An experiment with innovation

An experiment with innovation

Wesley College, located in Perth, has been on a process of transformation.

The stirrings of this process began five years ago when Matthew Irving, the school’s director of strategy, began a tour of innovative science labs around Australia to investigate how the concepts that underpinned them could apply back at his school.

Based on what he discovered, the school began designing multi-disciplinary science spaces. This involved replacing its integrated science, biology and chemistry labs with separate high-tech learning areas, all located on different floors.

“We basically gutted our old science building and started over again by creating a brand new science space that utilises modern technology and is a living science experiment,” Irving told The Educator.

The new building, which has been up and running for 8 weeks, keeps data on itself through sensors, monitors, hydroponic walls and aquaponics, a system in which the waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic creatures supplies the nutrients for plants.

“When we set out to make these changes, the view was to develop a space that would influence learning, engage learners and be representative of what science actually looks like in the industry,” he said.

“So on a given floor, you might have three prac areas, but there is also a collaborative zone that centres on instructional learning and a technology zone that allows collaboration between a tech assistant and students.”

Irving said that while a technology assistant in a science room would traditionally sit at the back and collect chemicals and materials, in this case they are sitting in the middle of the room, supporting students and teachers throughout the lesson.

“Our school has also shifted the pedagogy by moving away from the idea of one teacher in a classroom to multiple teachers in a learning space or on a floor,” he said.

“We’ve looking at a much more integrated model and realising that having multiple teachers on a floor provides different levels of expertise and different levels of support for learners.”

Irving said that one factor driving the changes at the school is the shifting science practices around the world.

“We’re looking at what’s happening in the science industry out in the real world and asking how we can bring that into our classrooms,” he said.

“It’s important that we teach our students to be scientists in a real science industry.”

Another driver was advances in technology, said Irving. He pointed to the school’s science building which has three large screens in each prac area which cater to collaborative work, individual work and direct instruction with the teacher.

“As well as the zoning principles we’ve adopted, our three points of focus have been a real driver in the way kids interact with technology in the classroom.”

Irving said the school is also about to complete a new ‘Global Village’ language centre and a new innovation hub for computer science, coding and robotics.

“The language centre will include Indonesian, Chinese and French. Traditionally, languages have been taught in different areas of the school but we’re creating a hub that will develop cultural competencies and transform the learning,” he said.

“Language learning has always been very didactic and very much a listening-based exercise, but we want it to be a community-based exercise that is collaborative. To achieve this, we’re creating deliberate spaces.”

Ahead of the centre’s opening in July, teachers are in the implementation phase that involves developing plans around how the pedagogy will shift and how the open-plan spaces will be used.

“Right now, we’re working on developing some research and data sets that are measuring the success of these projects” he said.

“The staff are loving it because this is all really transformational for them. They’ve dreamt about this project being seen through to completion, so to actually be inside these spaces and see these opportunities has been very exciting for them.”