For a number of years, we have had a strategic partnership with Republic Polytechnic (RP), a tertiary institution in Singapore that leverages problem-based learning to provide an industry-relevant curriculum to Diploma level. It is geared towards students becoming innovative and entrepreneurial professionals with global perspectives.
A number of our schools in the Parramatta Diocese such as Parramatta Marist High School, which introduced project based learning into the school four years ago, have been associated with RP in Singapore. On the way back from the Building Learning Communities conference (#BLC12) we had the opportunity to spend a few hours at the school to further strengthen our strategic partnership.
We saw instructional leadership in action with RP’s Senior Director Michael Koh and Deputy Director Karen Goh very focused on student learning and on implementing processes to ensure that their teachers are continual learners, and hence improving as teachers. Michael and Karen described the needs of students in today’s world as the driver for all their work as well as how the curriculum design of problem-based learning centres upon the experience of learners. We saw that their model of problem-based learning utilises many high effect teaching strategies that have been identified as such by John Hattie’s research (Visible Learning, 2009) such as student self-reporting (1.44); teachers providing feedback (0.73); good teacher-student relationships (0.72); problem solving teaching (0.61); and concept mapping (0.57).
To support their learner focused model RP has created contemporary, collaborative and engaging learning spaces for students to connect, plan and reflect on their learning. They have embraced technology in every aspect of campus life – they don’t have any books or papers but instead have instant messaging, wireless projection systems and their trademark Learning Environment Online. While RP is the fifth polytechnic institute in Singapore, they have the broken the traditional mould in student learning, teaching and learning space design.
We also saw that a significant strategy at RP was ensuring teacher quality is highly visible. All teachers are expected to achieve a ‘Facilitator’s’ qualification which entails significant teacher observations and reflection, both personal and via a collegial panel. This aligns with what we know from Viviane Robinson’s research on instructional leadership that promoting and participating in teacher learning and ensuring teacher quality have high effect sizes on student outcomes.
During the visit, we had the opportunity to experience first-hand one of their ‘authentic’ learning environments – a full-scale flight simulator located in one of the classrooms. This amazing facility is used to teach students a wide range of problem solving techniques across a range of disciplines.
We saw the teacher, who is a former pilot and member of crash investigation units, set a series of problems that the students needed to solve by working as a team just as a pilot and co-pilot would. These start off simple and become more complex with students required to draw on both known and new information to solve. The problems required students to utilise knowledge across multiple domains including mathematics, science and geography. For example, working out what ground temperature would be using only the current outside temperature at 30,000 feet; or determining how many degrees it takes to turn the plane and line up for landing. From our experience we could see how this ‘real life’ learning experience was used with students to develop key problem solving strategies. Needless to say this learning environment is in high demand by all students.
Evident at RP was the importance of teachers providing real life opportunities to engage students in learning; in situ teacher observations and reflection to enhance teacher quality; and evidenced-based leadership to drive the focus on student learning. In other words, RP use good theory to support good practice to deliver the best learning opportunities for each and every student.
This is why we have a strategic partnership with Republic Polytechnic because they understand that all students can learn, that good teachers make the difference and that leadership is pivotal in driving continual improvement. Robust partnerships like this build everyone’s capacity and leads to real change and improvement.