The ‘Mount Burr cluster’ is a group of small country schools approximately 400 kms south-east of Adelaide, which includes Mount Burr Primary School, Nangwarry Primary School, Beachport Primary School and Glencoe Central Primary School. They individually have student populations of between 45 to 69 students ranging from Preschool to Year 7. There is an index of disadvantage ranging from categories 2 to 5, with ICSEA between 877-972.
Due to the size and location of the schools, it is challenging for students to work outside of their silo. Students and school communities are geographically, socially and technologically isolated which impacts on future aspirations and academic success. All schools identified a desire to improve student and community resilience through collaboration, critical and creative thinking. In order to achieve their vision of improving school community aspirations as global citizens who see themselves as a learning community where everyone is a learner, teacher and leader, the cluster focused on building student agency and inquiry.
At Nangwarry PS they were internally focused, and students were not engaged in external activities. At Glencoe Central PS, students were engaged in external activities, but didn’t have agency in their learning. At Mt Burr PS students did have agency in their learning but were not collaborating outside of the school. It was identified that students had limited experiences to draw from when talking about their futures.
The Mount Burr cluster aimed to give students in small regional schools experiences to broaden their concept of the future, including self-efficacy and identifying and relating STEM to future learning; experiences to learn and practice skills in the critical, creative, personal and social capabilities; opportunities to collaborate with a broader range of students including peer mentoring; and opportunities to articulate learning in a purposeful manner.
Equally, they wanted to give staff opportunities to collaborate, mentoring opportunities in STEM at sites in the partnership and a central learning hub to allow communication across sites for staff and students.
Mount Burr cluster’s goals when starting the project were:
- Students understand the broader world and thus have greater options in study, career and life.
- Students, staff and parents see themselves, and are perceived, as a learning community where every person is valued as a learner, teacher and leader.
- Students will be more prepared for transition from preschool to primary school and from primary school to secondary school.
What happened during the project?
Mount Burr cluster investigated opportunities that would embed student agency throughout STEM-focused pedagogies. They were involved in First Lego League, collaborative projects, student-led workshops, student-led STEM learning, Google for Education (connectedness), and industry partner projects.
Schools decided to use the Lego League as a launch point for working together which helped build lines of communication and professional relationships between students and teachers, and allowed students to effectively collaborate with a range of people, including those with dissimilar backgrounds. As a result, students have had the opportunity to be part of a range of projects which helped them to improve self-efficacy in STEM learning and the critical and creative, and personal and social capabilities.
Critical and creative thinking
Schools acknowledged that students were given opportunities to engage in critical and creative learning, however they were not achieving their potential. They identified that they needed to explicitly teach students how to effectively collaborate instead of engaging in group work, and articulate and justify choices while reflecting on their ideas. This was important with familiar peers before asking them to collaborate with others. Students were upskilled with the design thinking process, using the curriculum to identify STEM outcomes within a project and scaffolded reflection and justification of ideas.
Personal and social capabilities
Students were given opportunities to share ideas and give feedback to peers from other sites, which helped them develop a sense of value surrounding collaboration and articulation in their learning. For the first time in the region, students attended training and development workshops with teachers to learn about the First Lego League. Students interacted with others from similar-sized sites, allowing them to practice the skills that had been intentionally taught in a safe environment and share ideas. Students then had the chance to work alongside their teachers to learn and co-design what learning could look like in their classroom.
STEM collaborative projects
Years 5-8 students were involved in collaborating with students from local schools both in the cluster and outside of The Connection on STEM-based projects. The aim of the project was to improve self-efficacy in STEM-related subjects with a focus on student and teacher collaboration. It was evident that there was a disconnect between teaching pedagogy in primary and high school settings, and students became disengaged in STEM-related subjects in the upper years. Teachers were given access to personal development as well as collaboration with similar year levels which is not possible in a small site. ￼External evaluators noted an improvement in engagement and achievement for students, especially when they were involved in the projects over multiple years. Year 8 teachers saw significant differences in students who had not been in the project when they entered Year 8, especially with their ability to effectively collaborate, articulate learning choices and levels of independence with student-led learning.
The significant learning was that the language of learning and scaffolded student agency in the project remained due to the process put in place by the teachers in the initial year. The pilot program is now being used in other sites due to its success.
Students were involved in industry partner projects allowing them to solve authentic problems with a focus on STEM-related subjects and including HASS and English. Industry posed problems, allowing students to collaborate, and link curriculum learning to future work and career opportunities. They became proficient with design thinking and design fluency to solve problems.
Nangwarry PS has also connected with other local schools in the region to engage in collaborative STEM learning which will be extended into 2020. Teachers identified engagement yet lack of learning rigour and depth in subjects in the first year. The interdisciplinary units became more focused, allowing for depth of knowledge and achievement from students.
For the past two years, student-led STEM interdisciplinary inquiry projects have also been a focus in the R-4 classes. Mt Burr PS created a developmental scope and sequence in STEM for pre-school to 7. The R-4 students engage in student agency with learning through their inquiry and problem solving. They inquire, research, access experts and create a final product. Projects have included creating a bee garden and bee hotel, pitching to council about why a public indoor pool is needed in Millicent, identifying and making suggestions to improvements in the town. All projects are multi-term and interdisciplinary.
Google for Education
One of the barriers for the schools was distance and connectedness with others. The cluster identified Google for Education as a tool to enable students to connect across sites when face-to-face collaboration was not possible. Cross-site classrooms were used for collaboration, communication and feedback. Teachers use shared drives to share and collaboratively plan without having to be in the same room/site.
Another way for students to connect with other schools was to hold personal development workshops. Mt Burr students co-planned and designed workshops for students and teachers from schools both in the cluster and outside of The Connection, with a focus on digital technology and how it can be taught and integrated into cross-curriculum areas. Students used a modified learning design framework to plan workshops. They co-presented with teachers sharing the learning they had achieved, ￼using the technology and how they had collected evidence of their learning and achievement. Students ran workshops on Makey Makey, EV3 Lego Robotics, Tinkercad 3D printing software and Probots. Students and teachers learned how to use the technology and completed activities that were linked to and could be assessed in multiple learning areas. The teachers and students used the learning design framework to co-plan how the learning could be adapted and used in their own setting.
Due to the success of the personal development workshops, Mt Burr PS teacher Lisa Scott and upper primary students were invited to present and run workshops for teachers and students as part of the Naracoorte STEM Expo. The focus was on reflective practices, co-designing learning and ￼student lead evidence for learning. The workshops again had a digital technology focus and links to a range of curriculum areas.
These experiences have positively impacted students as they have learned to articulate learning experiences. Students have learned to answer questions “unscripted” and have confidence to work with teachers and students in unfamiliar contexts. They have been challenged outside of their small communities, reflecting on the learning at a small site and how this is positive/different to other schools.
Students of all ages also have the opportunity to run workshops within Mt Burr PS on their area of expertise. For example, students earn badges as digital ninjas and then run a workshop to teach others to help them gain a badge.
What changed for the students?
Teacher collaboration within and across sites has built a consistent language of learning leading to enhanced pedagogy in all the cluster schools. This has raised expectations of student achievement and teacher practice. Likewise, cross-site collaboration between and among staff and students has motivated students to strive for academic success and set higher expectations of themselves as learners.
Over the duration of the project, improved student voice in learning has been demonstrated by student-led workshops and the co-construction of learning between students and educators. Students have also been provided with multiple opportunities to present in different contexts and articulate their learning, including via SVA workshops such as Samsung Smart School in Adelaide, partnership meetings, and the STEM expo at Naracoorte Primary School.
Through consistent, authentic tasks and projects, and the use of a variety of technology to enhance learning, students have developed essential skills, capabilities and independence in STEM-related practice. This has been supported by industry partnerships and problem-solving local community issues, for example developing a heat sensor warning app to address the issue of house fires in Mount Burr. As a result, the cluster has seen improved self-efficacy and academic outcomes.
Students engage more deeply in their learning, collaborating and using their design thinking, inquiry and critical and creative thinking skills to problem solve. Reflection Journals have also encouraged students to reflect on their learning, justify their choices, develop new ideas and question what they know and what they need to know. Their development in this regard is evidenced by their improved performance in the First Lego League, resulting in two schools being invited to compete at the national championships.
Broadening students’ outlook beyond their small rural communities has enabled students to build friendships across sites, share ideas, learn new skills, expand their knowledge and raise their future ambitions.
Where to next?
Plans for the cluster schools moving forward including pursuing opportunities to develop reflective, self-motivated learners by providing broad experiences both within the site and in the wider community outside of their small communities. This includes linking with industry and future careers and opportunities for students and staff to attend events, such as Vivid Sydney last year, courtesy of Samsung Electronics Australia.
The schools will continue to support student voice, goal setting and collaborating with a view to sustaining momentum and doing “more of the good work”. Further improving participation and performance in the First Lego League will remain a priority, as will using Google classroom more widely and sharing practice outside the partnership and Hub.
The Mount Burr cluster learned the following were important to success:
- Connectivity – Students can be connected without being face-to-face using, for example, Google for Education and products like Google Slides and Google Drives to share learning, ideas and contribute collaboratively. Connectivity is especially vital in small rural settings where students and teachers are unable to easily connect with peers and others in a variety of situations.
- Partnerships – Building relationships with industry to give students authentic context and being able to transfer explicitly taught skills into solving real-world problems (this has been enhanced after visiting John Goh School in Sydney).
- Sharing – Collaborating with other low SES sites and sharing best practice, innovation strategies and challenges overcome provides valuable input for helping schools to engage students, learn new methods and “shortcut” the journey.
- Multi-age learning – It’s important to work with students across academic Year levels. This ensures students are skilled in critical and creative thinking skills and the ability to articulate their learning and that these skills and capabilities are maintained with future cohorts.
The importance of collaboration
Q&A with the School Principal
Q: What has made SVA a productive partnership for your school?
As a STEM Lead school we see our partnership with SVA as an opportunity to engage and upskill educators through self-reflection and challenge, and to further support our students to become powerful learners who can articulate and co-construct their learning and think critically and creatively to pose and solve authentic problems.
The relationship has provided connections with schools both within SA, but also outside of the state, to share best practice and success stories and see “excellence” in action with other SES schools with similar contexts. It has given us access to high profile educators and experts within the profession that a rural partnership could not gain without support.
We’ve had support to create a vision and a platform for leaders and teachers to come together from sites within our partnership to work towards a common goal for our students, collaborating with staff from a range of sites and experiences. Meanwhile, our students have had opportunities to be part of presentations to teachers from across the country and have a voice and say in their learning through student-led workshops and co-planning learning with educators.
Q: Outside of SVA itself, what has been the most productive partnership you’ve developed through your SVA project? Why has it been productive?
Beyond Samsung, the key connections made through our partnership with SVA were with other schools. Industry links were made through our own local community. This is something that we would continue to look at though as we are looking at broadening outside our local community for e
Contribution of another school to your journey
SVA connections and partnerships have enhanced the collaborative project because we have taken practice back from other schools that we may not have connected with otherwise, for example Wirreanda High School, Prospect North Primary School and Morphett Vale Primary School.
Mt Burr PS has connected with Prospect North PS on numerous occasions and had the opportunity to take all our staff to their site for a visit. This was tailored to our needs and allowed us to see how another low SES site with a focus on STEM and student agency engaged learners. We have adapted project nests, digital ninjas, student wellbeing, student agency with student-led workshops and self-regulated learners to our site and context. This work has allowed our students to be further engaged, to self-regulate their learning and have aspirations to be dedicated learners and has given them the vision and desire to be involved in creating workshops and presenting to students from other schools.
Glencoe PS, meanwhile, adapted an idea from a Thought Leadership Gathering (TLG) presentation from Morphett Vale PS on student agency within a learning design framework, and are using “Lead Learners” to engage leaders in their site. Leaders are “in charge” of leading different projects within the school.