Engineers Without Borders

Source: Engineers Without Borders

One of our initiatives for 2017 has been to increase the opportunities for our students to be involved in both STEM and STEAM activities that link to real world problems.

The visit by the Engineers Without Borders students from UNSW was an excellent example of the type of projects we are looking to link with. The students worked across all Year 8 Science classes.

Each of the classes had a group of four engineering students to explain the project. They provided background information around a scenario faced by people who live in some of the poorest regions of our planet before going on to explain the challenge for the day.

From there the class was divided into groups, taking on the challenge with limited equipment. Each group had to use a range of skills to come up with a design that could withstand the test they would face at the end of the session.

The test involved placing their construction into a container of water and filling it with marbles. The construction that stayed afloat under the greatest weight was deemed the most successful.

This type of activity connects the students with real world situations faced by people around the planet. They are authentic learning experiences, enabling the students to see the importance of collaboration and communication in the learning process.



Innovating learning environments: 4 ways to think about sustaining change

This is a great post that reflects on how to approach innovation in schools. The garden analogy is just perfect.

anne knock

We love the photos of cool learning spaces with funky furniture They are captivating, inspiring, but it is impossible to know the full story from a tweeted photo. Recently I’ve had numerous opportunities to talk about the context for change and  several resonating themes are emerging around people and change:

  • That chair/table/tech won’t be the silver bullet
  • It’s just like Maslow’s Hierarchy
  • How does your garden grow?
  • This is just the tip of the iceberg

30289155395_85ce26a053_o.jpg Photo credit: Derek Bartels

That chair/table/tech won’t be the silver bullet

When I walk around our school with groups, they take notice of the elements, the physical designs, the furniture and configuration of spaces. One thing that people notice in innovative learning environments (ILEs) is the lack of, or perhaps different thinking around, the teacher’s desk. At NBCS, we have ‘caddies’ in our learning spaces that serve the purpose of storage and provide a stand-up place for student-teacher chat…

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Collective Teacher Efficacy: The power of more-than-just one

anne knock

Sometimes I feel like I’m learning a new language. Beside me as I work I have a thick research methodology book to clarify ‘phenomenology’ and ‘epistemology’. There is also Prof Google to double-check new words I come across, not assuming that I know what ‘extant’ or ‘reflexive’ actually mean, or for looking up new words like ‘polyvalent’ (
effective against, sensitive toward, or counteracting more than one toxin, microorganism, or antigen) and ‘attenuated’ (To reduce in force, value, amount, or degree; weaken; diminish). So when I started reading about ‘collective teacher efficacy’ I wanted to make sure I knew exactly what it meant.

img_3001This weekend I have been exploring the idea moving beyond teacher efficacy, and considering the power of a faculty or team of teachers. Teacher efficacy is the capacity of a teacher to believe they can positively  influence the learning outcomes of their students (Goddard, 1990 -reference below). The…

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Most Likely to Succeed

I was very fortunate to view the movie, ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ last Monday. It looks at the state of education in the US, in particular what is happening at schools like High Tech High in San Diego. It also takes into consideration the changing nature of work in the 21st Century and what impact that is having on the value of a College degree.

High Tech High is one of a number of schools in the US that use a PBL or CBL approach to learning. As I was watching I started thinking about the obstacles that stop schools from going down the same road. Why have so few schools in Australia moved towards this type of learning? Marist Parramatta are one school that has taken the leap of faith and embraced this style of learning. This has been primarily due to the drive and vision of Br Pat Howlett.

Br Pat’s journey has been one of constantly looking for better ways to do things. In his days as Principal at Marcellin College, Br Pat was always thinking about the future. His building program involved creating a ‘learning centre’ that was really a centre of innovation well before anyone had termed that phrase.

It is pointless creating innovative learning spaces and then not investing the same amount of money ensuring teachers know how to use them. Br Pat realised this was an essential component of the process, and through his brilliant entrepreneurial skills, he was able to raise enough money to send a team of teachers to the US.

There are very few leaders who could do what Br Pat did. To take a very traditional systemic school and transform it into a 21st Century vision for learning requires someone of great strength to overcome the many barriers staff, parents and systems place before you.

So what are the obstacles and where do they come from?

There are way too many to list but some I have heard most often are:

  1. ‘We tried this in the 80’s and it didn’t work.’ Usually this comes from older staff who quite rightly are pessimistic when it comes to changes in pedagogy. They have usually seen a lot of ideas come and go, and as we have always come back to a traditional model of teaching, they feel this is the safest and most successful model of teaching. It is a tried and proven method for most students so why change? Resistance to change is one of the biggest obstacles.
  2. Parents want the best possible education for their children. They are very suspicious of anything that does not resemble the type of education they had. As there is very little longitudinal data about the value of a PBL approach, it is hard for anyone to say that PBL is a better approach to learning than more traditional proven methods.
  3. Students are sometimes the most conservative when it comes to school. They expect to have content delivered to them by a teacher standing at the front of the classroom. Having to make decisions on their learning, working in groups, presenting to an audience are all aspects of the PBL approach that students find quite confronting. Some can find this very stressful and believe this type of approach is not ‘teaching’. They would much prefer to be ‘sponges’ because it requires little effort and thought.
  4. Systems can on one hand be actively encouraging a more ‘student-centred’ approach  in their schools while working against this process by over-burdening schools with endless compliance documentation.

So where to from here? How can a systemic school incorporate a PBL approach successfully? Well that is something for a future post!