Big School Network

Big School Network

Model for Curriculum Leadership Professional Learning: Implementing the new NSW Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus.

The Benefits of Whole School Program of Learning


In 2018 the NSW Department of Educations ‘Big Schools Network’ (BSN) Executive approached the Academy of Continuing Professional Development in Education (Academy) at Macquarie University to support the implementation of the new NSW Science and Technology K-6 syllabus. Schools that belong to the BSN typically each have over 800 primary students and more than 100 staff.

In response to this request, the Academy, led by Dr Iain Hay, Director of Professional Learning and Engagement in the Department of Educational Studies and Dr Anne Forbes, Senior Lecturer in STEM Education, designed a Highly Accomplished Teacher professional learning (PL) course to accommodate the identified need. Large schools face significant challenges associated with introducing, supporting and monitoring teaching and learning initiatives, but they also provide unique opportunities for a distributed, bespoke team approach. Using research-informed bestpractice strategies for Professional Learning (PL), the course was designed to maximise students’ learning outcomes through implementation of the new NSW Science and Technology K-6 syllabus within the context of ‘Big Schools’. The course was also designed to enhance the capacity of experienced primary teachers to support the development of their colleagues’ confidence and capacity to teach science and technology.

The PL designed for the BSN comprised a suite of research-informed readings, tailored online, faceto-face and in-school work with colleagues, and a range of hands-on interactive activities. This was coupled with ongoing online support from expert facilitators. Ten schools participated in the pilot program with 4 Stage representatives from each school. These forty participants then supported their Proficient Level colleagues back in the school to understand and implement the new NSW Science and Technology K-6 Syllabus.

The Academy at Macquarie University specialises in designing and delivering whole school programs that are underpinned by research and focussed on measureable impact. We work closely with school leaders and Principals to identify a learning need and to design bespoke courses that take advantage of the demonstrated benefit of providing active, in-school support to improve teaching practice through building capacity in selected teachers who deeply know and understand how their schools and colleagues ‘work’.

A Principals perspective

Craig Warner, Principal from Jasper Road Public School, one of the participating schools, says that taking a ‘Big School’ approach by working with staff and professionals ‘in-school’ made it easier for his colleagues to work together to create common understandings and appreciation. “External individual professional learning is often restrictive while online learning is often impersonal. By building capacity across staff – and not just on an individual level – you are able to create a professional development culture for your school to build upon.”

Craig noted that participation in the course developed confidence in each participant to think strategically. “They each developed an idea or vision of where they want their stage to be and how they would achieve it. Through an instructional leadership model of gradual release, teachers were able to build the capacity of other teachers on their stage and release ownership,” Craig says. “Furthermore, the opportunity to ‘bounce ideas’ off other participants has been invaluable.”

After the completion of the professional learning workshops, participating teachers presented numerous small group stage workshops along with whole staff sessions. Through this, Craig was encouraged to see that all teachers displayed “leadership poise in that they were purposeful, organised, instructional, strategic and emphatic”.

“The professional development took on board participants' own aspirations, skills, knowledge, and understanding, and recognised it in the context for learning,” he says. “It was clear that the ability to lead effectively relies on a number of key skills, but also that different teachers have very different characteristics and styles.”

Craig welcomed the new knowledge and insights his colleagues gained about science and technology. “Through participation in the course, teachers were able to develop a deep understanding of the syllabus and its content,” he says. “Science and Technology are not stand-alone areas but rather an integrated discipline that fosters in students a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world around them and how it works.

“I found that by creating an environment that allowed for my staff to become familiar with the syllabus document prior to implementing stage planning was best practice,” he says. “Our teachers were able to conceptualise the syllabus outcomes for digital technology and working scientifically because examples were woven through the course content. Teachers were then able to build their pedagogical knowledge in order to promote genuine learning opportunities for all students.”

Having different stage leaders as a school group, and as a peer group across schools, has proved very effective for the Jasper Road Primary School teachers who participated in the course. “As a peer group, teachers could enhance pedagogy, contribute to children's learning and build linkages between other education settings of a similar size and similar complexity. This allowed for the successful implementation of the syllabus in all stages.”

Productive, purposeful and intentional thinking underpins effective learning in Science and Technology, which is why Craig believes that when the implementation of the K-6 syllabus is carefully guided, teachers can confidently provide students with the opportunity to fully explore and engage with the subject matter. “It is imperative that students are provided with opportunities to apply thinking skills and develop an understanding of the processes they can use as they encounter problems,” he says. “The capacity to ensure ‘thinking skills’ and build upon these through an inquiry model will be further developed as teachers develop additional skills and knowledge.”

An Educators perspective

Kim Yatras, a classroom teacher at Jasper Road Public School, feels that the course gave her a much more in-depth understanding of the new syllabus. “The session that focused on the changes to the syllabus was extremely beneficial and this was the information that I took away as the most important to share with colleagues back at our school,” she says. Kim found that the workshop format, led by Dr Forbes, was impactful. “The model of combining theory with hands-on practice was a good way of demonstrating how to make science engaging,” says Kim.

In her school setting, Kim worked with her colleagues on syllabus familiarisation, identification of key strands (skills, knowledge and understanding), hands-on science and technology activity workshops, sequencing of learning experiences, development and implementation of Units of Work, student assessment and evaluation of teaching practices.

To discuss your school’s professional learning needs please contact Dr Iain Hay – Director of Professional Learning and Engagement - or 02 9850 8056.

Content owner: Department of Educational Studies Last updated: 05 Jun 2019 10:16am

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