Mypolonga Primary School is situated around 100km east of Adelaide on the banks of the Murray River between Murray Bridge and Mannum. With an ICSEA value of 991, the school has 141 children in six classes. School values of teamwork, integrity, generosity of spirit, excellence and respect, reflect strong community connections. Currently 58% of the school’s population come from outside of Mypolonga and there is a waiting list of students seeking to enrol.
Mypolonga PS has an enterprise focus and for the last 25 years has run the Mypolonga Primary School Shop in association with Proud Australia Holidays. The student-run business has a turnover of $18,000 per year and the students are responsible for all financial record keeping. Financial Literacy Australia commissioned Mypolonga Primary School to share their financial literacy journey, processes and documents on their website. In 2020 Osaka University (which has been commissioned to create a new financial literacy curriculum for Japan), will use Mypolonga as a case study. Student voice is embedded in the school culture.
During their engagement with SVA’s Bright Spots Schools Connection (The Connection), Mypolonga PS developed a project to build critical and creative thinking by embedding STEM pedagogy across the school. School leaders embarked on this project for multiple reasons: to build teacher capacity and confidence to give students authentic opportunities to think critically and creatively; to give students a bank of metacognitive strategies to respond to challenges and create opportunities; and to improve student achievement through meaningful, engaging and co-constructed curriculum. Mypolonga PS recognised that students and teachers were well placed to use critical and creative thinking to identify real-world problems, research and work towards their solutions.
Mypolonga PS worked in a cluster group with other schools in their region: Murray Bridge High School and Jervois Primary School. This collaborative approach allowed these smaller schools to access and share the support and resources provided by The Connection throughout their engagement.
What happened during the project?
As Mypolonga PS had an existing culture of entrepreneurial processes and practices, which were co-designed by students, parents and teachers, they believed that a similar approach would provide greater student engagement in other learning areas. They provided opportunities for students, parents and teachers to work together which led to a problem-finding and solving approach to learning design. This has resulted in greater student understanding of meeting the achievement standard to a higher degree.
From the outset of the project, there was a focus on increasing teacher skills and capacity in STEM pedagogy and practice. Mypolonga PS trialled supporting teachers with dedicated STEM support staff, learning that the use of digital resources often fell short due to a lack of teacher expertise and that they needed to be more systematic in allocating resources across staff for the future. To address this, trialling components of technology in school processes and timetabling support staff was suggested. Collaborative partnerships were established in the community, embedded throughout the project alongside the implementation of “maker spaces” to build depth of understanding in teaching and learning program design.
There were a number of changes and strategies employed to move the project forward. Mypolonga PS reported improvements in coordinated approaches to sharing resources more systematically and creatively. They embedded a whole-school approach to design learning, where surface learning is explicitly taught to enable students to move to deeper thinking. Solution fluency thinking supported teachers and learners to identify problems and explore solutions. General capabilities became a higher priority in learning design, particularly the critical and creative thinking and personal and social capabilities. The school developed a deeper engagement with the Mypolonga PS Hierarchy of Audience framework, adapted from Ron Berger, Leah Rugen and Libby Woodfin’s Leaders of Their Own Learning. This outlines a hierarchy of motivation and engagement leading from: to present to a teacher to fulfil a requirement; to present to parents; to present to the school community; to present to people capable of critiquing; and to be of service to the world.
Leadership evaluated how the combined efforts outlined in the Teaching for Effective Learning (TfEL) framework, their SVA project and activating student voice, impacted on student outcomes and leadership capacity. They noted that the connection with SVA and relationships subsequently built were pivotal to the growth in STEM pedagogy and practice.
Mypolonga PS had access to Samsung technology, resources which were shared amongst the cluster schools. They utilised a television for their staff room which enabled higher quality personal development, greater opportunities to share at governing council meetings and another intervention space for small-group learning.
What changed for the students?
Mypolonga PS leadership has seen a dramatic difference in student engagement over the course of the project. The school had a history of student involvement in decision-making structures, with participation in committees, such as a Curriculum Committee, which struggled to create sustained engagement and impact school culture and learning. Over the course of the project, however, students developed a deeper understanding and connection to their own learning due to the prioritising of the critical and creative thinking continuum and solution fluency models.
Teachers reported that students are now able to engage creatively and critically with what they learn. They can more clearly articulate what is in the continuum and link it to tasks than they were able to at the outset of the project and they look to solution fluency to creatively problem solve.
The development and success of the critical and creative thinking work for students has led to a strong engagement in structural change processes and students’ desire and ability to contribute to whole-school decision-making. Structures have been improved to facilitate the co-design of learning between students and teachers. Students now work to improve high-level thematic approaches to learning based around the critical and creative thinking continuum and personal and social capabilities frameworks.
The committees also underwent shifts over the three years. Now a Life-Long Learning Committee is in practice, where twice a term a staff meeting is held for students and parents to co-design solutions to their learning and school problems. Students also lead a sustainability committee which makes decisions about sustainable practices in the school. Recommendations from committees are reported back to the Mypolonga PS governing council to assist in driving the school improvement plan.
Partnerships between students, parents and teachers in learning design, assessment and moderation has led to the creation of a greater community of collaboration to address real problems and create solutions. The process of co-designing units of work has created greater understanding and higher order evidence of meeting the achievement standard, as well as strengthening school values and culture. The Mypolonga PS staff has noted a significant change in behaviour in the engagement of students which has improved their attitudes and learning.
Where to next?
As a small school, it has often been difficult to create a “team” approach to learning design and continuity. School leadership has designed a restructure of the physical layout of the school ￼to support greater collaborative planning, implementation and accountability for the curriculum.
They are moving from a financial literacy approach to an entrepreneurial learning approach in line with their Connection cluster school, Murray Bridge HS.
Student and teacher co-design of learning, assessment and moderation will continue to drive and improve student engagement and learning outcomes. Meanwhile, dispositions for learning through the general capabilities will be embedded in learning design.
Mypolonga PS will also pursue opportunities to achieve a higher level of engagement with the Hierarchy of Audience framework and “to be of service to the world” (as per Stirling North Primary School).
Mypolonga PS learned the following were important to success:
- Building learning dispositions – Mypolonga now has a much more explicit approach to building dispositions for learning into learning design and assessment.
- Student agency – Promoting student agency is critical for successful engagement with the curriculum.
- Community connections – Identifying community problems, acting locally and thinking globally builds whole-of-community problem-solving capabilities. The Hierarchy of Audience framework has changed the school’s engagement with the community.
The importance of collaboration
Q&A with the School Principal Rita O'Brien
Q: What has made SVA a productive partnership for your school?
The quality of the professional learning we participated in was outstanding. From expert presenters to other leaders and teachers, I always found myself challenged by new thinking. The opportunity to develop relationships with other like-minded professionals was very productive, and these relationships will continue well after our Connection days are over.
Seeing other schools in action at the Hub days helped me to implement new practices at our site. I have also really valued my collaboration with The Connection’s Sue Cridge and Hannah Bryant, whose immense knowledge has been a wonderful sounding board for conversations about learning.
Coming from a small school with limited financial resources and where I have a significant teaching load, has limited my access to many of the opportunities afforded. For me, being part of a cluster group of schools has been the strongest ongoing collaborative work I have done. This has also translated into greater capacity building for our partnership as we (the cluster schools) share our learning with our partnership colleagues. The pathways we have created with Murray Bridge High have resulted in ease of transition and high achievement of our students at high school.
I have also found the partnership Student Learning Community (SLC) driven by Mikelle Miegel (Principal, Jervois Primary School) and myself as an important vehicle to build our capacity to co-design learning with students that is challenging and innovative.
Q: Outside of SVA itself, what has been the most productive partnership you’ve developed through your SVA project? Why has it been productive?
Our Hub group has been our most productive relationship. Each school has a different approach and I have learned something from each site, as well as building relationships with other leaders and teachers.
I also found the opportunity to meet with our own Department for Education (DfE) leaders, Brenton Wilson and Margot Foster, inspiring. Outside of SVA I don’t think that opportunity would occur.
It was important that as the DfE focus narrowed significantly over the duration of The Connection, I was in the company of other leaders who were keeping their eye on the big picture.
Contribution of another school to your journey
Stirling North PS challenged my thinking. I felt we had a similar approach to learning and we both had strong community connections. Adam’s presentations are always insightful and thought provoking.
The Hierarchy of Audience framework he shared at a Thought Leadership Gathering (TLG) challenged many of my perceptions, especially because I thought we had a fairly good handle on the way we engaged with the outside world. What I realised was that most of our interactions were quite low on the hierarchy.
When I shared this hierarchy with students, they were challenged as well. We are now actively seeking opportunities “to present to people who are capable of critiquing” and “to be of service to the world”.