculty alike.

During the recent online seminar Selecting and Using Technologies in Online & Blended Courses, Tony Bates, an elearning and distance education planning and management consultant, offered some insights on what to consider when making technology decisions.

Bates, author of Managing Technology in Higher Education: Strategies for Transforming Teaching and Learning, recommends the SECTIONS model, which examines a variety of factors for determining the most appropriate technology to bring into a classroom. Some of the larger questions you need to ask are, “How will this technology benefit the students? Does it make learning more accessible for the students? Does it increase their flexibility? What kind of students are you reaching—or, more importantly, could you reach who you’re not reaching already—with this technology?,” Bates said.

The SECTIONS decision-making model
Students – What are the demographics of the students in your course? Do they work? Do they live on or near campus? What is their preferred learning style? Are they motivated learners?

Ease of use; portability – There’s nothing more frustrating than technology that doesn’t work like it’s supposed to, so whatever technologies you choose, they must be easy to use, easy to maintain and reliable. Training should be available for anyone who needs it.

Costs – The costs involved could be fixed or variable, and go beyond the actual cost of the product to include instructor time, instructional support, media production, and maintenance.

Teaching – What is your teaching style?

Interaction – What technologies will engage and motivate your students?

Organization – Does the institution support the use of learning technologies?

by Mary Bart.

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