A Day with Stephen Heppell


On Friday 11th March I was very privileged to be able to attend the Country Education Project “Future Rural Leaders Forum” facilitated by Professor Stephen Heppell. I participated in the first session in November last year, as a result of Hawkesdale P12 College’s key role in the Virtual Teaching Project, in which I was a supervising teacher to a pre-service teacher from University of Ballarat. It was wonderful to be able to meet up with Michelle and Bianca, now in their first year of teaching, and let them know that I have been thinking of them both.

The session started with a review of the video that was produced at the conclusion of the last seminar and a brainstorm of the blockers and enablers that had impacted on each of us achieving the goals we had set ourselves. I had set the goal of using a ‘praise pod’ and ‘hero cards’ to recognise the achievements of my students, as well as giving students more ‘”choice and voice” in the classroom. I still hope to implement these strategies in the classroom, but I have initiated a few other Stephen Heppell ideas in the meantime.

  • I made the suggestion of having a student on our interview panel when we advertised a position last year. This was strongly howled down by a fellow staff member, who saw it as a gross invasion of privacy.
  • I have created a “Hawkesdale P12 College” Facebook page, which only has teachers as viewers so far, but once the principal has approved, we can advertise in the school newsletter. Professor Heppell refferred us to Cloudlearn.net, a site for the research project about using Facebook safely in the classroom. One of his strongly held opinions is that schools do not need bulky “acceptable use” policies – students and teachers know the rules of the school and they should behave in the same way online.
  • I have created facebook groups for my VCE Biology and VCE Environmental Science classes. This is a great way to connect with the students – wish them a happy birthday, find out what they did on weekends and holidays, remind them of work and assessment tasks, provide links to resources and interesting video clips and importantly, model appropriate online behaviour.
  • I used the “Japanese Multiplication” YouTube clip in my maths classroom, which prompted an interesting discussion of how it works.
  • I participated in the discussions for landscaping around our new building, to make the natural environment accessible to students and part of learning every day.

If you know anything about Stephen Heppell you will probably know that he is a great fan of playful and authentic learning. He has worked with students and teachers in all parts of the world to enhance learning by giving students more ownership and it follows that there is no one answer to the perfect school or classroom. Different spaces suit different styles of teaching and learning so teachers will perform better in certain types of classrooms. Stephen gives the example of a UK school in which the students were given the task of designing their own classroom, a project they worked on for two years. The end result was the transformation of a shipping container into a modern space with mood lighting, a Skype bar, diversity of seating, whiteboard paint on all the surfaces where any devices that students walked in with just worked – wifi, mobile phones, netbooks.

Professor Heppell also advocates for parents and grandparents to be a significant presence in the school – as teacher support and to shadow a student for the day. Adults other than teachers, who can share their skills, can be careers advisors, music coaches, gardening advisors and more. This strategy ‘broadens the support base’ or ‘flattens the pyramid’ by giving more people ‘ownership’ of what happens in the school. He suggests that mobile phone technology and Facebook can be used to engage parents in the school. Stephen suggests that schools of the third millenium will be smaller and decentralized, with the administration ‘disaggregated’.

 When purchasing furniture, he suggests that locally made items can be sourced to the ideal specifications and purpose built at reasonable prices. This had been very successful at a Liverpool school, where there was a high rate of unemployment in the region. Mirrors on the wall assist to see student faces when they are working on computers installed against walls and giant billboard style photographs can be created to advertise the school and promote it’s values. Another suggestion was to mount a webcam at the highest point of the school, with the live streaming posted to the school website. It was very interesting to note that the ideal temperature for learning is considered to be 18*C.

When Professor Heppell was asked about middle years science learning he recommended that students be asked what they want to learn – using the scientific method to investigate our world comes naturally to children. The Observe-Question-Hypothesis-Test cycle is the way that virtual worlds and computer games are developed, so it is quite easy to use game-based learning to assist students to understand the scientific method. He recommends enquiry-based and project-based learning, suggesting the science of technology – how a mobile phone works for example. Stephen also showed a link to simulations of Newton’s laws and centipedal forces at Rubble.Heppell.net.

Spending time with Stephen Heppell was  great, but another highlight of my day in Melbourne was meeting up with fellow tweeps, who I had not met face to face before. Jenny Ashby (@jjash) organised dinner at the Blue Train, which was attended by Anne Mirtschin (@murcha); Helen Otway (@helenotway); Heather Carver (@hcarver); Lois Smethurst (@loisath); Bronwyn Mcleod (@seriata); Gillian  (@macgirl19); Georgina Pazzi (@edumazing) and Scott Duncan (@sduncan0101). What a fantastic, friendly bunch of tech-savvy educators all in one place together! I wish we could have talked all night, but a 4.30am start prevented that from happening. It got me to thinking how lucky I am to have a wonderful PLN – even though I live on a farm and work in a small, rural school, I have access to some of the best connected and innovative educators in Victoria. Cheers to Twitter!

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