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 (


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”.

Literacy Continuum

As the first focus of our professional learning teams at Parramatta Marist, we are looking at how we can use the literacy continuum within the classroom. The literacy continuum published by the DET indicates the characteristics of students’ literacy at different levels. This continuum allows us to have a better understanding of where our students’ abilities are, and to therefore target specific skills and set goals for specific students.  The system that Sentral has set up seems to make this an easy process of entering this data, and then performing analysis of the data.

Screen Shot 2016-02-04 at 10.29.22 AMFor this particular PLT focus, we will be focusing on the aspects of writing, with all classes across the school. My allocated class is year 7 STEM, which is a new program that PMH has introduced this year. A challenge for this focus will be creating authentic tasks that fit within the scope of our projects, where students see the value of the tasks and are not just “filler” literacy tasks.



For our year 7 STEM program, we are going to start the course with a writing prompt: Will we ever have flying cars? (Think about it from a technological, social and legal perspective).Thanks to for the image. The first unit of work for year 7 STEM is bottle rockets, so the concepts of flight are embedded across the program. Regarding the list of continuum items, these can obviously not be assessed in every sample of student writing, so at this time, I would like to focus on the following points:

  • Uses a legible, fluent handwriting style.
  • Uses a range of editing strategies to improve clarity and consistency of style.
  • Uses correct and appropriate punctuation to support meaning.
  • Self regulates spelling and applies spelling knowledge and strategies to spell complex and subject specific vocabulary.

__4696554_origThis activity will not only allow us to assess which markers are evident on the literacy continuum, but should also give us an understanding of how interested and engaged students are in science, and a glimmer into what level of understanding that they have about scientific concepts. Since these students all come from a different backgrounds, it will be interesting to gain a picture at the onset of the STEM program, and then compare this over time with similar activities later on in the year, and then further in coming years.

Methods of sharing Google Docs to students

Following is a summary of the methods that you can use to create a google doc template and then distribute to students:

1. Google Classroom
2. Copy and Share yourself
3. Get students to copy and share back
4. Using scripts

How does this work Ease of Use Availability Student Perspective Teacher Perspective Disadvantages
Google Classroom Sign up for classroom, create your class, add your google doc. Decide whether you want everyone to have their own copy or edit an actual copy. Super easy.

Create a document, share it on Classroom.

Available for teachers with email addresses with students on the same domain.  Google has now also set up “Trusted domains” where students can be on the same domain but this has to be set up by your systems admin. Student goes to classroom, and clicks on the link to the document. It automatically copies a personalised document for the student, and puts it in a “Classroom” folder on the students’ side.

Students have a “turn it in” button to indicate they are finished.

This is automatically shared with the teacher, and put into their “classroom” folder on their google drive. It also gives the ability to check who has “turned it in” and finished it. The system is sequential, no way to categorise activities/documents. Is good for sharing, easy to use but not a fully powered LMS. But then, neither are any of the other choices here.

A good solution if you want to do this multiple times.

Can be confusing if you have another existing LMS.

Student owns document.

Copy and share yourself Create the document, manually duplicate it and share it with the people you need to Super easy but time consuming. Everyone can do this. Student receives shared document. This sits in their “shared with me” documents, so if you do it this way, teach the kids to add it to their docs and then into a folder with your subject name. This means that you maintain ownership of the document and don’t have to trust students to share it with you. Fine if you have a small group of students.

Really effective if you are doing group work. Lets say you have 25 kids in your class, and you decide to do a group project with 5 students per group. Create five copies and share each copy with five different students. This is really the only method to do this. (Aside from getting students to share back with you)

Time consuming…definitely a “do in front of the TV job.

Get students to copy and share back Students create doc and share with you. Easiest, and can be done on the fly “Ummm…lets create a google doc to answer this question and share back with me. Everyone can do. Student takes ownership of the work (a good thing), learns more, and is more likely to do this when collaborating in a group with others. Students must share with teachers. They forget. A lot. Teacher gets shared in on the document. If you do this a lot, it can become a filing nightmare in your google drive. But if you teach kids to name things properly, this is less of an issue. If student leaves the system, (eg, unenrolls from the school) you lose access to the document. This may or may not be a big deal, but if like me, you have to (and like to)  keep work samples…
Using Scripts Using add ons to Google Drive such as Doctopus or autocrat, which, based off a list of students and their emails, automatically creates documents and shares it with them. Most create folders for the class, and you can add to the folder all the time with different documents by running the same script again. More difficult than any of the above, but it is wizard based, so not particularly hard. Must install the script. Students receive a folder, with their documents in it, so it self-organises for them. Teachers create a spreadsheet of students, and creates their google doc and runs the wizard. This keeps ownership of the document with the teacher. (See notes on work samples above) The major advantage of this is that some of these add ons allow personalisation. For example, you can mail merge and share at the same time.

Works better on browsers that are not chrome (odd)

STEM Links

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Cool Links

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Cool Links

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The PBL Process

As part of our timetable at my school, we have timetabled professional learning teams. This is always a great opportunity to learn from other KLA’s about how they do things, and I find that the opportunities come from the least expected places.

This term our focus is the PBL Process. A series of activities are designed by our head of PL, and we reflect and discuss these in teams. The final product: a series of blog posts, or a blog post about project based learning.

My thought processes in these cases always goes back to ranking what’s important. I like lists. They help me understand the world. So, if we discuss the elements of a PBL Project, what are the MOST important? Which ones are essential to Project Based Learning, and which can you do without?

If you’d asked me this five years ago, I probably would have said group work. But then, I teach Industrial Technology…all our learning centres around projects, and students collaborate with each other, but they develop individual projects. Some very good ones. All of the learning for the content appears through the process of their development of their product.  This learning is documented, and the research and evaluation of each benchmark drives the development of their project. If it’s done properly. Designers have been doing this for years. We call it the design process.

It’s interesting then, when deciding which is the most important element of the the process, to reflect on how my teaching of Industrial Tech, a traditionally project based syllabus (yes, this is embedded in the outcomes) has changed over the years.

5 years ago, I would have said that the answer to what was the most important element in a PBL project was definitely the needs to know. Know and Need to know elicit student pre-learning, allow you to differentiate and allow students to guide the learning. If you are just presenting your project without the needs to know, are you just guiding students through a pre-designed sequence of learning events that allow them to progress from one benchmark to the other? One of the things that I still use extensively within my year 12 classes, even though they are no longer under the PBL model is the need to know.  Pre-PBL Years I would give my students a list of the things that they needed to research and document in order to get the content that they needed in order to understand their project. My first lesson of research is now to re-order the class into similar types of projects and ask a simple question…what do you need to know in order to complete your project? This is essentially the purpose of the research section, and the students come up with many more elements to research than I could have thought of to get them to research. And, it’s relevant to their project, and it then helps them with the knowledge that they need in order to complete their project.

Why is it necessary for students to follow a set of benchmarks? Yes, they are stepping stones for the product, and it helps to scaffold and guide them, but can students get to the benchmarks without the pre-defined pathway that the teachers give them? Can students not pick their own pathway with the teacher facilitating and sometimes redirecting with a subtle nudge (or a massive push). Most of my students in Ind Tech do their own projects. They are facilitated through the use of benchmarks, which are set and checked pieces of work that must be delivered. They plot their own path and choose their own projects, but can this be done within the PBL model. Why does everyone have to create a movie (for example)  to demonstrate how World War II effected society….can we not leave it open and have students select the product and the pathway of where they go to to learn? Could we have a project where the task is to raise awareness, and you could use any method you want to do this. All it needs is a slight change of the context of the task, and you are opening up opportunity to students to do something different, original, creative and reflective of where they want to go.

I think now, though, that what I’ve really come to believe is that there is one thing that we can’t really do without in project based learning, and that is a teacher that is interested in intervening on groups. Whether it is to support and scaffold their learning, to give them the look…that shows that you are really not believing what they are saying (see left), or to drop a bomb into a group that are working well, to say….”well, that’s good, but have you considered…” We need to remember that these are students, who are of an age where they need to be reminded to wear underwear (maybe that’s just my son)…..they will need help in order to manage themselves, to work with others, and to be creative. These are all things that an interested teacher can bring them.  Or, you can give them the task, tell them to go for it and sit back and watch them fail. But then, why are you there?

The future of Children’s literature in the Digital Age

There is much discussion over the definition of childhood, when this occurs, and what the general characteristics of this are. Are they social, cultural, or ingrained?  Over time, different theorists have developed different ideas as to what these characteristics are. These characteristics categorise children according to different criteria, but all essentially agree that childhood is that time from birth to around 15-16.However, you can argue that the opportunity for this generations’ access to technology has changed many of the observable attributes of children’s behaviour.

Will this access to technology ultimately be a threat or an opportunity for growth in children’s literature?Reflecting on some readings which are all about the development of children’s literature (see below), it was interesting to note that some of the changes mentioned in access to children’s books had a large effect on me as a child. We did not have a large library of books, but we certainly had access to the Golden Books (around $1.50 by the time I was young) and being a child of the 80’s, I remember each of us children in the family having the treasured possession of a picture book that also came with a vinyl record.

So, the question is…are we simply making a movement from written to digital, similar to the move from oral to written? Does the availability of media and increase in children’s entertainment, changed the times and occasions that the characteristics of adulthood occur?  Does this mirror the introduction of the printing press as a time to reflect and redefine the meaning of childhood? Or, is it a time to set standards of what should be included within pieces of work defined for childhood, to ensure that along with engagement and entertainment, that the point of children’s literature, which is to engage the imagination, and to teach those lessons that society deems useful, still occurs?


Johann Amos Comenius’s Orbis Sensualium Pictus, Jeannie Baker’s Mirror and Arthur teaches spanish Computer game…do they really have different intent? It certainly is possible to include the same themes and ideas within digital technology as it is to have within traditional printed literature, however, like with traditional literature, it must be specifically designed to do so.

Digital technology now gives an opportunity to develop a non-linear narrative, in a way that was not possible before.  Is this similar to the fact that TV series have become more complex…are we as a society demanding a more complex and dynamic narrative? If you compare a TV series like Bewitched, which has a single storyline from start to finish of the series, with a TV series like 24, which has a complex and interwoven narrative, it is obvious that as time goes on, society is demanding a more engaging and dynamic storyline. Digital technology gives the opportunity for this to be developed.

Games really have the opportunity to be the next narrative evolution, however, does this take away from the imagination of the reader?  With the introduction of digital game based literature, are we opening opportunities for young people to read more, or are we relying on young people to use their imaginations less, as all features of the narrative is presented to us, rather than using our brain to “fill in the blanks”.

Is the development of online publishing todays’ version of chapbooks? Abundance of books can’t really be a bad thing, however, the search for quality, particularly for a busy parent or librarian, has become more difficult and time consuming. The opportunity here, however, is for a wider variety of publication, as it is clear that publishers are businesses, and are there to make money. Those riskier children’s literature that is likely to cause concern, or not sell, would not be published if not for online self-publishing.

The development of technologies that read to kids, such as the Leap pad can make reading books more accessible to busy parents, but does this mean that parents don’t need to read to kids any longer? How many adult readers have warm memories of reading books with an adult, whether their parents, teachers, aunts or uncles. Many adult readers I imagine, would attribute developing a love of reading to these experiences.Overall, as a digital person myself, I hear a lot of traditionalist derision for digital technology and digital readers. However,  there is, like any development, invention or new technology, including the development of the printing press, there is opportunity for growth or for decline, dependent upon how it is applied.


Barone, D. M. (2011). Children’s literature in the classroom: engaging lifelong readers. New York: Guilford Press.

Madej, K. (2003). Towards digital narrative for children. Comput. Entertain. Computers In Entertainment CIE, 1(1), 12.

Theories of Childhood. Retrieved July 2, 2015, from


Currently Reading: Ron Berger, “An Ethic of Excellence”

I first came across Ron Berger when I saw the below brilliant video, Austin’s Butterfly. It’s the story of feedback to a student, Austin, who started out with a basic drawing of a butterfly, and through specific feedback from his peers and multiple drafts, was able to build a beautiful scientific drawing of a butterfly. I loved this video for so many reasons. It tells the art teacher in me that it means that anyone can draw, so long as they have the mindset to persist through multiple drafts. It tells the compassionate teacher in me that quality work can come from persistant, specific and kind feedback. It tells a powerful story of how feedback can be used to create high quality exemplary work from students.

I have since then spent some time reading Berger’s “Ethics of Excellence”, passed along to me by Larry Rosenstock (Principal of High Tech High) where I was lucky enough to spend a few days at in 2014. This resonated with me…something that my husband and I have discussed over many a breakfast and dinner. How do you get students to select your subject when it comes to selecting electives, if their experience is limited to poor quality finished (or unfinished) projects? How do you generate respect for your subject from parents, unless they are seeing high quality finished peices of work? After all, being a parent of a young boy, I know that the general answer to “How was school today” is generally “fine” and the answer to “what did you do” is always “nothing”. The parent’s experience of the subject generally comes down to two things then….the half yearly and yearly report, and the samples of work that come home.

When your son or daughter brings home the following peices of work, which piece is likely to generate more subject respect as a parent? The toilet paper roll wrapped in foil to make a sword, or the handcrafted timber sword? Who can deny that as a parent, no matter what, we think that the child has done a brilliant job on both of them, but what are our thougths about the teaching behind each one?


So, how do we as teachers, and then as a whole school approach build a culture of exemplary work?

Ron Berger discusses the following 5 areas:

  • Assign work that matters
  • Study examples of excellence
  • Build a culture of Critique
  • Require multiple revisions
  • Provide opportunities for public presentation.

My thoughts on these:
Assign work that matters. This is about assigning meaningful work that will have an effect within the world, but I also think that this should also be about allowing structured choice within a task. Within subject selections we talk about right subject for the student, but we also need to look at right subject, right project, right student

Study examples of excellence: I think that this is really about setting appropriately challenging goal posts for students. Setting student expectations about a quality level. This can include the use of specifying learning intentions, developing rubrics and showing examples of past work. This fits in with other research such as Hattie (2008), and Berger, Rugen, Woodfin (2014) that show that setting student learning targets is an appropriate way to raise achievement. Do these goalposts need to move over time, however? I show examples of exemplary major projects to my students, but I am also sure to talk about how standards of excellence can change over time. Do individual learning targets improve student achievement? I would contend yes. This is something that I used to do all the time, and as I have gotten busier in my classroom, I have done this less, and definately seen a decline in quality.

Build a culture of Critique: This needs to be positive and helpful. By changing the language used and giving staff and students protocols around critiquing work, where students know that honest, but constructive feedback is given.

Require multiple revisions. Developing a culture of drafting is important, and I think that here technology can sometimes take away from this concept. It is much easier to throw away rough ideas drafted on paper than to throw away an idea that has been mindmapped out using software. Pencil and paper should be the key here.
Provide opportunities for public presentation. This doesn’t just include exhibition of work, but I believe links back to the purpose of the project. ie, if the project has an authentic purpose, isn’t the purpose of a designer to see their work shown? The purpose of a scientist to have their work used? Public presentation should be linked into the purpose of the task.

All in all, an excellent book which makes a huge amount of sense to a Technology/Arts teacher. Ron Berger uses some great examples of how this applies to other subjects, particularly (being US based) english- language arts. I can see clearly how this would apply within a project-based learning classroom. A worthwhile and interesting read. I plan to move now onto his newest book, Leaders of Their Own Learning, Transforming Schools thorugh Student-Engaged Assessment.