Moree Secondary College year 7 students benefit from new learning initiative and open plan classroom

Starting high school is a significant milestone in any student’s life, and judging by the class enthusiasm, year 7 at Moree Secondary College does not disappoint.

With a notable increase in year 7 enrolments in 2019, up to 78 students, Carol Avenue campus principal Paula Barton was equally as thrilled with the transition.

“We continuously strive to promote all the fantastic opportunities on offer here at MSC Carol Avenue campus, and the community has taken note," she said.

“Parents are excited by the curriculum and the facilities, as are the students, and educationally we are leading the way with some progressive initiatives to ensure students are engaged in, and passionate about, their education.”

One such initiative is a new learning centre, recently completed over the school holidays.

As part of the school’s commitment to future-focussed learning - led by instructional leader Alexia Karam and acting deputy principal and head teacher teaching and learning Bethany Kelly - the open plan classroom has been in development for the past 18 months.

The bright, colourful space features moveable furniture and state-of-the-art equipment such as surface pros (a hybrid between a laptop and iPad) and an extra smart smartboard - which has the ability to move up and down, as well as lay flat like a table with up to 10 touch points.

"It's brought our school into the 21st century; this is top-of-the-line equipment," Ms Barton said, adding that it has been solely funded by the school.

"It's a huge investment from the school."

With students now settled, and thriving, in the space, Mrs Kelly said the results speak for themselves.

“We’ve been wanting to do things differently for a while, and this open classroom is perfect for interactive, team-led learning, to which students respond really positively,” she said.

"The space is flexible and can be altered to meet the needs of a variety of learning styles whilst focusing on collaboration and critical thinking."

With four classes of year 7 in 2019, Mrs Kelly said the open classroom takes two classes at a time on a rotating basis, with two to three teachers on duty.

Traditional subjects such as maths and English are still taught on an individual classroom basis.

“There will always be a need for traditional based teaching, but this open model is really valuable for subjects such as science or project based learning," she said.

“We are using the space to make connections between subjects, such as delivering science and maths outcomes in a cross-Key Learning Area setting.”

Mrs Kelly said the students have been very comfortable in the new space and, so far, seem very engaged.

"The students don't have any problem at all, however it's a big shift in mindset for the teachers - the idea that a busy classroom can be a productive classroom," she said. 

"We're used to teaching at the front of the classroom, with all eyes on us, so it's taken a bit of adapting for us."

As part of the initiative, all year 7 teachers have been working together as a team since October to ensure consistency across all classes and to prepare for an engaging, relevant and meaningful curriculum that prepares students for the future and assists them to become mindful global citizens.

"As teachers we tend to live in our own faculty areas, but working together as a stage of teachers means you get to know more about what's being learnt across year 7," Mrs Kelly said.

Mrs Kelly said the biggest benefit of the new learning space is that it allows for greater variety within lessons and reflects future-focussed learning that many businesses are now moving towards.

"Once students get more comfortable it'll be very student interest-led, so they take ownership," she said. 

"It's all about students' critical thinking skills."

And, best of all, the students love being in the space, saying they prefer it to a traditional classroom setting.

"It's a lot comfier," Ronald Swan said.

"It's awesome in here," Ryan Macey added.

Dusty Smith likes how bright and colourful the room is.

"We get to work with other people when you join classes," she said.

The new open classroom, as well as refurbished classrooms and computing room, also further facilitates Moree Secondary College’s commitment to engaging and progressive learning techniques.

An initiative in 2018, STEM learning challenges, proved particularly popular, and Mrs Kelly said the school will continue to explore new ways of teaching.

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“Our STEM Challenge Days were hugely successful, and consisted of three practical and interactive challenges to build better curriculum and teaching links for 21st century learning," she said.

“The days allowed the various teaching faculties and students to work together across a range of subject areas and apply their knowledge in real world scenarios."

And with potential student inquiries continuing into first term, Mrs Barton welcomed community members to come and visit the new facilities for themselves.

“We’re so proud of our new learning spaces, our teaching staff and our students and I encourage anyone passionate about their child’s education to come for a visit,” Mrs Barton said.

The school hopes to expand on the new way of learning next year, with the intention for this year 7 cohort to continue using the open classroom next year, while other spaces will be created for next year's year 7 and 9 cohorts.