Learning has gone tribal at St Fiacre’s Catholic Primary Leichhardt.
The collaborative approach will see year 5 and 6 students in teacher Kerry Davies’ class become questioners, researchers, note-takers and ‘checkers’ within learning groups or ‘tribes’ as they build websites on the topic of Antarctic explorers.
The project follows a visit from adventurer Chris Olsen, who spoke to students in February about hypothermia, penguins, shifting glaciers, explorer history and artefacts recovered during his three expeditions to Antarctica – one to help restore Mawson’s Hut.
It is the second year of this style of teaching and learning for the Year 6 students and for Ms Davies, who moved to the collaborative approach when she took up her post at St Fiacres after six years of the profession in the UK.
“All children take a role and rather than being passive they are active in where their learning goes,” she said.
“Once they’ve learnt the skills of researching and synthesising they apply it to an area that they want to find out more about. They start to think ‘what do I want to learn?’, ‘what is it that I already know?’
“There was a lot of [unknown] vocabulary that came out of our visit with Chris, so they all worked on one Google document to create an Antarctica glossary.
They were making sure the words were in order, they were finding definitions, referencing where they found their information. They had to synthesize it – they couldn’t just copy it from the internet.
“They get used to different expectations and the different ways that you can be an active participant in a group,” she said.
“They are all working to create something together and they understand that they all have different skills they can bring to that and how they can utilise each of those skills better.”
“Parents have access to see what they are learning in class as well. We did something similar last year with the topic of rainforests and parents really liked that they could see what was going on.
Year 6 student Emily Mattocks’ tribe ‘Cool Breeze’ will include information on the explorers that reached Antarctica in the 1800’s.
“My role is the questioner and the note-taker, so I think of questions for our website and take down the information that could be useful for our website,” Emily said.
“I love the equipment the school uses for our learning, especially the technology they’ve used this year and hopefully for the years beyond.”
Principal Jan Heyworth said the collaborative learning tasks were often introduced with a task or talk like Mr Olsen’s to ignite an interest in the topic.
“What this does is teach them to connect to their world through relevant tasks so they are motivated to engage, then go more deeply into asking powerful questions – to use the technology to help them make meaning and express their understanding in a variety of ways,” she said.
Ms Davies said the tribes were assigned based on students nominating two people they would like to work with and two people they hadn’t worked with before. This simulates future environments where people don’t always get to choose who they work with.
Asher Darvox said he found the approach fun when he was first introduced to it last year.
“You get to learn everything about everyone’s personalities, their strengths, their weaknesses,” he said.
“At the time I didn’t know any of the girls in my class and since it [group work] is mixed I got to know a few of the girls which was nice.”
Sienna Excell, also in year 6, agreed there were positives to group classwork.
“I just love how we can talk and share our ideas with other people and they can give us feedback and tell us how to improve so we get better – also telling people feedback about their work so I can help them improve theirs,” she said.