News | Stella Maris students drive their learning

Posted 22 October 2018 by Catholic Education and with contributions from Stella Maris students: Ella Donnelly; Emma Judd; Jake Petrovski and Sienna Leahy in News

How can we, as expert members of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, investigate Australia’s relationship with Asian nations so that we can inform people about our diversity and persuade them to become more globally connected through our World Expo display? That was the driving question posed to Year 6 students at Stella Maris, Shellharbour, as part of their Term 3 Project-Based Learning (PBL) initiative. 

Stella Maris Project-Based Learning teacher, Emma Mansbridge, said PBL embeds models of inquiry-based learning into units of work to engage and develop students as learners. It provides opportunities to solve real-world challenges through an inquiry and integrated approach, in a supportive environment.

“PBL is important in a contemporary classroom as it builds student capacity to be both critical and capable thinkers. It provides students with detailed learning intentions and success criteria and allows for reflective and constructive feedback,” Mrs Mansbridge said.

“The initiative has continued to build our students’ skills in problem-solving, collaboration and communication. PBL is student-centred and promotes deeper learning and greater engagement.”

During Term 3, Years 3 to 6 focused on a driving question that formed the basis for their PBL projects. Students were provided with a success criteria for their unit of work and information about their question, together with vocabulary to discuss their projects.

The teachers acted as facilitators, where the curriculum was delivered through the projects that had been designed to be relevant to the students’ lives, encouraging them to become more proactive in their research and learning.

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While developing their projects, the students demonstrated encouraging learning dispositions that included determination, resilience, motivation and flexibility - essential skills to become lifelong learners.

Teachers continually observed what their students were doing and provided feedback along the way. The students were asked how well they thought they were doing, what supported their learning and how they could improve in the future.

The driving questions included:

  • How can we inform our friends about a place in Australia so that they can make an informed choice about where to visit? (Year 3);
  • How can we, as students of Stella Maris, design, educate and inform about sustainable recreational practices in our local community of Shellharbour? (Year 4); 
  • How can we, as property developers, create a sustainable development for the Shell Cove Marina? (Year 5); and
  • How can we, as expert members of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, investigate Australia’s relationship with Asian nations so that we can inform people about our diversity and persuade them to become more globally connected through our World Expo display? (Year 6).

On Wednesday 26 September, the initiative culminated in the biggest learning celebration day ever held at Stella Maris. The day allowed students to share their learning experiences and impressive projects with their peers, families and teachers.

There was an air of excitement at the school on the day - and some ‘mayhem’ too, as the presentations were finalised. “PBL [powerfully] gives students voice and choice, and provides high engagement in their learning,” Mrs Mansbridge said.

Year 3 student, Oscar Verdon (pictured below), shared, “Our project was about Queensland. Did you know that the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef are connected together? The Great Barrier Reef is made up of 900 islands!”

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Ella Donnelly, a Year 5 student, explained her group’s complex project. “We had to design together a sustainable house with a water plan, electricity plan and bush fire plan. It was tricky and the project really made us think a lot.”

Jake Petrovski, also a Year 5 student, shared, “I found the project engaging and hands-on. It gave us freedom in our work and it was quite challenging at times.”

Emma Judd, a Year 6 student said, “PBL got us engaged with studies of the local and wider community. Our project allowed us to learn more about Asian countries we had never heard about.”

The student-directed PBL projects were shown with great enthusiasm and pride. It was apparent to those in attendance that the initiative had developed positive student attitudes towards learning and provided an opportunity to build confidence, problem solve, work in teams and communicate ideas - providing an authentic, real-world context for learning.

Importantly, PBL engages parents in their children’s learning and allows students to access the diversity of the community. Throughout the project, parents were encouraged to discuss the driving questions at home with their children and explore what aspects of the project were most, and least, enjoyed.

Jessica Ridley, a school support officer and parent at Stella Maris, visited two of her children’s classrooms and viewed their PBL projects. “This was a great opportunity to see what the kids have been doing in PBL all term. It was exciting and interactive, I was glad to be a part of it,” she said. “My kids loved the celebration day and couldn’t stop talking about it.”

Another parent, Nicole O’Donnell, agreed, “PBL is the best way to learn, and that’s why the students just love it!”

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Principal, Danny Sykes, concurred with the positive sentiments expressed by teachers and parents. "I have seen a real change in the student's attitudes towards their learning. PBL encourages students to collaborate in not only exploring solutions to issues but to present their projects in an exciting and informative manner. The levels of student engagement at Stella Maris has significantly improved as a result of PBL."

Mrs Mansbridge said the celebration day was a great success. “The day was a wonderful celebration of learning. It brought our whole school community together. All the students were able to experience and achieve success. 

“It has been so exciting to lead this project and see how students have grown as problem solvers and critical thinkers, ensuring they have the transferable skills that will enable them to succeed in the future and be thoughtful contributors.”


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