Saturday, 17 June 2017

Think, Create, Connect Maker Camp Day

Students in Stage 3 partnered with groups of students from St. George Christian School and St. Finbar’s Primary School for a Think, Create, Connect Maker Camp Day.

During this event we learnt many new skills and thought like 'makers'. We learnt about risk-taking, imagination, wonder and design thinking. Through collaboration we were able to feedforward ideas and see our blueprints become a reality.

Students engaged in activities such as Arduino programming where they created light shows, with varied success, on iconic Australian architecture. Other activities included bridge building with straws, Morse code and a SOLE asking "Why do living things need light to survive?" Some groups were involved with making electronic arcade or board games using Makey Makey's and some made moving electronic robots using cardboard boxes.

The day was a lot of fun; however, many of us had time in the “pit of frustration” when technology just was not working the way it was meant to! It's all part of the learning process.

Posted by Brian Host







Sunday, 4 June 2017

Personal Passion Projects as Homework

Everyone has things they're passionate about. I know when I love to do something, no one has to make me do it! I enjoy spending time doing those things and as a bonus it lifts my mood. So when I heard about the concept of using Passion Projects with students, I knew it was good idea. Allowing students time to explore their passions, learn something new and be supported to work to a long-term deadline? Fabulous!

Passion Projects are open-ended and suit each individual. Students choose what they want to focus on and are free to choose whatever they like. The aim is for students to learn something new - skills, knowledge, understanding - and as a bonus they get to decide what that will be. Along the way they will hopefully learn about managing their time effectively, how to overcome setbacks and even how to learn something new. Accountability is built in to assist students to manage the process. The culmination of the Passion Projects is a presentation about what students have learned. This may involve sharing a completed product (or a half-finished one!) but may not. The important thing is for students to share their successes and failures and describe what they learned from the process.

The curriculum is so full. We have so much teaching and learning to fill our days with where would we find the time to try out Passion Projects? After attending a Teach Meet at the Opera House a few years ago I heard Henrietta Miller from Roseville College speak about using Passion Projects for Homework. Brilliant!

We trialled it for the first time last year. It was amazing and we definitely wanted to run it again. We decided to start the year with Personal Passion Projects for Homework. We scaffolded the process by building in deadlines along the way. We all know some students will leave things to the last minute so we made it more manageable by requiring certain elements to be completed at certain points in the process. Students had something to "hand in" each week and were held accountable to that. The final product was to be presented at the beginning of Term 2.

It's pretty essential to have parental support when completing a project as big as this one. Students were required to consult with parents and teachers when choosing their projects. It's no good choosing to train a puppy if you don't have one and parents don't want to get one! This allows each child and parent to negotiate a project that will work for them as a family. One added bonus of Passion Projects has been the time some students have spent learning from and with family members.

You can see the results of this year's Passion Projects on our blog. The range of projects was as  diverse as the learners themselves! Parents and friends came to see the final presentations. It had a carnival atmosphere as we celebrated the learning that had taken place.


We also surveyed Year 6 students since they'd done the Passion Project last year. Was it something we should only do once or was it worth repeating? Did students think it was worthwhile? You can see the results below. 73% of students enjoyed doing the project again. 76% could explain what they'd learned. Two thirds thought we should do the Passion Projects again.


I'm convinced Passion Projects are a fabulous learning experience. Even when the final product isn't what students hoped it might be. Perhaps especially then.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Cross-stage Literacy Groups

This term we've decided to make cross-stage Literacy groups. We have organised four classes into six groups - one enrichment group, one support group and three 'core' groups which are mixed ability. The final group is a secondary enrichment group. We identified a large cohort of students who were operating at a high level for Literacy but were not able to be put into the enrichment group. We grouped them together so they can be stretched.

Our rationale for doing this:
1. Research has shown benefits for grouping high ability and low ability students together to enable their distinctive needs to be met. These groups tend to be smaller in size - between 10-16 students. There is not much benefit in grading students who are 'in the middle' so they are split between three core groups who are of similar ability.
2.  Splitting four classes into six groups allows us to make the groups smaller. This in turn allows the teachers to be more responsive to the needs of the students in their groups by tailoring the activities accordingly.

We've only just begun but the feedback from teachers so far is positive. The support students have the curriculum adjusted to accommodate their needs and a Teacher's Aide also working alongside the teacher.

The extension group and the group of students to be stretched have also begun working together with the teachers co-teaching the larger group. Previously the Extension Group had three different teachers due to timetable constraints but the co-teaching brings greater continuity to the group with at least one teacher who is present for every lesson. It allows the different teachers to use their strengths. It also serves to spur students on to learn and do their very best, while simultaneously diluting the "elitism" that can arise amongst extension students.

This grouping has already allowed us to differentiate an assessment task. The task involved analysing part of a poem to summarise the meaning and identify figurative language. The support group was given more lead up time prior to the task and less verses of the poem to analyse.

Another unintended consequence has been the need to create a new space for the sixth group. We had five spaces pretty ready to use but needed a sixth to accommodate all the groups. We moved some furniture around and created  small nook for the support group to use. This space has proved very popular with students at other times of the day. We also had to locate a sixth screen as our programs depend on access to technology!



Sunday, 2 April 2017

Term 1 Reflections

It's nearly the end of our first term in our new space. It's been an amazing but also quite an exhausting experience! It seems like a good time to reflect on what we've learned so far... Many of these are not new, just important to remember!

  • Students need structures and boundaries. When you take out the physical boundaries (like walls!) you need to provide new kinds of boundaries (like clear expectations and routines). 
  • Working together doesn't mean being the same. We're not clones of each other. In fact, it's our differences and individual strengths that are of most value in our team work. This is true of teachers and students.
  • Communication is VITAL. To stay on the same page requires conscious effort and a constant flow of discussion - both formal and informal.
  • Manage the new until it's normalised. For example, we found many students needed to be assigned seats at first as the amount of change and choice involved in the new space was overwhelming. Now students are more accustomed to the space they no longer need this structure and are well able to choose the best place to work. We found we needed a roster to fairly share and manage the use of different types of furniture. Hopefully soon this will not be needed as students will be able to discern whether a certain type of furniture is beneficial for their learning at a particular time.
  • Hasten slowly. Too much change all at once is stressful. Choose the most important aspects to change at the beginning and keep other aspects familiar and similar to past experiences. Then as the 'new' becomes familiar you can change something else. Keep changing things slowly like this and you'll have manageable change with (hopefully) lower stress. 
  • Make time to pause and reflect. You don't want change for the sake of it, or worse, change that takes you in the wrong direction! It's important to review and reflect on the impact of the changes and revise if necessary. It can be very powerful to ask the students for feedback. That's one reason we introduced the furniture roster - students asked for it.



Saturday, 11 March 2017

The Importance of Student Agency

One of the school's priority areas as identified in our Strategic Direction document reads:

"TO DEVELOP STUDENT AGENCY IN THEIR LEARNING, AS EXPRESSED IN THE LEARNER PROFILE Students are active participants in their learning, not passive recipients. The LP describes the non-cognitive capabilities that will enable young people to thrive as life-long learners."

Quite a big task! In stage 3 we've moved away from traditional classrooms and we need to establish new ways of working within an open-plan space. One of the ways we're seeking to do this is to develop student agency, that is, helping students take responsibility for their own learning. It's a work in progress. At the moment we're finding students require more structure to help them navigate the open-plan space than may have been necessary in a traditional classroom. We are having to teach students how to work in this space even as we figure it out for ourselves.







Students are trying out different types of furniture and different spaces for learning. Part of our job as teachers is to encourage and make time for students to reflect on this process. What helps individual students learn and what is just a distraction? The novelty of "new" furniture is starting to wear off and students are more able to choose what works best for them instead of choosing what is new for the sake of it. As teachers and students reflect on this together and unpack it, student agency is developed. Students are equipped to make good choices for themselves rather than being "managed" by the teacher. Some students adapt to this more quickly than others - we all have differing strengths and needs!


Saturday, 25 February 2017

Settling into the Space


As at the beginning of every new year we have spent time setting up routines and expectations. We've done this as a team, with reflection on what's working and what needs tweaking. An example is we introduced gym balls into the space. The philosophy is they allow students who need to move to move while they're working. It increases productivity and engagement by allowing movement. We found this to be highly successful last year when we trialled using them in our classrooms. We didn't explain. The gym balls just appeared and students began to use them. Almost straight away it became clear that supply did not meet demand! We organised more gym balls and also set some ground rules to manage the supply/demand discrepancy. We reiterated our expectations about respect for the learning, for each other and for the space. In practice this required students to share the gym balls, use them respectfully and not allow them to be a distraction from learning. Some students were required to take a break from using them as they did not meet these expectations. We are also currently introducing a roster system for the gym balls requiring students to nominate a session they'd like to use them in an attempt to share them more fairly.







We've also noticed Year 5 in particular taking longer to adjust to the new ways of working and learning. It's a big change from Year 4 especially in terms of what is expected of students and the independence skills required. We plan to record areas Year 5 students are finding challenging so we can work with Year 4 students to prepare them to move into the space next year. One example would be students choosing their own seats. We introduced this from day one but both Year 5 home teachers found it necessary in Week 2 to assign students to set seats. Students were choosing poorly and it was affecting their learning. We used the mantra "with freedom comes responsibility". If students showed they were not responsible with their freedom it would be removed for a time to help them understand. This has worked well and students are now choosing their own seats again with much greater success.

We've found that because we started using many of these processes last year in preparation for this space that Year 6 have coped very well with the move. They are already familiar with expectations and many routines like homework. It would be good if we could find a way to tap into this expertise to assist Year 5 students.






Friday, 10 February 2017

A New Year Begins

After years of thinking and preparation, school visits and seeing what's possible, reading and reflecting the journey takes a new turn. This week, the first week of a new school year, we entered the new space, the top floor of a purpose-designed building. We have a cavernous space with beautiful new furniture. Desks like petals that fit together in various interesting shapes or can be pulled apart and used individually. Comfortable chairs and a curved lounge that invites you into it's embrace. It's been built well and we're ready to move in!






The teaching team is also ready. We've worked hard to prepare for this moment. We've learned a lot on our journey so far about sharing ideas and opinions, speaking honestly but kindly and sharing expertise. We've refined a way of programming that includes learning intentions, success criteria and learning destinations (assessments) to guide us as we teach lessons. This continues to evolve. We document reflections on each lesson in our own colour straight onto the shared program for all to see. We spend time talking about how our lessons went, any issues and what we're up to next. We share the preparation of resources and programs. We plan and share the teaching of lessons as we co-teach.

Almost everyone in the school comes to visit! We've all watched and lived through the 12 month process of this building rising up from below ground level. Now we all want to see what it's like. Teachers, admin assistants, parents and students alike all gasp in amazement. They all want to know how this will work?? The Principal wanders through, just observing his dream unfold. He has worked hard to make this a reality and he savours the moment.

The children arrive and we take them elsewhere to prepare for entering the space. We know it is overwhelming at first. We run the Compass Points thinking routine - What do you kNow about being in Stage 3? What are you Worried about? What are you Excited about? What is your Stance/belief about being in Stage 3? We don't make it about the building because it's not. It's about the learning that will occur there. The space is a tool and it can be a distraction at first. The students share the usual concerns  and excitements - we're excited about Camp and moving into the Learning Centre. We're worried about not keeping up and moving into the Learning Centre! We allay their fears and build their excitement - we're excited too! Then, finally, we go in.

Students put their bags in the bag boxes then we're straight into it. Our principal has suggested three guidelines for class expectations: respect for each other; respect for learning; respect for the space. What does this mean? What does it look like? We brainstorm in home classes then come together as a stage to consolidate our ideas, to build a shared understanding. It's really all about the learning.