I am one of those educators who love numbers.
Not quite sure where it came from. However what I have slowly realised is the way numbers can tell stories. Stories I do understand because I love stories.
Numbers from my past
If I go back in my learning to high school. I achieved school certificate maths thanks to Mrs Dodd. However that was as far as my achievement went in mathematics against national standards during the era of sitting one exam to prove learning. Before that I have few memories of numbers except for regurgitating my times table as my teacher kept the rhythm using a ruler against a desk. My dad used my knowledge of times tables to teach me how to tell the time. My mum taught me nursery rhymes and told me stories that included numbers. Mum would also send me down to the local side of the street store with a little bit of money to buy the odd item.
My dad was an accountant and auditor. Yet I know he often talked about being in a profession he did to make a living rather than doing something he loved. He loved designing and often told me he would have loved to have been an architect. During his lifetime people usually studied for one job. Once in the system they generally stayed there until retirement.
Myself I love the way things work and kind of like my passion for science my strength with numbers developed later in life. I cannot yet see numbers like I can see language but I can definitely see the relationship in building my thinking.
Numbers so far this year
During my current work I am working more and more with data and I believe this is because of my skills with spreadsheets. Over time I have learnt these skills as a need to know basis. Yet one of the skills of being a classroom teacher is knowing how to extrapolate data from a student management system. This is definitely a skill that did not come as part of my professional training but developed with experience. Since the start of this year I have had my head filled with numbers as I have supported our teachers look at their student’s data from last year. I also collated data for our ELL application and matched this against ELLP forms. Then I have identified who our new students are and have tested them for funding criteria. This year we have seen greater numbers of migrant learners at the upper part of our school. Several are recent arrivals. Finally this week I will finalise all the numbers for ministry application.
When I work with numbers I use technology to help me check that what I am doing is correct and that is where my developing skills with formulas comes into play.
Many years ago I learnt to use spread sheet formulas to balance my class paper role because my maths was not that accurate. Now we use a database and balancing a paper role is an artefact from the past. I like to go into our school’s attendance register and look at patterns emerging with attendance.
Numbers and Pedagogy
Numbers have a history and numbers can be used to reflect on pedagogy.
In Samoa we are often asked, O ai oe? O ai lou aiga? O fea lou nu’u? Who are you and your family and where do you come from? I believe in knowing my own Faalupega so that I can answer these questions. In my Palagi world this translates to knowing your genealogy.
In my school I believe that we need to know our history so we know who we are and how we have evolved. One way of doing this is knowing our pepeha and knowing our own historical stories. I have tracked our ethnic data since I have started at Newmarket and find this area fascinating. Then when I delve into our historic data I believe we tell the story of migration from the photographic faces of our children.
Each year teachers build a class description about their children. As a young teacher I needed to locate student cards and manually sift for medical and personal details. During those times the numbers included how many in my class, year level, gender and birthdates and each one had to be sighted on individual cards. I kept a hand written paper copy of phone numbers and first names of parents so that I could quickly locate these if I needed to walk across to the office to use the one school phone to contact them. This copy was pasted into the front of my hand made teacher planning book that was drawn up and filled in weekly by hand because this was the period of education before photocopiers.
When I returned to teaching after a break I was excited to see that my principal produced board reports and this is when I saw the first tracking of school ethnicity. I was just starting out in my National Diploma of TESSOL and those numbers fascinated me.
Currently in in New Zealand we have had a change of government and there have been changes in the way we assess our learners. Already I have spotted the broom sweeping clean. For example I can no longer see our schools National Standard data being shared so openly as it was. Parts of our online teaching resource site is evolving and shifting and often I click on broken links which can be frustrating. We used to highlight just priority learners but that has now changed back to a focus on our total class. Yes we used to do that in the olden days.
Our student management system will probably evolve to reflect current policies. Therefore the way of gathering numbers will change.
Numbers and online learner portfolios
We are playing with online learning spaces to curate our children’s learning and to share this with our families. As we move towards our learners monitoring their own learning, tools continue to develop to support us in our work. I can already see the numbers and patterns emerging from these spaces that help tell the learning story.
As we replace our national standard data with tracking against the progressions new tools will emerge to do this so our systems will evolve and adapt. As our teachers and learners use the tools to track learning I believe the digital portfolio will gain in momentum. How can our students build digital portfolios if our teachers do not have them? How can we support our students to curate and track if we do not curate and track our own learning? That is where appraisals come in. I especially like how I can use the hashtags from my registered teacher’s criteria to support me in tracking my own learning for my digital portfolio. The ongoing challenge I find myself in is using those tags. When I use them, the numbers show me the areas in my profession that I am strong and the areas that I need to continually work on.
Numbers and blogging
I have always been fascinated with #EdBlogNZ where New Zealand Teachers’ blogs have been curated and as they blog the most recent posts bounce to the top. Even these numbers tell a story. Writing from experience I know how challenging it is to blog regularly and how challenging it is to curate my own learning. Blogging is a numbers game and inside the system a blogger can track visitors, numbers of posts and regularity of posts as well as using tag clouds to identify the sorts of writing that happens.
For example the numbers from my blog show that I have been blogging for 9 years. I have published 184 posts. I have a regular readership of over 3,500 and yet I take that with a grain of salt. I can talk about the total number of visitors that visit and know from experience that even that is not accurate as the system makes out. I can tell you my most popular posts and I am never sure why because the posts that I spend ages on and reference accurately often do not get the traffic that I would expect. The posts that I flick off often end up getting the traffic.
Numbers, devices and online spaces
So far this term I have ensured that all of our new learners have started with a school device, have been placed on the learning management systems, have access to the online learning spaces and have supported teachers to identify who requires extra in class support.
Numbers and ELLP
This week I will finalise numbers for our English Language Learners application and I have embraced the process of finding out all I can about our new learners including their learning history as well as who they are.
Numbers and you
In your work have you wondered about the growing need to understanding numbers?
Numbers and Guns – you have to read this blog post by USA teacher Mark Grundel.