Curran Public School is situated in Macquarie Fields, south-west of Sydney and has an ICSEA score of 860. Many students come from low socio-economic backgrounds. The school population of 265 students is culturally diverse and 41% of students have language backgrounds other than English.
There is a Support Unit with four classes comprised of three Autism classes and an IO class. The school’s focus is ensuring that every student is a successful lifelong learner who has purpose, opportunities and options, is treated with dignity and is curious about the world around them.
Several school-based initiatives promote and reflect this vision. These programs are pieces within a complex, holistic model which provides quality high level education for all. A focus within the school is to increase capacity and capabilities for the parent community to engage in an authentic partnership and play a pivotal role in improving educational outcomes for their children.
Curran PS identified that students did not see the relevance in what they were learning. To address this, staff wanted to disrupt the traditional content-based approach to teaching at the school. They believed that by ensuring all students developed strong foundational knowledge and skills, they were actively addressing inequality in education, participation and education.
The school understood the value and demand for soft skills required for the future workforce and the need to prepare students for a continually changing society. The aim was to ensure every member of the school learning community is an aspirational lifelong learner who is confident, creative, active and informed. This would be achieved by providing exemplary teaching practice across all Key Learning Areas (KLA’s), incorporating essential skills and future-focused learning, and encouraging students and staff to articulate how they learn and have ownership of their learning.
What happened during the project?
Prior to 2017, when focusing on deficiencies in literacy and numeracy, the school concentrated on resources or program-based initiatives. To address this current issue, however, they now felt the need to focus on the skills of a lifelong learner.
Following a year of professional learning for staff around the general capabilities, the school’s strategic direction team selected two capabilities which staff deemed most critical to the success of students at Curran PS. These were ‘Critical and Creative Thinking’ and ‘Personal and Social’ capabilities. Teachers spent time uncovering the opportunities in KLA’s that addressed capabilities and identified ways in which to capitalise on them. Staff also spent time identifying what these skills look like in action and the progression from one skill level to another. These activities established the skeleton for a Learning to Learn (L2L) framework, which was then overlaid by the ACARA General Capabilities Learning Continuum.
As the project progressed in 2018, students became increasingly involved in integrated STEM programs, coding groups, electives, whole-school STEM-based writing projects and out-of-school STEM experiences. After feedback from staff concluded the L2L framework was too broad, there was a whole-school focus on one element, Reflective Practice, which was aligned to a Spiral of Inquiry focus on mathematics. Using inquiry sessions to watch videos of lessons, teachers reflected on how their planning and classroom language helped or hindered students’ ability to reflect, reason or talk about their learning. Sharing sessions at staff meetings kept each stage accountable and strengthened the collective vision. This period emphasised the importance of student reasoning and their responsibility to be able to contribute to and articulate their learning, essentially strengthening student agency.
Teachers were asked to monitor students’ skills in reflective practice according to the L2L framework and track progress every five weeks. At the end of 2018, they reviewed the process of tracking and measuring general capability skills and collectively agreed that at Curran a framework was hindering instead of helping authentic innovative learning.
This led them to 2019, when the school won a Schools Plus grant from Salesforce. This provided Curran PS the opportunity of having a STEM-focused teacher three days a week to co-plan, co-teach and reflect on STEM lessons to ensure they were purposeful and provided opportunities for students to make authentic connections to real-life examples of STEM. To ensure the longevity of STEM education at Curran, five classroom teachers were upskilled to plan and lead STEM practices in their stage, enabling students to engage in more STEM education practices.
To supplement this in-class support, they re-evaluated and adjusted the L2L framework from being an assessment/tracking tool to being a tool to guide quality pedagogy and innovative teaching practice. This online portfolio ensured teachers have access to up-to-date information about the general capabilities, the learning continuum, published readings, K-6 STEM programs and an Instagram-like evidence/celebration page.
What changed for the students?
Through increased teacher skills and capacity, the school has seen improvements in teacher ability to articulate, promote and embed the general capabilities. This has meant that teachers and students are demonstrating more sophisticated metalanguage when articulating their thinking and explaining their learning, as articulated by the following quotes:
‘I feel that my students are greatly benefiting from skill-based learning. They are showing more confidence in transferring the skills developed through STEM activities and applying them in real-world situations.’ – Stage 3 teacher, 2019
‘I learnt how to make my activities and lessons more meaningful, as they relate to real-world problems. I feel my lessons are better quality now. Rather than doing “one-off” STEM lessons, I plan, program and teach integrated lessons 1-2 times a week.’ – Stage 1 Teacher, 2019
Students have had more opportunities to put into practice the skills and knowledge they are learning in an authentic manner. Through STEM education, they are able to see how STEM applies in the world, which adds meaning to what is taught in the classroom. Throughout the last three years, the number of students exposed to general capabilities through STEM has increased and 100% of students in K-6 currently engage in STEM education on a weekly basis.
There is a school-wide, collective responsibility for teacher and student learning and success, with high levels of student and staff engagement. Staff and students are more reflective and regularly assess and evaluate their learning. Most staff are intrinsically motivated to improve their practice and there is a more positive mindset among students related to learning. Overall, this has resulted in high quality teaching and learning of skills.
'I don’t give up so easily anymore! In the past I’ve been frustrated when I couldn’t work something out, but now I’m more persistent. I’ve learnt that the end product isn’t the most important thing… it’s what I’ve learnt on the way'
Year 5 student
Where to next?
Curran Public School will continue to build a STEM practices approach to learning. This includes providing students with opportunities to engage in authentic, active and meaningful learning challenges through STEM groups and nurturing partnerships with organisations, such as Salesforce.
These external partnerships provide valuable mentoring and excursion opportunities, ensuring contact with STEM-related professionals outside of school for students, access to events/competitions and resources and STEM-based PL for staff.
Students will also have the opportunity to showcase their learning with students from other schools through the CAPTURE THIS forum.
Communication – Effective communication is the key to any successful project – all staff need to have an understanding of the purpose and vision.
Professional learning – This is pivotal for all staff when making a whole-school change. Staff needed to value, understand, and recognise the importance of general capabilities in their teaching in order to effectively implement these skills.
Transparency – Staff need to be updated and informed about school projects each term. Particularly in a school with high staff turnover, it is imperative that a shared vision is continually strengthened.
Observation – In order to effectively teach the general capabilities, you need to be able to observe them in action.
The importance of collaboration
Q&A with the School Principal Heather Ale
Q: What has made SVA a productive partnership for your school?
There are three key reasons why SVA has been a productive partnership for Curran PS – Hub Days, networking and professional learning.
Star Hub days were beneficial as we chose an area which aligned to our school plan. The program logic kept us on track and the Star Hub days provided opportunities for staff members to delve deeper into our school focus. The Star Hub days also provided an opportunity to showcase our school and see innovative practices at other schools.
Through the Star Hub days and Thought Leadership Gatherings (TLGs), many staff members made connections with other schools which provided knowledge, resources and informed future directions. One of these examples was the learning conversations from Granville East Public School.
The staff found most professional learning through SVA to be relevant and informative. Opportunities included the Samsung/STEM TLGs, professional learning in the Evidence For Learning toolkit and Spiral of Inquiry, as well as student voice practices.
Q: Outside of SVA itself, what has been the most productive partnership you’ve developed through your SVA project? Why has it been productive?
The most productive partnerships that we have developed as a result of the SVA partnership are our partnership with Salesforce and the network of schools, both within NSW and interstate.
Contribution of another school to your journey
Two schools that have impacted our journey while we’ve been associated with SVA, are Granville East Public School and Casula High School, both in NSW.
In 2017, Granville East PS presented their reporting process. This process involved the student, parents and teacher engaging in a three-way learning conversation. Students were expected to lead the discussion about their achievements, next steps and goals. Curran PS was inspired by the idea and began the process of creating an opportunity for our school community to engage in similar conversations.
Casula HS has contributed to our STEM education. Through the establishment of the Casula Code Factory, Curran PS has engaged in numerous STEM programs, such as the Cuberider program, where students worked in teams to create and code experiments that were sent to the International Space Station to be conducted by NASA astronauts.