“A teacher does not need to teach everything.”
– Gavin Hays
Welcome back for the review series from FutureSchools 2016. If you missed the previous article, you can find it here. This article will focus on the presentations by Gavin Hays and Jill Margerson, taking this series through to the afternoon break of day two. I have to admit that I entered this third session rather numb, mentally, feeling a touch of conference-itis, that sensation of having heard too many ideas and struggling to process them all. It still amazes me the number of people who sit there and do not appear top be taking any form of notes for later reflection, whether it be manual with a notebook and pen, or digital via some form of word processing app or Live-Tweeting. I would be lost without my notebook, but then, as the saying goes, different strokes for different folks.
Gavin Hays (@gavhays) is from the Parramatta Marist High School and was speaking under the title PBL and STEM Mashup. Gavin began by speaking about how they had implemented Project Based Learning (PBL1) across Years Seven to Nine and then Problem Based Learning (PBL2) across Years Ten to Twelve.
Gavin spoke about how PBL1 and PBL2 are both based around three key skills (top row in the PBL Jigsaw) that are supported by three attributes. Projects require authenticity, but this not necessarily mean based in the real-world or their local context, it means real and of significance to the students in some way. Limited PBL learning to the local context limits the scope of problems and projects. It was also discussed how groups are formed, sometimes teacher assigned, sometimes student formed, and that group roles are allocated, again, either by the teacher or determined within the group, as that is a realistic function of how groups often function in real-world contexts.
The second attribute that is required is that there should be active exploration involved, that it should generate wonder and curiosity and focus, acting as a springboard for possibilities rather than a ceiling for activities. Gavin stressed the point here that the teacher does not need to teach everything, that students do need to grapple with learning and pushing through struggles.
Gavin then spoke about how they felt that they needed to explicitly teach the STEM content up front and how over time they eventually learned to trust their program and teachers were adding in the STEM content, concepts and skills organically. Students need to get to the point of frustration, and teachers need to provide scaffolding to allow them move beyond that, however that does not mean the scaffolding is provided immediately, at all times. There needs to be an opportunity for students to, potentially, work through something on their own. They found that students would often need three to four years to properly embed the attributes and skills that were being taught.
The skill of collaboration did need to be explicitly taught, including how to manage differences within a group, assign roles, set deadlines and that over the four year program, students would complete in the vicinity of one hundred and eighty projects and that it was early in Year Eight where students seemed to connect the dots with group management, task delegation and deadlines and the impact that those skills could have on the final product.
This led to a discussion about communication and how students needed to learn to communicate with each other and also with the whole cohort, which was facilitated through the requirement for a presentation of projects, with the audience expected to listen and ask probing questions, forcing the presenters to really know and engage with their product and the skills and concepts underpinning it in order to be able to answer questions on the fly and with confidence.
STEM was additionally offered as an elective subject and was underpinned by a driving question which would necessitate being chunked for easier engagement, and assessment of the underlying problems and issues but that these driving questions would require significant understanding of a variety of concepts and skills across a range of curriculum areas and that the final design was first prototyped and tested, refined, re-prototyped, retested and then the final product produced.
Gavin’s final point was that we, and our students, need to continue learning, always, as life never stops teaching, which was a sage point to finish on.
I will halt this article there as it is Friday afternoon and I am still at school rather late and I very much want to go home. I will endeavour to get the next article, finishing out session three, tomorrow at some point. Until then, as always, thank you for reading.