Saturday, 17 May 2014

Girls? Boys? Mixed? All of the above!

I teach one of four year 6/7 classes at Hackham East Primary School. It's a pretty awesome gig: amazing kids; part of a great team; small class; staff focus on student support; good ICT set up; and strong focus on professional development. Yep, I love my job.

Anyway, I digress. I teach one of four 6/7 classes. None of the classes has more than 24 students, in fact I have only 20. Why so many classes with so few students? Aha! Here's the particularly interesting thing about HEPS: we run a parallel (and opt-in) single gender program. In our unit of four classes there are two mixed, one boys and one girls class. (I have one of the mixed classes.) The year 4/5 unit is run on similar lines also. In the past the junior years also had single gender classes but there wasn't a huge demand for it this year. (Hopefully next year!)

Based on the work of Michael Gurian, a gender based education expert from the USA,  and Ian Lillico, a boys' education expert from Western Australia, HEPS developed a boys programme back in 2008 and it has grown from there. (To get a bigger picture of how it all started and developed, check out the blog of Jarrod Lamshed. He's the single gender legend of HEPS. He's sadly missed though: this year he moved to another school.) The whole school operates on the understanding that the philosophies around single gender education can, and should, be implemented in both single and mixed gender classrooms to better meet the needs of everyone. And it's not just lip service: our unit splits into gender (and year level) groups for maths lessons; all planning actively considers gender learning differences; at each staff meeting we discuss how to better implement one or another of Lillico's 52 Recommendations (for school reform) etc. (We're all constantly working toward AITSL standards 1, 4 and 6!)

Mohammed Al-Khwarizmi
The 'father of algebra'
I'm currently learning with the year 7 girls. The year 7 boys are right next door, and we usually have the dividing wall open so that we're effectively occupying opposite ends of the same space. We're all aware that we're learning the same topic but we're not doing it the same way. The boys jumped in and got into 'doing' immediately. At the other end of the space we started by talking about what we already knew. From then on the boys had short snippets of instruction followed often by concrete materials and big picture problems. We looked at a short video about the history of algebra which gave the topic a personal hook for most of the girls. (It's a great little video: check it out here.) Since then we've broken it down into discrete building blocks that we're in the process of putting together. Some girls have raced ahead and are blowing me away with the way they're putting it all together, while others are still building their basic understandings. That happens in all classes though right? What's different about this is that the girls who can race ahead are racing ahead and doing so loudly and proudly while the girls who need more time are equally loud in their requests. They are taking risks and making mistakes. They're playing and having fun with maths ideas. I've never seen this sort of behaviour in girls before. Well, OK, that's not completely true: I have seen it but not to this extent. I also invite my year 7 girls and boys to share their learning as an added dimension to this process. The confidence my girls show in maths class spills into this interaction. My girls (and boys) are getting the best of both worlds. 

I'm still learning about single gender education; still working out how to implement the 52 recommendations in my own classroom. I doubt it's the kind of thing I'll ever stop learning.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1 Know students and how they learn.
Standard 4 Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments.
Standard 6 Engage in professional learning.

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