In recent years, the professional development focus for staff at Mansfield Secondary College has been targeted at improving teaching and learning for the 450 students in line with world's best practice.
In Term 1 of 2019, the College leadership team implemented the Google Classroom suite of applications for every class, as well as for a range of co-curricular programs. A handful of staff subsequently began utilising the online suite. Increasingly promoted, it was shared with other staff. Students grew accustomed to the platform and were regularly called upon to support their teachers.
An improved understanding of a teacher's impact on student learning coupled with wider use of collaborative planning, curriculum documentation, improved formative assessment practices and a progressive assessment structure all enabled staff to readily adapt their pedagogy and students' learning to suit remote learning.
Less than half of the staff were familiar with Google Classroom, so much of the week prior to the Easter break was devoted to upskilling. Questions and advice flooded the newly created, online Staff Classroom as teachers grappled with how to set up a virtual classroom, load documents, invite students and to run an online meeting. As calm returned, staff increasingly looked to augment their online teaching.
Collaboration became a daily feature as the switch to remote learning accelerated the level at which teachers shared resources and ideas.
While students responded to the remote learning environment in different ways, most students adjusted quickly to using online tools to download tasks, upload their work and to participate in virtual classes. In general, junior, VCE and VCAL students readily adapted to interacting with their teachers and peers during online classes.
Many students found the reduced distraction from peers in and out of class allowed them to develop good study habits and discover new ways of learning. Teaching staff were delighted by the number of students who blossomed while learning from home. One teacher shared their delight about one highly anxious student who, without the presence of their peers, successfully completed tasks and exceeded expectations:
'Away from the distraction and influence of peers, students completed outstandingly creative and innovative work'.
In Years 9 and 10, teachers found that they had to devise new strategies to encourage students to talk online in front of their peers. This process was 'like trying to get blood out of a stone' said one teacher. Patience, long pauses, forewarning and allowing students to use the chat function helped to overcome this issue.
Many senior students shared their enjoyment of being able to organise their time at home to concentrate for longer periods on specific subjects. They felt up to date with their coursework and some asked for additional learning activities. Others, however, missed the structure of the school day and found it hard to be self-motivated without their teacher's physical presence.
Virtual classrooms are here to stay
Overall, the movement to remote and flexible learning has been an exciting and successful development at Mansfield Secondary. Teachers have developed a range of new and innovative ways to assist students with their learning across a range of academic and practical subjects including:
- Using Google Meets for online classes and small group tutorials such as:
- collaborative investigative projects in maths
- outdoor education 'camp out' nights in students' own backyards
- facilitating 'online incursions' with expert guests for media.
- Developing senior maths class videos to pre-teach concepts.
- Adapting the 'jigsaw' strategy by using a shared Google Doc to enable students to collaborate in content-heavy VCE classes.
- Completing science projects at home and creating entertaining video clips to share.
- Students designing self-paced fitness programs or creating short videos to demonstrate basic game skills for Physical Education.
- Shifting the focus in drama classes from 'performance' to 'creativity.
- Wellbeing applications during remote learning have included:
- Student surveys
Accessing Learning from Home
Teachers and school leaders can access learning from home advice and resources on the Learning from Home school page.
Students can access wellbeing advice and supports on the coronavirus (COVID-19) student page.
Parents, carers and guardians can access advice and resources on the Learning from Home parent page or the Fun at Home web page.