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! 

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Filtering by Tag: GAT Project

Google 20% Rule in Schools - Project Breakthroughs


Since 2011 I've been posting occasionally on our experiment in Years 9 and 10 and my school to see if we could apply the fabled Google 20% Rule - students spend 20% of their time on a blank slate passion project.


NSW Board of Studies No Barrier

We are exploiting the fact that in NSW, the Board of Studies (BOS) does not require Year 9 and 10 students to fill their school hours entirely with B.O.S. endorsed courses.  Once all the boxes are ticked, there's still at least 500 hours across the two years available as a blank slate. You can do a lot with 500 hours!


Building a 'Soft' Syllabus / Assessment Grid

soft syllabus.JPG

My colleague Talar Khatchoyan has done a wonderful job creating a 'soft' syllabus & assessments to suit the course. I mean 'soft' as in 'soft-coded' - the outcomes adapt to any project!  

Which is fortunate, because from previous posts you'll see we've had social justice campaigns, albums recorded, robots constructed, novels written. So I thought I had seen it all, when I recently read a proposal by a student to study and decode horse body language. What an amazing idea! "Approved!"


2013 Example - Jacob's Ultima-Bot

Here is one example of a project - a ridable robot:


Jacob's project has these elements, typical for the program:

  • a learning log - http://reminvent.weebly.com/ultimabot-blog.html (please do drop by of course)
  • expert input 'pulled' from appropriate sources as needed (contrast to schooling where expertise is 'pushed' out on a teacher's schedule)
  • ongoing mentoring by experts, sought out by Jacob. (Since 2011 where I mentioned the 'granny cloud' we now ask the students to seek out an appropriate expert mentor wherever possible, and this is working very well, very efficiently)
  • a project mentor, in Jacob's case this is me, who is separate from an expert in the field. The project mentor acts as a kind of Socrates, asking questions about planning, materials, skills needed, identifying 'unknowns' and areas for further inquiry, setting targets and defining concrete 'next actions', setting the bar ever higher, looking for opportunities for publication, etc.  

Field Expert versus Project Mentor


Notice we deliberately separate out the two roles  of:

subject expert,


project mentor.

This has enormous strategic importance as we explore scaling the program up to encompass, potentially, hundreds of students, who at any given time might be seeking expert input from an ever-shifting veritable spectrum of disciplines, but can still be anchored to a generic project mentor.

Great Things Afoot

...I'll post more on the project soon! 

GAT Course - Will it Scale?

My colleague Talar Khatchoyan returns with a second guest post on the 'GAT Course', which is our experiment at 'soft-coding' a year 9/10 (stage 5) course. Last year we piloted it, this year we're beginning to scale it up. 15 students have selected 'GAT' instead of a 'Board Endorsed' course like Music or Commerce.

Talar has managed to put together a soft-coded syllabus, outcomes and assessment schedule, as well as an induction program lasting 4 weeks. The students define and implement their own projects. See these posts for the story so far, dating right back to our original thinking.

Below, Talar recounts how term 1 is unfolding:


What’s been happening in GAT lately? Pretty exciting stuff!

1. One of our students finally settled on a GAT project and he is happy about it! It took about 5 lessons of talking, planning, brainstorming and everything else and he has now settled on creating a documentary series on life in Manly focusing on different aspects of Manly like: Surfing, tourism, homelessness, busking, etc. This was a pretty huge victory for him!

2. The students are talking a lot more (they were really quiet at the start). So, they are really starting to own the course! They are asking for KRUMS (our gamified point system) and the best part is that they are helping each other!

3. A student came to class with what looked like a pencil case but when you flipped it, there were speakers on the other side. He said he was feeling bored and wanted to be creative and so made this pencil case that doubles as a speaker system! I couldn't believe it! And it worked! This got me excited for two reasons. a. It was pretty cool and just shows me how incredible he is…always thinks out of the box. b. I was excited because he wanted to showcase his work. It just shows he understands the concept of GAT, he's sharing and creating and innovating! And I’m sure it was really inspirational for his peers. 

4. Students are sharing their skills with one another! They are showcasing work, sharing ideas, giving feedback and information. They are realising their skills and strengths as well as the areas they need help with and are working together to find balance.

5. Students handed in their first assessment task which was a plan & rationale for their project. I haven’t had a chance to really start marking them, but when I do, I’ll blog again! 

Anyway, I just wanted to share, and catch you up on all the awesome aspects of GAT! 

Sorry for the overuse of exclamation marks – I guess they are expressing my great enthusiasm for these students and what they are achieving. 

Talar Khatchoyan

/GAT Project/ Google 20% Rule In School

/GAT Project/ Concluding Post 2011: "Boiling Pot" Edition

First-time readers: ‘GAT Project’ is our attempt at applying the Google 20% rule to school – no program, assessments, no teacher talk, no predefined curriculum, every student a different direction. For 6 months I’ve been working with Talar Khatchoyan to run a pilot project and see if we can grow it. See previous posts here to get up to speed.


The Granny Cloud Worked a Treat (although it was sans grannies)

As we hoped, industry experts emerged from our wider school community and gave of themselves, not only visiting the school to tutor the students, but also staying in email and phone contact with the students:


Lee Romer from Lee Media Design helping Sarita choose a color scheme for her anti-slavery campaign website.


Ex-cricketer and published author Neil Marks talks Peter through the writing and publishing process.


Steve Mansfield, with a degree in photography, explores the implications of eye biology for photo editing and filtering with Hugh and Daniel.

The Students Created Wonderful New Things and Learned a Stack

They did really well, especially considering they only really had about 20 hours class time in our small-scale pilot.

Hugh's Photographs

Daniel's Photographs

Sarita's Anti-Slavery Website

Peter's WW2 Pacific Articles: article 1, article 2, article 3, Doolittle's Raids

Absent Katrina's or Dominic's novels, Nick's Tropfest entry can't be released until after Tropfest, & Jarrod and Jayme's film coming soon.

Tom's robot is an absolute marvel, because he decided to build it out of recycled parts and scrap metal:

Don't be distracted by the yellow robot also in the video. His project is completely separate from that kit robot.

Tom explains how he found and chose the parts for his robot here:



Another two students, Morgan and Cody, had set their hearts on building "a robot that can find red objects". Cody's expertise was coding in Python, Morgan would build the robot itself. 

This is their end product. I had a red shirt on and they got it to chase me around the room!


Novel-writing, WW2 articles, photography, robots, anti-slavery campaign. The only thing that's missing is an expert teacher orchestrating. 


The /GAT Project/ in 2012

Talar has now written a kind of ‘GAT Syllabus’ complete with OUTCOMES (that’ll bring us some respectability!) reminiscent of Dan Buckley’s PbyP pathways (see p36 here) that somehow cover all student directions ('student pursues creativity' sort of thing). In 2012 we're forging ahead and increasing the time from 3 * 75 minutes to 5 * 75 minutes a fortnight (about 13% of weekly lesson time). We have about 16 students and I'll keep blogging.


Boiling Pots and Fires in Bellies

I once said something, then forgot I said it, and then Andrew Jeppeson reminded me, and I thought ‘gosh that’s so true’. So I’ll say it again now so I don’t forget it:

“Student engagement covers over a multitude of sins.”

This principle applies in any situation and in a much broader form. Let me rephrase it more simply:

“Life is desire.”

I mean “Life is desire, not obligation”.

You’ll need to define and redefine ‘desire’ in order to make this statement viable. It’s not too hard to subsume obligation into desire as a subset, i.e. I desire to do what I believe I ought to do (obviously true, since who can enjoy a cup of tea while there is washing waiting to hang out?)

The schooling machine tells students they ought to do well by the school’s own terms. Kindergarten kids wish to please, but it’s the ones who succeed early who embrace the ought with all their might. The ones who fail slowly give up, or find other ways (class clown/rebel leader/bully/social butterfly) or more likely in a tapestry of all of the above in rhythms and seasons too fluid to define.


Traumatic Schooling

How many times have I met someone new, and when they hear I’m a teacher, all their school-trauma plops out of them at me, still un-processed, un-healed; still childlike, as parts of their psyche still throb with the hurt of 13 years in a system that disapproved. If they didn’t desire they wouldn’t hurt.

See how obligation is a subset of desire?


Life is Desire

Life is desire.

Obligation is a socially constructed desire. It happens all the time, from momentary table conversations (‘pass the salt’) to nation-cultures (‘We need you!’). Our consciences are like a bubbling pot of oughts.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble. 

If we look underneath underneath the bubbling pot there’s a fire.

The fire is desire. It precedes obligation, even though it may channel its energy through it.

It pulls us forward. 

It shifts and it flickers. It rages and dies, and rages again.

Rages, rages, against the machine,

or for the machine. 

Or against the dying of the light.

Or bizarrely, for the dying of the light, as if thirsty for death, as if it turned in on itself. 

Who is running your life? Whose terms? Whose agenda? Who do wish to please?

 “I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords” – Kent Brockman 

Have you met that guy who knows who he is and what he stands for? Have you ever tried to stop her? Did you have any luck?

And I’ll stop right there, mid-thought, baffled as usual. 

One thing clear:

In the /GAT Project/ it has sure been nice to warm our hands by the fire. 


This is the 7th in an ongoing series of blog posts entitled /GAT Project/ They will appear regularly at this website, categorised under 'GAT Project'. If you'd like to receive future posts, you can:

- click here to subscribe to Steve's blog in general by email, or here in a reader.

- click here http://www.happysteve.com/contact/ and indicate 'GAT Posts Only' in the message body - I'll email you when I update the GAT Project just for the duration of the series.

- or regularly check this link for new posts: http://www.happysteve.com/blog/tag/gat-project

/GAT Project/ "My Initial Thoughts", by Talar Khatchoyan

This is post 6 in a series about an experimental new learning structure at our school, with no program, no assessments, no teacher talk. In this post my colleague Talar Khatchoyan shares her thoughts thus far.

GAT: My initial thoughts

I first heard about the GAT project at the end of Term 2. At that stage it felt to me to be the undeveloped brainchild of Steve Collis. It sounded like the sort of project I would have naturally gravitated toward whilst a student because it offered so much freedom and time to pursue a project of my choice. However, beyond this, I had no idea what to expect. I cannot even tell you the exact point GAT went from being a distant possibility, to a project I had willingly signed myself to. My most coherent thoughts at those early stages were:

- I am worried

- I can t understand how it will work

- I think working with Steve will be an adventure

Now, four weeks into the initiation of GAT, I feel mostly the same- though perhaps more excited than worried.

So far, GAT has meant letting go of all my teacher-instincts and going with the flow of the students, of the course and of its demands. With each conversation I have with Steve or a student, I feel as though things are slightly more defined and yet, strangely, less so- which, is truly, the nature of learning. It feels something like the moment you first pick up a Shakespeare you haven t studied. You feel overwhelmed, excited, with a touch of trepidation because you know that what will come will teach you something new about humanity, about Shakespeare s craft, about culture and sub-culture, and a whole lot of other things. Learning cannot fit into a box, just as Shakespeare cannot be confined to one page. They breathe and grow and endure; they inform future learning. This is GAT.

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid ~Einstein

I love this quote, because it is a humble reminder to me. I am reminded that my students come with their individual talents, goals and abilities. I am reminded that they are unique thinkers and that there are many things they can do better than I can. I am reminded that I need to celebrate their successes and recognise their genius. GAT helps me see this. I see students pursuing their craft, their learning, and their passions.

I think my favourite moment is when students pose an idea. We talk about it, we play around with it, bounce it around and stretch it to see how far it will go and then suddenly, they see that there is potential there. What they had thought to be a quick task, or a distant dream, has now developed into a larger, complex project. I love the moments when they are excited that their work will be published, read, accessed, assessed, by peers and professionals.

During our GAT session today, I spent half an hour talking to a student who had a fairly developed idea. Their project was to create a social justice kit to help schools in raising awareness of the issues in our world today. She had finished a first draft and wanted an opinion. After half an hour of discussion, she walked away with a totally transformed idea. We spoke about taking her project and developing it as a website resource for schools. We spoke about the possibility of networking with student designers to produce posters that could be downloaded as resources to be used in schools. We spoke about the potential for this to become a long-term project that could be maintained and updated to be used for many years. This is GAT! I couldn t help but feel excited with her as we peeled the layers of restrictions we often feel are placed around our ideas to discover the true possibility of our imagination and thought.

I'm so excited to be a part of this project. I love the fact that students are directing themselves and that they are learning and helping one another access resources and information. I can t wait to see what happens next!

This is the sixth in a series of blog posts entitled /GAT Project/ They will appear regularly at this website, categorised under 'GAT Project'. If you'd like to receive future posts, you can:

- click here to subscribe to Steve's blog in general by email, or here in a reader.

- click here http://www.happysteve.com/contact/ and indicate 'GAT Posts Only' in the message body - I'll email you when I update the GAT Project just for the duration of the series.

- or regularly check this link for new posts: http://www.happysteve.com/blog/tag/gat-project

/GAT Project/ The Rubber Hits the Road!

We've had just 4 lessons in the 'GAT Course' and I am just over the moon. For new readers, the GAT Course is an experimental course in Year 9 & 10 at my school which we are hoping to expand out to be a 200 hour course involving every student in Stage 5. It's experimental, because every student is involved in completely different projects. Read previous posts to get your head around the idea.
When I look around the space
I see...

A student has already constructed a robot from a kit, but next is the challenging part: discover its design principles and then create a robot with similar capabilities from scratch, with home-made parts. I was skeptical at the ambition at first, but the student started describing how he had already made a mechanical hand at home with string and motors.
I suggested he run a hand on robotics demonstration class for Primary students later this year!
I see...


Another student has her heart set on writing a book. This very morning, she tells me, she had a flash of inspiration. She raced to a computer, captured the ideas, and printed them out before running out the door. They're on a folded up bit of paper. So now she's revisiting them; fashioning and forming them.

I suggested we establish a test-readership of 30 or 40 volunteers who could give her gut-reaction feedback on her story. 

I see...

The planning notes and draft document by a student passionate about social justice, and determined to take concrete action to combat slavery. She's recruiting peers to assist her set up a website, and is preparing a school-wide publicity drive to raise awareness and educate our community on how we can act to help the voiceless.

I see...

My colleague Ms Khatchoyan assisting a team to finalise their initial project timeline. They are bouncing ideas around. Her role, and mine, in these meetings, is to throw left-field ideas into the mix. What if we tried to get you on-set for a professional film? What if we tried to market and sell your product? What if we got a professional film director to give you some feedback? 

Ms Khatchoyan will be posting here soon with her thoughts, and I'll post student voices too. 

Here's the thing: as I scan the space I see every student engaged, eager to aim high. There is momentum, movement, excitement. They're focused. They're taking initiative, solving their own problems, getting on with the job.

It's every teacher's dream, and it works because rather than the teacher having to be the engine for everyone, dragging the class forward by sheer force of will and dogged determination, instead every student is bringing their own unstoppable locomotive engine.

And each engine is going in a completely different direction!

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts entitled /GAT Project/ They will appear regularly at this website, categorised under 'GAT Project'. If you'd like to receive future posts, you can:

- click here to subscribe to Steve's blog in general by email, or here in a reader.

- click here http://www.happysteve.com/contact/ and indicate 'GAT Posts Only' in the message body - I'll email you when I update the GAT Project just for the duration of the series.

- or regularly check this link for new posts: http://www.happysteve.com/blog/tag/gat-project