A couple of weeks ago, I had the honour of hosting @EduTweetOz, a weekly rotation Twitter account for educators BY educators, set up by the lovely @poppyshel and @corisel.

I’ve been a big fan of the account since it began this year because of the incredible diversity of the hosts and their voice of passion each week!

I was quite nervous leading up to the Sunday night of the handover, but as soon as I sent that first tweet I realised that it was a great opportunity to raise awareness of issues in education that I believed needed more attention, and to connect with as many educators out there who share similar passions.

So here is a summary of the tweets I made and why for each day:

Sunday 24th Nov –
I introduced myself and dived straight into the topic of wellbeing and positive psychology – my particular area of passion. It was great to hear so many teachers who agreed about the importance of teaching ‘the whole child’ and who spoke highly about Mental Health First Aid courses. It really reaffirmed for me, how the role of the teacher is so much more than teaching content in a classroom.

Monday 25th Nov –
I wanted to explore classrooms and learning spaces from schools around the country, so I asked the @EduTweetOz followers to tweet photos of their rooms using #EduTweetOzRoom. It was really interesting seeing all the different arrangements, furniture and individual touches that each photo displayed! I also really enjoyed asking teachers about various volunteer projects that their students participate in and hearing about all of the wonderful and positive contributions our students are making to their community and the world!

Tuesday 26th Nov –
When I agreed to host, I knew that I wanted to discuss rural schools, staff and student wellbeing, school environment and share stories of inspirational teachers. What I DIDN’T know was that I was going to host the week of Pyne vs Gonski (and teachers all over the country). Like many other educators, I was completely livid at Pyne’s announcement about scrapping Gonski and going “back to the drawing board”. Every couple of seconds, a new tweet would pop up on my feed from teachers who were disgusted at the decision. Seeing that I was about to start writing reports that night, I tweeted:

“While we are in report writing season, what would you write for Chris Pyne’s report?”

And so #reportpyne began. I thought it would be a fun and creative way to allow us to vent our frustrations with a touch of humour and wit. Before I knew it, it took a life of its own and ended up a trending topic in Australia for two hours!

Wednesday 27th Nov –
This day was a huge day for me for a few reasons. At school, it was the annual Yr 12 breakfast where staff get to school at 6:30am to prepare breakfast for the Yr 12 to celebrate their end of studies and we give back all of the assessments and results to the students. After I tweeted some photos and comments about this, I left school early for my two hour drive to my hometown of Cootamundra for the funeral of a primary school friend who died unexpectedly at the age of 29.
When I arrived at the funeral, I immediately saw my old teachers from both primary school and high school. Their presence highlighted to me the best thing about teaching in a rural community: the whole town becomes a family. After the service, I spent a few hours talking to one of my ex High School teachers and ended up in his backyard reminiscing about high school days as well as what we were doing now. As a person who completed their primary and secondary education in a small country town, and who taught in one for a few years, the bonds formed between teachers and students are unbreakable. When one asks “Why do you want to become a teacher?”, the response, more often than not, is “I want to make a difference”. I can say with great confidence and experience that teaching in a rural school allows you to make a lot of difference to a lot of students and the wider community. So naturally, for the rest of that day I really wanted to focus on the wonderful things that rural schools had to offer.

Thursday 28th Nov –
In an effort to join in on a Twitter conversation about 3D printers, I decided to finally walk to the other end of my school and pay a visit to the IT Department and asked them to teach me how to use the 3D printer we have at school! I spent a lot of time browsing Thingiverse to choose something to print. I eventually chose a Christmas decoration that failed to print properly 4 times in a row before trying to print a brain. After two failed attempts of the brain, I called it a day, but I am still determined to successfully print something by the end of the year! Even though the 3D printing didn’t work, I still felt like a winner because:
a) I learnt something new
b) I got to spend time with teachers from other faculties which I don’t get to do enough of!

Friday 29th Nov –
My first tweet of the day was “In the spirit of Thanksgiving in the US, what are you thankful for about working in your school?” but really, I was using Thanksgiving as an excuse to get people to do a gratitude exercise, which boosts wellbeing! I also spent some time after school to film part of the AEU ACT campaign and to set up for a colleague’s retirement party, which inspired me to ask the @EduTweetOz followers what they would want to be remembered for when they retire. Also, being the end of the week, I asked followers to reflect on the past week and to identify three things that went well and why it went well. Both these questions were again designed to boost wellbeing!

Saturday 30th Nov –
Being the weekend, I wanted to remind followers that teachers are people too. People with hobbies and interests outside of school (but may be brought into school if relevant)! It was brilliant to hear about the amazing skills and interests, from unicycling to scrapbooking, that teachers do in their downtime!

Sunday 1st Dec –
I had a brunch meeting with @FrancisVentura to discuss his project proposal for a cultural exchange program between students in remote Indigenous communities and students (both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous) in more urban areas…. like Canberra! The project is something that we had been talking about since about June, so it was really exciting to see that it might actually happen (fingers crossed for next year). I wanted to hear about some of the experiences from the EduTweetOz community, and as usual, they delivered!

Overall, it was a massive week for me, personally and professionally, and I was very glad that I was able to have enough ‘material’ to last 7 days! I got to connect with a lot of inspirational educators out there in the Twitterverse and I hope that someone out there (other than myself) got something out of my hosting that week!

Back in October, I received an email from an enthusiastic Yr 12 student named Amanda, from Franklin High School in Massachusetts, USA.  Amanda contacted me to start an international classroom project as she had a group of her classmates who, like her, was interested in learning about Australia. Amanda proposed to set up a website where her and her classmates could exchange photos and information with students at my school.

Knowing that our classes finish in late November, it didn’t leave me much time to organise a group of students. So I did what any teacher pressed for time might do… I walked around the school at recess time, pointed at random students (some who I teach, some who I have met but never taught, some who I have never seen before)! I told them about the project and to meet me in a classroom at lunch if they were keen! I found that it also gave me an opportunity to meet and build a rapport with students outside of my subject area as well as give a good cross-section of students for the project.

Now, a month later, the website has been updated four times  as my students are learning more about life as a US high school student and Amanda and her peers are learning about life as an Australian student in the ACT.

The link is: http://farnanamanda.wix.com/internationalclass

At the moment, it is uncertain if the project will continue next year as Amanda and her classmates finish school. Nonetheless, the past month has been a great experience for all parties involved and I hope to connect with more schools from around the world to open our doors globally.

I also wanted to send a shout out to Amanda, who took the initiative to make contact. She has shown great leadership, drive and commitment in setting up and maintaining the website!

Since the start of 2012, I’ve been working in Student Welfare as a year coordinator of over 300 students. This experience opened my eyes up to a range of hardships that some of these students had to endure in their already stressful life as a teenager. At this age, many are trying to work out who they are, their values, friends, future, etc. As though that isn’t hard enough on its own, throw in the 21st Century where social media and the internet opens the door for cyberbullying, ‘catfishing’, and of course, increases of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). On top of that, mental illness is on the rise as 1 in 7 young people in the ACT aged 16-25 have been diagnosed with a mental health condition in the previous 12 months (Health Status of Young People in the ACT, 2011). Therefore, even if a student may not have a mental illness, it is highly likely that they are friends with someone who does.

And I haven’t even mentioned students who suffer from abuse, neglect, homelessness, who are carers, struggling with their parents’ divorce, living on their own, and the list goes on.

Seeing what some of these students had to battle in and out of school helped me understand that teaching important life skills like resilience, a growth mindset and perseverance are just as important (if not more!) than teaching content in the classroom.

I’m very fortunate to be in a school where there is a Student Wellbeing Centre, where students can drop in and talk about their concerns in a private office with their year coordinator. Sometimes, there may be a queue outside the office which can stress the students out even more. I tried to make the waiting area a lot more friendly and less clinical, by purchasing some bright red bean bags and installing a TV on the wall.

On this TV, I decided to show a playlist of short videos with a wellbeing focus. Each video would contain a particular message that I hope the student can take away and learn from. This playlist ended up being over 6 hours long – perfect for a full school day! I also made sure it had videos that would engage all sorts of students – the sporty, the arty, the introverts, the extroverts, etc.

Here is a copy of the playlist in an excel spreadsheet

Here is the playlist on Youtube

Please let me know if there are some short videos you recommend to be on the playlist!

Thanks to NSW schools have a 9 week term, the first week of the holidays for NSW teachers happened to be the last week of teaching before the holidays in ACT. Which means that the last week of the ACT holidays was Week 1 of Term 4 in NSW!

I seized this opportunity to invite NSW teachers to visit Canberra and have a look around my school if they wish and asked some schools in Sydney if I could visit their grounds!

I had the honour of taking Merrylands East Public School (MEPS) Principal, John Goh on a tour around my school on the Monday and then Alice Leung and Michael Lin from Merrylands High School (MHS) on the Thursday. I found that I learnt a lot about my own school as I walked around and visited classrooms with my guests! It’s amazing how easy it can be to take your work environment for granted when you don’t take the time to truly explore and talk to other staff about the projects they are coordinating! So many staff can easily fly under the radar with the outstanding work they are doing with their class because of how humble and modest they are!

A fortnight later, I went to visit MHS and MEPS on the Wednesday and Loyola Senior High School in Mount Druitt on the Thursday.

Merrylands High:

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The school had a great vibe, and brought back a lot of fond memories of when I taught in a 7-12 school. I was fortunate enough to sit in and observe one of Alice’s lessons with her Yr 8 Science class that just became a BYOD class. I was blown away at how independent they all were in their task of creating a multimedia experiment report on an experiment they had performed the previous day. The students were all on task and engaged in playing around with multimedia templates, working collaboratively in typing up the report, taking photos of the experiment set up and editing the photos for enhancement. Talk about digital natives! It’s a huge testament to Alice, who structured the lesson really well and gave clear instructions on the mini whiteboard in the classroom and also on their class weebly page.

The school itself has a lot of really nice personal touches. I really liked the mural showing the multiculturalism of the school and how the staff transformed the standard library chair into something a lot more funky!

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I also loved the number and the size of display boards in the classroom! The visual of the exam revision is something that I am definitely taking away with me back to my own classroom!

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Using the display board for revision

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Using the display board to show photos of student activities and work!

I also love the displays in the science classroom of various models coming from the ceiling! It brings a lot more colour and fun to the environment!

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Last but not least, Alice told me about a wonderful initiative that the Merrylands staff have done, which is having a Staff Book Exchange where staff put books in the bookcase below for others to read if they wish.
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Next stop was Merrylands East Primary School:
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I met John in the meeting room at the front office and instantly fell in love with the whiteboard painted wall that had a neat outline of what the school was all about – the pedagogy, the goals, the values, the purpose.IMG_5482

As I walked around the classrooms, I felt like I was in Disneyland! I loved the wide open spaces where more than one class can learn in the same space at the same time. Not to mention the awesome whiteboard tables that students can write their ideas on!
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John told me about the empty room policy where chairs are put aside as default and only taken out when the students need them. Speaking of chairs and furniture, it’s not exactly your stock standard four legged plastic chair either… words cannot expressed how elated I was when I sat in the stiletto chair!
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I am pleased to say that the outdoors looked just as spectacular as the indoors! MEPS has this superb greenhouse and a strong commitment to sustainability, from installing solar panels to farming chickens and rabbits and using their manure to fertilise the plants! The fruit and vegetables that are grown are given to the families of the students, which I think is brilliant in making the school ultimately one big family in itself. John had also shown me the room that is used by families to meet and socialise, often cooking and sharing recipes with one another. It’s such a great way to allow the families to become more actively involved with the school community!
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I was fortunate enough to visit on the day that the Yr 2 students held their MEPS Markets project, masterminded by teachers, Ashleigh Catanzariti and Lee Hewes. It was project based learning at its finest! I strongly urge you to check out their page and their blog to be wow-ed at the high quality of work and engagement that will forever transform your vision of what 7 and 8 yr olds can do if given the chance!
The market was a huge success – I am purely judging this from the buzz, excitement and positive vibe from the selling, buying and eating of the food that the students grew and made themselves.

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Then there is the beautiful Japanese garden that was obviously built with a lot of love and care, with beautiful goldfish living in the pond for years. A nice, serene place for calmness and wellbeing!
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Last but not least, John showed me the Canteen and the Hall. I don’t drink coffee, but I can still appreciate the coffee machine imported from Italy! As for the hall, John and I may or may not have had a little disco fun with the disco ball that caught my eye…
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All in all, I think this display from the 4/5K classroom pretty much sums up what I thought about MEPS! I learnt so much about space (indoors and outdoors), community involvement, 21st Century learning and the amazing things that can be done with a strong, passionate team of staff who all share the same pedagogy.
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The next day, I visited a school that an old uni friend of mine, Michael Thai, teach at: Loyola Senior High School in Mount Druitt

He first gave me a tour of the staff room, which was one huge space with rows of teacher’s desks because ALL teaching staff are in there together! It was the first time I had ever seen such a staffroom! It seemed to work well and I can imagine it would be a lot easier to collaborate with other teachers across faculties with such a setup!
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Next he showed me the library, which had a lot of different learning spaces for different purposes (e.g. quiet area, group work, seminar presentation). I’m a big fan of modular furniture!
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Then, Michael showed me around the VET areas which were first class! The woodwork room, welding area, auto room and the hairdressing salon were immaculate and I love how each room is filled with natural light!
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Another area that I loved was the hospitality area. The commercial kitchen that the students use is amazing. The students cook and sell the food through their cafe, La Cova, where I bought a slushie, a chicken caesar wrap and the BEST fruit salad I’ve ever had for a BARGAIN!
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I was also able to sit in and observe Colin Newell’s Legal Studies class which was really interesting. The students were hanging off his every word as he described various cases with the perfect mix of legal terminology and colloquialism.

I also had the pleasure of meeting the grandfather of a brilliant ex-student of mine, who just happened to be an English teacher at Loyola! It was one of those wonderful ‘it’s-a-small-world’ coincidences!

I had only planned to visit Loyola for a couple of hours, but I ended up spending half the day there just chatting to a lot of the staff!

Even though I visited three VERY different schools (a public high school, an unconventional (in the coolest possible way) public primary school and a Catholic Senior High school), they all had one thing in common:

They all had committed staff who are overtly passionate about teaching and sharing!

I left feeling prouder than ever to be a teacher and even more inspired to keep learning from others!

A huge thank you to Alice, John, and Michael for hosting me over those two days and all of the amazing teachers I met during this time!

Back in May, I wrote a post titled 2013 #ACTlearn Engaging Leaders Conference in which I wrote about Dr David Henderson from Curtin University and his work with the Constructivist-Oriented Learning Environment Survey (COLES). 

My school is currently in the process of trialling this survey with volunteering teachers in addition to the standard unit evaluations that all students are asked to complete at the end of each semester for each of their classes. 

The difference with the COLES survey is that:
a) it is a survey given to the students early on in the term so you get the feedback from the students with enough time to act on it
b) not only does it ask students to what extent their teacher does/encourages certain things (ACTUAL), but to what extent does the student WANT their teacher to do/encourage that certain thing (PREFERRED).

Therefore the teacher can target areas where there is a significant discrepancy between the actual and preferred data.

After six weeks, the students complete the survey again and the teacher can then see if their effort in meeting the student’s needs improved.  That is, if the new actual data is any closer to the previous preferred data. 

The surveys were done online, and the data was collected by the Curtin University staff who then emailed me back the report… all 35 pages of it.

The general overview of the responses was as follows (*insert big breath here*):

 

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A few thoughts ran through my head when I first looked at it:

1) I was horrified at how low the Collaboration and Involvement areas were in the ‘actual’ data. 

2) I was shocked at how low the Collaboration and Involvement areas were in the ‘preferred’ data. 

I had a lot of mixed feelings about this.
I felt it was important that they have more group work and get more involved in class discussions, but on the other hand, they are indicating that they don’t want to do much more of either!

The biggest difference in the ‘Actual’ and ‘Preferred’ was in the Clarity of Assessment dimension. More specifically:

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At this stage, I knew that the next assessment for the class was going to be an oral presentation in the form of a role play. So I decided to target this area by performing a mock oral presentation and asking the students to use the actual oral rubric to mark me on my presentation.

I told my students I was going to do this just before the holidays (to make myself held accountable more than anything!) and when I asked for suggestions for topic question, there was an eerie silence before one of the students replied that I ought to just cover a topic that I was going to teach them anyway (see… I do try to get them involved! Honest!).

The class (a Developmental Psychology class) is currently studying Ageing and we were actually up to the topic of Death and Bereavement so I decided to use the driving question of ‘Is there a right way to grieve’? 

I ended up preparing two mock presentations by the end of the holidays:
1) A really dull presentation with basic regurgitation of information and minimal effort in the accompanying handout and PowerPoint. I planned on delivering this oral first. The role play for this presentation was that I was a facilitator in a training session for people who want to be a grief counsellor.

Click here for the handout

Click here for the speech

Click here for the PowerPoint

2) A more dynamic presentation where I compare and contrast between theories, and analysed and evaluated them. The role play in this one was that I was the President of the Glee Appreciation Club debriefing with the members of the club about the recent tribute episode to Finn. I made a Prezi, incorporated clips from the episode and made a colour brochure handout with a more impressive reference list than the first presentation.

Click here for the handout

Click here for the speech

Click here for the Prezi

On Monday, I finally presented the two orals and as I had hoped, the students were bored out of their minds and did not catch anything I said in the first presentation. You can watch me being boring for 9 minutes here. I filmed it for students who were away that day.

They criticised everything from the errors on the handout to my monotone voice and poor pronunciation. They picked up on the fact that I was just describing and not analysing information. They graded me a C minus, some giving me a D.

Then I delivered the Glee role play. You can see it in action here. The students afterwards were able to identify why this presentation was so much better than the first and I heard one student say “I know what to do now!”. Most gave me an A for this presentation. 

I collected the rubrics that they used to mark me with and typed up all the comments. You can see it here

I uploaded all of the videos, handouts, speech, PowerPoint/Prezi up on Edmodo for students to refer to as they need.

I felt really good after this demonstration. I felt as though I made a step forward towards my goal and can’t believe I hadn’t done it sooner. 

The students will be doing the second round of surveys in a few weeks time and I can’t wait to see what the results will be!

At the very start of the school year, there was a big staff reshuffle at my school, which resulted in an opening for an Acting Executive of Student Wellbeing for half a year. Prior to this opportunity, I must admit that I had never given much thought about being a ‘head teacher’ before. My passion has always been teaching and helping students. I’ve always thought that by being an Exec, one would have less contact with students and perhaps even lose touch with the exact reason for becoming a teacher in the first place – to teach! I thought ‘Executive’ was somewhat synonymous with ‘admin’ and ‘paperwork’.

So why did I apply for the job then?

There were a few reasons:

1) I’d been working in Student Welfare for a while already as a year coordinator and had a good idea of the job description.

2) If there was ever going to be an Executive position that allows GREATER contact with students, it was going to be Student Welfare!

3) I knew it was only temporary and chose to see it as an opportunity for a new experience knowing that I wasn’t locked into it. A taste test if you will.

So, I sent my application in and within a few days I was informed that I had been successful.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry because even though this is my 7th year of teaching, I still feel like a beginning teacher and the title of ‘Executive Teacher’ next to my name for some reason seemed ridiculous and frightening to me all at the same time.

The position ended up lasting for about three terms and I learnt a lot of things about myself, leadership, and communication in this time.

I learnt that I am a lot tougher than I gave myself credit for. Prior to the position, I had always seen myself as a pretty passive person. Seven months later,  I consider myself as very assertive. I had to make difficult decisions in situations where there were no solutions that would please everybody, and I had to stand my ground with students, parents and staff when necessary. I also learnt to at least try not to take things home. Like any welfare position, it can be incredibly emotionally draining. At times I found it really difficult to separate the plight of the student from my own life after school but I quickly realised that it’s essential in order to maintain my own wellbeing, otherwise I won’t be much help to anyone.

As a leader, I learnt the importance of making everyone on the team feel valued and included. I took this simple lesson for granted at the beginning because I had so much faith in every person on the team. I knew they were all very competent in their positions and at the beginning, I just let everyone do their thing. It didn’t take long for me to realise that regardless of how well people can do their job, a team is NOT a bunch of individuals working by themselves on separate things. A team is a bunch of people collaborating together, supporting each other and communicating with one another with a positive rapport. I never realised until then, all of the little things that my previous and current head teachers had done to make us feel valued, included and supported.

The position I was in required me to communicate with not just staff, parents and students, but also a lot of community groups, organisations and local authorities. I got the chance to meet a lot of great educational leaders at various conferences and was inspired to start the Positive Education Initiative (*insert shameless plug here* Facebook / Twitter) so that I can reach out to other teachers who are passionate about school wellbeing around the world.

It’s been a heck of a year but the 12 hour days at school and the endless admin was worth every second. I feel like I have grown as a teacher, a leader and a person through this experience and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Having spent my entire schooling experience, from primary to tertiary education, in New South Wales, I had no idea what I was in for when I received a phonecall (while I was teaching in a NSW school of course) telling me that I had been offered a place at a senior secondary school in Canberra.

It was a huge learning curve for me, and it took a while to wrap my head around the fact that other states don’t do the HSC.

For those who are unfamiliar with how the ‘College’ system runs in the ACT public education system, here is a brief overview.

* High Schools run from 7-10 and then the students move onto one of nine public ‘Colleges’ around Canberra (or one of the fourteen private/independent colleges) where the school consists of only Yr 11 and Yr 12 students.

* For most colleges, the school year consists of two semesters (Terms 1 & 2 = S1; Terms 3 & 4 = S2)

* Students enrol in new classes for the next semester at the end of each semester.

* Most classes are either identified as a Tertiary class (for students who wish to move onto tertiary study after college) or an Accredited class (for students who want to achieve a Yr 12 certificate but do not wish to do tertiary study).

* 1 full semester class = 1 point (therefore, a class taken for a term = 0.5 point)

* 3.5 points in the same course over 2 yrs = a ‘major‘ (i.e. 4 semesters of different English classes over two years = English major)

* 2 points in the same course over 2 yrs = a ‘minor’ (i.e. 2 semesters of different Maths classes over two years = Maths minor)

* To be eligible for an ATAR, the student must have a minimum of 20 points at the end of Yr 12
Of those 20 points, the student must have either:
– 3 majors 3 minors
– 4 majors 1 minor
OR
– 5 majors
(Of which there are at least 3 majors and one minor at a tertiary level)

* Students who wants a Yr 12 certificate but not interested in an ATAR can finish school as soon as they obtain 17 points.
Of those 17 points, they must have 3 minors.

* In order to obtain the point for their class, the student must attend 90% of classes and complete at least 70% of assessment.

The top five things I love about this system are:

1. Flexibility of class choices:
In NSW, students have to stick with the same five or six subjects throughout Yr 11 and 12. In the ACT, because students who want an ATAR can have 3 Majors and 3 Minors, their subject selections could be the following:

Yr 11, S1 – English, Maths, Physics, Art, Geography
Yr 11, S2 – English, Maths, Physics, History, IT
Yr 12, S1 – English, Maths, Physics, Art, History
Yr 12, S2 – English, Maths, Physics, Geography, Legal Studies
(3 Majors: English, Maths, Physics; 3 Minors: Art, History, Geography)
This allows a student to experience up to 8 different subject areas and still achieve an ATAR!

Accredited students can do even more! If they wanted, they could study 17 different subjects areas! E.g.
Yr 11, S1 – English, Maths, PE, Art, Geography
Yr 11, S2 – English, Maths, PE, Hospitality, History,
Yr 12, S1 – Science, Legal Studies, French, IT, Business Studies
Yr 12, S2 – Wood tech, Metal Tech, Automotive, Art, Drama
(3 Minors: English, Maths, PE)

This configuration allows students the freedom to:
i) have a wider variety of learning experiences
ii) change from subjects that they may not have resonated with them

2. Accredited/Tertiary:
Education is for everyone, but formal tertiary study is not every student’s cup of tea.
The tertiary and accredited classes is a great way to have classes of like minded students: those who are driven to go to Uni are all in one class, and those who are driven to get a job or an apprenticeship are in another.
There are opportunities for both T and A students to be in the same class, but the teacher will give different assessment tasks according to their level as they have different outcomes to meet.
Accredited students are also allowed to enrol in tertiary classes where they will have to do the assessments as a tertiary student, which are more rigorous than accredited assessment items. This allows accredited students to challenge themselves in subject areas they feel more confident in.

3. Variety of courses
When I was in Yr 12, there were 64 students in my year group. There were 3 students (including myself) in English Extension and many classes were not able to run because not enough students chose them.
In the ACT where Yr 10 students from different high schools have to merge together to a college of their choice, it then becomes a school of HUNDREDS of Yr 11 and Yr 12 students!
This means a much bigger variety of class choices are available!
Subjects include: Psychology, Sociology, Global Studies, Outdoor Ed, Oceanography, Architecture, Graphic Design, Media, Computer Game Programming, Ceramics, the list goes on!
Within English, there are dozens of different semester units for the students to choose from (i.e. Shakespeare, Writer’s Workshop, Children’s Literature, North American Literature, Images of Sport, Crime Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Australian Identity, Literature from Other Lands, Lives and Times, Shorter Literary Forms, English Language, Advanced Writing, And The Beat Goes On – analysing song lyrics, etc).
As an ex-HSC English teacher, I could not believe what a difference it makes to a student’s attitude to a subject when they choose it themselves. English is not compulsory in ACT, but what you find is that 99.9% of students choose to study it anyway and love the freedom of choice they have in choosing the English units that interest them the most.
And if there’s a sure way to engage and motivate students, it’s to give them a sense of autonomy.

4. Everything counts
In NSW, Yr 11 is the preliminary course before the big HSC year.
In ACT, for the Tertiary student, everything they do throughout Yr 11 and 12 counts. Most of their ATAR is based on their final best 3.6 course scores which is an accumulation of their assessment results from their majors and minors.
Therefore, students cannot develop a “I’ll wait til Yr 12 when it actually counts before I work really hard” mentality.
Most classes have four assessment tasks in a semester. If a student receives a disappointing test result in a course they are doing a major in, they can take some comfort in the knowledge that the result only makes up 1/16th of their course score.
A NSW Yr 12 student who performs badly on the day of their HSC exam however may not be so easily consoled…

I must admit that I was skeptical at first of a system that is based on assessments to form an ATAR due to the possible inconsistencies between schools in giving assessment items of varying difficulty levels. Then I discovered Moderation Day, which happens once a semester where all College teachers from all sectors are grouped together according to their teaching area, sit in a room and examine all assessment items given out to students across the different Colleges as well as student samples with their given grades.
This is not only a great way to ensure that there is consistency between schools, but also a great way to share resources with your colleagues from other schools!
The assessment tasks are rigorous and they usually do two of these assessments per term, per subject.

For example:
Essays and prac reports are usually minimum 1500 words.
In the Writer’s Workshop unit, students are are given 15 weeks to write a 5000 creative writing piece with a rationale.
Oral seminars are 15 minutes, often with a Q&A session afterwards.
I can’t even begin to explain how much work goes into the Architecture course!

It never ceases to amaze me how a lot of these 16-18 yr olds are terrified of this massive jump in workload and standards from Yr 10 to Yr 11 but in the end, rise to the challenge and do some incredible work that is HD worthy at a university level. It really demonstrates to me the importance of high expectations.

5. Composite classes
In most classes, there are a mix of Yr 11 and Yr 12 students because the classes are being chosen based on the interests of the students rather than year or ability and the ginormous variety of classes to choose from.
I believe it’s a great way for Yr 12 students to mentor Yr 11 students without even realising it and it drives the Yr 11 students to work just as hard as Yr 12 students who already had a year to transition into this college system. I think it also promotes a sense of equality and community.

As a product of the NSW system, I like to think I turned out ok and I had a thoroughly jolly time at school!
As a teacher in the 21st century, I think there are a lot more opportunities and freedom in ACT to experiment with different and exciting assessment tasks and strategies like Project Based Learning well into Yr 11 and 12 without having the HSC preparation forever looming over you.

So, now I know how the ACT and NSW education systems work, I am really interested to know the structure and system of other states/territories.
If you work in VIC, NT, QLD, TAS, SA or WA, I would love to hear from you about what the Yr 11/12 requirements are in your state/territory!