Article originally published on E-Learn Magazine on April 24, 2017 – Click here for the Spanish version
Nossal High School in Victoria, Australia, is determined to offer their students a different kind of education that goes far beyond memorizing facts and spending dozens of hours on homework. Rather, the school seeks to prepare students for their professional and personal lives, to enrich their knowledge, and to effectively prepare them for adulthood.
Stuart Frankhauser, director of Digital Development and Innovation and a physics teacher at Nossal High School, explains why it has been challenging, and rewarding, to teach in a completely different way compared to his previous 20 years as an educator.
How Nossal High School is Leading the Way into the Future of Education
1. A Commitment to High-Quality Education
Nossal High school offers the very best education to high-performing students. Being a mid-sized high school, teachers work rigorously to ensure that students are provided with as much one-on-one support as possible. All students must go through a series of math and English tests to evaluate their abilities. The majority of students at Nossal come to the school after being at the top of their class at other institutions. These students are highly motivated to learn and experience progress on a daily basis. Teachers are constantly looking to make the most tools available to students in order to accelerate their learning.
2. They embrace technology in education
Frankhauser started as director of e-learning at the school. In this position, he was in charge of managing new tools, as well as the school’s expectations in terms of technology. He first decided to implement Blackboard Learn as the school’s main LMS, and then merged all of their pedagogical approaches through e-learning. He realized that there was no reason to separate e-learning from pedagogy and traditional learning. This made a significant difference, as it gives e-learning a true purpose while ensuring that every class has the best in cutting edge technology as possible. How can every lesson become a memorable experience for students? This is possible if the technology is implemented correctly and is successfully merged with each teacher’s pedagogical approach. All classes, materials, and even extracurricular activities are connected to Blackboard Learn to make them more dynamic. Teachers quickly embraced the change from a traditional educational approach and wanted to know how they could move forward. For this reason, Frankhauser’s position changed to Director of Digital Development and Innovation, a position that is not too common in traditional schools.
3. Digital Delivery Days
Frankhauser helped turn the school into a more progressive institution with the introduction of Digital Delivery Days. He was inspired by a case in Singapore, where, after a type of infectious disease breakout, classes at schools and universities had to be canceled. After that, educational institutions decided to implement an e-learning strategy to ensure they were prepared to continue teaching, should a similar incident occur in the future. Frankhauser thought that it was an interesting approach and decided to try it out. After purchasing Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, they were able to run the first pilot. During the Digital Delivery Days (DDD), students stay home and connect to each of their classes through Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. Frankhauser explains that these days have three main advantages.
1. Students become accustomed to a learning environment that is similar to a university’s, where they will have to manage their own learning effectively.
2. Students get used to the fact that when they are in a traditional classroom setting and they don’t understand the material, the teacher will sense that confusion and will try to get them to understand. During DDDs, this is not the case— students have to be proactive in letting their teachers know what they don’t understand, and as a result, take charge of their own learning.
3. Some of the students at Nossal have up to a 3-hour commute each way. With the Digital Delivery Days, their daily routine dramatically changes, and the lessons become even more memorable. “It’s nice to see that they are also creating memories through this,” Frankhauser comments. After three years of DDD being held approximately three times per term every school year, teachers no longer need any training to conduct their normal classes through Blackboard Collaborate.
Upon realizing the methodology worked, the school also implemented a period of asynchronous learning at the end of every school year. When students are getting ready for their final exams, the school gives them a four-day weekend to prepare. This time provides them with more flexibility to study, hand in their work, and the opportunity to meet up with the teacher in a Blackboard Collaborate room in order to ask questions and revise topics.
4. The School’s motto is “Embrace the Challenge”
Frankhauser explains that the school’s motto has become a way of seeing life, for both students and teachers. Nossal is a relatively new school, as it was founded just nine years ago. One of the institution’s objectives is to help students become the very best they can be for their future. For example, Frankhauser, as a physics teacher, knows that in the real world, 80% of his students won’t apply the physics concepts he teaches in their regular lives, but he also knows that the collaborative work in the classroom and the critical thinking that he teaches will better equip them for university, their future jobs, and in their lives in general. Nossal also wants to implement entrepreneurial skills that collaborative learning can bring to students—They seek to impart all the 21st-century essentials that the students will need. However, it has taken many teachers time to get used to the idea and the different teaching methods. Frankhauser admits that this has been the most difficult, yet most rewarding job he has ever had.
5. Adoption of the “Five Minds of the Future” model
The Five Minds Model is based on the book by Howard Gardner, which states that all people should develop their five different minds: The disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, the creating mind, the respectful mind, and the ethical mind. All class curriculums at the high school aim to teach the different ‘minds’ and nurture each one. In addition, The Gus Nossal Medallion is an award that students are able to earn at the end of year twelve. The award is named in honor of Sir Gustav Nossal, a famous Australian scientist whom the school is also named after. Students have to complete certain activities throughout their academic years in order to develop all five minds. If students have enough points at the end of grade 12, they receive the medallion. It is not easy and it’s very competitive, and yet, the students have embraced the challenge and work towards achieving the goal by understanding that it makes them well-rounded individuals who will be better prepared for their future and as professionals. Ultimately, the high school’s objective is not to have them memorize formulas and world capitals, but to prepare the students for the real world ahead of them.
6. The teacher’s role has dramatically changed
At Nossal, the teacher role is not seen as superior to students—both the teacher and the students have something to bring to the table. For that reason, the school is doing an experiment with Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, wherein every class the students are divided into small groups and are sent materials, whether it be talking points or diagrams, for example. The group then discusses the materials and the teacher might lead the discussion, but the learning is in the students’ hands. That way, the traditional model where a teacher stands in front of the class talking is replaced, and the class is delivered using a very different method. The faculty role is well regarded and promotes critical thinking among students so they may reach conclusions on their own.
7. Liberty is given to teachers at Nossal High School
According to Frankhauser, the school’s principal has a very strong vision for what he wants the school to be like and lays a wonderful foundation for the leading teachers. These teachers are those that are given great freedom and opportunity to explore new ideas in education and pedagogy. “We have permission to fail,” Frankhauser says, and that is also the way the students are taught. As long as they have a reasonable reason for why they want to try something out (just like the Digital Delivery Days), there is an open mind for them to try it out and see if it works or doesn’t. However, it’s clear that this educational system is not for everyone, and many teachers feel quite challenged by it. Trust is the ultimate power they must own, and which allows for creativity and an opportunity to change the futures of the students they are molding. As long as teachers have more liberty, they also feel more inspired by their work— they want to go the extra mile and care about the students’ well-being and are willing to work for the future of their students.
Nossal High School is a strong model for schools of the future, and as an inspiration for other institutions looking for alternative ways of teaching and learning. Frankhauser explains that his biggest reward is seeing Nossal alumni, how they have applied every lesson they learned to their life and keep coming back to the place that was not just a school, but a place of transformation, learning, and where they embraced education.
Photos by: AFP Mark Peterson