Monday, November 17, 2008

Reflections from Australia - Part 2 (NSW Schools)

As I mention on my earlier blog-post, I recently had the opportunity to visit schools in Australia as part of a Woolf Fisher Fellowship. The focus of this posting is to mention some the highlights of visits to three NSW schools.

The first school I visited was Caringbah High School, a State Selective High School. There are about 8 selective high schools in Sydney, these are schools which have academic entry criteria good academic success. Selective schools provide an academic state education and are very popular. Students get selected to attend before Year 7 via the Selective High School Test in Year 6. One of the special programmes that ran out of Caringbah was a NASA supported space education programmes which had a Martian exploration context - looking for life on Mars. This has involved microbiology – looking at what is needed for life, mechatronics fun with a local university – remote controlling rovers, and use of the IMAX cinema to view Space exploration images on the BIG screen. The programme has also been extended into the local primary school with Year 5 & 6 kids visiting to have a similar course, this time supported by the Year 8 students at Caringbah. The programme appealed to me because of the way education became more seamless and links were made between the high school and both the university and local primary. I am sure all parties benefitted from the interactions and I feel all too often educational institutions work in isolation from one another when such links may prove very fruitful.

My next visit was Strathfield Girls, a successful state school with ESL students making up around 80% of the population. One special class I visited was a Year 10 ESL targeted class. This was team taught by a Science teacher and the ESL teacher. The teacher set up the practical work and the ESL teacher taught in the class with specially prepared resources. What amazed me was the ESL teacher was also a trained Science teacher. She was therefore able to create high quality resources with relevant science content and contexts and which specially targeted improving the language skills of ESL students. This team-teaching approach with ESOL students is a model I would love to see around any school I taught at.

Georges River College - Oatley Senior Campus is a senior college – Years 11 and 12. Senior colleges, like Selectives, arose from State attempts to stem the flow of students to private schools. The College formed about 4 years ago by drawing the year 11 and 12 students from three local schools. These schools have now become year 7-10 Junior Campuses. They are all Georges River College (GRC) but have different sites. School periods at GRC-Oatley Campus are 75 minutes long (this was common across Australian Schools), four of these on the average day split with 2 main breaks, each 30 minutes long. The campus was the site of an old teachers college and the school had a relaxed but mature feel about it (not dissimilar to a university). Students took responsibility for their attendance with the use of swipe cards - now there's an interesting idea!

One of the things I particularly liked about Georges River was their promotion of “The Oatley Way”. When I think of my own school, do we have a “Freyberg Way” and if we do, is it they way that we should be celebrating? I think articulating a school way could be a great way to highlight some of the values the school is focusing and promoting within the school community.

Next post...Queensland Schools.

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