LEADERS at a Victorian school have launched an innovative curriculum that supports Year 9 students by linking learning experiences in their chosen subjects to big ideas and events.
Staff at Melbourne’s Alkira Secondary College created the Big Sky program in response to DEECD research showing disengagement
peaks in Year 9 and students respond better to a curriculum that relates to meaningful experiences.
“Year 9 is really ‘the’ year, it’s when they can consolidate the things they’re doing in Year 7 and 8 and then start to think about pathways for Year 10, 11 and 12,” assistant principal John Shaw tells Australian Teacher Magazine.
“We’ve been working as a team, with parents, students and all of our teachers. We did some surveys and talked about the subjects and experiences we thought were important.”
The result is a Big Sky program based around six core subjects — English, maths, humanities, science, LOTE Mandarin and health and PE. Core and elective subjects are tied into four Big Ideas themes throughout the year, which each culminate in four Big Events, giving students an opportunity to present and celebrate their learning.
The themed ideas focus on personal development and challenges, local community and citizenship, personal interests and passions, and future pathways. At the end of each theme students take part in a big event, including heroes workshops, a Year 9 camp and an artist in residence project.
“It doesn’t matter if they’ve done a maths elective or if they’ve done a health and PE elective, they’ll still be able to contribute in some way to that big event. It ties all the students together on that theme,” Shaw explains.
Big Sky reflects Alkira’s values but draws on aspects of school programs in Queensland, the International Baccalaureate and Shaw’s former school, Kambrya College. In conjunction with the curriculum program Alkira has decided to switch to single sex classes in English, humanities and science.
Shaw says the response from parents has been positive. “The feedback (at the school council meeting) of the success of the single sex classrooms has been amazing really.
“It means that the teachers can now tailor their classes to the needs of those particular kids and it means that they can teach them in different ways that better reflect the way they learn. I’ve got to say it’s made a difference in behaviour and student management as well.”