By: Christina Gómez Echavarría
Nossal High School in Victoria, Australia is determined to offer their students a different form of education that is far beyond memorising facts and dozens of hours of homework. They seek to prepare students for their professional and personal lives, to enrich their knowledge, and to prepare them for an adult learning environment.
Stuart Frankhauser is the Director of Digital Development and Innovation, as well as a physics teacher at the high school and he explains why it has been challenging and rewarding to teach in a completely different way compared to the previous 20 years as an educator.
1. They are a select entry school. What that means is that they offer the very best education to the best students. The reason why this is important is that Nossal High School is a mid-sized high school, so the teachers work very hard to ensure students are provided with as much one-on-one sport as possible. All students have also gone through a series of math and English tests to evaluate their abilities. Majority of students at Nossal have changed schools after being top of their class at their previous school. These students are highly motivated to learn and become better every day. Teachers make sure that they can make the most tools available to students to accelerate their learning.
2. They embrace what technology can do for education. Stuart Frankhauser started as the Director of E-Learning in the school. As director, he was in charge of managing new tools and planning what the expectations the school had in terms of technology. He first decided to implement Blackboard Learn as the main LMS of the school and then merged all of their pedagogical approaches through E-Learning. He realized that there was no reason to separate E-Learning from pedagogy and classical learning. This is a very big difference, because it doesn’t mean that they are using E-Learning with no real purpose and they wanted to make sure that every class was as cutting edge as possible. Why can’t every class be an incredible lesson? That can happen if the technology is implemented correctly and successfully merged with the pedagogical approach each teacher decides to give. All the classes, materials, and even the extracurricular activities are connected to Blackboard Learn in order to make them more dynamic. Teachers decided to embrace the change of a traditional education approach and wanted to know how they could move forward. For this reason, Stuart Frankhauser’s job title changed to Director of Digital Development and Innovation, a title that is very difficult to find in a traditional school.
3. Stuart made the school more progressive with Digital Delivery Days. He was inspired by a case in Singapore where, after some sort of infectious disease breakout, schools and universities had to be cancelled. After that, educational institutions decided to implement an E-Learning strategy to remedy the incident if it occurred again, and they were prepared to teach the students. Stuart thought that it was an interesting approach and decided to try it out. After purchasing Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, they were able to do the first experiment. During the Digital Delivery Days (DDD), students stay home and connect to each of their classes through Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. Stuart explains that these days have three main advantages.
A. For starters, students become accustomed to a learning environment that is similar to a university, where they will have to manage their time and actually be able to study from home.
B. Stuart explains that students get used to the fact that when they are in a classroom and they don’t understand the material, the teacher will sense that confusion and try to get them to understand. During the DDD, this is not the case; students have to be proactive in letting their teachers know what they don’t understand, and therefore taking charge of their own learning.
C. Some of the students at Nossal have up to a 3-hour commute to school and back each way. With the Digital Delivery Days, their routine dramatically changes and therefore the lessons are even more memorable. “It’s nice to see that they are also creating memories through this,” Stuart says. After three years of DDD being held approximately three times every school term per school year, that teachers no longer need any training in order to conduct their normal classes through Blackboard Collaborate, because it’s so easy.
After they realized that it was a good methodology, they also implemented a period of asynchronous learning at the end of the school year. When students are getting ready for their final exams, the school gives them a four-day weekend to prepare. This time provides them with more flexibility to study, hand in their work, and also have the opportunity to meet up with the teacher in a Blackboard Collaborate Room in order to ask questions and revise certain topics.
4. The Nossal High School motto is “Embrace the Challenge.” Stuart says that this has become a way of seeing life, for both students and teachers. Nossal is a relatively new school as it was founded just nine years ago. One of the challenges that the school has set is to make students become the best they can be for the future. For example, Stuart, as a physics teacher, knows that in the real world, 80% of his students won’t apply the physics he teaches them in their lives, but he also knows that the collaborative work in the classroom and the critical thinking that he teaches, will better equip them for university, their jobs, and in their lives in general. They also want to implement entrepreneurial skills that collaborative learning can bring to students. They want to teach all the 21st-century essentials that the students will need. However, it has taken many teachers time to get used to the idea and the different teaching methods. Stuart confesses that this has been the most difficult and yet most rewarding job he has ever had.
5. Nossal decided to adopt the “Five Minds of the Future” model, based on a book by Howard Gardner, which states that all people should develop their five different minds: the disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, the creating mind, the respectful mind, and the ethical mind. All the curriculums of different classes at the high school aim to teach all the different minds and nurture each one. The Gus Nossal Medallion is an award that students are able to earn at the end of year twelve. The award is named in honour of Sir Gustav Nossal, a famous Australian scientist whom the school is also named after. Students have to complete certain activities throughout their academic careers to develop all five minds. If students have enough points at the end of grade twelve, they receive the medallion. It is not easy and it’s very competitive. And yet, the students have embraced the challenge and work towards achieving the goal by understanding that it makes them more rounded and better-prepared people and professionals. Ultimately, the objective of the high school is not to memorize formulas and capitals, but to prepare the students for the real world.
6. The teacher’s role has dramatically changed. At Nossal, the teacher is not seen as the one with the last word or ultimate knowledge. Both the students and the teacher have something to bring to the table. For that reason, they are doing an experiment with Blackboard Collaborate Ultra where, in each class, the students are divided into small groups and sent materials, whether it be talking points or diagrams, for example. The group discusses the materials and the teacher might lead the discussion, but the learning is in the student’s hands. That way, the traditional model of a teacher standing in front of the class talking for hours is interrupted and the class is delivered using a very different method. The faculty role is well regarded and allows students to reach conclusions on their own.
7. Liberty is given to the teachers at Nossal High School. Stuart explains how the Principal of the school has a very strong vision for what he wants the school to be like and lays a wonderful foundation for the leading teachers. The leading teachers are those that are given a lot of freedom and opportunity to explore new ideas in education and pedagogy. “We have permission to fail,” Stuart says, and that is also the way the students are taught. As long as they have a reasonable reason for why they want to try something out (just like the Digital Delivery Days), they have an open mind to try it out and see if it works or if it doesn’t. However, it’s clear that this educational system is not for everyone and many teachers feel quite challenged by it. Trust is the ultimate power they have and allows for creativity and an opportunity to change something in the future of the students they are molding. As long as teachers have more liberty, they also feel more inspired by their work, they want to go the extra mile, they care about the student’s well-being, and they are willing to work for the future of these kids.
Nossal High School might be the future for schools and should be an inspiration. Stuart explains that his biggest reward is seeing the Nossal alumni, how they have applied every lesson they learned to their life, and keep coming back to the place that was not just a school, but a place of transformation, learning, and an embrace of education.
*Stuart Frankhauser, Director of digital delivery and innovation at Nossal High School.
*Photos by: AFP Mark Peterson