The focus for our Term 2 School Development Day was to explore the question: What should children know and be able to do as a result of schooling? This question necessarily required a consideration of students’ academic and wellbeing needs, the relationship between them, and how the learning experiences of students at Manly Selective Campus can meet these needs. The professional learning activities on the day were organised and facilitated by our deputy principal, Cath Whalan, with her passion for Choice Theory and Reality Therapy, and myself, with my passion for Project Based Learning. At the end of last term, year 7 and 8 students completed a questionnaire designed to identify their individual needs based on Glasser’s theory of the five basic needs: love and belonging, power and mastery, survival and security, fun and learning, and freedom and choice. The data from this questionnaire revealed a strong need for fun and learning, and love and belonging, amongst our year 7 and 8 students. The data from the Tell Them From Me survey further supported these needs in relation to learning experiences at school.
At the very beginning of the morning session, staff completed a similar questionnaire that year 7 and 8 had completed – the staff focus was on their own needs as teachers – and Cath and I used this data to create groups for the first activity of the second session. For the rest of the first session of the day we watched the award-winning documentary Most Likely To Succeed, which explores the changing nature of our economy, how this is influencing the types of skills young people need when entering the 21st century workforce, and what this means for the type of education students are receiving at school. The film specifically focuses on the Project Based Learning model of education developed by Larry Rosenstock at High Tech High in San Diego. You can watch a trailer for the film here. I was very keen to show staff this film, as I think it authentically captures the reasons for changing the way we teach, and the way students learn.
At the beginning of the second session, Cath delivered a presentation providing an overview of our year 7 & 8 students’ needs as identified through the questionnaire data, with a comparison of girls to boys and contrasted this to that of our teachers. It was interesting to see that a large proportion of teachers had love and belonging as their number one need, with only a few identifying freedom and choice as needs. Cath spoke about the need for us as teachers to ensure that we are utilising strategies that ensure our students’ needs are met, and that in doing so we are likely to meet our own needs. Staff then worked in small groups (based on their identified ‘needs’) to discuss the ways in which the learning environment and experiences presented in the film met the needs of students (and teachers) with a specific focus on physical space, timetabling, relationships, and teaching and learning strategies. You can see the task explained a bit better on the document below – this was the activity sheet given to teachers. This activity resulted in some excellent presentations from staff of how we can adapt some of the elements of the High Tech High model to meet the academic and wellbeing needs of the gifted and talented learners at our school. I was really impressed with our staff’s super positive response to the film, and their enthusiasm for integrating elements of the HTH model at MSC.
The final session consisted of a brief presentation from me on the ways in which Project Based Learning, especially cross-curricula projects, acts as an effective framework to facilitate the application of a range of research-based gifted and talented teaching strategies and models. Most specifically Project Based Learning, with its emphasis on in-depth inquiry into real world problems, the design and creation of innovative products, and the presentation of learning for a public audience, meets all of the principles of effective differentiated instruction for gifted learners outlined by June Maker, and Sandra Kaplan. Through engaging with the scope and sequence of learning for year 7 students across all subjects, it was identified that a reduction in assessment tasks was necessary to ensure students were not being overwhelmed an excessive workload, and to also allow for a deeper appreciation of the conceptual connections between different disciplines. Teachers were then given the task of working in cross-faculty teams ‘find the connections that cut across single content areas’ (Lispon, 1993), then ideate possible cross-curricula projects that will see year 7 students working in small teams, in two or more subjects, to answer an over-arching driving question. Students will then use this knowledge and skills to create a single product and presentation for an authentic audience. Below are some of the resources that I provided staff to help them plan, as well as a copy of my PowerPoint presentation – the slides look pretty thanks to Canva.
HTs from each faculty have been set the task of developing one proposal for a cross-curricula project that connects their faculty with at least one other faculty. These proposals will be considered by myself and the PBL team, with the view to refining them to ensure that are rigorous PBL, and then to create facilitate professional learning for the teachers who will deliver the project. This is not a task we are taking lightly, and there are no plans to have teachers run projects before they can metaphorically walk. Introducing cross-curricula assessment and PBL is not a fad, it is essential for our gifted and talented learners, and as such we are committed to quality. Our School Development Day was a very big day of learning, and a testament to the commitment of our teachers to continuing to offer the very best learning experiences for our students. I am a passionate believer all students need to be engaged, challenged, feel a sense of belonging, have fun, and be given the freedom to try and fail in a positive environment – when students come each day into a learning environment like this, then they are far less likely to be at risk of mental health issues such as anxiety, or depression. In fact, this same environment is fantastic for teachers’ wellbeing too – and I’m really excited to be working with my amazing colleagues to further ensure our school is just such an environment.