I spent some time this week at one of the Google premises here in Sydney. It was a fascinating visit as I had heard so much about their workplaces and how they treat their employees. I certainly was not disappointed.
Here are a few snapshots of the Google site in Darling Harbour.
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:
- ‘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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
The final component of our Sunsprint journey is the presentation of each student’s learning journey. Over the past term all students involved in the Sunsprint Challenge have been gathering information piecing together their journey from the very start of the year until the UNSW Sunsprint Challenge last September.
This is quite a long process sorting through all the photos and videos taken throughout the construction phase. A few weeks ago all students submitted a draft presentation for viewing and feedback and are now in the process of submitting their final presentations for viewing.
For the last couple of weeks my Year 7 RE class have been using Scratch to create a dilemma story for our current unit. The boys had never used Scratch before but found it very easy to pick up after we watched a couple of short tutorials to start the process.
It has been interesting looking at them play around with the blocks to create a narrative that highlights the steps for making a correct moral decision. The boys have worked in groups with each student creating part of the narrative. The goal is to bring all the parts together in one presentation. This is a complicated process and at this stage only one group has managed to work out the process.
Here is a small sample of one presentation being worked on. The final presentations will be added shortly.
Again this year we are trying to further develop our PBL program in Year 7. This is our fourth year using the same format and the same period allocation. Two periods per fortnightly cycle with a ‘matrix’ style grouping of activities.
There has been a conscious effort this year to move the activities into a format that reflects the fundamental approach of PBL. The idea of a ‘driving question’ accompanied by a ‘learning journey reflection’ for each activity has certainly moved the program forward.
One activity that remains a constant is the involvement in the ‘UNSW Sunsprint Challenge’. This is a true PBL activity and it is a surprise more schools do not involve themselves in the Challenge.
Our two Year 7 teams are on track in terms of planning and preparation. Construction of the cars will begin in a couple of weeks. The planning and preparation is essential to ensure time is not wasted further down the track.
One of the aspects of the task students struggle with is working effectively as a team. The ability to assign roles and then listen to each other’s ideas is one of the most important aspects of the Challenge.
The Challenge is complex and requires each person to contribute equally. At this stage both teams have concept designs and have started building prototypes from cardboard.
To keep up with the latest information on all our teams participating in 2015 go to our Sunsprint blog.