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Global Connections for Hale Middle School

by Michael Valentine, Head of Middle School Australia_Flag
Hale Middle School, Perth, Australia.

Hale School, a large independent boys' school in Perth, Australia, has taught boys for generations. In 2003, Hale School introduced a 1-to-1 notebook programme in Years 7, 8 and 9. I lead the introduction of the 1-to-1 programme in Year 7 in the Junior School in my dual role as Year 7 teacher and Head of Junior School. I've now been appointed the inaugural Head of Middle School at Hale School, which will cater to 400 boys in a purpose built centre comprising Years 7 and 8.

Hale School, like many schools was justifiably proud of its decision to undertake a 1-to-1 notebook programme in the early years of the 21st century. It was a period of time when the capacity of ICT to enhance our teaching and learning in the school was convincingly documented by a quorum of key staff who lead the charge to go ahead with the 1-to-1 programme. Our programme is solid, well supported technically and there have been teaching and learning highlights throughout all year levels. However, as we move to a Middle School environment, the existence of a 1-to-1 platform is now a more modest claim. Our 1-to-1 platform must now be reviewed and calibrated to ensure that it is the vital component in our claims of technological pre-eminence and education excellence in Middle Schooling.

We have had some success with undertaking collaborative projects with schools around the world, and, exploring Web 2.0 applications with our boys. At the Expanding Learning Horizons Conference in Lorne Australia in 2008 I met Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach. Sheryl attended my presentation on my Literature, Research and Technology projects and afterwards she spoke to me about how I could upgrade much of what the boys undertook by utilising Web 2.0 functions. I still have the list of Web 2.0 links she gave me and it has served as a driver for much of my planning as we prepare to commence Middle School here at Hale School in 2010. In 2010 I want our 1-to-1 programme to be broader, richer and deeper in the skills, knowledge and understandings it offers the boys.

That is why I would love to hear from other Middle School teachers who might be interested in connecting with our boys to undertake some wonderful projects in Literature, Research and Technology. The projects centre on an extract from a novel, an essay or perhaps even a radio play. We explore themes as diverse as 'Polar Exploration', 'Tightrope Walking with Philippe Petite' and the 'History of Medicine'. The projects are rich in English skills as the boys interconnect their reading, writing, research and technology skills. The projects usually take about three weeks to complete and our boys engage with them passionately.

Our ICT support team have previously set up online forums for us to communicate, but in 2010 I want to explore Web 2.0 applications such as online; blogs, wiki's, podcasting and voice threads. In 2010 we have a team of 10 teaching our Year 7 boys and I look forward enormously to planning these projects collectively with them. I have written the Semester One curriculum in English, Literature and Technology and it will be on the Semester Two curriculum that this team will collaborate to design further projects.

I am ready to start working with some schools from February 2010. I also welcome the opportunity to provide you with some examples of the work we have undertaken with schools particularly in the USA, UK and across Australia, just E-mail me. In the July 2007 AALF Newsletter (Volume 2 Issue 7) I wrote an article which provided a detailed description of one such project entitled Cold Mountain. It is available in the newsletter archive on the website and it provides a sound overview of these projects which serve as a rigorous feature of our English curriculum.

I have had the remarkable opportunity in recent months to watch a new school being built and to convene a variety of forums to begin the critical job of establishing an educational vision for our new Middle School. Connecting is a key theme and having our Middle School connect with the world is a fundamental goal. Furthermore, the forums through which we collaborate, need to be creative and richly, educationally valid. I don't want technology to make teaching and learning more uniform. Interconnecting with other teachers and schools will result in diversity, distinctiveness and originality. When you consider the stunning implications of Ken Robinson's description of intelligence in his book, The Element, where he states that intelligence is diverse, dynamic and distinctive, such projects ensure we are catering for our students appropriately.

It is a compelling definition and has significant implications for Australian education as we charge blindly towards a national, prescriptive and test focused curriculum.

I look forward to hearing from teachers who might like to explore some global connections that enable their students to undertake work that seeks to celebrate and stimulate the diversity, dynamism and distinctiveness of their intellect.

Hale School's new Middle school opens in January 2010 and Michael will again be teaching Year 7 and he is looking to ensure that he is significantly increasing his expectations of the 1:1 programme for Middle School. He is also looking for other Middle Schools to join him and his classes so that the school can truly be globally connected, initially collaborating within his unique English curriculum.