If I asked you to close your eyes and think of a classroom and then to draw the main features, no matter how old you are or where you went to school, the likelihood is that similar elements would be represented. While the world has changed dramatically over the last century, our approach to education has changed at a far slower pace.
This is highly problematic as it is clear that we must alter our educational approach to best equip our students with the knowledge skills and disposition that they will utilise to succeed in whatever endeavours they undertake in the world in which they graduate into.
In this column in June I discussed the largest ever and most comprehensive study into the middle years of schooling which was undertaken in Melbourne in the early 2000s. The Middle Years Research and Development (MYRAD) study was commissioned as a reaction to a growing concern regarding student disengagement across Years 5 through 9. The statistics suggested that during this period students were likely to feel less connected, less motivated and less happy at school.
The study was aimed at informing educational approaches and school structures that worked to overcome these challenges and allowed for greater levels of student engagement and satisfaction.
The MYRAD study led to an understanding that the middle years of schooling requires a particular educational approach. The study suggests that students at this age and stage learn best when there learning is social as this is the period in their lives when social group overtakes parents as the dominant influence on their lives. It found that they must be supported by educators who nourish their personalities through this distinct developmental period and love the quirks of emerging adolescence that occurs during these years. Additionally, their learning needs to be linked to a strong sense of purpose and should be based on their personal passions.
Our Year 8 Passion for Thinking is one of the avenues of teaching and learning across this stage that seems to correspond with the models of educational best practice represented in studies of middle years education.
Building on from Year 7’s Project Slingshot, which requires students to collaborate meaningfully in small groups to develop creative solutions to a significant problem, Passion for Thinking anchors a research study in an area of personal passion and interest.
I have rarely been as inspired as I was when exploring the extraordinary projects that our Year 8 students developed. Our students projects ranged from a podcast which deliberately challenge entrenched political positions, an analysis of the African and European influences on Jazz music and development of a stunning how-to guide to make ballet accessible to young people who could otherwise not afford or access lessons.
Many students were influenced by concerns around climate change to come up with ways to reduce our carbon footprint. These included educational websites, computer games with environmental messages targeted at young students, unique portable water filtration devices and an educational campaign around the health and environmental impact of open fireplaces.
Each of the student’s projects was unique, demonstrated a well-documented journey of exploration, and was targeted to contributing something meaningful to society.
It is invigorating to see the wonderful outcomes that occur when students are entrusted to work in their area of interest, learn in a social environment, and are supported by expert educators who care deeply about them and their learning journey.