The Hills Grammar School is a non-denominational, non-sectarian, co-educational, K-12 Day School which caters for students across the whole spectrum of ability. It is non-selective but offers academic and music scholarships.
The School is situated in the semi-rural, outer northwestern Hills District of greater Sydney and takes students from wide area including Berowra in the north to Mosman in the south and as far west as the Hawkesbury River. It's largest clientele is drawn from the Castle Hill, Cherrybrook, Dural, Annangrove area.
The School is divided into a Junior School, K-6 and a Senior School 7-12 each under the direction of a Head of School. The Principal acts as the CEO of the School. In the Senior School the Head of School is also the Deputy Principal and is supported by a Director of Teaching and Learning and by a Dean of Students (Welfare) and a Dean of Studies (Academic).
In the High School each year group has approximately 120 students in five streams. In the HSIE Faculty grading of the classes is, usually, on the basis of three equal top classes with two lower classes, usually containing fewer students to improve the student/teacher ratio and, thus, provide more individual support for each student.
The stereotypical student at the School is a middle class Australian, relatively wealthy from a two parent household with one sibling. There is also a significant number of overseas students who attend the Senior School either to complete their Higher School Certificate or to complete their whole High School education in an Australian School drawn from China, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
History has always been a compulsory subject at The Hills Grammar School for Years 7 - 10 students. Today, as required by the Board of Studies, Stage 4 History - Ancient and Medieval, is taught in Years 7 and 8 and Stage 5 Australian History is taught in Years 9 and/or 10 and that division has been the pattern since the foundation of the School.
My teaching at The Hills Grammar School began in 1989 when I was appointed to take responsibility for teaching Australian History to Years 9 and 10 students. This included the development of Programs, choice of textbooks, development of worksheets and assessment tasks. From the beginning I also taught Senior Modern History and 3 Unit Modern History and was responsible for their programming and assessment tasks from 1993 onwards. I have also taught Year 7 and 8 History contributing at various times to the development of programs, assessment tasks and worksheets. My priority was then, and remains today, Australian History and my desire to engender in my students a love of their country and an understanding of its History. I continue to teach and be responsible for Australian History and Senior Modern History and teach the other subjects, as and when required by the timetable.
By the end of 1997 I had come to realise that Australian History was increasingly being seen by the students as simply a compulsory subject which had to be endured to enable students to complete the requirements for Year 10. It could be taken in either Year 9 or Year 10 but had to be completed.
I resolved to try to modernise the students' view of the course and proposed to the School's Technology Committee that I establish a Pilot Study to use internet and email facilities, then being established in the School, to teach the Term 4 content of the Board of Studies' syllabus in Australian History - Australia's Cultural Heritage. That early website can be accessed through this link. The group of students I proposed for the trial was a small, bottom class of all boys (13 in all), of whom only two were at all computer literate and of whom the majority were planning to leave school at the end of Year 10. Eventually only 11 students completed the course as two left to take up apprenticeships before the end of the year. They were also a class of students who had put off the study of Australian History until they could no longer avoid it. At this stage the School had 12 networked computers in the Library available for student use and it was these computers which were used.
My aim was to demonstrate that not only could these students develop or improve their skills in the use of Information Technology but they would also develop a greater interest in Australian History due to the interactive nature of their research. Both outcomes were achieved and I refer you to the Report on the Pilot Study accessible through this link. The majority of students felt that it had been a good introduction to internet research and the use of email and that they could now apply the skills learned to other subjects.The majority of students also felt that they had found the material on Australian History easy to understand, that the course had extended their knowledge of Australian Identity and changed their understanding of some areas of Australian History.
As a result of this successful Pilot Project, students throughout the school were issued with email addresses and communication between staff and students using this facility commenced.
The Pilot Study made me realise that students needed more support in coming to terms with the new technology and the new expectations and demands being placed on them. This realisation, combined with the acceptance that the major challenge for teachers of History is to successfully engage students in the study of what they consider either a "dry" and "dusty" discipline or an irrelevancy in their lives, led me to investigate other ways to engage the students.
Through ongoing professional reading I came to realise that these students are the new generation of "Millennials" or, as Graeme Codrington (http://tomorrowtoday.biz/generations/), a leading international expert on generational theory has proposed, "The Fractal individual ... on the surface ... wireless, mobile and nomadic! Inside ... afraid, uncertain and chaotic" needing as much support to get through High School as possible.
Recognising that many of our students share these traits, I built a new History website over December, 2000 and January, 2001 onto which was put general subject-related material during the year which was then always available to the students via the internet, thus providing constant and accessible support.
Additionally, scaffolding support for the students, both within individual assignments and assessment tasks and in the general areas of Writing and Study Skills, was also put onto the site so that they could access this type of advice at will. Understanding of the ways to scaffold for the students had come from my attendance at two Association of Independent School Inservices run by Tina Sharpe, a Literacy Consultant for the AIS. These courses, Literacy: a Key to History, and Factual Texts Across the Curriculum: Reading and Researching Years 7-9, gave me the understanding of what was needed and how to provide the necessary support.
An unexpected, though welcome, consequence of this development was that History was no longer perceived as being "old fashioned". We had joined the new millennium and the "Millennials". As a consequence, the number of students enrolled in Senior and Elective History classes increased noticeably. Their skills in using ICT have also improved and expanded with students who, in the early stages, refused to take up the challenge of ICT, now producing desktop published material and PowerPoint presentations and habitually using email for submission of work.
The History Department Website became the Social Sciences Departments Website as restructuring took place within the School. It eventually became the HSIE Faculty Website in 2002 and continues today. It may be accessed in its current version on the internet at www.ans.com.au/~hsie. It also slowly expanded to include work from and for the Commercial Studies and Geography subjects. Without a fully developed School Website the Faculty Website has become a vehicle for other subjects when the occasion arose. The Science Faculty put photographs of its NightLife at the School excursion onto the site. Languages has used it to make copies of assignments available should students lose their printed versions.
As well, the Website, being on the Inter-net through an independent service provider, and not the Intra-net of the School, is also available for other Schools and other students to use and I have received telephone calls and direct comments from teachers across all sectors about their use of the site. The Association of Independent Schools uses the Writing Skills sections of the website as an example of the type of scaffolding available to assist students in improving their Literacy Skills, particularly in History but also in other HSIE subjects. They also use it in teaching their courses on Researching History: The Digital Way and Developing WebQuests as an example as to what can be achieved. I have also received feedback from a University lecturer who uses some of the scaffolding for his first year students. It appears, therefore, that many educational bodies have "Millennials" who need our support to survive. This is just one way to provide it. Parents of our school have frequently spoken to me in Parent/Teacher interviews about the usefulness of being able to access assessment tasks through the internet and not having to rely on their child (typically a boy) to bring home a copy of the task.
Also in 2001 I took part in the creation of a film for the Association of Independent Schools on Teaching Strategies in History with a special emphasis on Using Sources and Using Nominalization to change recount to account writing. A small excerpt from the film may be accessed here.
The combination of the discovery and acknowledgement of the existence of the Fractal Individual and my skills of web design, now newly learnt, led me to rethink my teaching pedagogy and led me to a greater understanding of, and interest in, Constructivist models of teaching and learning. WebQuests naturally achieve the main elements of this model through student-centred learning, completing a search for meaning which focuses on understanding the whole as well as the parts, which then allows the student to construct that meaning. This lead me into an entirely new field of teaching and learning.
During December 2003 and January 2004, on behalf of the Discovering Democracy program of the Commonwealth Department of Education, under the auspices of the Quality Teaching Project, No. 3. I completed a series of eight WebQuests for the Discovering Democracy Program, incorporating Discovering Democracy materials and focusing on themes relevant to Civics and Citizenship. This is an area which we find particularly difficult to teach to the students because it is often hard for them to understand the role of Civics and Citizenship. Two of these WebQuests have been trialled at the School. The first one on Federation with Year 9 and the second one on What Sort of Democracy do we have in Australia Today? with Year 10. They may be accessed through these links above or through the HSIE Website in the section labeled For Teachers. Both have been extremely successful in that all the outcomes were achieved and greater enthusiasm for Australian History was engendered in the students.
The development and use of these WebQuests yet again confirmed with the students that History is not a dry and dusty, irrelevant subject. The Year 10 students, in particular, enjoyed their learning this way and presented some marvelous material which can be accessed through these links. These three students' work is unedited and attached just as presented - Ashleigh, Ben and Aloysius. These tasks, and many of the others, were submitted electronically. This was independent, student-centred learning with the necessary scaffolding supplied as part of the WebQuest.
Part of the Quality Teaching Project was the requirement to include other staff members in the Professional Development opportunities provided by the Project. Another staff member, Miss Michelle Vaccarella, worked with me in the development of the Federation Webquest and gained experience in designing WebQuests, using web design programs and developing student-centred research tasks.
I have most recently undertaken the development of a unit of work for the AIS on the new Stage 5 Australian Geography Syllabus with a focus on incorporating ICT into the program. This has been part of my ongoing professional development to complement my position as the person in charge of Stage 5 Australian Geography and Australian History.
My teaching in the classroom and the students' learning in and out of the classroom has now firmly entered the new millennium.