For a start, classes involve fiddling with motorbike parts, lessons on engine combustion and a fair spattering of grease.
Welcome to the ‘Build a Bike’ program, where disengaged children mow through English Studies modules while getting their hands dirty to learn the nuts and bolts of automotive engineering.
“As it turns out [this] syllabus and curriculum is quite flexible,” teacher Jason Ewing-Jarvie, the brains and brawn behind the initiative, says.
“The wonderful thing about it is you can basically write your content. So to that end, Build a Bike became a two-line course … it became industrial technology and life skills and it became English studies, and all we are doing is delivering a content that is relevant to the needs and wants of the student…”
Ewing-Jarvie might be a motorbike enthusiast, having ridden one for 37 years, but he says teaming the technical with the theoretical has worked a treat at school.
“Certainly some kids have gone ‘Oh, OK, so I can learn English, but instead of doing a film study on, say, Pleasantville, I can do a study on The World’s Fastest Indian or The Wild One with Marlon Brando or Easy Rider with Peter Fonda.
“So you are still doing transactional writing, writing a film review, doing responses, but the subject matter is obviously specialised,” he explains.
What started as a simple project to “keep them occupied, keep them happy, keep them engaged” has blossomed into something bigger.
“I’ve found even in the two or three years it’s been going, it’s evolving. At the end of the first year I was going ‘you know, we need to learn about electric vehicles, we need to learn about solar and hydrogen and hybrids – these are the … challenges!’
“I spent four weeks last term just writing a whole bunch of new material just to keep us up-to-date,” Ewing-Jarvie reports.
While there have a been a few great student success stories to emerge from the program, the educator aims to reach more New South Wales children who may not fit the mainstream mould.
“They say in education if you can get through to one kid that’s enough – I mean, I’d like to get through to one or two a year!” Ewing-Jarvie laughs.
“We are ultimately trying to put squares into round holes, and I think generally most of us are fairly ‘rounded’; we just have to tap and find out what we like and what our potential is and sometimes the rigidity of the system doesn’t allow that.”