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!

 

Maths Assessment Task

Having recently completed the Year 8 Assessment Task in our Year 8 Maths classes it is time to reflect on how well the process went.

My class is the bottom class of five classes in Year 8. Being a relatively small group this means the students who find Maths a challenge are able to get more individual time during classes. This model has been very successful at the College and while these types of classes can prove a ‘challenge’ in terms of behaviour and motivation with the right teachers involved they can also be very rewarding experiences for both teacher and student.

I am very fortunate to have a wonderful group of boys in my Year 8 class who are all keen to improve their skills in Maths. They work hard and always try their best in every task so they were very keen to do well in this task given it gave them a different way of demonstrating their learning. They also felt less ‘test pressure’. Having done the pre task they all felt confident that they could undertake the task and do a good job.

The assessment task went well. The boys came in and sat at their allocated desks. They were given an A4 sheet of grid paper and the shapes they were to cut out had been part of the Google Slide presentation shared with them just before the period.

Once they had cut out their shapes they got straight to the task. They had to create 20 questions relating to the shapes they had cut out and then provide answers by manipulating, measuring, combining or transforming the shapes they had cut out. It was very interesting watching them negotiate the task and struggle with creating their own questions.

Maths Assessment Pre Task

This year our Maths department desided to make a major change to the way we assess students in Maths. Previously all assessments have been in the form of formal examinations across Years 7 to 12. This year both Year 11 and Year 8 will complete one assessment in a different format.

We are currently in the process of working through the Term 3 assessment task for Year 8. The task is built around the completion of a ‘polygon puzzle’ using the iPads and Google Slides.


The first phase of the assessment involved three periods of teacher directed instruction. This involved working through three exercises from the text to ensure the students had background knowledge to enable them to engage with the task.

Phase two was a group task involving teams of four students completing a ‘polygon puzzle’ and an associated ‘learning log’. This was in effect a ‘trial run’ for the formal assessment task. The students used their iPads and Google Slides to complete the task. While the task was completed in groups each student had to complete an individual Google Slide presentation.

The Google Slide presentation had been created by our Maths Coordinator and shared with the students via Teacher Dashboard which is a facility that sits alongside Google apps. Each teacher is able to access individual presentations and make comments directly in the Google Slide presentation providing feedback to students on their efforts.

  

This part of the task proved very effective and put the students in a good position to complete the formal assessment task. This component of the task was worth 5 marks which ensured all students made an effort to do their best and complete all parts of this first section.