By the time students reach Stage 6, they must have moved beyond basic learning into areas of higher-order thinking, such as analysis and synthesis of new ideas. The Liberate Model helps prepare students for this by bringing an emphasis to these types of learning from Stage 4 onwards. Creating learning tasks using real-world examples that are relevant to the students also helps engage them and build enthusiasm for the subjects they are studying.
For mathematics, the students are graded using their marks from the Allwell test they completed in Year 6 and the results that they achieved in Term 1, Year 7. Based on these two assessments they are then graded in their classes. But we understand that students achieve their potential in different stages of their lives, so we continue to give them opportunities to reach that potential in Years 7 and 8. This year we are trialling a Problem Solving lesson each cycle. During these periods the students are exposed to maths-based problems that they solve in groups. This was set up to help develop and enhance their problem solving skills.
We start to stream them in Year 9 and the top twenty students are then given an opportunity to be accelerated or join the accelerated program. So they complete Stage 5 in Year 9, and move on to Stage 6 in Year 10.
We’re really keen to not just accelerate our students, we want to provide some enrichment along the way rather than just racing through the curriculum. We compete in the Maths Olympiad, which the boys find very engaging. It’s great for the students because like-minded groups are working on problem solving and challenges together.
In English, our streaming is similar to Maths, in that we give students opportunities every year to be tested according to different skill levels. Our units follow the Liberate Model so every single unit engages students in higher-order thinking skills such as evaluating and creativity. Those students who are able to meet higher skill levels have the opportunity to be peer assessed and to teach. Again that stretches students within their units of work. Then, as we move into Stage 6, we have extension courses on offer, including writing competitions such as the Lionel Bowen competition. We actually had an extension student win that competition a few years ago, which was really good for his university applications.
Similar to other subjects, we have the Liberate Model and we go through Bloom’s Taxonomy, which pushes students from basic learning through application up to analysis and then synthesis. For example, in Year 10 the evolution unit students write an article for a publishing website with content similar to the New Scientist. So we get this idea of taking the knowledge and then creating something, which encourages students to work at a higher level and produce a higher standard of work.
Other Year 10 activities include a video assignment which is peer assessed and the opportunity to enter the Gifted and Talented in Science discovery program at the University of Sydney.
Coming up with tasks that keep students interested is key. Critical thinking is closely linked to the idea of cross-curricular teaching. So in Maths, for example, we take real-world situations – environmental or social issues – and ask the students to explore the maths and statistics that surround those issues, such as discussing the link between poverty and mortality rates and then asking why that is the case. Or using statistics to investigate at what is happening with the Great Barrier Reef and have students reflect on sustainability. By tapping into a lot of different areas and approaching teaching in a cross-curricular way, we are encouraging the students to build these critical thinking skills.
I think real-world application helps enormously. If you can find a connection to something that is happening in everyday situations you have a lot more chance of getting the students engaged if they can actually see some relevance to what we are telling them.
Also tapping into social justice activities can help keep assignments and class work authentic and relevant. For example, we recently created an assignment on the East Timor trip, which involved students finding out the correct prices from the markets they visited and coming up with a realistic household budget. It was really interesting because they gained an awareness of what people in East Timor were living on, compared to what we were living on, all the while doing Maths! Ethical understanding and social justice is a priority for us. So to be able to use statistics and graphs to analyse information and critically evaluate allows students to appreciate the importance of Mathematics in the world in which we live.