Innovation in The Classroom

By Charles Neave (Director of Pedagogy) and the Academic Directorate

St Leonard’s has always been an innovative school, but it’s interesting to consider the etymology of the word innovation, used in the Middle Ages to explain changes in religious beliefs and doctrines. Back then innovation was a negative thing – reflecting an underlying social belief that we should stay the same because it was safe and true. Education cannot stay the same though. The world changes, so how children experience learning, and what they learn, must always change. Our Heads of Learning work hard to constantly innovate in the classroom, making learning time an experience of inspiration, joy, and satisfaction.

For example, the English Faculty now offers six different English courses at Years 11 and 12. Students can opt to do Literature or Language and Literature in the IB program and English Language, Literature, or the English course in the VCE program. There is also the EAL English course for our current EAL students. Offering such a range ensures we are catering to the strengths and interests of all our students. The newest course, the English Language course, has been embraced by students who are more interested in the mechanics of English rather than texts studies. It has been a welcome addition to the multitude of courses on offer. In the Middle School program, there has also been a focus on giving students a ‘taste’ of what some of these courses entail. There has been significant work on phonetics and grammar skill building in Years 7 and 8 (from the English Language course) and close language studies in Years 6, 9 and 10 (from the IB Language and Literature course).

The Commerce Department also offers a wide variety of subjects that enable students to acquire essential skills and prepare for the constantly evolving and competitive world. One notable course within the department is the Year 9 Entrepreneurship course, which continues to appeal to our students. This course challenges students in problem-solving, creativity and collaboration as they develop their own social enterprise. Financial capability and social responsibility are also strongly emphasised as we prepare our students for the dynamic world in which we live.

In Drama, the use of light in the theatre is a technically challenging beast. For students, understanding the complex process of rigging, patching, programming and operating theatrical lights can be somewhat daunting! This year however, the Drama department began to experiment with different ways of using light in performance. We invested in 5 Nanlight Pavotubes (a fancy title for what is essentially a light sabre!). Our students began to experiment with the handheld use of light and how the performer can manipulate colour, intensity, form and shape during a live theatrical experience. The result of this experimentation looked as follows: Senior IB Theatre students creating oppressive environments such as office spaces and nightmares – or Year 8 Drama students retelling the story of The Truman Show using light to define the edges of doorways, windows and 2-way mirrors. The confluence of art, theatre and technology has led our students to become innovative theatre makers – watch this space!

One noteworthy learning innovation in Health & Physical Education is the incorporation of technology-based fitness equipment and apps to enhance student engagement, fitness monitoring and data collection. These tools allow students to track their physical activity, measure vital health metrics and record quantitative data. Through interactive platforms, such as a force plate and blazepods, students can create fitness plans tailored to their needs or collect valuable data. Teachers can also use data to adapt their curriculum and provide targeted support, which encourages individual agency. 

Moreover, incorporating elements, such as challenges and rewards, transforms learning into an enjoyable and competitive experience. This innovation not only promotes physical activity but also nurtures data-driven decision-making skills and a tech-savvy approach to health and well-being. The integration of fitness technology into Health & PE classes fosters a dynamic, data-driven, and engaging learning environment that empowers students to take charge of their health and fitness and their own learning. 

In 2023 the Humanities Faculty has sought to enhance our students’ understandings of the past, present and world around us through experience. Our Geographers attended excursions to the Werribee & Melbourne Zoos and Fishermans Bend, exploring the impacts of electronics on gorillas in the Congo, tourism and land use change respectively. We stretched our Year 11 OES students by taking them camping in the snow at Mt Baw, whilst our Year 12 OES students went snorkelling at Pope’s Eye. Year 8 Self & Society students visited houses of worship in Greater Dandenong, gaining an understanding of the many religions and cultures in our wider community. Our Year 9 History students couldn’t quite make it to the battlefields of World War 1, but that didn’t stop one class who set up a mock trench in their classroom to try and understand how the brave men of the Anzacs felt in battle.  

In Languages, our education extends beyond the simple acquisition of vocabulary and grammar. It is a holistic process that enables critical thinking, cultural understanding, and effective communication. Recognising and celebrating quality achievement within the Language Department is essential in acknowledging the profound impact that learning language has on personal and academic development. We honour students with the highest grades and exceptional performance in language, such as those who participated in The Berthe Mouchette Competition, an annual competition for students who learn French around Victoria.  

Language and culture are inseparable and so we recognise efforts to promote deep cultural appreciation. Participation by Chinese students in United Nations and Chinese Cultural Day, provided them the opportunity for authentic Chinese language experiences. Spanish club carried out by students, and interdisciplinary approach with other subjects such as Food Science, gave our students the opportunity of tasting and preparing traditional Spanish food. 

Finally, during Language week, we contributed to the development of individuals who are not only proficient communicators but also ambassadors of cultural understanding and linguistic diversity. This, for a lifelong learner, is one of the greatest gifts.  

2023 in the Mathematics Faculty included the second year of our adjusted Year 7 and 8 model with it rolling through from Year 7 into Year 8. Within this, each topic is spread over a longer period of time to enable time to consolidate understanding and cover concepts in greater depth. Additional time is provided to follow-up on formative assessments throughout a topic or to spend more time on related problem-solving content for those students ready for this challenge. At the end of each topic, following the summative test, there is a dedicated block of time and class groupings for students to work on areas of difficulty where necessary or to extend further into the topic. As a result, students in the consolidate group have been able to see that learning continues beyond the test and that the learning taken from these tasks leads to some of the greatest progress. The hope is that students continue to build these stages into their revision program throughout the following years.  

In Music, it has been an exciting and refreshing year with the renewed focus of making music learning fun through a practical and experiential curriculum. Whilst there were many highlights, one of our successes was the new emphasis on games and friendly competitions in the Year 7 Band and String Ensembles. This has seen an increased engagement and punctuality from the students every second Wednesday afternoon as they attend their Band and String rehearsals. Another focus this year was to provide a more tangible experience for Year 8 students in their core music. They all participated in an African Drumming incursion where they explored Music Elements and Compositional Devices through a practical and creative experience playing West African Djembe. This was then linked to a creating task where students were able to put their learning into action and create a collaborative rhythmic composition, allowing the students to have an innovative experiential learning opportunity. 

A key focus for the St Leonard’s Science Faculty in 2023 has been to align Science Skills in middle school to those in VCE and IB which, with new curricula, are becoming more specific and explicit. Skills such as collecting accurate and reliable primary data, analysing and evaluating are incorporated into both formative and summative tasks, and students’ progress is monitored on a skills progression rubric. This skills progression rubric allows students to see their growth in skills over time without focusing on a grade. Concept-based units in Science, such as our Year 9 “How to Speak Science” and Year 7 “War on Waste” units afford students lots of practice in developing these skills. Practical experimentation gives students hands-on practice with developing research questions, conducting experiments so that accurate data can be collected, and evaluating their data, both in terms of experimental design and scientific theory.

The Year 4 Exhibition “Celebrating Lifelong Learning and Local Community Action” marks the pinnacle of our students’ journey through the Primary Years Programme (PYP), designed to foster globally aware, lifelong learners. This transformative experience provides them with transferable skills, conceptual understandings for the 21st century, and the principles of the IB Learner Profile. This year, our students investigated an issue relevant to the local Bayside community, showcasing the PYP’s real-world application. After investigating their issue, they took action to make a difference in a diverse range of areas ranging from creating toys for animals in shelters to cleaning up ocean pollution and caring for elderly people suffering from loneliness. They weren’t just learning for the sake of it; they were on a mission to make a difference.  

The Exhibition beautifully weaves together the elements of the PYP while encouraging independence and collaboration. It empowers our students to be inquisitive, to forge their own paths, and to be proud of their contributions to the community. It’s an opportunity for reflection and celebration, a testament to the power of education, and a reminder that even our youngest learners can have a profound impact on the world.