Sunshine College is a four-site multi-campus operating three campuses. These cater for approximately 1030 students comprising Years 7-10, a Year 11-12 VCE campus for senior students and the Harvester Technical College catering for a Year 10-12 cohort, which focuses on trade training.
The Sunshine community is incredibly diverse, with over 50 different nationalities represented in the student cohort. The school’s ICSEA index of 939 reflects social disadvantage where 86% of the school’s families are represented nationally in the bottom two quartiles (64% and 22% respectively). The community has a strong sense of pride and identity and the school reflects this diversity with a wide range of programs aimed at fully addressing career aspirations and the learning needs of all students.
Sunshine College runs extensive programs to support “at risk students” including the operation of a deaf facility and the OASIS alternative setting. The school is accredited to take international students, attracting students predominantly from Vietnam.
The school has been mentioned in two Grattan Institute reports for its work in achieving outcomes for its community; is featured in the Victorian Auditor General’s report for its pastoral care programs; and has won recognition and awards for its work in literacy and numeracy, including the Lindsay Thompson Award for Excellence in Education at the Victorian Educational Excellence Awards.
More recently the college has adopted a strong focus on developing the skills and capabilities that will support students to become lifelong learners who are flexible and adaptable to a changing world. Leadership felt it was their responsibility as educators to help create futures by increasing career opportunities and pathways for their students.
To do this they set out to build teachers’ capacity to equip students with 21st century STEM skills, developing a whole-school approach to research and development that would drive authentic, targeted professional learning.
What happened during the project?
Sunshine College wanted to establish a culture of staff research and development. Leadership believed that staff need to experience the power of collaborative, self-directed learning to envision how they can provide the same for their students. Providing staff with the space for self-directed learning enables genuine learning experiences and has led to authentic development of their ability to utilise STEM capabilities. This has resulted in a shift in the school culture of learning.
Feedback from staff indicated they wanted more freedom to identify professional learning needs. This led to the introduction of the Sunshine College Research and Development Community. The staff formed action research teams (ARTs). They then worked collaboratively to engage in action-oriented research on a question of their choice. An action research protocol timeline was distributed. At the end of the action research cycle, ART’s presented their findings and wrote a one-page article, leading to an in-house journal of professional practice being published.
Over the course of the project the school focused on building student capacity in STEM. This began with the formation of a STEM focus group within the school’s curriculum team, and best practice research in STEM education, and led to extensive STEM units of work being developed. This included developing team taught, differentiated, project-based learning opportunities for students. A part of the process of understanding STEM teaching and learning was to map out the continuums for learning for each capability (critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and communication). The school considered how to articulate this clearly to the students. This was resolved by choosing one of the capabilities to focus on per project.
What changed for the students?
Most staff, including leadership, were involved in action research projects. As a result, more teachers are collaborating and making more data-informed decisions in their practice. Staff are now organising their professional learning time effectively. As teachers’ inquiry skills develop, so does their capacity to teach these skills.
In year one, STEM was only an elective subject at Years 9 and 10. Sunshine College then expanded the subject to include Year 8, providing more breadth in the curriculum, and will continue to modify and refine STEM units within the STEM focus group team and through teacher and student agency.
‘I did pick STEM because I love STEM. I like working in a group and being creative. I love making things that challenge me.’ – student
Students are now involved in more project-based learning. As these are capabilities-focused and delivered through team teaching, deeper learning is occurring, supported by a greater focus on inquiry, aligned to a growth mindset. Emerging technologies are increasingly embedded as tools to improve student engagement and learning outcomes.
‘In STEM classes I have learnt to be creative, to communicate with my friends and to talk to people I don’t normally talk to.’
Sunshine SC student
Where to next?
Work will continue in developing curriculum that engages students within STEM subjects and electives. There will be an ongoing focus on developing research and development skills (STEM practices) across all disciplines in the school.
Alongside preparing students for a future that will rely on capability development, the school has put a similar focus on building research and development skills in their teachers. This approach, aligned to professional learning for staff, will be an ongoing strategy.
The school will also focus on networking with feeder schools, opening their doors to the community at large, making sure their values and teaching and learning is visible and an ongoing focus for improvement.
Sunshine College learned the following were important for success:
- Clear vision – To ensure that the learning experiences were authentic, staff needed to establish a clear vision of what STEM was in the Sunshine College context as a team.
- Planning time – To provide students with learning opportunities that would develop their STEM skills, teachers needed sufficient planning time. Great curriculum takes time to prepare and requires collaboration, not to mention dedication and enthusiasm.
- Resources – To ensure the subject can be properly delivered to enhance meaningful learning and teaching, resources must be aligned to high quality curriculum.
To build teachers’ capacity in research and development, teachers were given a choice of teams and topic of investigation.
The importance of collaboration
Q&A with the School Principal Tim Blunt
Q: What has made SVA a productive partnership for your school?
SVA has facilitated support from like-minded cohorts of staff across NSW, SA and Victoria to share practice. The partnership has provided exposure and access to a wide range of resources that enabled our work.
Through conversations, provocation and access to published work, we believe our direction and approach was validated. We have increased our capacity to wonder and to think outside our bubble.
Q: Outside of SVA itself, what has been the most productive partnership you’ve developed through your SVA project? Why has it been productive?
Our SVA work in STEM across our multi-campus college led to an application for a STEM Schools Plus grant sponsored by Toyota. This project allowed our students and feeder primary school students to investigate an open-ended inquiry question in how we could solve congestion on Melbourne roads.
Students investigated flight as a strategy to improving road congestion. Using drone technology, they quickly learned that airways can be just as congested unless you program flight paths and altitudes for the drones. The project has been productive with feeder primary schools now using this curriculum to bolster STEM practices in their own schools. Toyota have funded the filming of the project.
Contribution of another school to your journey
There have been many opportunities for us to collaborate. The most helpful collaboration experiences include Professor Tom Lowrie’s paper on STEM practices; the hands-on experience at Questacon; and visiting Wallarano Primary School to see their Digital Sandpit in action.
In addition, the indirect influence of many schools and their general approach to inquiry learning helped guide our work in developing STEM curriculum, reinforcing our belief in the importance of developing STEM practices in students and staff.