Day 1 – The Urban School


urban_xlabs_color_200pxThis morning, after a short briefing, we headed just down the road to The Urban School. It is a relatively small school based right in the heart of the suburbs. It is for 14 – 17 year olds and is academically selective and costs around $42,000 USD a year to attend. There are 55 staff (approx half are 0.5 FTE) and average class size is 14.

After a short tour by the Dean of Academics, Geoff Ruth, we were led to a Maths (Math) classroom  and we had a talk / chat session with both Geoff and the Dean of Faculty, Jonathan Howland, joined later by Bethany who is a teacher but also helps teachers integrate IT into their courses, later we met Igor, IT Support Manager, and the website designer (whose name I didn’t catch). They are a mac school, with teachers and students using the same 13 inch retina pro on a 4 year cycle, the school purchases the laptop and then after 4 years students can keep them. The machines are all imaged to be identical and students have admin rights, in order to keep this updated etc. Before the start of the school year students return their laptop, it gets re-imaged ready for the year ahead.

We are all coming to this tour from various backgrounds, primary, secondary, teachers, managers, Headmistress, Chief Knowledge offer and many other areas of expertise and interest so we all have different queries and questions. Every question was answered thoroughly, although that tended to lead to more questions.

They run a very different timetable to most of us, with just 4 subjects at most per day and that is something they are looking to reduce. The teachers don’t teach the same class all year but rather teach a class for 12 weeks (1 trimester) and then they get a new class.

Interestingly to me was the lack of parental control that was being given. The parents don’t have access to the LMS, don’t have access to student grades, in fact they never get a percentage, only a final grade. The reports are done twice a trimester and involve a written comment from teacher but also student which I’ve never seen before.

The school offers a good range of academic subject but their most innovative courses come from their Urban X courses. These include many subjects you’d consider STEM and many are multi-disciplinary. They are currently renovating a room so that they have a dedicated space that can be utilised more easily. They will kit this room out with a wide variety of tools, 3D printers, laser cutters etc. The course is assessed with regular skills tests and the last 3/5 weeks of the trimester is spent creating a project, which offer the students a lot of freedom.

Urban x

They may seem like a forward thinking school, but they describe themselves as conservative and refused to jump on the STEM makerspace & fab lab bandwagon just so they could say they do it. Instead they waited and built a syllabus first and then thought what to build after that. They have run the courses the last few years and now they know their success, they are investing more into infrastructure. The also acknowledge that not every subject or course is suited to project based learning but they do think many more could use it than currently does. They feel a number of staff have the opinion that the older ways are working fine so why would they bother doing anything different.

The time flew by and we had to rush away to our next activity but it was fantastic and I’d like to thank everyone at The Urban School, who took time off from their holidays, to talk to us and answer all our questions.

I’d recommend their website The Urban School for futher information.