What are your key responsibilities as the Head of Learning Innovation at Ravenswood?
I guess I’m responsible for the teaching and learning programs in the school. I work with a team of people to do that, I’m not the only one, all of the heads of department in the secondary school report to me. We work together as a teaching and learning team with the head of junior school and the deputy head of the junior school and the director of IT and the head librarian, in a kind of a broader group to determine the direction and, I guess, the quality of the teaching programs available in the school.
What prompted you to initiate a STEM revolution across the curriculum?
Really it’s a commitment to a rounded education that keeps all the doors open in all of the disciplines for our students.
Given that mathematics and science in the HSC is not compulsory (but we do have the IB diploma where those subjects are compulsory) we were really committed to having students excel in mathematics and science, and to increase the number of students engaging in those subjects at the senior levels.
But also, and more importantly in a way, to get them to think about those things as they are applied in the real world of space technology and computer technology and engineering; so really not just pure maths and the pure sciences, but getting students engaged much sooner with the idea that these things have an application in the real world.
And the 2014 PricewaterhouseCoopers report A Smart Move had really predicted a shortfall in scientists, skilled programmers and technicians in Australia. So we felt that all schools need to respond to that predicted shortfall and have more students engage in technology.
All of our students have access to technology, but it’s about how we were using that. So rather than just using it as a medium for consumption of information and knowledge, we were looking at having the girls embrace those technologies as creative technologies, so actually using them to do things in an experiential sense.
Tell us about the school’s STEM committee?
No one person can affect change really; you need committed individuals who are interested and excited for the journey. One of the things we wanted to do was break down some of those traditional barriers between the subjects in the secondary school.
So really putting together a committed team of individuals that represented all the disciplines that make up the acronym of STEM was part of the first step on the journey.
We really focussed on the transition between our junior school, so our K-6 school and the secondary school. We wanted to really capitalise on the fact that many of our students come through that junior school into our secondary school and give them really cognitively challenging and engaging learning experiences that would excite them about all of the disciplines, but also technology more broadly.
What were some of the initial aims of the group?
I can actually tell you what our aim was because we wrote it down: ‘we aim to equip and inspire our students to be the problem finders and solvers of the future and active contributing citizens’.
So along with functional and technological skills, ‘we need to provide learning experiences that promote critical and creative thinking, ethical reflection, teamwork and collaborative skills’… We added part way through the journey ‘a disposition for productive persistence for when things get challenging’, because one of the things we were finding with the students was that when they were encountering an obstacle in the technology, not all of them, but some of them, quite often were throwing their hands in the air and saying ‘well, I just can’t’.
So really that disposition for persisting for when things get tough and hard, because as maths and science and technology become more complex as students go through the school they really need to learn to persist and that that will pay off.
Describe how you kick-started the school’s tech ‘revolution’?
One of things that we needed to do was look for funding streams to try and see if we could get a robot in the hands of every student, rather than those students who were already disposed to be interested.
So we then looked at where mandatory technology hours occur throughout the curriculum in Stage 3 and 4 and went to our Ravenswood Parents’ Association and put forward a proposal forward for some funding to actually purchase the hardware.
We also got a grant, which was fantastic, from the AIS to fund some release time for teachers to really learn the technology, so that they felt [effective] and comfortable using the technology prior to us rolling it out to students. So those two funding streams allowed us to purchase the time for teachers to do this well and to purchase the hardware for the students to actually use – you need those levers … all teachers want to do a good job but they need to be well supported to do that in their professional learning journey…
Then you need the stuff, you need the hardware that makes it exciting for students. We’ve broadened that now to include not only robotics but things like Sphero, the Galileo Boards from Intel, Arduinos, mBots, and even little bits and Makey Makey further down the school.
We started on that transition period between Year 6 and 7, (and) we’ve rolled it out now so that our ICT integrator has really mapped out a developmentally appropriate sequence of activities that lead them up to those transition activities. So right from Kindy where they are using just hard materials to learn the kind of logic and sequencing required for computational thinking.
You’ve introduced a new school ICT integrator role, how did this aid your progress?
One of his ideas early when he first came to the school, to get people – staff, parents and students – excited about STEM, was a digital newsletter. It came out every fortnight and it had everything in it from profiles of famous female scientists or engineers, as well as activities to do…
So he sets challenges for everyone, he got everybody involved in the Hour of Code, he had staff Hour of Code as well. He started the Maker Club and the Coding Club, and all of this was promoted through this newsletter that really set a buzz about the place- a new level of energy and commitment to technology which was great.
Looking ahead, what are some of your major ICT goals?
We are implementing a new Learning Management System to improve home/school communication and also the interface for learning with students which is exciting...
What do you find is the best way to stay abreast of current tech trends?
I guess magazines like yours! (laughs)
I think the web and Twitter, we are all quite active on Twitter and our ICT integrator is very active on Twitter and tags all of us in a number of things – most people on the STEM committee are on Twitter as well.
We have a private Facebook page for the STEM committee, and we communicate through there things we find online, new things we hear about, new start-ups as well. Some of these organisations providing the tech to schools are in their own start-up phase, so we have found that they are really very willing to work with schools to embed their technology because they are not as well established.
There’s just more scope when you’re working with technologies that are coming to fruition to have an impact on their thinking as well.