I have always loved mathematics, but I’ve not always been ‘good’ at maths. I got a grade A for GCSE Mathematics when I was 16 years old (a grade I worked really, really hard for) but I struggled with mathematics at ‘AS’ and ‘A’ – Level (the UK’s pre-university qualifications).
It just so happened that mathematics wasn’t a subject I needed as a prerequisite for my university course anyway. So, in a sense, I committed the cardinal sin of thinking that it ‘didn’t matter’. I was planning to study molecular biology at university, and my admissions tutors were mainly interested in my biology and chemistry grades.
I achieved my goal of going to uni and doing my PGCE in order to become a fully qualified Science teacher in 2006. I was happy for several years, but my failure to complete my mathematics education at school kept gnawing at me like an annoying itch. I needed to do something about it.
I decided to complete the Certificate in Mathematics course with the Open University in 2009, after three years of being a full-time science teacher. This course covered everything in my ‘A’-Level syllabus with some extra, university-level topics thrown in. It was challenging and offered me just what I needed: closure. As a distance-learning course, it also offered me the chance to study and work as a teacher at the same time.
As I started studying the course and handing in assignments (which had to be snail mailed to the UK – I was living in Thailand at the time), I began to realise how much I had become disconnected from the student experience as a teacher. It had been around three years since I had ever studied anything seriously, and this mathematics course was teaching me how difficult it was to:
Seek help when in doubt
Have the self-discipline needed to study at a regular time-slot each day
These skills were, of course, things I had to do whilst completing my degree course and schooling earlier in life, but it had been a few years since I had been immersed in serious study like this. I was slowly losing empathy for my students: that was until this course gave me a wake-up call.
Another big thing I took from this experience was just how stressful it can be to prepare for a difficult exam (and to complete it). I had to fly to the UK to take the end of course mathematics exam (a three hour beast), and along with the intense revision that came in the few days running up to the exam I had the misfortune of not sleeping so well the night before the big day. And then, once sat down and actually completing the paper, three hours felt like it went by in an instant.
I guess I’m trying to make a number of points in this trip down Memory Lane – namely that by immersing ourselves in the ‘student experience’ we can, as teachers:
Regain, or enhance, our true understanding of just how many hurdles await our students on their race to the exam finish-line.
Learn new skills and concepts that can be applied to our roles as classroom managers, leaders and ‘purveyors’ of specialist knowledge.
Build self-discipline, and pass on the lessons learned to our students in our roles as mentors, homeroom teachers, form tutors and coaches.
One final point to stress is that, whilst we can study almost any subject we want via online platforms like EdX and Coursera these days, it’s also important that we take the time to thoroughly reflect on a regular basis. Keeping a journal of things we’ve done well, and things we messed up, can be a great way to have a written record to read over when we want to celebrate successes and remind ourselves of lessons we have learned on our journeys as educators. This video I made a few years ago goes into this in more detail:
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Last week I wrote a shortblog postabout the issue of gender-neutral toilets, and how some schools in Australia and the UK are now forcing all students to use them. The reasoning that most schools give as to why these toilets need to be installed is that they are ‘inclusive’, and that they make transgender students feel more comfortable.
Tremendous opposition to the introduction of gender-neutral toilets in schools has already been voiced by parents, students, local MPs and members of local communities. At Deanesfield Primary School in the UK, for example, parentslaunched a petitionto remove the unisex toilets that were covertly installed over the summer vacation; with one main concern being that menstruating girls felt as though their privacy was being invaded. Many girls were refusing to go the toilet during the day and were at risk of picking up urinary-tract infections as a result.
I made my opinions clear last week, and I still stand by them. I made the point that no school should impose new restrictions or radical changes on their students without first consulting with parents. This was a classic mistake made at Deanesfield, and it backfired dramatically (consequently, I did actually e-mail the school asking for an update on the situation but I have thus far received no response). I also questioned the underlying concept of a child being able consent to being ‘transgender’ (along with the surgery and puberty-blocking chemicals that go along with that), when that same child cannot consent to sexual activity, cannot drink alcohol, is not considered to be mature enough to vote and cannot legally drive.
Thatblog postearned me some haters, with one individual commenting on my Facebook posts with expletives, profanities and explicit prose. That person was subsequently banned from the Teachers in Thailand Facebook group by the admin (and rightly so):
So this is a very triggering topic, and rather than briefly summarize some of the more ‘popular’ stories by citing news articles, I’d like to perform a brief investigation of some of the research that feeds into this topic. I won’t have time to cover absolutely everything, but I will provide a synopsis of some of the main findings.
The architectural approach
With privacy being cited as an issue for menstruating girls who are forced to use gender-neutral washrooms, one solution could be a functional one: change the architecture so that privacy is no longer invaded.
This is exactly the point that Sanders and Stryker make in‘Stalled – Gender Neutral Public Bathrooms‘[South Atlantic Quarterly (2016) 115 (4): 779–788. Duke University Press]. As a combined effort between a world-renowned architect (Sanders) and an LGBT professor of Gender and Women’s Studies (Stryker), this paper stands-out for it’s unique take on unisex bathrooms, with a suggested floor-plan included in the content (given below):
My conclusion: I have a number of issues with the architectural approach proposed by Sanders and Stryker:
The design still includes an area outside the cubicles where boys and girls have to mix and mingle. I think this removes the ‘communal’ factor of bathrooms, as girls and boys do like to use toilet areas for chatting and socializing with their own gender. I’m still not sure if menstruating girls would be happy mingling with boys outside the cubicle areas.
Massive investment would be needed to change current girls’/boys’ washrooms in schools to the communal format shown above (for most schools). This investment seems superfluous to needs when one considers thatless than 2%of American children identify as being transgender. In addition to this, it’s confusing that transgender students cannot use current boys’/girls’ washrooms. If you are biologically a boy, but you officially identify as a girl, then you could use the girls’ washrooms. Vica-versa if you are biologically a female. But is the solution really as simple as that?
Public space is not a neutral space(?)
According to Kyla Bender-Baird, gender-segregated bathrooms are the result of “technologies of disciplinary power, upholding the gender binary by forcing people to choose between men’s and women’s rooms”
That’s some profound statement! I had no idea that I was being powerfully controlled by being forced to choose which washroom to enter. I thought I was consciously making a choice to enter the men’s!
“The resulting lack of safe access to public restrooms is an everyday reality for those who fall outside of gender binary norms. Faced with a built environment that denies their existence and facilitates gender policing, I argue that trans and gender non-conforming people sometimes engage in situational docility. Bodies are adjusted to comply with the cardinal rule of gender – to be readable at a glance – which is often due to safety concerns. Changing the structure of bathrooms to be gender inclusive and/or neutral may decrease gender policing in bathrooms and the need for this situational docility, allowing trans and gender non-conforming people to pee in peace”
It seems as though Kyla supports the functional/architectural approach then – advocating for the creation of washrooms that are built in such a way that anyone can use them.
My conclusion: I don’t agree with Kyla on her point that gender-segregated washrooms were invented as a human-control system (the official history certainly doesn’t support this).
One thing I will say in Kyla’s defense is that if an architectural solution is found that is cost-effective and satisfies the needs of the majority (men and women – that’s binary men and women who do not wish to change their gender), whilst also meeting the needs of the tiny minority (transgender individuals), then that could be a way forward.
Potty Politics and the Ladies’ Sanitary Association
1905:First women’s bathroom installed in London after a tremendous effort and fight by the Ladies’ Sanitary Association and similar organisations, along with support from the famous George Bernard Shaw [This really surprised me, I have to say. I thought that women’s restrooms were a thing long before 1905].
1970sAmerica: Court cases were still being fought over the segregation of black and white toilet facilities. Prior to this early ‘toilet-integration’ period, blacks and whites couldn’t drink from the same fountains or use the same toilet facilities. [Note from me: I think this was a humiliating and disgraceful period in human history. The fact that fully conscious adults penned policy to the effect of segregating toilets on basis of race is frightening and baffling to me].
In the Autumn of2001, several students gathered at the Stonewall Center (an LGBT educational resource center at the University of Massachusetts). They formed a special group to work on transgender issues on campus. Their efforts eventually resulted in gender-neutral restrooms being installed on campus through their ‘Restroom Revolution’, and they also succeeded in bringing transgender, ‘gender-queer ‘and ‘gender non-conforming’ issues into the limelight on campus.
Key takeaways from this paper are the very revealing opinions of both the Restroom Revolution advocates (a mix of gender non-conformists and ‘allies’ – straight people sympathetic to their cause) and their opposition.
In December 2001, the Stonewall students wrote a proposal to university administrators in which they stated:
“As gender variant people, we encounter discrimination in our daily lives. The most pressing matter, however, is our use of the bathrooms in the residence halls in which we live. . . . We are often subjecting ourselves to severe discomfort, verbal and physical harassment, and a general fear of who we will encounter and what they will say or do based on their assumption of our identities.”
Olaf Aprans, a writer for the Minuteman (an on-campus student publication), expressed his strong opposition by questioning the foundational motives behind the Restroom Revolution:
“The most probable motive for the Restroom Revolution is not the need or want of transgender bathrooms, it is the desire for attention. Transgender students have been using gender-specific bathrooms for years without any complaints. Why the sudden outcry for transgender bathrooms? The answer is easy, the activists behind this movement are using a petty issue like bathrooms as a medium to throw their lifestyles in the face of every-day students”
Biological identity, supported by irrefutable genetic evidence, is also cited by the paper as one of the modes of opposition:
“There are only two things that make me a man and they are my X chromosome and my Y chromosome. . . . People have the right to feel that they should not be the gender that God gave them. . . . However, the fact that some people do not live in reality or that some wish reality were not true, does not entitle them to a special bathroom in a public university”
My overall conclusions
The concerns that transgender individuals have about their personal security and comfort when using restrooms seem legitimate. However, the concerns of women who do not wish to share washrooms with men are equally legitimate [and as we saw from the UMass article, women fought very hard for the right to have their own restrooms in the first place]. The issue of ‘washrooms for all’ seems to me to be a classic example of an old conundrum – that you can’t please everyone. We can, however, aim to please the majority. The minority will have to adapt.
An architectural solution may be viable, but its application needs to be consistent (and this will require excellent international collaboration). It also needs to be cost-effective, and provide suitable privacy for everyone. I can’t see how this can be done, even when one applies Sanders’ and Stryker’s design, without invasive CCTV systems in place.
An architectural solution may work in a shopping mall or other public place, but I’m not sure if it’s a feasible solution for a school. Children are not as mature as adults, and issues such as bullying, up-skirting, inappropriate use of smartphones, silly and disruptive behaviour, etc. are difficult to police in a gender-neutral facility without invasive CCTV systems, some form of staffed duty or an open communal space that removes comfort, rather than adds to it.
I will end by saying that schools would be well-advised to avoid forcing all of their students to use gender-neutral toilets. The variables one has to deal with in such scenarios are immense and difficult to police/control. If needs be, provide adequate male, female and gender-neutral toilets so that students can at least make choices that feel right for them.
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Mock exams offer an excellent opportunity for teachers and students to assess current knowledge and discover common misconceptions. They (should) provide a rigorous and thorough ‘trial run’ of the finals and may even act as a sharp and frightening wake-up call to some learners.
Considering the immense importance placed on mock exams (not least for providing a good basis for making final grade predictions), one would assume that the preparation of students for them should be organised like a well-planned military operation.
That’s certainly what should happen, and the aim of this article is to cover the ‘battleground’ that your students will need to fight through in order to be well-trained for those all-important practice exams.
Roger that! Let’s get right into it then!
Go through past-exam papers
These are by far the best revision materials for exam-level students. Rigorous past-paper practice, under timed conditions, offers a number of benefits:
Students become used to the ‘style’ of questions that will be asked in the real thing.
Frequent exposure to the ‘command terms’ that will be used in the real exam (words like ‘Deduce’, ‘Explain’, ‘Sketch’ etc.).
The level of challenge presented by past-paper questions will be at the level expected by students of that age-group.
When taken under timed conditions, students can develop their time-management techniques too (ensuring that they don’t run out of time in the real mock exam – a common problem!).
Some examination boards share their past papers for free (e.g.Edexcel),whilst others sell them them for a small fee. If you have the money (or if your school has the budget), then they are always worth the spend. Some ideas for saving money when purchasing exam papers include:
Keep any spare examination papers that you get sent each year by the exam board, and scan them to pdfs. Within a few years you’ll have a comprehensive bank of exam papers ready to share with your students.
Purchase a user account to an exam-board’s question bank and share the account with colleagues.
Make sure your students go through the model answers (mark schemes) when they’re done, and make sure they know how to actually use the mark schemes (Do they know that OWTTE means ‘Or Words to That Extent’, for example? Do they know what M1, M2, etc mean?).
Should your students be strict or lenient when marking past-paper questions?
Always be strict, because the examiner will strict and the final exams will probably contain questions that the students will never have seen before. If the answer does not match the mark scheme, then mark it wrong.
What about handwriting?
If the examiner cannot read the answers given, then your students will be penalized. Make this point really clear, as it is an issue that does affect many students (especially when rushing under exam conditions – another reason to train students by exposing them to past-papers under timed conditions).
Go through exam-style questions
These are a little different to past-paper questions and tend to be found within textbooks, on great websites (likeBBC Bitesize) and inside revision guides and workbooks (like those made by CGP, for example).
These provide much of the same benefits as a past-exam paper questions and are often organised by topic, allowing students to reinforce their subject knowledge in stages and target areas of weakness with relative ease.
Make sure that model answers are provided and that students mark their work strictly (just like with past-papers).
Provide a topic revision list
An obvious one I know, but worth mentioning. If students don’t know the topics that are going to come up on their mock exams, then how can they possibly prepare?
Share the official syllabus, perhaps through your school’s VLE, MOOC or even by e-mail if you have to. Make sure the students know which topics from the syllabus are going to come up in the mocks.
Provide topic summaries
Summaries of key topic areas can really help students to grab the essentials in a short space of time. Share these as Mind Maps, bulleted lists, end-of-chapter summaries in textbooks and even, again, revision websites that you recommend.
A lot of schools cannot afford physical textbooks for every student. However, we should at least be recommending textbooks that the students can buy themselves if they want to.
One way to solve the problem of textbook costs is for schools to build their own (e.g. from slide presentations that teachers create), get students to create textbooks for themselves by setting up alearning journalssystem and even paying for an online subscription through the publisher’s website (which is often cheaper than purchasing physical books).
Recommend revision websites
There are many great websites that offer excellent, free resources for revision. My personal favorites are: