Narara Valley High School on the NSW Central Coast is a large school with just over 900 students and an ICSEA of 984. The school has an innovative curriculum which caters for individual student needs. Programs include a Stage 4 integrated curriculum, as well as accelerated classes and courses. Specialist creative and performing arts classes and a targeted sports program are also offered. Stage 6 students can select from both academic and vocational pathways through a broad range of subject offerings and opportunities including TVET, SVET and SBATs.
The school is seen as a thriving learning environment where parents, staff and students work together with a common goal, to achieve both personal and group success while undertaking social and cultural development. This is achieved through the collaborative efforts and continued support of the entire school community.
Narara Valley HS had a wide range of holistic STEM initiatives that were successfully taught for a number of years and placed emphasis on providing and implementing new and existing technologies. Through the school’s partnership with SVA, the aim was to increase the teaching and learning of STEM principles across all KLAs and drive the innovative integration of technology.
To achieve this, staff would require professional learning to better understand STEM principles and greater support to implement these principles in their classrooms and integrate technology in authentic, innovative ways.
What happened during the project?
Three points of focus were identified: designing innovative programs and inquiry and project-based learning (PBL) units; sharing effective pedagogy via Quality Teaching Rounds (QTRs); and authentic integration of technology using the SMAR model.
The QTR model was already established practice at Narara Valley HS as a means of improving the professional learning of staff. During this project, STEM QTR teams were formed across KLAs in groups of four. Staff selected the groups they wished to join and the lesson and class they were going to run. Each staff member conducted a lesson with a focus on integrated technology and PBL. On observing the class, each member of the group completed a coding sheet, and this was followed by a group discussion reflecting on what they observed.
QTRs took place in dedicated professional learning (PL) periods embedded in staff timetables, which were extended through the course of the project. They provided a platform for staff to collaborate and engage in collegial discussion around STEM principles and practice and the use of technology and showcase and develop new strategies and skills.
Through a technology integration program, Narara Valley HS also introduced software PL, to upskill staff and enable them to incorporate specific software into units of work, and the SAMR model of technology integration. This targeted PL saw staff become more familiar with new software and hardware and willing to learn new programs and infuse technology into teaching and learning to improve learning outcomes. The school’s STEM and technology teams now have a representative from each KLA who are skilled in a variety of software and hardware to troubleshoot issues in their faculty.
Over the course of the project, the STEM QTRs led to increased knowledge of STEM skills, PBL structures and use of technology, and improved teaching practice. Inquiry and project-based learning are now universally implemented across KLAs and classes and STEM principles are visible and articulated in a common language.
Staff are increasingly delivering lessons and programming with new technologies and more than 80% are operating in the higher levels of the SMAR integration model. To support the uptake and integration of technology throughout the school, a BYOD program was introduced in 2019 for Year 7 students.
What changed for the students?
A culture of educational risk taking has developed at Narara HS. Staff see technology as an educational tool that can modify traditional lessons and enable experiences that were previously impossible without it.
Staff have become confident with new technologies and are willing to experiment and share their experience with colleagues to improve teaching and learning outcomes. In turn, students have greater access to new technology and have demonstrated increased understanding of both hardware and software. For example, in 2019, Year 7 students stated that they had a sound understanding of 16 new software and hardware programs over the year and were able to apply these skills to other KLAs.
With STEM principles and inquiry and project-based learning evident across programs, and more authentic integration of technology, learning has been energised. Students found the new technologies enabled them to collaborate in meaningful ways, exploring, investigating and creating solutions to problems using technology, research, communication, and evaluation skills – all attributes that are critical for success in further study and future employment.
Survey results have demonstrated an increase in their collaborative, creative, critical thinking and technology skills, from baseline to post project data. Students have also shown improved engagement through a higher quality of work, increased submission rates of tasks, a decrease in negative behaviours and suspension rates and an increase in positive referrals in the school’s wellbeing system.
‘We get to do loads of different types of lessons with our devices. We made cool animations using Mindcraft to show changes of state; we collaborate on group tasks with Google Drive and classroom; and create fun projects.’
Micah, year 7 student
Where to next?
Narara Valley HS plans to continue to design, evaluate and implement new innovative IBL and PBL units across KLAs. The school will also continue Quality Teaching Rounds as a framework for collaborative practice and improved teaching.
They will look at the evaluation and alignment of their professional learning program to adapt to change and the future needs of the school, staff and faculty.
The school is keen to comprehensively integrate technology so that innovative software and hardware are evident in all programs across all KLAs. To support this integration throughout the school, the leadership team plans to build on the BYOD program launched in 2019, extending it to all years. Students may bring their own device or lease one from the school.
They will also maintain support for new software and hardware during the implementation phase, including PL around how to incorporate this IT into new units and programs, possibly enlisting external providers to conduct targeted training.
Narara Valley HS learned that the following were important for success:
- Leadership support – A supportive executive that is willing to enable a structure for Quality Teaching Rounds (QTRs) to take place.
- Flexible timetable – If timetables are too rigid it’s hard to find sufficient space for observations and professional learning; there needs to be some flexibility.
- Open minds – To drive teaching practice, staff need to be willing to be observed by others and open to taking educational risks.
- Collaborative practice – A culture of collaboration, support and sharing of practice, in this case through QTRs, is vital to improve teaching and learning and drive innovative pedagogies.
The importance of collaboration
Q&A with the School Principal Michael Smith
Q: What has made SVA a productive partnership for your school?
The Connection provided training and support in the form of targeted professional learning through Thought Leadership Gatherings (TLGs) and STEM Hub development days. These events gave us an insight into innovative educational pedagogies and thought-provoking leadership reform for the future. Our staff and students were privy to many educational opportunities including scholarships, access to new programs, software and creating links to industry stakeholders.
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 SVA partnership has provided Narara Valley HS with access to technology from Samsung, which we have been able to integrate into our school to create innovative programs.
Utilising the Samsung technology, we have redefined our STEM rooms and created collaborative learning spaces. These spaces contain TVs and new furniture that is conducive to group work and problem-based learning.
The SVA partnership has assisted in redefining the integration of technology in our school. It has helped to drive the improvements in our school-based technology, such as an increase in new laptops and new projectors in every classroom. Teachers feel that technology has become part of every lesson and there has been a cultural shift in the increased uptake of technology use in the classroom, for both students and teachers. The SVA partnership has been an impetus for technological change and has helped to make this a school-wide priority.
Contribution of another school to your journey
We have gained insight from other Connection schools from our attendance at TLGs and school visits. Our visit to Campbelltown Performing Arts High School provided a view of a different model of integrated curriculum and technology integration.
We obtained valuable resources from Maitland Grossmann High School during a TLG. They presented a comprehensive STEM-based transition program for their partner primary schools as they transition into high school. As a result of this program, we have implemented our own STEM-based activities during our primary to high school transition.
During the implementation of our BYOD program we were able to liaise with other BYOD schools in order to fine tune our model.