One of the challenges of teaching is ensuring that your lessons are designed in a way that supports the learning of the all the students in your class. In the average classroom you might differentiate for high potential students, lower ability students, and EAL/D students. (Adjustments for students with specific diagnoses or disabilities will be addressed in another post).
What role can AI play in supporting differentiation?
Let's assume you already have a lesson planned for students of general ability on a topic. Either post it online somewhere publicly so that you can just direct the AI tool to the website, or summarise your lesson plan so that it can be easily copy and pasted (ensure the formatting is super simple).
Some prompts you could use in a tool like ChatGPT are:
As a trial, of this process I ran the following prompt:
ChatGPT produced a 7-point guide on differentiating the lesson (it was about a page and a half long) including suggestions related to content, process and product differentiation. Examples included providing advanced reading and opportunities for individual exploration (each with several sentences explaining how to do this). It provided a few options for allowing students to use different learning pathways, and also a few options of different products the students could create to demonstrate learning. Some of the advice provided was a bit generic, about differentiation strategies generally, but there were several good suggestions that were practical and could be easily used in the classroom.
Following this I tried the following prompt:
This prompt provided seven different lesson activities which were reasonably original and fairly different to each other. This was even more successful when I choose a specific learning ability (e.g. for example a student with low literacy levels).
I'm still exploring what this can do for supporting teachers to differentiate, but in these first few tentative steps I think AI definitely has something significant to offer. Moving forward, it will be fairly simple to create multiple differentiated versions of the same lesson very quickly to best cater for our students. The key is going to be knowing how to ask for what you want. My hint: keep asking more questions...
It's that joyful time of the semester again where everyone is setting and marking a lot of assessments and writing junior reports. Tensions are high, patience is low and sleep is something we catch up on during the weekends. Many classroom teachers are writing reports for close to 200 students. While teachers are more than capable to writing their own comments, it is a repetitive task - often commenting many times on the same tasks or skills, and it can be hard to come up with original comments particularly towards the end of the reporting cycle.
I came across a page on SchoolReportWriter discussing using ChatGPT to generate report comments, and while I'm not sure I would want to rely on ChatGPT to write comments about specific students, I was interested to see what it could do to generate comment banks for staff to use across the school. I concentrated on specific elements within a report comment, so that different sentences could be pieced together from different categories to make up a complete (or near complete) comment. Obviously they would still need to be personalised and checked to ensure that they meet the requirements of the school's report style guide.
I used Chat GPT to generate a series of generic report comments for specific topics such as :
- academic achievement based on basic performance descriptors (Outstanding, High, Sound, Basic, Limited)
- technology use
- attention and application to school work
- completion of classwork
- research skills
- critical and creative thinking
I used ChatGPT and the following prompts to generate the comments:
I was actually really impressed with most of the comments that were generated, and I ended up with 17 pages of report comments that could be used by most staff. I did go through and make edits. One of the main issues was that some of the comments were generated in first person. I experimented with asking ChatGPT to produce comments in a passive voice, but I didn't like the way the sentences were structured - they were much too clunky. It was easier to rephrase them myself. I also deleted some of the comments because I felt they were too negative, not phrased in a way that parents would appreciate or didn't convey a message that was consistent with the key messages of the school.
Report comment banks are nothing new, but ChatGPT allowed me to generate a comprehensive report comment bank very quickly and I was able to tailor it for specific items. If I was to develop a HSIE specific set I would enter specific tasks, fieldwork, skills, Business Reports, etc. I was impressed with the ability of ChatGPT to complete a job that will hopefully reduce teacher workload. Click the icon below to download the Reports Comment bank generated by ChatGPT.
This is part 4 of a number of posts about Fieldwork - Reef Surveying.
Read the other posts:
Fieldwork - Reef Survey - Preparation
Fieldwork - Reef Survey - Where to snorkel
Fieldwork - Reef Survey - Student Activities
Any active learning, where students are out in the field and enjoying nature is good for the students, good for us as teachers and helps to promote the real world application of our subject. Introducing students to snorkelling will expose them to a whole new world that they may not have engaged with before. It will encourage them to be more passionate about what they are learning, be more active in trying to protect environments and hopefully engage in more active citizenship to address environmental issues.
Snorkelling is a great activities for Year 9 Elective Geography students studying Oceanography. There has been growing recognition of the Great Southern Reef as an excellent case study for Year 10 Environmental Change and Management and Year 12 Ecosystems at Risk. It could also be used in the new Stage 6 syllabus for the new Year 12 Ecosystems and Global Biodiversity topic. Unlike a case study of the Great Barrier Reef, students could actively engage in fieldwork multiple times within a topic if your school is relatively close to the coast. Even if you aren't close to the coast, it is a lot easier to organise an excursion that doesn't involve air travel, so it is still a great option. Fieldwork for this case study is also a lot more economically accessible if you teach in a school with a low or complex socio-economic background, or have a group of significantly disadvantaged students.
In Elective Geography, in the Oceanography topic, reef surveying could link with the investigative study investigating an issue relating to the use of oceans. This could include an issue such as: crayweed or seagrass loss in the Sydney region/North Coast/South Coast, biodiversity in the Sydney region/North Coast/South Coast, or a similar issue that you identify as a class that the students are interested in.
In the Environmental Change and Management topic, reef surveying could link with work completed on the Investigative study, addressing aspects of:
- biophysical interactions
- causes, extent and consequences of change
- examples of some management strategies
In the Ecosystems at Risk topic (current Stage 6 syllabus), reef surveying could link with the case study of an ecosystem, addressing aspects of:
- geomorphic and hydrological processes
- biogeographical processes
- human impacts
- management strategies
In the Ecosystems and Global Biodiversity topic (new syllabus - to be implemented in Year 12 in 2025), reef surveying could link with the investigation of an ecosystem (this would need to be the example within Australia). It could address aspects of:
- characteristics of the ecosystem
- human-induced modifications
- responses and strategies
Underwater Writing Devices
Depending on the types of activities you are going to do (and how often you will be doing them) you might like to invest in underwater slates or clipboards. This means that while students are snorkelling they can be taking notes - perhaps about their location, types of organisms, or number of species observed or a particular underwater geological feature.
View underwater writing devices:
Dip N Dive - Under Water Writing Devices
You may also like to use an online field guide such as:
Marine Life Identification Guide from Snorkeling Report.
However, keep in mind that you probably don't want students and teachers using their phones/laptops while wet or near the water, so this might be more useful for checking fieldwork results back in the classroom.
A simple quadrat square can be made from pvc piping and corners, to use to do quadrat sampling.
Students gently lay down a quadrat square underwater (being careful not to disturb anything growing). They can either take a photograph to examine later or make notes about what they see within the square. For example, they might make note of the number of seaweed or seagrass species within the square, or the number of sea urchins within the square, or the variety of species. This activity should be repeated a number of times. Students can determine average calculations of a general location and then compare it with another location, or repeat the activity at another time to determine change over time.
Measurements and colour analysis
Students can use a ruler and colour chart to explore corals, seagrasses or seaweeds. In the case of corals, colour is an important indicator of coral health.
Underwater photography and videography
Students can easily take photographs and videos of the fieldwork site. These can be shared and compared with their classmates. In-built GPS will help to geotag the photos, or a GPS logger can be used. Photos and video can be used to identify different species, examine data on abundance of species, or explore human impacts. Photos can be added to locations on digital maps using Scribblemaps.
There are a couple of relatively cheap underwater cameras you can buy. Be prepared - if they are used regularly, they will get broken, and most likely they get water in them (also meaning they will be broken). I have bashed more underwater cameras into rocks than I care to admit. There used to be a wide variety available, but there aren't too many on the market these days. If you are going to get a student to take photos, make sure you get a wrist guard with a floatation device attached in case they drop it. Another good option to to use a hair elastic attached to the camera strap to that it doesn't get lost. For around $600-700 you can get basic model underwater camera from Olympus: Olympus TG-6 Tough Underwater Camera (Black). There are lots of other options for underwater cameras available, but they tend to be very expensive.
Probably the easiest option is to use a GoPro, with a waterproof case attached with either a velcro wrist band or a strap around your chest or head. Even though the GoPro11 is advertised as waterproof, I was advised to also get a waterproof case. There are also some masks that you can buy so that you can attach the Go Pro directly to the mask.
GoPro HERO11 Black Action Waterproof Camera
GoPro Protective Housing
GoPro Hand + Wrist Strap
Body Glove Adult's Arid 2 Piece Set Blue & Black
Students can use a basic outline map of the field site to demonstrate features which relate to human impacts on the reef. Students might mark on a map stormwater drains, stairs or entry points, boat ramps, pools, jetties, etc. Students may use the map to identify where they observed particular species in the field site. Students might map areas of natural vegetation surrounding the field site.
Reducing Teacher Admin
It has been great to hear a change in tone and implied respect in the few bits of communication we have had regarding education with the recent change of state government. It has been a long time since we have had communication that didn't feel like we are being reprimanded, misled or gaslighted. One fo the key messages we are being told is that there will be a concerted effort to try to reduce teacher administration so that we - as teachers and schools - can focus on the key to education - teaching and learning.
Many reports and articles have been written about teachers' perceptions about teacher administration (or "administrivia") and the impact these types of task have on teacher morale and the core purpose of the job. A couple of articles/reports you might like to read are:
AITSL: Shifting the balance: Increasing the focus on teaching and learning by reducing the burden of compliance and administration.
Teachers need more support, less admin to deliver quality education
Reports such as these outline that teacher administration, accountability and unreasonable demands are crushing staff morale and reducing time available to work with students.
I'd like to take this in a new direction and identify what this administrivia is and how it can be reduced, from someone working within a school. I'm going to start by thinking broadly at the system and whole school level, and then look at faculties.
Problem 1: Curriculum Reform
Following Geoff Masters' review and report on NSW Curriculum which wrapped up in 2020, the former NSW Government announced the comprehensive rewriting of K-12 Curriculum. This needs to be considered in the context that ACARA introduced a whole suite of new curriculum documents in 2013, which NESA (then BOSTES) rewrote into the NSW syllabuses. Schools have already been through the process of implementing new syllabuses in many subjects reasonably recently - Geography 7-10 was fully implemented as late as 2018. Some of the phase 3 subjects in other KLAs were implemented as late as 2019-20 (TAS).
The former NSW Government set a very ambitious agenda to develop, consult formalise and implement the new syllabuses very quickly. In HSIE alone, 2023 will involve planning and preparing for Senior Geography, consultation and release of Geography, History, Aboriginal Studies, and Commerce, with planning and preparing in 2024 and implementation in 2025. Consultation and release for Geography Elective, History Elective, Work Education in HSIE will occur in 2024, with planning and preparation in 2025 and implementation in 2026. These are the changes for one KLA alone, and mostly only for 7-10. Primary schools are already well under way implementing new English and Maths syllabuses.
We are now beginning to see the implication of these changes across subjects and years. Schools developing new teaching and learning program proformas, scope and sequence proformas, and assessment proformas for the new syllabuses. Faculties and teachers designing new programs, scope and sequences, teaching activities, and assessments, reviewing existing resources, and choosing new textbooks or online programs.
Solution 1: Slow down the implementation. It is not necessary to implement so much change so quickly. If we want the new curriculum implementation to be successful we need to allow time for teachers to really engage with the syllabuses, and have time for proper planning and collaboration.
The previous NSW Government announced five hours available per teacher per term to be used for planning. At the time no thought had gone into how this would be staffed, paid for or organised. Advice since has been scant. Given the extensive changes and period over which these changes will occur, why not provide funding to reduce teachers' teaching hours by half an hour per week and timetable it in?
Problem 2: Organisational overlap, discord and change
There are too many layers and levels of organisation, policies and documents that influence schools and teachers, and these are constantly changing. In the area of subject teaching alone ACARA designed the National Curriculum and looks after external testing like NAPLAN, NESA designs the NSW curriculum/syllabuses and the department then designs and implements additional layers such as literacy, numeracy and physical literacy continuums. Sometimes these layers don't always correlate with each other, and even when they do it still create fiddly jobs like coding one document against each other.
In addition, the roles and responsibilities of different departments and organisations are constantly changing so that teachers complete a task one way, and then soon after have to learn to do it a new way, or understand which organisation completes which role and then it changes.
Solution 2: Collaboration between the federal and state government is required to align the organisation goals, roles and objectives of federal and state curriculum authorities and government departments to reduce duplication and overlap. This would reduce time that teachers spend having to code and cross-reference multiple layers of policy and curriculum documents, and hopefully ensure that once a job is done once it doesn't need to be re-done.
Problem 3: Teacher shortage
The teacher shortage is not new. The impact of the teacher shortage on existing teachers in a school includes: taking extra classes, liaising with casual teachers for positions that are not filled, helping casuals plan lessons and assessments, preparing extra lessons, writing extra reports, dealing with additional behaviour management issues as students don't have a regular teacher (including assisting with recording information on the school's online systems).
Solution 3: The recently announced strategy of converting long-term temporary teachers into permanent teachers is a good one. Another option would be to provide extra funding to schools to employ multiple teachers to work full-time on casual loads (for sick leave, long service leave, professional learning, etc) under contract for the whole year., or perhaps even a few years. This would informally convert more casual teachers into temporary teachers, and ensure a steady, reliable way of covering leave periods and ensure students are familiar with those covering the classes. Many schools do this in an informal way anyway, so why not formalise this process a bit more? Providing more predictable work is a way of encouraging teachers without permanent jobs to stay in the system.
Problem 4: Policy
There are 219 policies that schools and teacher need to comply with. This is too many. Policies are currently recorded on a department website with duplication, multiple sections, weblinks, etc. It is difficult to find the information you need, there is a lot of waffle and much of it is not relevant to people working in schools. Trying to find some basic information can take a long time and increase the time it takes to get jobs done.
People across the state are duplicating work - risk assessments, WHS - all sorts of things.
Solution 4: Write policies in a short, simple way. Each policy should have a short summary with key points at the beginning of the document, and then further details. Policies should be in PDF form so that they can be downloaded and printed. Policies could be divided into those relevant to teachers, managers, and Non-School Based staff.
Instead of templates, ready to use documents are needed. Let's take a look at something like risk assessments for excursions. Why are people across the state writing their own? Surely someone in a Non-School Based Position (or a team) could create a bank of risk assessments that meet all the requirements and only require minimal changes by teachers.
Problem 5: External Validation and School Planning
Whole school accountability creates a huge administrative burden for teachers, head teachers, deputies and principals. External Validation involves a school being assessed on the judgements they have made about where the school sits on the Schools Excellence Framework. The Schools Excellence Framework (SEF) is a useful document that can be used to guide schools on the programs, strategies and actions needed to drive improvement. Each term Executive Teams can complete a Self-Assessment to review progress, reflect and plan forward. However the process of External Validation where documentary evidence and copious amount of data (did anyone say datafication of teaching?) needs to be uploaded and tagged according to the school plan and SEF elements, is overly formalised, time-consuming and basically a box-ticking activity that contributes little to the way schools are run. It creates stress when it isn't necessary, and takes time away from more meaningful activities.
School Planning seems like a duplication of SEF Self-Assessment and planning and discussions that come from it, and if External Validation is based on the SEF rather than the School Plan it seems entirely superfluous.
Solution 5: External Validation should be streamlined or discontinued, to be replaced by a once a term discussion with the DEL (like currently occurs for the School Plan).
School Plans should be discontinued. All schools should use the School Excellence Framework to guide improvement and not write a school plan. This is basically eliminating the "middle man", and would simplify the whole process.
Problem 6: Mandatory Training
There is an ever-increasing list of mandatory training. Mandatory training is generally repetitive, boring (mostly poorly designed online learning), and often irrelevant. The large amount of mandatory training required eats into weekly meetings and staff development days and reduces the amount of time that can be provided for faculties to undertake planning, do faculty organisation and to work collaboratively.
Solution 6: Eliminate all the superfluous mandatory training down to a list that is manageable and relevant. Reduce online learning modules - most people prefer to be spoken to by a real person, and this allows the deliverer to tailor the content for the school context.
Problem 7: Extracurricular activities
Many of the amazing things that happen in schools are run by teachers in their spare time by choice. All schools have so many extracurricular activities on offer - knockout sports competitions, breakfast club, art and drama club, SRC, robotics clubs, the list is never ending. The easy solution is to say to teachers to be more selfish with their time. Only that is not generally in the nature of teachers. Teachers tend to see a need, know what the limitations are in providing whatever is needed, and finding a way to do it regardless - usually the biggest cost is teacher time and workload. How can this be addressed by the new government? Providing period allocations for teachers running extracurricular activities would go some way to addressing this.
Solution 7: The best solution a new government could provide is reducing teaching loads, so that teachers have the time to concentrate on fewer classes, explore meaningful data to get to know those students well, and have time to create or source the best teaching materials for those classes. An extra staff development day here and there, announcing that staff should get extra release time (when there are no casuals, funding or guidance on how to provide it) and coming up with new initiatives that talk about workload but do nothing will not solve the problem.
Problem 8: Lack of support staff
Additional SASS staff to undertake non-teaching tasks could reduce workload. This could be updating the school website, maintaining social media and communications. While the amount of photocopying has reduced in schools since the introduction of digital classrooms, teachers still spend time photocopying documents, scanning work samples (another accountability issue) and maintaining organisation of digital assets. SASS staff are also overburdened by cumbersome systems so we can't just allocate more work to them.
Solution 8: Additional support to complete non-teaching tasks such as communications, collecting and completing photocopying, scanning documents, organising digital assets, etc would reduce workload. Providing a SASS person for one day a week per faculty could reduce these administrative tasks.
Additional Comments - 6 May 2023
It was great to see the announcement that the curriculum releases as part of the curriculum reform have been pushed back. I would still argue they need to be pushed back a little further, but it's still a good outcome.
This is part 2 of a number of posts about Fieldwork - Reef Surveying.
Read the other posts:
Fieldwork - Reef Survey - Preparation
Fieldwork - Reef Survey - Student Activities
Fieldwork - Reef Survey - Curriculum Links
Where to snorkel?
A good spot for a first snorkel is Clovelly because it is directly in front of the Surf Life Saving Club, it is a fairly contained area, and in most cases in is quite calm. You can pretty much count on seeing a groper. This is a good introduction site.
A couple of other good sites around Sydney where you are likely to see a variety of aquatic organisms are Cabbage Tree Bay Aquatic Reserve (entry via Shelley Beach or Fairy Bower), Gordon's Bay and Chowder Bay. Outside of Sydney you might like to try:
- the rockpools at Norah Head,
- Shelley Beach at Toowoon Bay,
- Sharknet Beach, Huskisson
- Plantation Point, Vincentia
- Greenfield & Blenheim Beaches, Vincentia
There are obviously lots of other sites, but for ease - consider finding places where you can snorkel straight off the beach.
You might like to read:
- Best Snorkelling in Jervis Bay
Below: Image of the Rock Polls at Norah Head (left). Image of Hyams Beach at Jervis Bay (right)
Cabbage Tree Bay
Below: Image of Gordon's Bay from the Carpark (left). Image of Gordon's Bay from the footpath (right).
Below: Images of Chowder Bay
You might like to read: The Ultimate Guide to Snorkelling
This is part 2 of a number of posts about Fieldwork - Reef Surveying.
Read the other posts:
Fieldwork - Reef Survey - Where to snorkel
Fieldwork - Reef Survey - Student Activities
Below: Photos taken at Clovelly - the sea floor (right), cuttlefish (left).
On the day of the fieldwork:
Fieldwork activities that can be undertaken:
Below: Photos take at Gordon's Bay - stingray (left), squid (right)
Check the weather and tides to ensure the conditions are suitable. Keep an eye out for boats and other activities in the water. Exercise caution.
If students go snorkelling in their own time (not organised by the school/a teacher), they should remember to always let their parents know where you are, swim with a buddy, and check the tide and weather conditions. Always be safe.
Whole school teams provide a good opportunity for teachers to engage in ideas and projects outside their faculties. You can access expertise beyond your immediate colleagues, you can share you ideas more broadly and feel like you have an impact beyond your own classroom. Yes, it involves extra work, but other than faculties, whole school teams are some of the most important structures that enable schools to function and thrive.
Unfortunately we have all had experiences where we agree to become part of a team, turn up to the meetings weeks after week, but feel like nothing is happening. Numbers in the team start dropping off, and before you know it the team disbands. So, how do you lead an effective team? Just as importantly, how do you ensure that you are an effective team member (even if you don't lead the team)?
Tips for running a successful team:
Have long term goals. It is often worth having a look at your school plan, or the Schools Excellence Framework to see how your team fits into the bigger picture. What is the purpose of your team? How will it contribute to the School Improvement Plan? What training do staff need that relates to your team - either for the staff in your team or for the whole school? How will your team drive student improvement?
Have milestones for each term and break down the milestones into smaller achievable tasks. Check these off as you achieve them. For each meeting ensure that there are actions to be completed and that these have been allocated to people in the team. This will help to drive things forward, so that you aren't going round in circles. There's nothing more frustrating than turning up to a meeting where you talk about the same thing that was discussed the previous meeting, or where you spend time looking for the next thing to do. This is why it is important to have something to aim for and a plan on how to get there.
Try to have some teacher roles within the team (even if they area bit vague). Roles could include: regularly taking the minutes, sourcing/analysis data, liaising with other staff (e.g. particular faculties), liaising with the Principal/Deputies, etc.
Be aware of people's workloads and what is achievable at different times. There will be times when some people are busy and others aren't. Help each other out and work together towards your team's goals. However, pushing through on your team's agenda when people are struggling with reports, or some other pressure is not a great idea. Pace out your goals, push items back as needed. Keep your eye on the prize, but slow progress over a year is better than rushing things through, and making mistakes or burning people out.
Maintain records and keep files organised. You might be running a particular whole school team this year, but you aren't the first person to do it, and chances are the previous people who ran the team had lots of positive ideas too. Archive files from previous years, but keep them organised so that you can find things as needed. We all know that education goes round and round in circles. Something that was pushed aside for some reason last year, might be just what is needed this year. Don't recreate the wheel. Revisit what has already been done - it might need some revision or updating, but you may not need to create something from scratch. Try to keep organisational tasks to a minimum in the actual meetings - use emails, shared files instead, and use your shared Google Drive, or other file sharing system for storing/organising files.
Whole school teams can be a great way to connect with staff, be part of innovative projects and drive school improvement. Some of my best experiences in schools have been working in these types of teams. Ensure that you balance your workload, but find something that you are interested and dig your toe in!
The Michael Leunig cartoons over the last week have definitely captured my mood about returning to work after school holidays, so I’m going to share a few goodies.
The juxtaposition between the self (the things I enjoy, things that give meaning…) and the role (responsibilities, obligations…). Where’s the middle path and how do I get on it?
The inevitable ups and downs of a term.
Dealing with your own (and everyone else’s) emotions. Hopefully we only have to deal with people at irritability stage and not further down the end of the hopscotch.
A comment on the end of last term (and probably every end of term). Got to throw some Growth Mindset and brain plasticity in there right??
Sometimes my brain is just too full and there is too much going on to absorb much else.
And a bit of hope for what could be. It’s not all sarcasm and negativity - just got to focus on the good stuff and the stuff that matters and filter out all the other stuff.
Here’s to a good start to the school year!
Read related article: Balmain Foreshore Project - Introduction about a cross curriculum project that I am co-leading with our Head Teacher HSIE Mitch Arvidson and several other teachers.
In Term 4, a range of trial activities were run for the Balmain Foreshore Project, following the end of formal assessment tasks for Year 10 in Term 4. This time period was chosen for the trial activities because it is a low risk, low stakes period, and enabled teachers to experiment without impacting on report results, exams, etc. These included individual, hands on activities, excursions and a guest presenter. Only limited teaching of content occurred during the trial due to limited time available.
The first full implementation of the project is proposed for the second half of Term 1, 2023. It will result in a separate teaching and learning program for the Enrichment class, including different content, learning activities, etc. The students will also have a differentiated assessment task.
In this trial period, students have assessed the focus area, which is on the border fo the school. They have completed an environmental assessment and undertaken field sketches.
Groups of students undertook aerial surveys of the focus area with the school's drones. These are intended to be used by students in future year groups to undertake comparisons to determine change over time. In total, around 20 aerial photos were taken as well as some video footage.
Students went on an excursion to Cockatoo Island to learn about the history of the harbour and the different ways that the harbour has been used.
Students undertook monitoring of local mangroves using GPS mapping, photography and observation.
These trial activities were undertaken to study the Balmain Foreshore in the context of examining Environmental Change and Management (Year 10) of Sydney Harbour and Parramatta River but could also be used for studying Biomes (Year 9).
Deputy Principal at a Sydney high school. Coordinating author of the Geoactive text book series.