Three Innovative Schools from around the world:

My aim in this blog is simply to describe some innovative practice that is taking place in schools across the world. My assumption is that we can learn and reflect by examining what others do differently. Here I hope to provide enough information on the context and programmes of three schools to provide teachers and senior leaders with food for thought. Each school has an approach that should stimulate thought and discussion and give pause for thought on the possibilities of school education. This initial blog may become the first in an occasional series but for this first I have selected a school from Australia, a school from China and a school from Cambodia. They are three very different schools, each with a particular mission and focus, but each, in their different ways committed to a holistic approach to education: 

  1. Holistic education based on student wellbeing and blended, personalised learning: Melbourne Girls Grammar School, Australia  

(What drew me to this school was the impressive way the school has managed to develop a coherent and compelling approach to what is in some ways a traditional academic education with a personalised learning approach that places student wellbeing at its heart) 

  1. Leading edge Science education: Beijing No. 35 High School, China 

(A former colleague put me on to this school when he mentioned that he had attended a presentation by a school in China that had its own ‘wind tunnel’…what impressed is the way in which the school manages to incorporate cutting edge science into the curriculum)

  1. Leadership, Experiential and Problem-based learning: The Liger Academy, Cambodia 

(Hearing about a group of students who were developing a microsatellite led me to find more about this truly remarkable school in Cambodia – a school with an ambitious mission and very much a ‘modern’ approach to learning)

1. Holistic education based on student wellbeing and blended, personalised learning: Melbourne Girls Grammar School:

On the face of it, Melbourne Girls Grammar School might appear an unlikely candidate for innovative education, after all, it has a history stretching back over 125 years, became an Anglican Church school, has school uniform, a Latin motto (Nisi Dominus Frustra – everything is in vain without God) and high academic achievement… but this K-12 girls’ day and boarding school with over 1000 students has gained accolades for its innovative approach to student learning especially in grades 9-12 (years 10-13). There are a variety of reasons for these accolades but what impresses is not so much the specific innovations but the overall coherence of its educational approach. What is more, it is a school that has sought to provide real balance between the traditional and the modern, to balance  the desire to personalise the learning experience and support student autonomy without compromising on ‘traditional’ ‘academic’ progress, achievement and success. 

For the Senior Years (grades 9-12) there is a coherent, well thought-through, well-resourced, flexible and student-centred programme that, in words of the present principal, Toni Meath: ‘ promotes a progressive, contemporary community of practice…providing personalised, high quality curriculum, wellbeing and co-curricular programs that enable lifelong learning for every student …inspiring … and equipping [students] with the values, knowledge and skills to be ready to make their mark on the world’. The ambition for  MGGS graduates is for them to be ‘ethical women who have the courage and skills to work and think independently and who possess an enterprising mindset … agents of their own future, [with belief in] their capacity to influence and shape their world and have confidence in their own identity’.

Vision, Mission and Values 

The School’s VISION is:

Melbourne Girls Grammar aspires to develop ethical women of action. Through a focus on learning, research and innovation the school aims to be recognised by the local, the national and international community as a leading school in girls’ education.

The School’s MISSION is:

In the pursuit of the vision, Melbourne Girls Grammar is committed to the provision of an exceptional education for girls, with an emphasis on strong Christian values, high expectations, creativity and academic challenge. Within a supportive and optimistic culture the school provides opportunities for students to discover their passions and build their capacities for action and influence within their many life contexts.

The School’s VALUES are:

• Integrity

• Compassion

• Courage

• Self-discipline

The school’s student graduate profile is in the diagram below

In order to achieve this, the senior years programme has a holistic approach looking to develop the social, emotional, physical and academic well being of the students. There is a strong emphasis on student agency and empowerment. The educational model provides an integrated experience of academic, co-curricular and wellbeing programs. The approach aims to ensure the social, personal and environmental factors in each student’s life works together to maximise their learning and develop them as an independent, self-aware and resilient young adult. 

Curriculum, Staffing, Timetable, Co-curriculum, Technology, Accommodation are all designed to work together to support the educational model.

Wellbeing at the heart

Since 2008, Melbourne Girls Grammar has developed a significant research base to inform and develop their Wellbeing Model, Students entering Year 9 are part of a progressive, preventative and education-based wellbeing program that responds to the challenges young people are faced with today in the areas of:

  • Social connectedness
  • Mental health (including anxiety, depression, stress and perfectionism)
  • Physical health (sedentary behaviours, nutrition, sleep).

Curriculum: Combines flexibility, challenge and choice

The senior years are a time of increased autonomy within a defined, yet flexible structure with clear expectations. Students develop and manage their own Learning Plan. The school believes that when challenged, students will experience success in meeting and exceeding expectations. So the programmes are designed with this in mind and provide differing levels of conceptual and literacy challenges.Students move through these phases of learning at a pace and on the learning pathway that best meets their needs. 

The Senior Years academic curriculum is a four year learning continuum framed by two phases: Years 9 – 10 and Years 11 – 12. As students move into the Senior Years, they exercise full control over the structure and elements of their learning plan. In Years 9 and 10 they choose from standard, advanced and accelerated courses as they develop a pathway (with their pathway planning teachers) that aligns with their passions, talents and aspirations. It is an expectation that all girls will undertake at least one advanced course by the completion of Grade 10, however, they are able to select from advanced courses in all learning pathways. Students have access to an extensive curriculum and public exam offering, and over 55 different elective courses. In Grades 11 and 12, students choose from over 30 public exam course options.  Students move through these phases of learning at a pace and on a learning pathway that best meets their needs.

Staffing: organised to support and enhance student learning, progression and wellbeing

The Staff Team includes:

  • Expert Teachers – as you would expect, well-qualified subject and pedagogical experts and teachers
  • Academic Coaches

Along with expert teachers, Senior Years students also have access to a team of Academic Coaches. Academic Coaches are available to students in each learning pathway, to assist them with review, practice and application of learning. The Academic Coaches help girls with time management and organisation and, in the lead up to exams, support the girls by hosting exam preparation workshops and assisting in the creation of study schedules.

  • Wellbeing Coaches

The Wellbeing team brings together a group of professionals from diverse backgrounds, including counselling, elite sport, psychology and education.  Weekly, one-on-one wellbeing coaching is a vital component of the Senior Years Programme. During these sessions, students are empowered to identify their values, and to learn how to effectively balance all aspects of their spirituality, health, learning and relationships. 

Our Wellbeing Coaches are non-teaching staff, and are specifically involved in:

  • Coaching students to understand their wellbeing and proactively manage their wellbeing needs and goals
  • Guiding the student in optimising their opportunities, both academic and co-curricular
  • Tracking the student’s holistic progress
  • Engaging with Fit for Life Coaches

Students direct the course of their Wellbeing pathway with the guidance of their coach.

Through active listening and collaboration, coaches come together to design and implement small and full cohort group activities and programmes that are directly responsive to the needs of each cohort. Experiential learning is a vital component of group work and complements one-to-one coaching sessions. 

  • Wellbeing Co-ordinators (we might call them tutors)

The Senior Years Wellbeing Co-ordinators are responsible for the pastoral and academic stewardship of their students. Their role involves establishing a relationship of mutual respect and understanding with students and a supportive and guiding relationship with parents and guardians. They also play a crucial role in monitoring each student and her progress through the Senior Years. They analyse academic, wellbeing and physical engagement data and support the girls through one-to-one sessions targeting the development of strategies that support their learning, motivation and connectedness. Wellbeing Co-ordinators are the first point of contact for parents.

  • Pathways Planning Teachers  

These guide students in the academic pathways through the senior years taking strong account of the abilities, ambitions and interests of the students

  • Student Enterprise Manager

At the outset of Year 9, each student meets with the Student Enterprise Manager to develop their Enterprise Profile. The Student Enterprise Manager is responsible for the provision of opportunities that extend learning into local and global contexts. This remains an active experience throughout the four years of the Senior Years Program, building experiences and learning within four domains:

  • Learning beyond school – local and global opportunities, incorporating trips, exchanges, humanitarian initiatives, and passion-focused opportunities;
  • Careers Inspiration – An expansive domain, with a particular focus on internships that supplement and inform learning experiences beyond the academic domain;
  • Student Philanthropy – volunteer work is a highly valued component of our girls’ experiences, informing their understanding of active citizenship;
  • Leadership – this can be individual or team based, demonstrated through participation in enterprise opportunities and the broader co-curricular program.
  • Fitness Coaches

Fitness Coaches, who are qualified Exercise Physiologists and Strength and Conditioning Coaches, work with the girls to develop their personal plans and to teach them safe and effective techniques in optimising their physical literacy.

Organisation of teaching and learning/Timetable: flexibility to support personalised learning

To encourage self-management and self-regulation, the school has abandoned the notion of a ‘standard’ school day with its imposed timetable, and instead places responsibility on the student to shape their day. There are both fixed and flexible components to their days/week and students can shape their day/week according to the goals and priorities they have established with their teachers, wellbeing coaches and fitness coaches. 

The organising structure of the Senior Years Programme is a student’s personal learning goals. The aim is to know and understand a student’s goals and provide the level of support and feedback and the structural flexibility that will enable them to achieve their personal best.

There is a blended learning approach which allows for on-line learning, peer-to-peer learning, individual sessions, group work and class sessions (geared to the application of knowledge). 

Technology: deployed to support, empower and enhance student learning

In the Senior Years, the school prepares students for ‘the 4th Industrial Revolution’ and for contemporary tertiary and work environments by having access to a blended learning model that offers an online curriculum and an academic management system that provides a platform for each girl’s learning plan by developing the independence to learn in a mix of traditional and online environments, with a focus on critical and creative thinking. 

The Blended Learning model encompasses:

• Course design that allows for self pacing

• Online infrastructure enabling students to visualise their course progress

• Online resources that extend the learning beyond the classroom experience

Unlike the traditional educational approach where learning happens primarily in the classroom, students within the School’s blended learning model develop their knowledge via online curriculum content (designed by expert teachers), and a flexible timetable allows them to shape their day according to their own aspirations and priorities. In this model, the teacher is able to respond to individual students’ needs, with classroom learning becoming more focused on applying students’ knowledge. 

The online platform for student learning includes all key documentation pertaining to students’ course progression. Each course page is designed to support a learning narrative with stated learning outcomes and associated learning resources. Students monitor their progression through the course, set and adjust timelines and access stored teacher feedback. The digital learning database also provides educators with the information to monitor student progress and to inform future teaching.

BYOD: All students bring their own technology to the school to support their learning

Co-curriculum: Coherently planned opportunities to support well being and personal development

The school aims to develop students who have the confidence to shape their own lives.  The focus is on developing an entrepreneurial mindset and the schools aims to craft both learning and co-curricular experiences to encourage students to develop their identity as emerging global citizens and to be creative, resourceful, adaptable, team-oriented, and independent. 

Students can take part in a wide range of co-curricular activities in sport, Music the Arts and Dram as well as typical activities such as debating and MUN. However the school has further distinctive features that contribute fully to their holistic educational ambitions. These are ‘Student Enterprise Opportunities” and the ‘Fit for Life’  programme.

Student Enterprise Opportunities 

These include ‘global opportunities’, additional ‘vocational’ accreditations and internships. Globally, in addition to foreign exchanges and subject/language expeditions, there are science and enterprise tours, Service Learning and Physical challenge projects in Asia and Leadership summits. Accreditations include First Aid, Design Thinking and ‘personal branding and resume building’. Vocational internships are available both locally and internationally.

Fit for Life Programme

A physically active culture is the cornerstone to positive wellbeing.The basis of the Program is to personalise the sport and physical activity experience by developing personal wellbeing plans that consider a girl’s interests, motivations and goals.

The Fit for Life Program aims to:

• Promote regular exercise and movement as a foundation of healthy development and wellbeing

• Improve the physical fitness and athletic development qualities of all students

• Cater to and support the needs and interests of all students, from those aspiring to optimise their physical and health potential to the emerging and elite athlete

• Equip the students with the tools, skills, confidence and knowledge to be active

for life, to make healthy and informed decisions relating to their physical wellbeing, and to try new things in an ever-changing environment.

Accommodation:re-imagined to support the educational vision and approach

The buildings and physical resources of the school have all been designed/adapted to support the educational approach.Whilst there are, of course, classrooms and labs and specialist facilities there are also facilities to support the students in a variety of ways. For example, students have designated environments in which academic coaches and teachers are available to support their learning and peer-to-peer learning is facilitated. The accommodation is largely contemporary in design and supports one-to-one and small group coaching, guest speakers, lectures, seminars, independent learning and student displays. 

There is also the Artemis centre which was built and designed around the needs of the students and their wellbeing. The Artemis Centre is a community centre in which students can be physically active and pursue all-round wellbeing skills. The way the spaces work and the features, such as ‘me zones’, have been designed in response to how we know the students like to live and learn together. Facilities include a 25-metre swimming pool, basketball and netball courts, yoga and fitness studios, as well as learning, study and consultation spaces.

Find out more:

Much can be gleaned from the school’s website and its online documentation (see https://www.mggs.vic.edu.au/). You might also look at this video, or the citations for innovation such as this.

2. Leading Edge Science Education: Beijing No. 35 High School

I have included this school not only because it is one of the schools at the forefront of educational development in China but mainly because of the innovative work it is doing in STEM education where it has deliberately placed itself to explore cutting edge science with its students.

Context: Beijing No 35 High School is a state school originally founded in 1923. It has three campuses – a Middle School and two High Schools (ages 15-17), one of which is ‘International’, with links to US and UK organisations. Its alumni include prominent members of the Communist party and scientists. In 2012 it became an ‘experimental school’ and has implemented curricula and pedagogical reforms.

General Ethos/Values: 

The stated ethos and values of the school may resonate with many schools in western cultures with an emphasis on a holistic approach as well as a concern for academic progress. There is also an explicit cultural transmission ambition. The school strapline is”

‘Honesty, Truth, Courage, Perseverance, Diligence, Beauty, Strictness, and Truth’. 

It seeks to be a “modern school with Chinese characteristics”, providing a comprehensive and personalised education whilst also meeting the needs of the future development of Chinese society and the state. 

The school aims to educate and develop innovative and talented students who will have: a sense of China and Chinese culture, a global/international outlook, respect for social justice and personal and social responsibility, abilities relevant to society needs, a scientific spirit and an enquiring mind. The school aims to provide teaching, courses and resources fo r students of different talents (personalised education). A main thrust is to provide training classes for developing talent for technological innovation, to which end it has strong links with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Its commitment to a more holistic education is indicated by the five certificates students are expected to achieve (beyond academic exams) in voluntary service, honesty, sporting ability, individual talent and personal accomplishment in innovation. 

Science Education:

What particularly interests me about his school is its commitment to STEM and in particular to innovative and cutting edge areas of science – and here the links with the Chinese Academy of Sciences is key. The most obvious manifestation of this is in its science resources and its laboratories. The visuals of this can be seen in this video: 

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/jhll4489r9cgnzu/AAA_EXwer3wivpzChpw_WXmba/Keynotes%20%26%20Ignites/%E9%AB%98%E7%AB%AF%E5%AE%9E%E9%AA%8C%E5%AE%A4.avi?dl=0

The video describes the Science facility which has nine high end labs each dealing with aspects of largely cutting edge science. (Please note this information is translated from the Mandarin and if there are errors in the descriptors that is down to me):

  1. Exploration Lab for Astronautic Science and Technology: this includes areas for displaying and working with satellite data and information, satellite devices and demonstration areas to explore the Tiangong and Shenzhu 9 space station
  2. Exploration lab for Astronomical big data: for basic teaching about astronomy and with links to China’s National Observatory which enables teachers and students to work with and analyses the most uptodate observational data
  3. Exploration lab for Information Science and Technology, with a focus on use of artificial intelligence in  communications, transport (e.g. intelligent traffic systems), robotics, wireless networks
  4. Science Exploration lab for Bioinformatics that includes areas for biotech experiments including work on diseases and vaccination science
  5. Exploration lab for web and spatial information technology: this provides facilities for modeling and analysing spatial information including a digital spherical projector, a ‘digital earth’ display, and virtual reality facilities
  6. Exploration lab for Nano-techonoloy and Chemical visualisation, including various kinds of scanning equipment (such as atomic level resolution microscopes) to enable study of nano-technologies and materials
  7. Exploration lab for Aeronautic Science and Technology, including a flight simulator, 3D printing and laser cutters for making model aircraft
  8. A Wind Tunnel lab, linked with Beijing Aerospace University and Shenyang Aerospace University, to enable students to develop innovative ideas and try out their model aircraft
  9. A Big Data and Scientific Calculation Lab that has demonstration areas for experimental data, visualisation and mathematical models

More information can be found at the school’s website (though the Google translation is not always fluent!)

http://www.bj35.com/site/default.aspx?PageID=1

3. Leadership, Experiential and Project-based learning: The Liger Academy:

A couple of months ago I came across a news report about a student project to build a satellite … this was remarkable, what is more remarkable was that the students were from a small school in Cambodia – the Liger Leadership Academy.  Liger Leadership Academy, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, is a unique and extraordinary school.  It is a six-year, full-scholarship, non-profit, non-political educational institution that provides a comprehensive, innovative internationally-competitive education focusing on an innovative STEM, leadership, experiential and entrepreneurship curriculum. It is the brainchild of two Americans – Trevor and Agnieszka Gile – who fell in love with Cambodia when visiting in 2002. Their ambitious mission is to equip a new generation with the capacity and drive to lead Cambodia’s future social and economic development. It aims to nurture highly-skilled entrepreneurial thinkers who are globally-minded, ethical, passionate and effective. 

The 110 students from the ages of 12-18 are selected from over 15,000 candidates from around Cambodia. 

Core values 

There are six core values that infuse the learning experiences of the students. They are:

  • Stewardship – being responsible for taking care of something considered worth caring for and preserving;
  • Integrity – being honest and having strong ethical principles;
  • Optimism – being hopeful and having confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something;
  • Appreciation – being able to recognise and enjoy the good qualities of someone or something;
  • Determination – being able to decide definitely and firmly;
  • Ingenuity – being clever, inventive, or resourceful especially when designing new things.  

Curriculum

Students do not follow a standardised curriculum and the learning experiences, informed by cutting-edge practice from around the world, include Essentials, Advanced Enrichments, Explorations and Expertise:

  • Essentials are the core curriculum covering English literacy, Khmer literacy, mathematics and science;
  • Advanced Enrichments help the junior students to develop an understanding of the world around them and provide a frame of reference for future long-term projects;
  • Explorations are project-based learning experiences focused on finding solutions to real world problems;
  • Expertise are learning experiences available to senior students to allow them to gain a deeper knowledge or expertise in areas of interest or excellence. The learning experiences are also geared to develop skills necessary for current or upcoming curriculum.

Teaching:

Teachers are called facilitators. They work alongside students to identify a problem or opportunity and design solutions, ideas, and products that address the problem. Learning specific content is deemed less important than gaining skills – such as design process, innovation skills, research and collaboration skills – that can be used both on campus and beyond. 

Project-based learning and Entrepreneurial Leadership Skills

Entrepreneurial Leadership skills are listed as:

  • Identification of opportunities
  • Vision and Influence
  • Management of operations
  • Assembling and motivating a team
  • Comfort with uncertainty
  • Building networks
  • Self-awareness
  • Problem-solving
  • Collaboration
  • Ability to join the dots/bring things together
  • Communication
  • Impact

The above are perhaps most apparent in the ‘explorations’ element of the learning experience at Liger Academy and these explorations are perhaps the most exciting and distinctive feature of the learning experience at Liger. The ‘explorations’ are inspired by the students and involve thorough research and planning, consultation and collaboration with outside agencies and work to a definite output; they may develop over several months or years. Explorations cover  a whole range of social, technological, cultural, business and other areas.

The range of projects and their ambition are impressive. Here is a flavour of some of them:

CubeSat: A group of senior students worked to develop the first Cambodian satellite in collaboration with advisers from Boeing, CalPoly, and other aerospace and environmental engineers. They designed a microsatellite to be launched into Lower Altitude Space.

Journeys of Change Bike Tour Business: Students used their knowledge of business planning and implementation to develop their own bike tour business. It has developed into a successful enterprise and runs bi-monthly bike tours.

Dengue Fever: Students investigated the incidence of dengue fever in Cambodia to identify the causes of recent outbreaks and ways to address it. They worked with local and international health organisations to educate the public. They also produced a risk analysis of dengue fever incidence and transmission in a local neighbourhood with recommendations for transmission prevention.

Solar Pi: Students planned, researched, installed and monitored two computer labs in government schools. One is run on solar power. They worked with the Ministry of Education, Edemy (which provides English software) and a solar power company.

Geography Publishing: Students researched, wrote and published a book about the geography of Cambodia

Drug Intervention: Students learned about drug awareness and intervention in Cambodia. Working with the NGO World Renew, they researched rehabilitation methods using therapy and vocational training. Having attended a government drug intervention workshop, they worked with World Renew to plan, organise and implement drug campaigns in 4 Cambodian provinces.

Liger Digital Currency: Students  researched, designed and implemented a system for transferring currency digitally between member sof the Liger community

Find out more:

The Academy’s website is impressive:  not only is there the standard information about the school and its approach, but under the tab ‘Impact’, you can not only read about different projects, but also read student essays, view interviews and access student portfolios – this really gives a flavour of what makes the school unique.