My colleague Gavin Hays and I have begun a learning journey that we hope will revolutionalise teaching in Australia.

An opportunity arose after our principal, Brother Patrick Howlett, returned from an educational journey of his own in 2006. In 2007 Gavin and I along with four other teaching staff were given the opportunity to attend the New Technology Foundation staff training for a Project Based Learning model based on research from the Buck Institute. The model had been successfully implemented by the Nappa Valley education and local businesses partnership  to better meet the needs of the 21st Century student in the Nappa Valley area. The New Technology Foundation now has fifty American schools operating in the model and us at Parramatta Marist as the lone Australian School. After the initial training Gavin and I implemented the model into our Year 10 classes whilst planning for the model to be implemented in Year 9 classes across subjects including History, Geography, English, Information Software Technology, Science  and Catholic studies in 2008. During the planning it was decided that the model would allow for subject integration and decisions were made to integrate English, History and Geography which we call Social Studies and Information Software Technology and Catholic Studies which we now call Cathtech. Based on the evidence of observation from a ten day visit to the Nappa New Tech High school early in 2008 we decided to maintain Science operating as a lone PBL subject and to keep Mathematics taught in the traditional method. Currently we have  the model operating across both Years 9 and 10 and have seen some remarkable success in the ability of the PBL model to engage students in their learning and allow students to develop what are often called 21st Century skills including, collaboration, teamwork, presentation and organisational skills. These qualities that are so desired by employers but rarely if ever developed by traditional school systems are vital parts of the PBL models success as it aims to make learning real. The implementation of this new model which focuses on the development of engaging real world projects allows teachers to externalise the enemy and become  a vital resource for the student learning team as they strive to complete the assigned project. Students work in groups to complete the projects and the level of student engagement and  student achievement  in the  21st Century skills mentioned above has reignited a passion for teaching not experienced since the final year of university studies when all an excited future grad wanted was nothing more than their own class.

Gavin and myself  have now two new members of our team, Miss Lucy Gresser and Mrs Karyn West. We have each received accreditation as New Technology Teachers (the only four in Australia with this accreditation) and after completing a New Technology,  train the trainer program earlier this year, where we in-serviced American teachers in the model and the subsequent training of our colleagues at Parramatta Marist are awaiting coaching accreditation from the Foundation.

The team has developed a strict set of team norms and are now working tirelessly to inspire both our colleagues and students in the limitless possibilities for student achievement in collaborative learning and creativity using the PBL model.

Many educators are talking about the lack of critical thinking exhibited by our students. However, currently we are working on a project in Year 9 Cathtech (Catholic Studies integrated with Information Software Technology) focusing on the morality behind current stereotypes in Australian society. Students have been working on these projects for the past four weeks which has asked them to gain a greater understanding of moral development theories and then apply those frameworks to understand the reasons behind the emergence of  stereotypes.

This current project has required students to construct a feature article on the driving question “Are our current cultural stereotypes a true reflection of Australian culture? Agree/Disagree – Prove it