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Teachers and Teaching
The never ending journey
Over many years, Tricia Jarratt has worked with teachers and parents from rural and remote locations to deliver quality maths sessions via satellite technology.
Hay School of the Air (SOTA) is a remote campus of Broken Hill School of the Air. Located in Hay, the centre services remote, primary aged students from K–6, through the Satellite Education Program. By accessing the satellite set-up, students in each remote homestead can see and hear their teacher in the Hay studio, on their computer, as well as hear other students. Student work can be shared to the group by the teacher through various mediums, including document camera, computer screen via Bridgit and emails.
The focus to improve teaching skills and knowledge to deliver quality maths education was initiated by an action research project funded by the Australian Government Quality Teacher Programme (AGQTP). The maths project targeted the embedding of quality teaching elements from the NSW Quality Teaching Model, working mathematically, higher order thinking and the use of Learning Objects.
Hay SOTA staff and teaching principals from two P–6 Schools—Carrathool and Booligal Public School—came together every three weeks to study and share their ongoing action research project. Academic partners from Charles Sturt University and Diane Read, the project officer from Mathematics Learning Objects K–6, Curriculum Directorate, also provided inspiration and research material to support the project.
Hay SOTA’s mode of delivery was vastly different from the regular face-to face delivery that was possible for Carrathool and Booligal teachers. Unlike our counterparts in mainstream schools, we have only one 30-minute satellite mathematics session per week: the pressure is on us to deliver high-quality, engaging sessions each week. We have to be creative, not just with lesson plans but also in our use of the technology in our studio room.
Involvement in the AGQTP project has been the catalyst for changes in our approach to maths satellite lessons. I had been heavily involved in Quality Teaching training while in the mainstream school and was eager for my staff at Hay SOTA to begin the journey of quality improvement: the AGQTP project provided the perfect conduit for that, as well as fostering a supportive, learning community.
Hay SOTA satellite lesson plan
To focus teacher’s attention on the Quality Teaching elements while preparing and planning satellite maths sessions, a new lesson plan format was developed (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Hay SOTA satellite lesson plan
A significant feature of the new format was the inclusion of the key question ‘What do I want the students to learn?’ This helped teachers clarify and distill into the simplest form, what was the key concept of the lesson. The addition of the quality teaching elements also alerted teachers to what elements had been addressed in the lesson and, as an after lesson reflection activity, what they needed to target next.
Hay SOTA’s initial focus was on fractions. Diane Read proved an invaluable source of inspiration and guidance from the outset. A pre-assessment was trialled at a mini-school (Hay SOTA students attend a two-day mini-school each term in Hay and participate in a varied and comprehensive educational experience) and the results were tabulated on a spreadsheet, which then drove the required teaching focus for satellite lessons.
Teachers at Hay SOTA were conscious of the need for short explicit modelled teaching segments interspersed with hands-on practical opportunities for their isolated students. Engagement was the order of the day.
Figure 2: Sample of lesson
The test of an excellent satellite lesson is one where students are engaged in deep, meaningful learning experiences using concrete materials. It is always revealing to go on a home visit and witness a satellite lesson from the homestead end. You can tell within minutes if the session is effective. Students are focused on manipulating their learning resources, eager to call in and share what they have achieved with their class mates.
New technology and distance education
Teachers used a combination of teaching strategies and technology tools to pace the lesson, for maximum effectiveness. The document camera was effective for playing maths teaching and learning activities (or interactives), where children could call in with various answers when it was their turn. It was also excellent for explicit modelling by the teachers.
A new and highly innovative technology advancement, the Bridgit program, which allows the students remote access to the teacher’s screen, was quickly and enthusiastically seized upon by all the teachers at Hay SOTA.
It was amazing how quickly the teachers recognised the scope and possibilities of the new program. Even the most technophobic teachers embraced the new innovation and were singing Bridgit’s praises.
At the same time that Bridgit entered the distance education domain, Smartboards also appeared on the scene.
With Bridgit and our newly installed Smartboard, Hay SOTA was up and running. It was exciting to see the smiles and delight on teachers’ faces as they left the studio room after a maths session.
For the first time, using Bridgit and the Smartboard, teachers could ask their students to work directly onto the Smartboard, actually seeing in real time how students went about solving problems. Normally Distance Education teachers only get to see the finished product sometimes up to a week or two weeks after it has been completed. Being able to watch while students shared out pikelets, using the pikelet cutter on the Smartboard and Bridgit was astounding (see Figure 4). We had the flexibility of asking one child at a time or the whole group to work on different problems. We could also take a snapshot of their work during the lesson as a record of their progress.
Learning objects were also embedded into each lesson, to complement and build on student learning. Diane Read, as our mentor in the AGQTP project, supported us in the right direction, making us aware of the need to balance on and off computer tasks within the lesson. As well as incorporating NSW Department of Education and Training (DET) Learning Objects, we also trialled stage relevant Learning Objects developed by The Learning Federation (TLF), which were both excellent.
Figure 4: Being able to watch students share out pikelets was astounding for their teachers.
To monitor student engagement with the lesson and the Learning Objects, a weekly lesson survey was sent out to all parents (see Figure 5). Parents and senior students reported back on how effective teaching had been. Each week the ratings were collated and tabulated onto a spreadsheet. The results showed a pleasing increase in student engagement as teachers became more proficient at melding Quality Teaching elements and Learning Objects into their satellite sessions (see Figure 6).
Figure 5: Maths Satellite Lesson Survey
Figure 6: Graphed results of the survey
To celebrate student achievement, a Gala Maths Day has been held each semester, with Hay SOTA, Booligal and Carrathool Public Schools meeting together. Activities for these Gala Maths days are carefully selected for their Higher Order Thinking skills and open ended problem solving.
The Gala Maths Days have been successful on many levels. From the students’ perspective, they provide a unique opportunity for our remote students to mix in age and stage appropriate groupings, face to face. Learning in a social grouping situation is far more effective than learning in isolation (see Figure 7). Our students can solve problems collaboratively on these days and be extended in working mathematically, using Higher Order Thinking. Teachers have formed a strong, collegial network with each member supported in trying new skills and incorporating Quality Teaching elements into their teaching repertoire. Our parents from rural and remote locations have had opportunities to learn more about quality maths and the need for fun, hands-on learning experiences.
Figure 7: A Gala Maths Day
Hay SOTA teachers have targeted many strands from the Maths Curriculum: Multiplication and Division, Length, Area, Volume and Capacity and Mass. The NSW DET Maths Support Documents have provided the framework for quality satellite maths lessons (see Figure 8). Quality Teaching is a never-ending, exciting journey and in distance education, new technologies open up endless possibilities all the time. I’d urge all teachers to begin exploring quality teaching. This exploration needs to be sustained and supported through a collaborative professional learning team, and be assured that the improved skills and knowledge benefit to your students is well worth it!
Figure 8: Curriculum support material
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