There were tears, stresses, meltdowns and successes but these are things happen in life. Overall, this was one of the most amazing weeks of my 20 years in education. To see students excited to be at school on the last day of term and able to communicate what they are learning. What a win.
This post is likely to be long, but I'll try to briefly discuss the path we have travelled over the last few years to get to the point of having a project week, what we are doing this year with students and some of the lessons and thoughts from the week.
At Bradfield every Year 11 student is enrolled in the Industry Experience Program as part of their studies. This program is an integration of three courses: the HSC 2 Unit course Work Studies, a Certificate III in Employment and Training and a Certificate I in Information Technology. Our timetable is built around the program being run on Fridays (there are no other classes on Fridays). We have been running this program in various structures for 20 years.
For the first 16 weeks students are at College, after this Fridays are reserved for year 11 students to complete a work placement of at least 35 hours. In the first 16 weeks students:
- Participate in a Connect mentor program, to help them to transition and settle into both the College and to Year 11. It includes competing an induction program to access all the systems and services and working with their "Connect" teacher. Every Connect teacher is allocated about 8 students.and the group meets each week for at least 30 minutes. As all students are new to Bradfield the program is an important key to supporting students to integrate into a new College.
- Research and investigate industries and jobs. They complete a CareerHQ Compass survey to help them to expand their ideas and options for future careers
- Apply for a job in a project team that will be part of the Creative Careers Event (see later), including researching the job, writing a resume and cover letter and then having a 30 minute job interview with industry representatives (this is an amazing experience for students and the interviewers and deserves a blog post on its own)
- Complete a project working in teams for the Vivid Ideas Event
- Find a work placement
Vivid Ideas Creative Careers Event and Projects
In 2016, we were fortunate to host a Creative Careers Day as part of the Vivid Ideas festival. Along with over 40 workshops run by creative industries representatives, students undertook projects that were part of the day, including performances, an art exhibition, an art market, STEM exhibitions etc. This created an opportunity for students to have a real external audience for their work.
We applied again this year and were again successful and are running another Creative Careers Event as part of the Vivid Ideas festival. After our experience last year, we had a better understanding of the types of projects that would be required (and would engage students), so we developed a range of project briefs to reflect these needs.
Students applied for a job role within a project, based on the provided project briefs. Having a real role they were applying for created a clear purpose and focus for their resume, cover letter and job interviews.
Based on the projects students applied for, we allocated teachers and resources to support the projects. Not all of the projects got off the ground because of a lack of students applying (such as a Science research project on micro plastics), others we thought would be small ignited the students' interest and so expanded to be larger teams (such as the Secrets Team).
The project teams are:
- Berry Island Exhibition Team - producing an Art exhibition and designing products for sale
- Secrets Team - the orginal brief was to work with local aged care homes to talk with elderly people and document their secrets and stories
- Drama, Music and Dance Teams - creating orginal performances
- IT Application Development Team - creating a program app for the event
- Events Management Team - helping to organise and run the event
- Journalism Team - documenting, marketing and writing articles for the event
- Media Production Team - working with other teams to create media about the event
- Zine Team - making Zines and running a Zine making workshop
- Shibori and Headdress Team - running workshops
- Garden and Mural Team - fixing up a vertical garden
Why a project week?
Last year students struggled to have enough time to complete the projects. We also thought having a block time would help them to develop other knowledge and skills, including time management, creativity, team work. It would also give the projects a focus by having them present and talk about their project's progress to an audience.
We chose the last week of Term 1 for a number of reasons:
- The last week of term is traditionally a difficult week to engage students and our attendance over the last few years has been disappointing in this week.
- Year 12 students were doing exams (and as a senior college we only have Year 11 and 12), so we didn't have to worry about other classes (but we did have to juggle exam supervision)
- Students have been working on their project every Friday for about 4 weeks, so this was a good time to give them a block of time to get deep into the project
Project teams were able to spend the week making and planning, including going on excursions. A couple of groups visited the Aged Care home, to interview people and to do a music performance.
Feedback Day - Friday 7 April
To give a focus to the project week every team had to present their team's progress to an audience (we invited both parents and industry to give feedback). So on Friday every team had to
- give a short presentation in an assembly to highlight their progress and discuss what they were aiming to do during the Vivid Ideas event
- have a display/performance/mini-exhibition to show their project progress to an audience and be there to talk with and explain their project
Students were so excited about being able to show off what they had done so far. Having feedback about how their projects were progressing and having external people talk to them had given them clear ideas about what they now need to do to get ready for the final deliverables.
The one hour presentations were amazing, every group's presentation was different and reflected the students and their project. One of our students who has social anxiety did one of the presentations, I thought he had the most well spoken delivery of the groups. Another group did an Graham Norton style interview of students about their experiences and as always the music and drama students did a song with all the students coming from the audience and participating.
Student led Check-in Interviews
Another key aspect and focus for the project week was that every student had a student led check-in interview. Student were asked to put together a folio of their work from Term 1 and to reflect on their strengths, successes and things they were proud of as well as areas they wanted to work on in Term 2.
Every student had about 10 minutes to present to two teachers. I gave teachers instructions to listen and let students do the talking. Some students who were at risk or under achieving in some areas had parents invited and had one of the Assistant Directors in on these interviews.
With this positive focus, it was such a privilege to hear the student's perspective of their progress. It was great to be able to tell a student who is struggling that you are proud of what they have achieved. In one of my interviews, all four adults in the room were all in tears, about what the student had achieved (but if you looked at what they had done on paper you would have thought they were not engaged or had achieved little this term).
Based on the positive experience of the student led interviews, we are looking at changing the traditional parent/student interviews in Term 2. From "speed dating" type conversations with each teacher, to a student led conversation with the parents and 2 teachers.
My observations from the Project week
Some of my reflections of the week:
- the week worked better than I had imagined, there were some challenges and difficulties which I had expected, but the majority of students worked and produced work to a higher level than I had hoped
- there were no subject silos, there was just everyone (students and teachers) in together, learning
- there was so much more student movement. Without the restrictions of formal class times, students were able to move around based on what they were doing and when they needed to do it. You lost some control knowing where and what every students is doing, but student gain the freedom to have deeper learning experiences
- management had more interactions and inspirational moments with studetns than normally have in a whole term
- student attendance, focus, engagement and energy was better than a "normal" teaching week (let alone the last week of term)
- many of the less engaged students shone when they were doing things they loved doing
- students were turning up early asking to start working and some we had to "kick out" at the end of the day
- some students struggled with less structure and having to manage their own time and work. Every team had their own program and we gave them structures and expectations, but being able to provide more sophisticated scaffolds, support and structure if required is an area I think we can still improve. Interestingly, I think providing students with time to struggle with these skills is an important way to learn these self-management skills (which are some of the most important ones needed when they leave school)
- Most of the teachers were energised by the project week, especially where they were able to work with students on areas that they are passionate about
- I have blogged previously about Spiderman's motto "With great power comes great responsibility". I was amazed at the maturity and learning the students were able to show during the week when we gave them responsibility. So when you give students freedom they demonstrate responsibility, or if you flip, when students have the opportunity to take on responsibility they gain their superpowers.
- On the last day, we did not schedule our normal 30 min break. There were activities scheduled from 9.30-1.30pm. When a student asked if "they had a break", I said like in a workplace there was not scheduled break but if they needed a short break they could have one when they had the opportunity. They were happy with this answer
- Finally, I work with an amazing group of teachers. They are nurturing, passionate, adaptable, inspirational, resilient, supportive and love working with young people. Without their positivity this week would not have been the success it was