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Double Helix Lessons

Stile Education and CSIRO launch ‘Double Helix Lessons’

Last week, Stile Education and CSIRO launched a course of STEM learning lessons as a partnership initiative, trialed first by St Agatha’s Primary School.

The lesson content, which uses CSIRO’s Double Helix magazine as a platform, offers teachers and students integrated STEM learning material that aims to enhance learning outcomes in the area.

Stile Education CEO, Byron Scaf said the concept was developed following the success of the Cosmos-related offering the organisation had already developed for secondary students.

Lacy uses Stile
Lacy from St Agatha’s Primary School enjoys using Double Helix Lessons.

“When I started at Stile it was being led by Dr Alan Finkel, who has gone on to become Australia’s Chief Scientist,” said Mr Scaf, speaking with Education Matters a day after the launch event. “We began working on developing a tool that would make it easy for teachers to create their own fantastic lessons online. The idea wasn’t to create a platform for remote learning, but as a means for teachers to quickly and easily get content to, and receive questions from, their students in real time.”

The ‘A-ha!’ moment came after the launch of Stile’s secondary school offering and the Ebola crisis hit Africa. According to Mr Scaf, Stile used Cosmos’s editorial to demonstrate the science of infectious diseases to students. The results were striking and immediate.

“The students really engaged with the material because they found it relevant; here was a real event they could put into context in their lives,” he said. “That program is available for years 7-10.”

The next mission was to replicate the success of this project for younger years. Hence, Mr Scaf and his team sought a partnership with CSIRO.

“We’ve been through a structured process in order to deliver a universally useful tool that teachers will find easy to integrate on any level,” Mr Scaf said. “We assembled an advisory committee of active teachers, as well as the teachers of those teachers going into primary schools, to ensure we were absolutely meeting the needs of as many classes in Australia as possible.”

The newly released Double Helix Lessons cover everything a teacher is required to teach in Grades 5 and 6 science, including natural disasters, energy and light, and the solar system. The lessons can be easily customised, and consist of a wealth of multimedia. But perhaps most interesting is the concept that Stile has implemented in order to take engagement with the material a step further.

“We’ve designed these lessons to include these really relatable characters that take the students on adventures – science adventures,” said Mr Scaf. “Now that we’ve completed our pilot program with St Agatha’s, we’ve been able to hear some of the feedback from both students and teachers. It’s incredibly exciting to hear the kids say they love it because our characters appeal to their age.”

“The overall result is that we’ve created a means to make it easier for teachers to do what they do best, enhancing their students’ educations. This in turn helps all children to gain access to a higher level of science education – and that’s what we’re most excited about.”

Education evidence base draft report from the Productivity Commission

Productivity Commission: Education spending hasn't raised standards

a new draft report about the national education evidence base, indicating that increases in education spending hasn’t resulted in a positive uplift in standards. The draft report, which was commissioned by the Federal Government in March, says that better education outcomes will result from the ability to identify and evaluate better policies, programs and teaching practices based on available data. Commissioner Jonathan Coppel highlighted the disparity between the “14 per cent real increase in spending per sudent over the last ten years” and the fact that “student performance remains broadly static and in some areas has actually decreased”. “More resources, performance benchmarking and competition between schools alone, although important, are insufficient to achieve gains in education outcomes,” Commissioner Coppel said. The report goes to the heart of the ongoing political debate between Labor and the Turnbull Government regarding the Gonski education reforms, and the effectiveness of education spending. In addressing the point of contention, the Productivity Commission is of the opinion that ‘there is little evidence or systematic processes in place to evaluate policies, program and teaching practices to identify what works best in schools and early learning centres’, despite the amount of data that is collected to monitor and report on student and school outcomes. “Teachers have the greatest impact on student performance, after accounting for the characteristics of students themselves. Looking within the classroom, particularly teaching practices, is thus paramount to improving education outcomes across all schools and all students,’ said Commissioner Coppel. NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli slammed the report on Tuesday, in a response that implied it was a waste of money, saying “I hope no one paid for this report … it tells us nothing that we didn’t know four years ago”. Mr Piccoli said the report covers only 1.5 per cent of the proposed Gonski funding timeframe, but could be used as an argument to discontinue the funding. “I’m disappointed,” he said Piccoli. “When [the federal government] sees a report like this, they see it as a justification for not funding the final two years of Gonski. They see this as vindication.” Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham had said the Government would await the commission’s final report before considering a response. ‘We also know there are some schools whose students perform better than expected compared with similar schools. We should be lifting the bonnet on these schools to find out what they are doing, and carefully evaluating if we can apply their methods across schools.” The report also identifies better data sharing between jurisdictions as beneficial, suggesting existing privacy protections be overhauled and a universal student tracking system be introduced to gain better insight into why some schools consistently foster greater outcomes. “We are not looking to add to the compliance burden of educators. In fact, our report makes recommendations for reducing the existing burden by collecting data more cost-effectively and also making better use of existing data,” said Productivity Commissioner Julie Abramson.]]>

Lisa Rodgers appointed new AITSL chief executive

Earlier this week, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) announced the appointment of Ms Lisa Rodgers as it’s new CEO following what it termed an ‘extensive national and international search’. Read more