Academics Thursday, 25 Nov 2021

The Truth About Math

Mathematics is a complex, skills-based discipline with multiple strands, each as challenging as the next, with a neverending degree of difficulty. Maybe that is why it seems to be socially acceptable to “not be good at maths”. But industry is seeing mathematical skills as ever more important. Critical thinking, problem solving and communication are some of the important skills needed in the workplace which are also developed whilst learning mathematics.

No longer are students expected to learn long lists of equations and then purely substitute values in order to calculate a solution. Realistic applications and comprehension of problems is a very important aspect of mathematics courses. Mastery of the skills is vital in order to be able to access these problems and their solutions.

We have recently started using an online mathematics program called Mathspace. Mathspace is an engaging and highly adaptive mathematics program, that enables teachers to track students’ progress whilst enabling students to develop both their mathematical skills and online digital literacy. It is directly aligned with the Australian Curriculum, as well as others, and provides students with access to online textbooks, demonstration videos, worked example questions, skills assessments, applications questions and much, much more.

As teachers, we are able to set customised tasks to consolidate work done in class and specific revision and development questions. These have enabled students to engage with questions that aid them to make progress with the topics taught as well as provide teachers vital feedback with areas that students have found challenging.

Adaptive tasks allow students to progress at their own rate. Starting with skills questions, then scaffolded application problems and finally to open-ended comprehension and application questions. If they are finding topics challenging, then students continue to get questions of a similar difficulty until they start to make progress. If they are getting correct solutions with minimal to no assistance, then the questions get harder and the “Mastery Bar” advances. The Mastery level can be set at different levels depending on the abilities of the class, the stage of learning or the difficulty the teacher wishes to set. The minimum number of questions needed to be answered can also be set to ensure that students are gaining enough practice at certain skills, but not stuck on the same task for too long if they are finding it challenging.

If students get stuck, there are several options to help them. There is a sketchpad section for them to do extra working out, but students are also advised to use a pen and paper to do working out on whilst undertaking the tasks. Pressing the “Hint” button provides them with a clue as to what to do next. Some questions will allow them to do this several times, providing extra hints each time. There is a “Skip Step” button, which provides them with the next line of working to get them on the right track. And finally, if students are really stuck, then there is a link back to the online textbook section on the topic of the question. Here they will find the notes, worked examples and explanatory videos to help them. Obviously, they can also ask their teacher or peers via Teams or in class the next day.

The user interface and algorithms running in the background of Mathspace are what makes it a really powerful tool for both students and teachers. Students can enter a line of work and get instant feedback. Even if it is not the final answer, Mathspace will give them an indication of whether they are correct or not. If correct, they get a green circle with a green tick inside. If it is incorrect a grey cross appears with a “Let’s try that again” message appears. When they enter the final answer, a solid green circle with a white tick appears. Students are also able to give feedback on each question if they feel like it.

Answers can be entered using their device and an onscreen menu of mathematical operators. As students’ knowledge and skills develop, there are shortcut keys to enter the mathematical operators without needing to use the onscreen keyboard. These shortcut keys are similar, if not the same, like those used in programs such as Excel and Numbers as well as other IT applications to help the students develop their Digital Literacy.

If using a touchscreen device, especially the iPads with Apple Pencil, students can write their answers straight onto the screen and the character recognition software turns it into “typed text”. This enables students to practice writing their answers as they would in a book, or most importantly, an assessment. It ensures that they are writing legibly so that their answers do not need to be edited before being submitted.

The diagnostic information available to teachers is invaluable. Instant feedback on students’ progress for both homework and in-class tasks ensures that misunderstandings are corrected before they become ingrained. Questions that several students have been challenged by can be addressed immediately or at the start of the next lesson. Students progress on long tasks, such as CAT revision tasks, can be monitored to help them plan and organise their workloads by ensuring they are not leaving it all to the last minute.

Each task can be looked at as a whole for the class, but also individual progress and attempts can be checked with each question appearing as red, amber or green based on the students’ attempts at each question. This enables teachers to look for patterns in students work and challenge their understanding. Each students logins, time spent working and questions answered is available as well as how they are progressing through different sections of the curriculum.

Mathspace is proving to be a valuable resource for both students and teachers. It is not a replacement for great teaching, but is a good supplement, especially when students are working at home and the teacher is not accessible. Hopefully, students will start to use Mathspace themselves to access the textbook and set themselves tasks as part of their ongoing revision process and further develop their independent learning and digital literacy as well as their mathematical skills and understanding.

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Senior School Tuesday, 23 Nov 2021

Designing For Modern Times

The last two years have seen the world change dramatically, with a worldwide pandemic that has altered the way we interact and move around the globe. Travel as we know it has changed in many ways, with the steps a traveller must take to be able to move between countries is no longer as simple as packing your bags, grabbing your passport and off you go!

As part of the year 12 ATAR Design course, the students have been tasked with providing an architectural solution to replace the current hotel quarantine situation. They have been provided with a brief that outlines what the state government has provided in terms of their requirements for the project, along with a location for the facility. The buildings are also hoped to be of multiple-use, based on the current global environment. When not in use for pandemic relief, they are required to be easily transported to other locations, for such purposes as temporary housing for towns that have been destroyed by fire, accommodation for immigrants escaping war-torn countries or even utilised for large scale entertainment events, where staff and acts can stay nearby the location.

Students will be using the complete design process to ensure they are able to design and prototype an appropriate solution to their design problem.

Whilst still in the early stages of the project, the students have been compiling initial research from both local and global concepts ranging from Olympic athlete villages to facilities such as Howard Springs in Darwin. They have been collating data, based on surveys that have included feedback from past quarantine travellers and those with a desire to head abroad, once more.

Over the next 12 months, the year 12 design students will continue to build a 15-page design portfolio, as part of their practical examination. Which showcases their journey through the design process, from the initial problem right through to a computer-generated set of renderings and drawings, using commercial grade architectural software, that delivers their solution to the quarantine situation, currently present in Western Australia, as well as presenting it as an option for alternative uses beyond the current pandemic.

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Senior School Friday, 05 Nov 2021

Taste Of Fishing

One of many of the 4-week programmes offered to all Senior School students during Term 4 is the Industry and Enterprise Taster. This program exposes students to the key components of the Certificate II Aquaculture and Certificate II Fishing Operations qualifications and related industry occupations.

The students gained hands-on experience and knowledge about;

  • Key fishing hatcheries in Australia and the growth of the aquacultural sector
  • Sedating and grading locally grown Yellow Tailed Kingfish
  • Fishing and landing catch onboard a commercial fishing boat
  • The role that research is playing to improve fish stocks and the management of a sustainable industry for commercial and recreational use into the future

This opportunity and others like it have been forged through a unique partnership between South Metro TAFE and Aquinas College which as a community we are very grateful for.

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Middle School Thursday, 04 Nov 2021

Investing in Double Ls

As part of their Personal Finance elective class, Yr 9 students, Liam Sannell and Liam O'Keefe, recently competed in the ASX Schools Sharemarket Game competition. The boys ended up placing 5th in the country and 1st in the state!

Their strategy?

The main goal when investing in the ASX share market game was to protect the money invested against fluctuations caused by COVID-19 conditions. This strategy provided a simple ‘blueprint’ for selecting shares. An aversion to buying BIG mining companies specialising in iron ore extraction was the focus, as the syndicate felt that the capital growth the big miners had experienced in 2021 was more than likely to go down rather than continue to rise over the course of the game.

The companies that provided the greatest capital gain were A2 Milk, Reliance Worldwide Corporation and Beach Energy Limited. The first two companies listed were identified as benefiting from COVID conditions. First of all, A2 milk produces powdered milk and baby formula, and it was felt that as the world was ‘stockpiling’ and ‘panic-buying' milk products and thus there was a real chance that these company’s shares would be in high demand. Reliance Worldwide Corporation specialises in high-quality plumbing and heating products, and it was felt that, due to COVID lockdowns and a rise in home maintenance and improvements, that the demand for their products would rise - thereby increasing the company’s overall profit levels and demand for their shares.

Finally, it must be said that the syndicate decided that they would not ride their luck and bank on share prices continuing to rise over extended periods. This ‘mindset’ saw the syndicate sell at the top of a price spike on two occasions for companies that had had share prices rise sharply. All the above being said there was a real element of good luck and timing as on more than one occasion the syndicate sold shares hours before a large price drop.

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Middle School Thursday, 07 Oct 2021

Academic Scholars T3 2021

Another busy term is over! We have managed to fit in 7 units this term with a few outside competitions and a HUGE THANK YOU to Mr Grant Haggerty, Mr Paul West and outside expert Mr Richard Tonello from Astronomy Education Services. I will leave it to the boys who have taken part to explain some of the units they have taken part in this term:

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Junior School Tuesday, 28 Sep 2021

JS STEM Takes Flight

With engineering well underway this term, the focus for the second half of the program shifted to investigating what we could do to improve our designs, how we could change things, exploring why other students had chosen to build things a certain way and generally taking a moment to appreciate each other’s creations and talk together about them. This has generated chatter between students and at times has seen new partnerships develop, with exchanges of design tips and loads of positive comments between students.

Pre-Primary have drawn self-portraits and framed them using materials found in the STEM collaboratory. Then we decided to take it a step further and figure out how we could 3D print the drawings into name tags for their school bags. It’s a work in progress but so far things are looking good. Year 1s investigated repelling and why water paints didn’t ruin their crayon colouring whilst creating beautiful rainbow birds and Year 2 students researched flight mechanisms to create gorgeous paper plate birds they could fly, similar to paper aeroplanes. The flight continued into Year 4 with Rosie Revere inspiring many and varied winged fliers which will be tested this week to see whether bigger wings really do in fact make something fly further and longer.

With only a few weeks left to finish these projects, the students are truly improving and refining their engineering techniques. The exploration will continue into Term 4, with new and exciting STEM projects ranging from sports science to monster madness and of course, Christmas craziness!

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Middle School Friday, 24 Sep 2021

Project Based Learning in English Class

The Project-Based Learning (PBL) tasks this year have been a great way for students to enhance their creativity, work ethic and collaboration whilst still learning about some of their favourite subjects. What English provided us was no different as we were tasked to direct, write and act in our very own interpretation of Romeo and Juliet. I enjoyed this task as it put a lot of the work into our own hands, which worked in making no video the same as any other group; and also showed us just how much work gets put into the behind the stage aspect of your favourite movies and TV shows. By far though, the best part of this came at the end, when each student cast in their vote for which recreation won a variety of different categories, including best actor, best adaption and best film. For me, the English PBL was an exciting way of nuancing our Romeo and Juliet knowledge while still having fun with our classmates.

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Middle School Wednesday, 22 Sep 2021

The Great Crow Debate

Last Friday, the Middle School students gathered in the Brother Paull Centre for the eagerly anticipated final between Bryan West and Treacy East. The topic was one that everyone in the audience had an opinion on

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Senior School Friday, 17 Sep 2021

Diplomats in the Making

This term, 12 Aquinas students (Years 9 and 10) took part in the PSA Model United Nations. It is the second time the PSA has held this competition, this year the UN Youth have become involved which has only improved the event! Model United Nations or MUN is a competition that simulates the United Nations Security Council, where teams of three are assigned a specific country and hope to pass new resolutions into international law. Each PSA school was assigned a different country as can be seen below:

  • Aquinas- UK/Niger/Malaysia/Estonia
  • CCGS - Ireland/Vietnam/Tunisia
  • GGS - United States of America
  • Hale- India, St Vincent & Grenadines, Spain, Bolivia
  • Scotch - Russia/ New Zealand
  • Trinity - France, Mexico, South Korea, Australia
  • Wesley - China, Norway

This competition was so enjoyable as we were able to take on the persona and policies of the country we were representing. MUN incorporates skills such as negotiating, public speaking and teamwork. In the PSA MUN we had to pass two resolutions about; Artificial Intelligent Weapons and Privacy of Data in Sport. Although the Council failed to pass both of these due countries such as Russia and China exercising veto power, we still had an amazing experience.

In addition to this the Year 10 team of Matteo Conte, Ethan Dixon and Matthew Vinci won the competition as they were awarded the number one team on the evening! I was also awarded ‘best helper’ for my role on the evening assisting my teammates throughout the course of the events in various ways. This competition allowed all the PSA schools to compete in something that wasn’t a sport which led to a different dynamic and arguably more competitive side for all of the Aquinas students. We all had a great time and we hope more teams can get involved next year!

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