Merrylands East Public School has been quite fortunate this term to have @AliceLeung from Merrylands High school working in our school every Wednesday morning, and teaching physics to Year 5 students. The program is now beyond the infancy stage and our students are enjoying inquiry learning challenges. I have noticed the engagement and intrinsic motivation of the students are higher due to the range of skills that are required to participate in the program. Earlier in the program, for example, the students had to create different shaped angry birds, propel them with an elastic band, measure the distances, record and explain their results.
The physics program has highlighted an issue about primary schooling in the 21st century – that is, why do we have school timetables that segregate subjects into discreet areas of learning and into set time periods. The Year 5 students in their physics program have integrated Science, Maths, Creative Arts and English in learning tasks in order to hypothesise, test and discover their findings. Even though, there were a lot of variables in the various tasks that could have influenced the results, the students engaged in the learning experience as though they were seasoned scientists, using a broad range of skills with the added bonus of developing skilled communication to articulate their processes.
Timetables in primary school can easily disengage the engaged with a teacher ending a learning task when students are highly motivated in what they are doing. Instead, if we truly believe in the concept of learning anytime anywhere, we should be focusing on seamless learning where students can continue with particular tasks without an interruption or being asked to discontinue.
At Merrylands East, some of our teachers are shifting away from the segmented timetables and providing students with time to learn and engage in projects that may stretch over a long period. The daily lessons that have an introduction, body and conclusion are now being diluted away in this decade with longer periods of sustained learning. We want our students to self-regulate their learning and our learning spaces to be student centred.
Thanks to @brionyscott the removal of school bells has limited another distractor of learning in our school. No longer are students clock watching and being dictated by sounds. Quite frequently, I walk into classrooms where students may be engaged deeply in a learning task, so much so, that the scheduled recess break (morning tea) is often overlooked. However, we have built structures in place to allow students to eat fruit when they want to eat during learning periods.
The school change has resulted in students experiencing deeper learning and engagement through project based learning, play based learning, genius hour and gamification. STEM is a further area being explored. The frequency of students saying, “I don’t like Maths” or another subject area is slowly being diminished and replaced with the enjoyment of learning. Even the most disengaged students are now some of the most engaged students.
One critcism of our transformation shift is the accountability factor about the implementation of the Australian Curriculum in our school. I can readily admit that our community of mainly non English speaking background students with refugee experiences and disrupted schooling, would make it extremely difficult for our teachers to cover all the curriculum with a genuine deep understanding. The alternative is to teach without learning and tick off all the areas that have been covered – is that what we really want in education? Our school preference is to teach deeply and provide the general capabilities and outcomes in content areas. This means that we are covering the Australian curriculum but a general observer will need multiple stop watches to determine the time allocation we provide for each subject area.
Segmented learning via timetables will soon be a thing of the past in our school.