We decided that getting an international phone package would be too expensive so we settled on a couple of toss-away phones that only work inside Adelaide. The only hope of getting in and around town fall to the job of the GPS system in our rental car, which had been doing a great job up to this point.
I had to meet the tour at 9:15 a.m. so we left our place around 7:45, leaving plenty of time to register for the conference and meet the group. We had entered the city limits and that's when the GPS decided to stop working. The screen went blank and nothing we did seemed to fix it. We had take a dry run the day before so we thought we knew the general location, but when you are in the thick of their 'rush' hour and driving on unfamiliar roads, not to mention the one way streets and poor Richard, who is driving on the right side of the car...well, it went south fast.
We were in the city by 8ish, leaving plenty of time to catch the group and bus, but that time soon got eaten up with wrong turns, frustration, stopping to ask folks, and eventually by 9:40 we arrived...I was excited to see a group of teachers waiting for the bus but also embarrassed that the American was holding up the bus. I was wrong, this was a group going on a school tour, just not my tour, that ship had sailed minutes before we got there.
I went inside and sheepishly told them what had happened and they were so gracious and did what they could to insure my state of mind...which wasn't good. I told them that Richard could drive me to the school but we needed a map with directions since our GPS petered out. They printed out Google Map directions and let us know that Hertz was just down the street to exchange our busted unit. We decided to go to the school first, and while I was there, Richard would head back to Hertz. Well, that didn't work out. The Google Map wasn't any better than navigating around the city ourselves. We ended up at Hertz, traded in the broke for new and we made it to the first school at 11:50, and the first visit was from 10-12. I walked in the room, the leader of the groups, Greg, jumped up, greeted me with a hug and a spot of tea. I had just enough time to see the building, and get their re-cap on their philosophy.
St. John's Grammar School is a private, co-educational Anglican school for preschool to year 12. The campus is beautiful and they have a modern new Design & Technology and Information Technology Center, that I didn't get to see. Most of the private schools have a one:one iPad initiative but the caveat is, parents are required to buy the devices along with a laptop. iPads are used for just about everything from writing, and reading to using apps to solve problems. The Campus is currently using Office 365 but the program is still too new to make any fast judgments on whether it's better than what they were using. Tuition at this school ranges from Elementary - $7,000 yearly, Middle School - $11,000 and HS - $13,000 per year.
When I was roaming the grounds of the Cleland Wildlife Reserve, I struck up a conversation with some moms out there with their children. Both moms had their kids enrolled in private school. I asked why and they said the public schools just weren't up to par compared to what they used to be. There is a fierce debate over private and public schooling. According to these moms, public schools have become a places of academic failure. They said the tuition was worth it. By the way, tuition to private schools is far less than their college tuition (which will set you back about Three-thousand per year) - and the state government is trying to get that changed to be comparable to the U.S. State College tuitions - which isn't going over too well.
Parents are required to purchase everything from school uniforms to iPads and laptops along with textbooks. I'm not sure what that leaves for the tuition!
From the beautiful campus of St. Johns, we moved along to the Australian Science and Mathematics School (ASMS) where they embrace the diversity of learning, encourage self directed learning and place great importance on collaborative learning.
Their focus is on science and mathematics but managed to hit the other requirements, (History, Language Arts) through their innovative interdisciplinary curriculum. The concept is all cross curricular with the students’ learning through the new sciences - nanotechnology, biotechnology, communication systems and sustainable futures. There is NO TEST to get into this school but relies on an application process much like our local Thomas Jefferson in Fairfax, Virginia. It's not really a magnet school however each application is assessed against the following selection criteria.
- interest in pursuing pathways based on science and mathematics;
- interest and aptitude or potential in science, mathematics and related technologies;
- evidence of ability to engage with the innovative teaching and learning environment of ASMS
They are an Inquiry Based Learning school where the teacher is the facilitator and the students direct their own learning. If they run into problems, the teacher is there to assist or better still, other students have jumped ahead and created their own Youtube 'Kahn Academy' type video for their fellow students.
They are a Google Education School which helps with the collaborative piece but oddly, no chrome books or mobile devices were in sight. In fact, one of their teachers leading our lecture said, "iPads are detrimental to our school". YIKES! Really? Why? Apparently they don't play a role in their philosophy. Their students want meat and potatoes, as in real computers, not silly little iPads. One teacher suggested that perhaps they didn't quite know how to use it to its full potential? The principal then interjected that if a student wanted to use one, they wouldn't disallow it. In fact, students could use any device they wanted to, but we got the impression that laptops were the preferred choice.
If a student did bring their own device to school, they logged on to their network, not a guest network, in fact, they don't have a guest network. At this school, teachers create "School Facebook" accounts for their students and parents. This allows students to engage with teachers in a social atmosphere while it teaches the students proper Netiquette. In addition, Twitter is also open. They shared a lesson where students participated in a mock UN Earth Summit. Each class was divided into teams and each team had to have their own UN members. Teams were assigned a Twitter account and each team had to field comments and questions based on the commentary from the panel discussion.
What a brilliant way to show students the power of social media!
A school like this works and it's what we'd all like to have a little piece of. However the dividing factor between the U.S and our friends Down Under is testing. We are so focused on data and this school is focused on student innovation and creativity. It's not Utopia, (though they only enroll 300+ students) but it would be nice to see this school as the norm and not the exception.
The day started off on a downer, but ended up with new friends and a visit to two different yet successful schools.
Next time, I'll talk more about the Aussie teachers and my conference sessions.