Happy Steve

Innovation and Learning

Start with clarity of intent.

Now build it out with an evocative vision. Improvise progress by tinkering: with lots of trial and lots of error. The not knowing is the best bit: the mysteries the surprises, and from time to time the windfalls! 

Hello there, I'm Steve Collis! 

Click on "contact", won't you, and wave right back at me?

The Best Bits of my Crazy School

Here are the 'Best Bits' of my school that might spark of your own ideas for your own teaching/learning context. I'm suddenly getting about 150 visitors to HappySteve per day, up from my normal 20 or so, so I thought I'd throw an overview out to you all of the ventures that have me so damn excited about working where I work. 

Technology is not the point. Some projects below use technology heavily, but the million dollar question is are students engaged and extended?


'The Matrix'

 Known by various names, this program runs in Years 5, 6, 7 and 8 - we throw all students from that academic year into one large space with few walls, or no walls, for a cross-curricular program lead by a cross-curricular team of teachers, where the students self-select into a matrix of activities ranging from simple to complex, and a wide range of multiple intelligences. In Year 7 students spend most of their time in this sort of environment.

The result is a sight to behold! Teacher collaboration and openness rather than territoriality. Student motivation sky high as they become educational entrepreneurs rather than passive recipients. A sense of movement and momentum towards the creativity end of the learning spectrum. An almost zero level of conflict / disengagement.


The Real Audience Project

Rap  We want every class to have a publishing presence online. No matter what the students are producing, the teacher ought to be redirecting their creative creations to the web for the world to see and comment on. We call this the 'Real Audience Project', and have set up www.realaudienceproject.com where ALL of our students' publishing projects will appear.

The Real Audience Project includes basic web publishing such as http://nbcsnews.wordpress.com (12,000 visitors now!! The students can imagine themselves on the stage of a stadium, and this fuels the care and attention they give their writing).

Also audio publishing in projects like http://wordsworthreflections.wordpress.com, where students ring a local number from their phone and what they say appears instantly (over 4,000 visitors), http://youtube.com/frenchfm, and our radio station (open: in iTunes to listen in). 

Also print book publishing at http://stores.lulu.com/realaudienceproject - we have had 80 or 90 sales now at our little book store. People order the books and they arrive via mail. It's great for our students to be able to say they are published authors, and again, the care they put into their work is due to the publishing process.

Also, teacher publishing at the real audience project dot com you'll find our teacher tweets and blogs. The benefit for them is the same as for our students - publishing sharpens your mind, raises your standards, and rewards you with recognition. Step 1, get your teachers to blog - it's the launchpad for a learning journey.


Virtual Worlds

Art gallery  Since the start of 2009 we have had a virtual island that students can access from school or at home.Our students have build and coded the world themselves, and they teach each other the expertise they acquire. Teachers also use it in class to target specific skills. We use 'Second Life' for our original island, but now have a much cheaper second space which we run with a free program called 'Open Sim'.


Beyond Borders

Beyond-Borders (White)  I launched Beyond Borders in 2005 to provide locked, moderated web spaces where students from multiple schools could work together on collaborative projects. We've had well over 3,000 participants 

from all over the world. It's a great way for teachers to help their students lift their horizons beyond the claustrophobic perspective of their classroom.

Beyond Borders is the main reason why those lovely people gave me those lovely awards. 

Yes you can participate, for free! (I run full training sessions too). 


Online Study


In 2006 we started offering HSC (the last two years of High School for ages 17 & 18) courses in an entirely online mode. Some teachers, including me, put their hands up to set up and teach these courses. We now have over 300 students from all over the state doing one or more subjects with us, and  it turns out they perform better in the HSC than face to face students. When a student owns their own learning, and is able to learn according to their own rhythm and preferences, they do better than when plonked in a classroom in front of a boss who tells them what to do and when to do it. 45% of our 2009 students scored in the top two bands of the HSC.


Moodle for Everyone


All our classes have a Moodle page equipped with learning
resources, assessments and communication tools. Our online infrastructure is of
benefit to all our students. This is exerting strong pressure and influence on
our face to face classes. Teacher roles are shifting, as well they should in
the information age, from source of knowledge to coach/mentor.

Here is our Primary age Moodle site.


And finally, a concept I can't recommend highly enough to leaders of other schools:

  the Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning (SCIL)

ScilIt's just a name. By giving something a name, it exists, right? Back in 2005 our principal labelled it, and it existed! SCIL is a label that gathers a whole range of innovative practices around the school. It 
mobilises, supports, and rewards teachers for taking risks. Teachers trying new ideas and talking online about them have access to the title SCIL Associate which is a career aspiration, a map for understanding what the school is on about, and an easy way to open doors to conversations with other educators.

Five years later we also have a building called the Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning. See some photos of it here: http://scil.nsw.edu.au/scil-building/ As you view the photos, note that this is where our Year 8s often spend their time learning. Notice that there is no obvious 'front' of the class for teacher talk? There are, however, enough seductive and varied learning spaces to cater for the 140 inquisitive minds who are thrown in their with 6 cross-curricular teachers. Among these are a camp fire, a cave and a wateringhole , metaphorically speaking, spaces designed to facilitate mythically universal modes of learning.


Post Script: We've now launched a teacher training institute, under the auspices of the Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning, driven by the very teachers who have been instrumental in the above initiatives. Our motto for this is "PD Like No Other". Attendees at ACEC2010 will know how I feel about traditional PD!!! If you want to replicate some of the ideas above, come and spend the day with me or my colleagues - you can see the ideas in action with the students, and we'll work with you step by step to adapt the ideas to your context.

Come and visit us! Book up for next term! What ya waiting for?


There are plenty more, but the projects I have mentioned are some the more mature initiatives. Our informal motto is "Do, then think!" (our official mission is "Excellence in Education, Christianity in Action") and these are some of the projects that have survived, while in background we have plenty of other risky initiatives that may succeed gloriously or fail dismally.

See the reactions of previous visitors here.

I am going to reorganise my blog as soon as I get the time so instead of having to trawl though the archives or click on some messy 'category' links, you'll get a clean table of contents so you can get further information on the various initiatives I've had a personal hand in.