How the pandemic transformed a school

The experiences of learning from home have had a positive impact at one Sydney school.

05 August 2020
Digital transformation video

Student

I remember my maths teacher came in and said "School's shut". I went home and like, cried. I was like, I don't know what to do, like this is so foreign.

Anthony Thompson, teacher

Well I was very old-style teacher. I'm paper, pen, writing on a white board. When we were told that "We're going remote in a couple of days", steepest learning curve I've ever faced.

Teacher

Good morning Stage 3.

Nicole Riley, principal

Our parents love their kids. They love them, they want to provide, but they really struggle. And our kids deserve exactly the same as everyone else. They deserve to be able to get on the Internet. They deserve to be able to access learning from home.

Student

Went... to...

Parent

The school sent message out, but didn't elaborate on this message. It kept us in suspense of, what are they planning? And then the next message that came through, probably less than a week or so later said that every child is getting a laptop to take home, and we're just gone, what the...? How cool is this?

Jasmin Butler, teacher

There was excitement for everyone. I remember packing all the bags for all the kids. I think there was 165 bags we packed with laptops, chargers, and all work from their stages.

Student

When we got the computers, I was just, yeah, mind-blowing.

Student

Setting it up was a bit hard at first, but once we were up and going, it was good, it was pretty seamless.

Bec Gavin, teacher

The first day we had, I think I had 45 children in Stage 2, all on Zoom, it was just amazing to see them from my own home.

Frank Pikardt, principal

It's been such an interesting process for many of the teachers. And I think it accelerated us in that area. In terms of using technology in the classroom, I think it accelerated us 5-10 years, to be honest.

Student

If you didn't want to see someone's face you could hide them. I liked that bit!

Stig Schnell, teacher

A few parents that I've talked to after we've come back have been really, really grateful.

Frank Pikardt, principal

They were just incredibly impressed with the teachers, and incredibly impressed with how their kids were able to not miss a beat in a pretty stressful, high-stakes environment, you know?

Anthony Thompson, teacher

If I have kids who are away due to illness, or other appointments and the like, they can now watch a video, and they're there for the whole class, they've watched the entire lesson as if they were there.

Student

For maths, especially, like now everything's just online if you need notes for something. A lot of my other classes also have that, so that's really useful to have everything online, so I can just get it whenever I need it.

Student

It's always fun to play on our laptops. We can change backgrounds, we can play games.

Parent

I think she's learning to use a laptop or electronic devices at an early age because in the near future,

Parent

It's gonna be the way,

Parent

That could be the way it is.

Student

I really wanna keep using it, 'cause it helps our learning, so in the future we can get jobs and stuff.

Frank Pikardt, principal

I'm really comfortable that they've learnt a lot, and I'm seeing a really different, energised cohort, which is lovely.

[End of transcript]

The learning from home experience has transformed education at Northern Beaches Secondary College Freshwater Senior Campus and moved the school forward in its embrace of technology by five to 10 years.

That is the view of principal Frank Pikardt and mathematics head teacher Simon Boon who oversaw the move from classrooms to zoom rooms.

Mr Pikardt said with a student cohort of Year 11 and 12, it was extremely important when the pandemic forced school closures that students felt confident their learning would not be disrupted.

He said the mathematics faculty at the school had already been trialling greater use of technology in the classroom and the pandemic accelerated a planned roll-out.

“It’s been such an interesting process for many of the teachers,” he said. “In terms of using technology in the classroom I think it’s accelerated us five to 10 years.”

Mr Boon said ahead of the pandemic he had already been working with ‘champion teachers’ to trial a range of technologies for mathematics classes.

“Our plans were to move toward this model [but] the COVID-19 experience sped up our transition and transformed our teachers’ classrooms because there was a need to do it at pace.”

He said many teachers needed support to adapt and learn new skills when the shutdown happened.

Mathematics teacher Anthony Thompson admitted he was one of those “old-style teachers” that used pen, paper, and a whiteboard.

“When we were told we were going remote, steepest learning curve I’ve ever faced,” he said.

Mr Thompson said once students returned to school he found the technology he had embraced for learning from home was still relevant.

He said he now recorded all his classes and students’ questions and had them available for those who might miss a class or wanted to revise.

“If I have kids who are away due to illness or other appointments, they can now watch a video and they are there for the whole class as if they were there.”

Mr Boon said better engagement in class was one of the main benefits of continuing to use the online technologies.

“[The online technology] had a transformative effect on our faculty and our whole school.” Mr Boon said.

He said the change in teaching practice was evident across the school.

“Teachers are communicating online, reducing the amount of time they spend preparing materials, and are collaborating and sharing materials,” he said.

“Because resources are prepared prior to class many students are looking forward to what they are learning and pre-learning.

“Students are connecting with each other out of class using those platforms. They can review the work and also because they are now digitising notes, students have less writing demands so can engage more in the actual lesson.”

Freshwater Campus HSC student Hugh Bryan said the use of online recordings was a huge help in his studies.

“For maths especially now everything’s just online if you need notes for something,” he said.

“A lot of my other classes have that as well … that’s really useful to have everything online so I can just get it when I need it.”

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