Teaching…resumes and interviews and judgements…oh my

We’ve been warned.  The silly season is starting.

The time when, as a new school, we will take on new staff.  All of these decisions and discussions and resumes and interviews (oh my) have made me think about what I want in a teacher that works at St Luke’s.

Because realistically, when you think about it, every time we employ new staff, we make a judgement. A judgement based on a few essential things: a person’s reputation, evidenced by their references, and the way that members of the community at large speak about them (and we all know that education is a very small world), their resume, and a 40 minute (max) interview. Coming from someone that has a decent resume, an okay reputation, and ridiculously bad interview skills (shuddering as memories come upon me from my own St Lukes’ interview where I delved into my traditional language of the western suburbs), I know that we make judgements on these things, but you can’t base a quality teacher on a 40 minute interview. So, what do you do, what can you ask?

Some schools make teachers do a lesson (becuase that’s really realistic with the principal sitting in the class), some ask about potential connections, or about what they’ve last read, made, or their opinions on the syllabus….but how can you judge quality by any of these means?

But firstly, with all of the ability to bring what you want into a job description, that someone will take hours to painstakingly perfect, and all of our measuring against the professional standards, what do we really want from great teachers?

I started this blog post wanting to talk about how teachers needed to know their stuff (their content) but more importantly (coming from the method lecturer), the importance of the method of teaching. This is where specialist teachers (whether primary or secondary) really have it over non-specialist teachers….it’s not really about knowing the content, it’s about knowing what is best practice in the teaching pedagogy of that content…..which in order to understand the method, you must know the content.

Then, I was going to discuss the power of community engagement, through things like your professional networks (www.acce2018.com.au….register), parents and the greater community.

Finally, I was going to talk about how what’s really important is that we understand students and their learning.

Then, I realised that actually, smarter people than me have done this already…The professional standards tell us that we know what we want: we want teachers with professional knowledge, the ability to teach it (professional practice) and the ability to engage in their learning and the community (professional engagement).

And all of these are really important….and really do actually sum up what great teaching is about.

But what I really want is what I hope that most teachers come to us with: the realisation that the heart of everything that we do is about kids.

That we teach 12 year olds.  Or 6 year olds. Or 9 year olds. Or 18 year olds.

And, after the night that I just had, where my 12 year old was asked on Sunday if he needed to print his art assignment (no) to Tuesday night waiting in line at officeworks to end up buying an A3 printer because it’s due tomorrow and wanting to kill him because he’s playing Fortnite while I lug a printer from the car to the house, I realise that this is the important thing.

We teach 12 year olds.

They’re disorganised, rude, kind of smelly, do stupid things, forget assignments, swing on chairs, lose hats, they leave their sheets behind, they laugh when the toilet flushes overhead. Sometimes they do really stupid things.

But it’s our job to realise that they’re 12.

And it’s our job to teach them to be organised. To have the conversation to find out why they’re not doing the work. Why they are forgetting assignments, doing stupid things, to give them their hats and their sheets and secretly laugh with them while giving them filthy looks about why they are laughing when the toilet flushes over head. And sometimes, unfortunately, to have the conversation about using deodorant. And sometimes, we need to challenge them for these things. And it’s our responsibility because we’re the adult in the room.

I want a teacher that remembers that sometimes that 12 year old is smelly because their parents don’t remind them to shower. They don’t lug printers from the car to the house, or drive to officeworks to get their printing. Because some of them don’t have access to a printer, or to money to pay for things to print. Or money for lunch. Sometimes mum and dad work until 6, or drive trucks for weeks on end to make sure that they have the opportunities to lose their jackets and to do their assignments.

I want a teacher, who like my son’s english teacher last week, rings to remind me that she’s caught up with him four times already this week, and cares enough to call to let me know. That cares enough to give a detention at lunch to make sure he’s finished his task.

Because they’re 12. And although we have high expectations and we expect students of that age to manage themselves, we don’t trust them to. And we provide the safety net for them when they fall. Cause they’re 12.



“Hands on” teaching and learning….?

As we come up to the end of the term….you can hear the light hearted ribbing around the staff room….Blog posts are due…have you done the blog post….what’s your blog post about this term?  I also specifically get the “You’ve probably done your blog already right…?”

Well, this month, I haven’t. Although traditionally, I’ve been the one at the school that has the reputation of over-blogging. Mostly, because I get really excited about what I’ve been doing. This month, as I think about what I’ve been doing as the run down to the holidays (and running down to some time in the Lightning ridge mineral baths), that although I’ve been enjoying and feel very satisfied in the work that I’ve been doing this month, I realise very clearly that not many people would find what I’ve been doing in any way exciting. Obviously, as we run down to the end of term 2, we start to look at that process that strikes fear into the hearts of teachers, parents and students….reporting.

So not only do we do reports very differently at St Luke’s, we also decided to start using a new reporting program. Of course. Because we don’t like to challenge ourselves enough. The work that was done last year in terms reporting process (not by me) was brilliant. The focus on our 6 pillars as the priority of the reporting process really reflects the priorities of our classrooms. Each student has six pages of reporting on our pillars….Give Witness, Relate, Manage Self, Think Critically and Creatively, Communicate and Collaborate and Be digitally literate. Students are given detailed feedback around their achievement against the pillars, and strengths selected from the work that they do across KLAs.

A new reporting program, aside from the major amount of work that this takes, also gives us the opportunity to be reflective around things that we report on. This year, the following changes have been made to our reports, which may seem like minor things, but have significant effect overall. This year, students will be rated on a four point, rather than a three point scale on their achievement of the pillars. This gives students, who realistically should be working towards for the majority of the stage, to see steps in achievement over the two years. By placing a bigger scale, where we not only have working towards, working at and working beyond, but also include “emerging towards”, students have a greater ability to demonstrate improvement across a stage.

Student strengths are now based around outcomes, giving a greater link between the work done in the classroom, as teachers and students work together to develop social and enterprise skills while  engaging in core curriculum.

Within reporting of our core curriculum, students are now reported on a five point scale, rather than from A to E. The requirement to report on an A to E scale this year changed to the requirement to report on a five point scale, and we were quick to jump to this to create a scale that we think is more descriptive of student learning, and a greater reflection of the common grade scale than an A to E specification.

  • Working Deeply
  • Working Beyond
  • Working at
  • Emerging towards
  • Working towards

In addition, a change to the layout of the report reflects the ability for a student to move up the scale from working towards to working beyond. This progression from left to right reflects how our assessment rubrics are set up to indicate a progression across the stage, from something simple like the arrow indicating movement towards the top end of the common grade scale, where students transfer learning to new situations.

Finally, an exciting development from the technology teacher….alphabetised subjects. Our reporting specialist from CEDP tells us that she has seen this before, but I’ve never seen it in a subject report in all my years of teaching (and I am a bit of a report layout fan). Many years ago, I heard the list of KLAs referred to as the “top four” and the “bottom four” with English, Maths, Science, and HSIE being the general level of importance given to subjects, with the “bottom four” (two of which are my subjects) generally listed in whatever order the principal’s priorities are.

With a focus at St Lukes on “nurturing faith-filled, curious children to become creative contributors and innovative problem solvers for a changing world” some students will naturally see some subjects as being important, while others are not to them…and this mix of subjects, interests and strengths are as individual to each student as their personalities and learning preferences. So…why do schools create an environment where one subject is more important than the others? These small things….order of subjects in lists, allocation of the little bits of extra time, avoidance of disrupting certain subjects over others, timetabling of certain subjects as “fill ins”….these things all lead to a long term impression of priority and importance of some subjects over others. This then can lead to an impression for students that it’s more important to succeed at one subject over another. Why do we not value student interest and choice over a historical and preset order of subjects? Are we killing our student curiosity by implying that subjects are really interested and engaged around are not given priority or importance. Maybe this is just my rant since the two subjects that I’m trained to teach are part of the “bottom four”. However, when you see a year 12 student that is totally engaged and interested in their major project, when they are getting high band 6’s in that subject…who are we to tell him that that subject isn’t important? That it doesn’t deserve as much time as maths or english, or that it’s on the bottom of a report. 

A friend sent me a quote from a lecture the other day about how sometimes leaders were not able to be as hands on with teaching and learning as they like because of the requirements of things like reporting. This blog post was meant to be focused on that quote. After spending a late night last week editing report comments when the comment bank wasn’t correct (approximately 2000 errors to correct manually), a weekend doing final proofs and chasing unexplained attendance, it’s hard to see that you’re having an effect on teaching and learning. However, after seeing printed finished reports (well, PDF versions….because we’re digital) I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done with them…and these small changes can have lasting effects on teaching and learning.



Differentiation to Personalisation

The purpose of differentiating the curriculum is to provide appropriate learning opportunities for students of different abilities and interests. It is what I would say is an indicator of a high quality classrooms….that there is difference in what students learn based on ability or interest.  

A differentiated curriculum is a program of activities that offers a variety of entry points for students who differ in abilities, knowledge and skills. In a differentiated curriculum teachers offer different approaches to what students learn (content), how students learn (process) and how students demonstrate what they have learned (product).

Numerous models of curriculum differentiation can be applied creatively to produce programs that provide flexibility and choice for the range of individual differences in the classroom. These models show how content, teaching and learning processes and products can be fine tuned to meet the needs of all students.

The Maker model of differentiation works particularly well within a PBL classroom.

This model incorporates strategies for the modification of content, process, product and the learning environment.

Content needs to be adjusted to accommodate the ability of students. Students that are gifted within the domain, for example, will be more likely to deal with more abstract ideas.  The curriculum can then be compacted so that students have the opportunity to be challenged and achieve outcomes of a higher order. For students with learning needs, a different level of content may be used, where modified language or examples may be used in order to make the content level easier to access.

Process involves the methods that are used by teachers to present information, the questions asked of students and the mental and physical activities expected of them. This is essentially the pathway that students will follow in order to meet the outcomes. Not all students must follow the same pathway to show understanding of the outcomes.  Within a PBL Classroom, often students are working on different elements of a project and in different ways. A good PBL classroom would have a number of workshops within the lesson structure, so having different students attend different workshops based on their needs would not be an unusual activity.

Product modification works well within a PBL classroom, particularly with those projects that have an open ended product as the end product. Students might show their knowledge and understanding of the content in different ways. Students may elect to show a film, write a poem, physically act out their display or create a physical model. Grouping students and the structure of the task is important here.

This week, I was lucky enough to visit three schools in Victoria moving beyond differentiation to true personalisation of student learning. Our principal, pathways coach and I went to  Bundoora Secondary College, Mount Alexander College and finally Templestowe College, each successive school further away on the track of personalised learning for each student.

At Templestowe, we spoke to one student who had accelerated some of her VCE subjects to do certain VCE units (equivalent of the HSC) in year 8, 9 and then 10, to finally complete her VCE with the ATAR that she needed to get into the course that she wanted, however, decided to do an extra year to run her own theatre production, while working part time at the school as part of the school council.

In all three schools, the curriculum was individually personalised with different types of “elective” courses, co-designed with students and teachers to create interest based electives that taught curriculum concepts. Through the three tours I spent much of my time jokingly (somewhat) telling our pathways coach Oriana, that “No, we can’t have animals” until I walked into their feathers and fur class, and saw the work on the whiteboards. These students had managed the entire class, from paying for the animals, a daily schedule of care that had been spread between students to “deciding whether to spend $200 on a vet visit or getting an animal put down”….students run the elective and manage all of the decisions of within the course.  I was so impressed with the management and organisation of the students, within an area that they very clearly cared strongly about.

Student electives are created in levels of beginners, intermediate and advanced where the whole curriculum is co-constructed with students to be the ultimate in personalisation. Each person is treated with the same level of respect, be they student, principal or teacher. With a “Yes is the default” policy, any person can propose a topic/program and it will not be rejected unless it is too costly, takes too much time, or has a negative impact.

Coming from a design background, where every student is encouraged to follow their own interests, I kept reflecting on how the design and tech syllabus would fit into these electives, where any student could potentially make anything or do anything…be this a theatre production, a physical object or writing a book. We do this in year 11 and 12 where good design teachers give students the option to do “whatever they like…so long as you can maintain interest for a year”. You can see this in the quality of the projects that classes present…Not only the quality but the range of different types of projects….where the teacher is obviously not the expert in the class, but the has given students the freedom to drive the project.

Is there any reason, however, that this can’t be done earlier? There’s really no pre-existing knowledge of design processes, materials or manufacturing processes that’s assumed on entry to the design and tech syllabus. So, is a 12 or 13 year old capable of running a self-driven design project? If a student is passionate and interested in the project that they have designed, developed and made the decisions around…why not? There’s nothing developmentally inappropriate for a year 7 or 8 student in the HSC course. 

The next step then…can a student engage in designing a course to the level that is required to learn course content in a subject like English, HSIE or Maths? If the student is truly engaged in the course due to the fact that they have made choices around what they want to do, and where they want to lead the content?  With the help of rubrics where students can checklist key competencies when they learn them?

All of these are interesting ideas, and with the consideration of the extra time within the curriculum, there is a very easy move to personalised learning from differentiated in this time. But lets also try to figure out how we can give students more choice…more personalisation within our regular curriculum too.

Future Schools: Technical Language….Piaget or Push?

In a previous blog post, I wrote about what I presented at Future Schools. I was lucky enough to be selected to present, but from the minute I got onto the plane, to the minute that I left (and I think the next Friday at school) I was running a bad fever and the last thing I wanted to be doing was going to a conference. I really wanted to be sleeping in my (super) comfortable hotel room, trying to get over the flu that I had. And I really did think that my learning was greatly effected by this, but as I’m going through and writing out my learning for these blog posts, I feel this is going to be a series….not a duo. So obviously, I learnt more than I thought. 

One great session that I went to was from Martin Levins. Martin and I have known each other for a while through the ICT Educators Board, but I have never heard him speak before. I absolutely loved his speech. He spoke about not letting our knowledge of Piaget put a cap on student capabilities. Martin’s work at ACARA puts him in the Northern Territory quite often. They have no computer educators group like ICTENSW and a large transient and distant teaching force. He spoke about going out to a community and teaching some basics of scratch, leaving computers and then returning weeks later. He then showed a video of students explaining their scratch game. The funniest thing listening to the student mispronounce the word variable….obvious that he’d not actually been taught about variables.  This shows that we can sometimes put a device in the hands of kids and don’t tell them what they’re not developmentally ready for and they will stretch themselves and experiment if the motivation was there. This student was using technical language due to the fact that he had seen variables in the program, and he had wanted to know how to do something like a score.  What amazing things students can do if you use technical language with kids. If they have the motivation, then they will unpack it.

Funnily enough, one of our Guru science teachers, Oriana Miano and I were having a similar discussion in previous weeks about the word variables. We were deciding what to do with the term in activities club, in which we both teach K-7 students. Oriana for science (Tuesday), myself for technologies (Thursday). Variables in K-6 are called “factors that effect experiments” and the word variables itself does not appear in the primary syllabus.   I, of course, didn’t know this and had been discussing variables in coding in activities club….so variables (factors that effect experiments) was related to variables (values that can change) and we decided to go with using technical language and unpacking it. Students found this very easy, and while I was doing scores and health values in coding on a Thursday, Oriana was experimenting with variables such as the amount, type of coke, amount of mentos and delivery method in order to create the best Mentos and coke reaction. The point of this was not to just blow up Mentos and coke, but it was a deliberate and explicit unpacking of how variables can effect experiments.

I was also lucky enough to be asked a few weeks ago by our Instructional Leader  (Julie Preston)  to take Stage 2 through some 3D printing processes, as they had done some study of this within their reading sessions with her. Oriana again decided to jump in with me and we had great fun teaching a group of stage 2 students about 3D printing. Within about three seconds we learnt not to lower our language to talk to stage 2, and we ended up talking to stage 2 about the chemical composition and density of 3D printer filament, sustainability being more than just recycling, and about computer aided manufacturing. With the work that Julie had already done with students in problem solving terminology when they didn’t know it, students were able to, with very little prompting, extrapolate what CAM was through their knowledge of CAD.  I imagine this was not what was expected with the development of the new syllabus and where students were “developmentally ready for”.

I am so lucky to be in a place that questions our standard expectations with students.  To be in a place where personalised differentiated learning is not just something that you put in your programs in order to pass compliance, but that is an authentic, living, breathing focus of learning. That we consider Piaget, but are not limited by him. That all students are given the opportunity to learn something new that they didn’t know (or know how to do) before they came to school that day.  Now that we have been in it for a term, and know our students better, I’m excited to see what our year 7s particularly will be able to produce this term. It’s also nice to see that the concept of variables in the new science and tech syllabus has been put into Stage 3.

Sneaking through Stage 1

In my day, I regularly try to quietly and sneakily cut through the stage 1 classroom in order to get either across the school or up to Stage 3 and year 7. It’s the shortest route, and after climbing the stairs five or six times a day, my laziness kicks in and I wander through the classroom trying the best I can not to disturb.

Lately, however, I’ve been cutting through the classroom for another reason. I have been in a lot of PBL classrooms, and I have sat through a lot of Entry documents. I have used this example of an entry document when I’m training people in entry documents since 2012. It’s so far the best example of getting kids emotionally (sometimes angrily) involved in a project.

Then, I saw this on twitter. What an amazing way to engage students curiosity and invoke questioning around the topic. Each day some something is added to this section of the classroom. I walked in the other day and animal sounds were playing, and there were leaves all over the ground.  Students are starting to ask questions about what could possibly be in the box, and teachers are putting them up on the wall around the box. Students are then making hypotheses around what could possibly be in the box, and then using logic to rule out ideas (no, it can’t be a shark, it’s not big enough). Each day I walk past I now make sure to stop and look to see if there’s something new.

It’s interesting, my experience in the past is actually that where teachers have been effectively trained, that where PBL has been implemented in a primary setting, the change has been significantly easier, longer lasting and more rich for a number of reasons….firstly, experiential learning has always been a feature the younger that students are in education, secondly, that primary teachers understand the connections between syllabus documents better, and that finally, change in a year in a primary school requires change of maybe three or four teachers to effect an entire year group. In high school a year group may have 30 or 40 odd teachers in a normal school.  I also think primary teachers also have a greater knowledge of their students….the difference between five hours a day in primary and five hours a fortnight in secondary is significant.

I’m really interested to see what’s in the box. I think I’ll be secretly cutting through their classroom a lot more this term.

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#futureschools Part 1: What I spoke about

This week, I was lucky enough to travel to the beautiful city of Melbourne (where good food and coffee runs rampant) in order to attend the Future Schools conference. In reflecting on the two days, I’m going to break this blog post into two: What I spoke about, and what I learnt.

Last year, in my previous job as Innovation Co-ordinator, I was asked to do a 20 minute speech at future schools on “making drones, robots and makerspaces”. Having set up a few makerspaces now, I still spent a long time trying to figure out what to talk about. I’m not a big fan of talking about myself, and there was so much that we did at Marist, to put it into a 20 minute speech would sound like a list of “here’s what you can do with STEM”. And this list already exists. (Thanks to our Chief Scientist…a much smarter person than me) Em

So, I decided to flip it and talk about all the mistakes we made.  Here’s the crux of my speech, which I retitled: “How to fail at: Making drones, robots and makerspaces”.

  1. Value technology over user experience: It’s more important that people can use the product than it is to have better products.  A CNC mill that is chain driven and takes a tenth of the time to do something than a mill that’s rubber band driven isn’t better if the software is so hard to understand it takes a year to figure it out. You want tech that has great hardware, but software is MORE important.
  2. Employ people that can speak confidently about your vision: This is a controversial one. Yes, it’s important to have poeple that can speak about what you do, but it’s more important to have people that can do the work to make sure that it’s done, and it’s done well. Value hard work and competence over charm. Charm sounds impressive, but generally means that you can talk about stuff that’s not actually happening. What then is more important to student learning?  This becomes more important when we talk about putting dangerous technologies like laser cutters (yes, from experience, they catch on fire) but also even supposedly “safe” technologies like soldering irons and hot glue guns (number one cause of accidents in TAS rooms….yes, they’re hot)
  3. Focus on teachers doing stuff: Students should be the hardest working people in your classroom. The best thing I saw once was when my current principal, stage 3 teacher and I were visiting Emmaus Catholic College. Kid walks in to the room after school, says “Afternoon sir” to the teacher on duty, goes over and starts a 3D print, prints something off on the sticker cutter, cleans up after himself and walks out with a “thanks sir” over the back of his shoulder. This transfers true power of creation to the student, and gives students potential to be independent entrepreneurs.
  4. Focus on Content: Content is important, but people learn from experiences. Flip it and start with the experience first so that then when you are talking about the content, the student can remember and relate. The best example that I saw of this was our bottle rocket project. Students were using terminology like Aerodynamics, thrust and lift in their first lesson of the project.
  5. Don’t follow a process: It doesn’t matter what process it is, but if you look at the image below, processes across KLA’s are so similar it doesn’t matter. Let’s teach kids the process of problem solving, not just to “make stuff” 
  6. Don’t make the project: I remember year 7’s always used to think I was a genius at electronics, but it’s really because I’ve made the project a number of times (either in previous years or before I go into the class) and I can predict what problems that they are going to have because I have already made them myself. Sometimes many times.  If you do face problems that you’ve not co7me across before, then model problem solving with the kids. “I have no idea how to do that”….”lets work it out together”


And finally….

  1. If it doesn’t work, Give up: Because that’s the kind of problem solving process we want to model with students.

Stay tuned for part 2: What I learnt at Future Schools

Introducing coding K-7

In 2018, I am excited to say that I’m going to get to work with the little kids in my school at our after-school activities club.  As part of St Luke’s Catholic College, students have the opportunity to attend structured activities of a morning and afternoon, where on different days, different teachers plan and deliver educational activities to students from Early Stage 1 to Year 7. On Thursdays, we will be doing coding activities. As a first important step, students need to understand that sequence is an important part of coding, leading to a later understanding of control structures and how they work.

The interesting thing about our activities club (and hats off to our brilliant director, Elisa Pettenon) is the level of differentiation required when you are teaching across K to 7 with the same/similar activities. My first thought was that while doing this with year 7 classes in the past, I would use the process of tying a tie to teach sequence. Students would have to team up and write instructions to each other and then each student would have to follow the other student’s instructions. My first realisation was that in Kindergarten they wouldn’t have the knowledge (or fine motor skills) to tie a tie. My second realisation that leapt from the first was that they also wouldn’t be able to read and write instructions at the beginning of the year.


Trying to think of alternatives, and brainstorming with my guru thought partner, Oriana Miano, we came up with the idea of fairy bread. So, my day today has been spent making fairy bread and taking photos of each part of the process to make into sorting-sequence cards.

Deconstructing the above activity:

For younger students, they need to know that programming involves following a sequence of steps and that the computer doesn’t know and can’t make assumptions like a human can. By modelling the actions of a computer being “dumb” the aim is for students to understand that they need to be explicit and correct in their sequence for the computer to understand.

For older students, all programs are made up of 3 different control structures, sequence, selection and repetition, where all programs can be made around these three structures.

Sequencing Fairy Bread

  1. Teacher introduces activity
  2. Students use the photo cards (in groups of 2)  to sequence how fairy bread is to be made.
  3. As a whole class, or in small groups, students make suggestions as to the sequence of activities.
  4. Teacher models suggestions for students, including things like “Put butter on bread”…place the container of butter on the bread.
  5. Students go back to their activity cards and check order. When they have gotten the order correctly, the teacher distributes the fairy bread kits and students make and eat their fairy bread.

After this activity, we will be breaking out the Ozobots and using these to model, and then experience what happens if you don’t give the ozobots instructions in the right sequence. For example if you look at the colour codes below, Red-Green-Blue is a snails pace, but Blue-Green-Red is a “nitro” pace. This allows students an easy introduction to coding, an understanding of sequence, and a hook to engage them into the idea that coding can be fun.


Assessment….best practice or common practice?

Last day of term. Is it more scary or less than the first?

For the past term, I have been working with a team of people to redesign learning for year 7 from scratch. Baking a cake from scratch is supposed to be harder than the packet mix, and although in real life, I am not much of a baker, and would prefer to stay with the packet mix, in my job, I am the person that goes back and deletes everything every year and starts again. As the Stage 4 team at St Luke’s Catholic College, we are starting pretty much from scratch in terms of the learning that exists in the secondary school. Although the call of a school without history was strong, I don’t think I realised initially how much we actually needed to discuss….to pull apart what was common practice in schools and to question why we do the things that we do. It is amazing how much of what we do is rooted in common practice and not fact, best practice,  research or policy, but become evolutions of one person’s interpretation of the last person’s ideas.

We do have existing constraints at St Luke’s: the syllabus, ideas that the school has already engaged with such as the 6 pillars, ideas around reporting, assessment and marks. My biggest challenge for my data-loving brain in the past term was when our principal suggested that our assessment policy would be no marks, no grades until we had to. 

I’ve been lucky enough for most of my teaching career to be in environments that have been very innovative. Each school more so than the last. And so much of what we hear about in schools now (post-Hattie) is the power of feedback to improve learning, and the concern of teachers that we spend so much time on feedback, and students see the mark or grade and forget the feedback. I saw the immense potential effect on student learning if it was done right. It still scared me.

But, as we teach our students, I tried to approach the idea with an innovator’s mindset. We can’t possibly do this became…how can we do this? So, I turned to NESA (and about 6 books on assessment)  to look at what they say about assessment. What I found was that their assessment procedures point more towards portfolio-based assessment than they do towards marks and grades, particularly in the junior years of year 7 and 8.

In New South Wales, standards referenced assessment links the achievement of students to specified standards, through evidence collected from a number and variety of activities and from observations over time, and involves teachers gathering evidence of student achievement formally and informally, to make judgements and to facilitate and monitor students’ progress.

The purpose of assessment is to gather valid, reliable and useful information about student learning in order to monitor student achievement in relation to outcomes, guide future teaching and learning opportunities and provide ongoing feedback to students to improve learning.

NSW syllabuses and support materials promote an integrated approach to teaching, learning and assessment. Students’ content knowledge will be assessed using individual samples of work completed during the course of a unit of work, measured against NESA’s Common Grade Scale.   My biggest learning this term has been to go back to the common grade scale, and to look at how it actually reflected what schools are trying to do across our diocese….go from surface to deep, to transfer knowledge and skills (based on the work of Malcom McDowell


The focus on an understanding of curriculum content is for students to be able to readily and independently apply, not just recount, the extensive knowledge and understanding that they have learnt within the course of study. Students who are achieving to a high level will be using a high level of competence in processes and skills and can apply these skills to new situations.

This documentation reflects and enhances the focus on the skills and capabilities of St Luke’s 6 pillars, which focus on social and enterprise skills. These 6 pillars are strongly linked with the outcomes of Stage 3 and 4 syllabus outcomes in being capabilities necessary to build learning skills.  Students will be provided feedback at different points progressively through a unit of work in ways that facilitate improvement in being able to demonstrate skills relevant to learning.

This assessment style involves students and teachers discussing for each student what evidence is provided to demonstrate their achievement of skills and content. Students will be guided through a process of collecting this evidence in a portfolio of learning and reflecting on this evidence of learning which will be utilised in student-led conferences.   Students will also be supported through processes to monitor their own learning, ask questions and use a range of strategies to decide what they know and can do, and how to use assessment information to guide new learning.

Students will be provided with the pillars and outcomes for each unit of work that are directly taught and the focus of the unit as well as criteria for the overall unit of work.  Students will be guided through a process where they are supported through their selection of work to present for assessment.  The focus of the work of assessment must be students moving forward in their learning by providing specific feedback regularly. Students may choose to refine their work after feedback and teachers should encourage this mastery approach, balancing the needs of the student and their other subjects.

Students will select samples of their work that they feel best meets the outcomes provided. They will reflect on their work and explain why they think it meets this standard on a reflection sheet. Students will receive teacher feedback on this draft, and then upload the sample of work, along with the typed up reflection on their portfolio website (Google Sites).  This process will happen throughout the unit of work. Teachers will maintain samples for each student for later reference.  Teachers will allocate grades for each of the outcomes (both school-based and subject outcomes) assessed in this unit, based on where the samples of work fit within the common grade scale.  This portfolio website, individualised for each student, should then host samples of work across the stage and should show improvement in their learning across the stage and will be the focus of student-led conferences at least twice a year.


Building a successful coding culture


Worldwide, there are a large number of governments and independent programs that are pushing coding as the skill set to learn for the future generation.  It is obvious that over the last 15 years, we have gone through a cycle from a core set of students interested in computing, to every student being able to do some form of computing skills through the Digital Education Revolution, which has caused us to cycle back to an even smaller core cohort of students.  One only has to look at the statistics from the Board of Studies senior courses to see this trend, as now all students seem to have the “basic skills” that they need to use technology.  


ChnGkvOXEAA1yASThe question remains that as we app-ify education along with our lives, are students really learning the skills that they need to be able to work effectively in their jobs, or are we creating a generation of Facebookers and Instagramers?  Although there seems to always be “an app for that”, there will always be a point where you need more control over the required output than the app can give you. This leads to the question: How do you build a successful coding culture, where students have a programmer’s, rather than an app-user’s mindset?


At Parramatta Marist, coding is taught in every year group, implemented in different subjects throughout years 7-10 with progressively more difficult concepts developed throughout the years. For example, in Year 7 students program a game to solve the driving question of “How do video games use Maths?”  This program included a focus on iterative problem solving, where students were encouraged to follow a modified Polya’s problem solving process in order to encourage problem solving ability as well as just the ability to code.


Working under the New Tech network method of Project Based Learning, students are first introduced to the project through an entry document to engage students in the project idea. The entry document in this case, was experiential, where students were set the task of going through three different stations, each set up with a different programming device.  


Students rotated through the following activities: Racing an Ozobot through set activities, followed by programming their own ozobot mazes, using Spheros with the Tickle app to get the Sphero through a maze and finally, playing Geometry Dash on Scratch using a Makey Makey.


This experience was designed to get students engaged into the project, and give them enough experience to elect which technology that they wanted to use.


This was scaffolded through a Google form, where students had to rate their experiences, talk about what was difficult within that programming device, and finally, select which device that they wanted to use for the project.  The excitement of students was overwhelming, and it is interesting to note that although the students were not explicitly taught anything on that day, every student came away with a positive and successful experience of programming.


Following this entry document, students were placed into groups based on a mix of their preferences, their previous work in the course, and their mathematics marks to ensure that the project was differentiated for different student abilities. The students were then introduced to each programming language using the same geometrical context: Can you get your device to draw a square?  


This introductory lesson saw students engage with the language, and all students build a simple program using iteration. All students were successful in this, through purely experiential learning. Teacher interaction came down to helping students understand the problem by “stepping it out”on the floor, or for assisting them in problem solving why their projects were not working.


As part of the PBL process, students then work out what they “Know”and what they “Need to Know”, and as a class this list is developed. The teaching process is guided by this list, which is revisited and refined throughout the project.  This allows students to design their game and then determine what objectives the game needs to meet. The “Need to Know” list now includes items such as “How do I create a score” and “How do I make it do something when it gets to a point”, which leads to the concepts of variables and selection statements. This gives the students the impression that they are guiding the teaching within the project, and ensures that they are exposed to knowledge at the point where they need to know it, which allows them to apply their knowledge at the point where they learn it.


The final project ends with students presenting their game in an exhibition to parents and the community in the school hall. In this “Maths in Video Games” exhibition, students explained how their game used geometry in order to create or play the game.


This unit of work begins a structured program, where students from years 7-10 participate in curriculum based coding experiences every year, progressing in difficulty up to year 10.  These are taught through the TAS, Science and PDHPE faculties, where every student studies integrated projects from 7-10.  With the support of these departments, students then study 100 hours of programming based courses from years 7-10, with some students who study the elective iSTEM course studying over 125 hours.  Opportunities also exist with students in extra curricula programs to do additional coding.


In year 11 and 12, students have the options to select from Information Processes and Technology, Software Design and Development, Industrial Technology Multimedia, and Information and Digital Technology. Each year, unlike patterns across the state,  strong numbers exist in all of these subjects, with approximately 25 students per course starting in each preliminary year.   It is rare to see computing courses not run, which is opposite to statewide trends.  


The question is then, is there time within the regular curriculum to teach coding skills? By selecting the right context, there are many opportunities to implement coding across the curriculum.   Start with how the content that you are trying to teach is used in the real world, then move to how you can program this in order to make it relevant to students. Check out the Board of Studies Coding across the curriculum resources if you get stuck.

Good teaching and learning practices are still required when you use coding though…students will not likely be able to code Angry Birds after they first learn how to code.  Structure coding in small steps from easy to hard, differentiate for students who find it difficult, but most of all, encourage a growth mindset around problem solving. They will use this skill in everything that they do, not just in coding.

More than just Making: STEM in a PBL Model

“STEM in the school classroom context refers to the application of science, technology, engineering,

and mathematics to make real-world connections and solve problems collaboratively. Sound knowledge and skills in interdisciplinary STEM are predicated on student participation and achievement in core STEM disciplines.”

NSW Board of Studies, Technology and Education e-news (http://news.bostes.nsw.edu.au/blog/2015/11/2/technology-and-engineering-education)


Across the globe, there is currently a focus on STEM education, as collectively, different nations discover a lower participation rate in Science, Mathematics, Engineering and technology fields. This will lead to a decrease in fields that are necessary for nations to be globally competitive, and for nations to continue to thrive. In addition, the types of jobs available increasingly require problem solving skills, as opposed to rote learning of concepts. These STEM based courses are seen to mimic the same types of applied problem solving thinking that can be used in many non-stem based careers.

STEM, underpinned by Project Based Learning, encourages enquiry, innovation, and academic rigour within the fields of Mathematics, Science and Technology in order to create a contextual learning environment for students where knowledge is built through the construction of projects and solving of problems.


While construction of projects is important, STEM moves beyond the maker movement by focusing on solving problems real-world problems that make life better for people. “Innovation must turn knowledge into

new and better ways of doing things for the benefits of all Australians” Office of the Chief Scientist, 2013.


The purpose of STEM programs are to increase student engagement with science, technology and

mathematics subjects with the purpose of:

At Parramatta Marist we have implemented a four-prong approach to developing STEM. This includes programs developed for:  
  • Increasing student learning in these subjects
  • Increase student problem solving in general, by exposing students to subjects where problem solving is essential
  • Increase student exposure to, therefore increasing the likelihood of choosing STEM based careers, where there is a global shortage.
  • Curriculm
  • Cross Curriculum
  • Extra-Curricula
  • Community Engagement



In 2015, Parramatta Marist implemented the iSTEM Board-Endorsed Course developed by Maitland-Grossman High School. This syllabus is designed to be an intervention, to re-engage students with STEM based subjects, particularly engineering. This was a huge success, as evidenced by the 2016 round of student selections, where three times the number of students selected iSTEM as their first preference.  In 2016, this was expanded to include a 100 hour, core year 7 course, where students study integrated STEM within a project based learning pedagogy, modelled on the BOSTES curriculum outcomes for Science, Maths and Technology (Mandatory) course. While the 100 hour course does not take any time from the core subjects, it is the opportunity to teach those outcomes in a real world applied methodology.


Year 9 iSTEM


Students at Parramatta Marist High undertook a STEM project focusing on aerodynamics. Students looked to solve the real work problem “How can a drone be used in a natural disaster to save human lives”. Students were exposed to a range of Mathematical, Scientific and Engineering content including Bernoulli’s Principle, Newton’s Laws, ratios and distance while building their own drone. This project forced students to analyse the forces of flight and gain an understanding of how flight works and how this is influenced by STEM disciplines.


Year 7 STEM

It’s just rocket science

Students in 2016 used a bottle rocket launcher, and the scientific process to plan how they can drop a bottle rocket at a specific point on the oval. In order to do this, they must create scale models of the oval, observe differences in results based on different variables, and then experiment with different types of bottle rockets in order to see whether they can drop the package at the correct point. This data is then combined into a video explaining the maths and science behind the bottle rockets. 


Geometry Dash

Students learn to code in java with the use of the iPad app, Tickle, in order to program a choice of physical programming tools around a maze based on Geometry. Students learn the structures of programming with block-style code which can be applied to learn other programming languages. In order to solve the maze, students must measure and calculate different geometrical structures. Ramps will also be involved, so students must also look at speeds and calculate gravity in order to plan and then code where the Sphero will go. This unit of work begins a structured program, where students from years 7-10 participate in curriculum based coding experiences every year, progressing in difficulty up to year 10.  This program included a focus on iterative problem solving, where students were encouraged to follow the modified Polya’s problem solving process illustrated here.

polya problem solving

Extra Curricula

Students have also been given a number of opportunities to engage in extra curricula activities in STEM. This allows more students to engage in STEM based activities of their choice. There has been a huge amount of interest in these activities with hundreds of students across the five activities.  However, we need to remember that Competitions are not curriculum, and although useful for the engagement of students, the priority is implementation and improvement of curriculum in order to create long lasting growth.


Quberider Students in this program study space, culminating in developing an experiment where students program a Raspberry Pi micro controller that gets sent into space via a NASA Rocket.
F1 in schools Students in this program study forces, motion and aerodynamics in order to create a model F1 car, raced using carbon dioxide cylinders, along a 20 meter track.
Coding Club Students study a badge based differentiated program of study on programming in order to obtain badges as a reward for study. This culminates in entry to the STEM Video Game competition.
Genius Hour Based on Google’s concept of 20% time, students are able to spend an hour a week, working on anything that they are interested in, in the thoughts that giving time and resources to student passion will allow students to perform. This culminates in the YICT Explorers competition.
Aurecon Bridge Building 3 students from the intermediate year 9 maths class will be chosen who are disengaged with maths to determine whether engagement in practical application in maths will increase engagement in mathematics.


Community Engagement


Community engagement is an important component of STEM education, in order to raise awareness and to gather parent support of student interest in STEM. Parramatta Marist has received permission to be the Australian connection for Kids Hack Day, a global program to engage students in STEM based careers. Inspired by the global hackerspace movement and the lack of technology-related play and creativity in the classroom, Kids Hack Day is a means of closing the gap between education and technological creativity. On Kids Hack Day, students will get the opportunity to immerse themselves into emerging STEM technologies, such as robotics, programming and take part in structured, supervised activities which allows students to be creative and innovative.  Kids Hack Day is a 1-day event format where children and adults come together to “hack” and make new uses of everyday items and new technologies.


In year 10, students at Parramatta Marist for the past 4 years have run “Innovation Week”, a program where students spend a week out of their normal curriculum working on a passion project that meets a design need that they select. In the past, students have created projects from new sports to marketing materials, to ipad-watching boxes for their bedrooms to planes, drones and amphibious vehicles. This year, Innovation week will include a greater STEM focus, matched with a two day professional learning conference for teachers and the opportunity for parents to be involved by seeing guest speakers as well as the exhibition of their son’s work.



The final area where Parramatta Marist has chosen to implement STEM technologies is in support in regular subjects. The purpose of this is to raise awareness of the technologies within the context of their regular subjects, providing a purpose and a link to using STEM technologies. This has then caused an increase in the number of students applying to participate in STEM Extra curricula activities.  Examples of this include laser cutting of flip books for Religious education, creation of physical artefacts for History students who were asked to curate a museum exhibition, and creating circuits to test the salinity of water in Geography.  This is the next stage of technology integration, where students use industry level technology to construct physical objects to express their learning.


While there is a decrease overall in STEM based courses in the NSW HSC, particularly in mathematics and computing, Parramatta Marist has always had a strong history of student interest and success in these subjects.  However, problem solving in general is an area that is necessary in all subjects now. A focus on working technologically, thinking mathematically and scientifically is proposed as a method to increase student problem solving. This, along with the opportunity to explicitly teach problem solving strategies within a project based applied STEM model, should see students apply these strategies to other learning areas.  The challenge however, for STEM programs across the world is to ensure that programs do not simply stop at student engagement in STEM, but challenge students to have a higher purpose than just “making”. How can we ensure that STEM programs increase students’ problem solving ability and are not just a gut reaction to the worldwide “STEM-urgency”.