a large group picture of the attendees at the workshop

To support some of the great initiatives occurring in our equity funded public schools, the Equity and Diversity unit have been delivering professional development as part of the UTS Widening Participation Strategy. These free professional development opportunities have centred on providing a deep understanding and practical strategies to design and implement Project Based Learning (PBL) in the classroom. This approach moves away from traditional modes of teaching and instead focuses on real world problems, collaboration, student driven content and uses an authentic audience to view the finished work. Research suggest that this type of learning leads to a deeper understanding of content, greater retention of information and higher level of engagement and motivation. (Penuel & Means, 2000; Stepien, Gallagher & Workman, 1993; Thomas, 2000). It also builds other 21st century, real life skills such as critical thinking and problem solving which are comparable to the UTS graduate attributes (Finkelstein et al., 2010). This approach serves a wide variety of diverse learners and is having a great impact in our low socio economic schools.

Through workshops and online newsletters teachers have connected to learning approaches used at UTS that support this type of learning such as authentic assessment, transdisciplinary learning, design thinking and some brilliant faculty based programs being run in areas such as design and science.

Teachers once again joined us on campus on the 16th of January for a workshop highlighting transdisciplinary approaches to PBL, which are key in making content authentic real world problems. Teachers connected with the Faculty of Transdisciplinary Innovation, the Hatchery and an innovative science based program called CodEX. They heard from teachers who previously completed our training and are implementing PBL in schools and take part in a special workshop run by Grant O’dei from Granville Boys High School who UTS recently supported to attend a PBL conference in the US. It was a great day with a lot of great new ideas shared from both UTS and amazing high school teachers.

Below shows a little of what some of our participating schools have been up to since our 2-day workshop in May. During this workshop, teachers developed their own programs based on outcomes and content they had planned for the second half of the year. They heard from the Hatchery on Design thinking and UTS academic staff Nicola Hardcastle (School of Design), Jurgen Schulte (School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences) and Scott Chadwick (School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences) about how they structure authentic and engaging assessments.

Evelyn Mircevski, Head Teacher TAS and Nita Barnes, Enrichment Coordinator, Bankstown Girls High School

Driving question: How can we design and create a toy that is age-appropriate, cost-effective and environmentally sustainable for our chosen target market?

Since the workshop: We have had students engage in a far more student-driven collaborative process, following a PBL structure. They have followed the design process: researching their chosen market, generating ideas, create their own design brief and apply marketing strategies and pitching their ideas to “the board” before creating their product. We have programmed for far greater student choice and direction, as well as an application to a real life, authentic situation.

Tips: The initial “hook” lesson is vital in engaging the interest and enthusiasm of the students. Ours was so successful. We organised play “stations” where groups had 5 minutes to play with classic, perennial toys (Mr. Potato Head, Tupperware Shape-o, tactile books, wooden blocks, musical instruments etc). They used post-it notes to identify the target age group, design features, developmental features, and guess the market price of each of the toys).

Mark Armstrong, Technological and Applied studies (TAS) Faculty, Oberon High School

Driving question: What makes our local landforms so amazing? Students were tasked to take on the role of designing and producing information media for one of two local landforms in the Oberon area.

Since the workshop: We utilised more effectively the planning tools provided in the UTS training and deliberated over the project’s purpose and each faculty and teacher roles. The driving question was a major focus to make sure we were comfortable it would allow the students the scope to show their talents and creativity. We also needed to make sure it fitted the curriculum. We also ran staff development sessions on creating driving questions for a range of scenarios and utilised the material from the UTS workshop. This we believe was crucial to the success of the project.

Showcase event: Students exhibited their work at the local visitors’ centre and the National Parks & Wildlife Service’s office. The Mayor, General Manager and tourism staff attended the presentation as well as parents and community members.

Dimitra Saisanas, Teacher Librarian and Integrated Learning Coordinator at Wiley Park Girls High School

Driving question: “How do we solve the problem of plagiarism at WPGHS?”, an authentic need that we have identified through discussion of ethical and responsible information use.

Since the workshop: The real difference in my work since the PBL workshop is the fact that I have approached PBL more adventurously, and with more defined purpose. The design thinking paradigm (which we used during the UTS workshop) has actually helped significantly here.

Tips: PBL is a calculated risk that can yield incredible rewards in terms of teaching and learning, but you really have to commit to it. You also have to encourage students to take a risk on PBL with you, by providing support when they feel directionless or discouraged. When they feel positive about their learning, they are more likely to commit to PBL.

Tania Safar, Head Teacher Technological and Applied studies (TAS) Faculty and VET coordinator. Merrylands High School

Driving question: “How do we value and respect the food that we eat”. We worked through the agriculture specific teaching moments of what does the ‘paddock to plate’ concept mean, and researched what fruit and vegetables grow when.

Since the workshop: The delivery of this unit has led to students driving their own learning. The students have been in control from the beginning with their learning and the focus of their studies. They connected with community groups, liaised with various school personnel, worked on their concepts before proposing their ideas and creating their gardens.

As a result of the UTS workshop I aimed to build empathy in my students (an idea from the design thinking approach). We watched various clips on refugees and famine and we then built our popplets/mindmaps around this driving question.

The students are constantly making comments that they don’t want to leave this class and are always coming to see me at break times!

You can also check out what’s been happening through our online practice sharing blog.

For more information or for how to get involved please contact Lisa Aitken lisa.aitken@uts.edu

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