Innovation centre fires imaginations and boosts digital skills for Glenwood High School students

MIE Expert Noelene Callaghan share’s her vision and expertise applying technology in education.

There was a time when school computer labs often resembled ghost towns – filled with ancient, dusty kit, they were sparsely populated apart from the clutch of tumbleweeds rolling down the aisles.

Not on Noelene Callaghan’s watch.

Callaghan runs the innovation centre – known as the iCentre – at Glenwood High School in Sydney’s north west, which is encouraging students to think outside the square when it comes to technology, using it to create more meaningful projects, extend their digital skills and accelerate their learning.

Glenwood’s iCentre is very much a futures learning centre available to all 1,500 students and teachers. It’s filled with 3D printers, virtual reality headsets, Minecraft Education Edition, robotic kits, broadcast technologies – and students – lots and lots of students during lessons, at recess, lunchtime and some afternoons. Some want to create 3D prints to round out science assignments, some want to create virtual reality content, and a group of Year 7 and 8 boys wanted to design and 3D print their own Dungeons and Dragons figurines for a weekly D&D session against the teachers which is now held each Thursday afternoon.

A former HSIE teacher turned technology teacher, Callaghan is also the iCentre Leader. She has been a teacher in public education for 12 years and is a member of the Microsoft Innovation Educator (MIE Expert) Expert program, and keen to share her vision and expertise applying technology in education.

What inspired you to start an innovation centre?

Using new technologies is something I always really enjoyed. I wanted to start sharing that with other students, with other teachers, and see the possibilities for the classroom. We recently became a BYOD school and it was a perfect opportunity to tie the two together and have students immerse themselves in technology

How have you managed to fund the centre?

We’ve got an amazing principal and P&C, and also secured some Government funding. All up we’ve invested around $20,000.

So does the iCentre let students use their own devices?

Yes, they use their own devices. We do have one computer lab with Minecraft Education installed, and we were part of a pilot program for NSW last year to learn how to use Minecraft in terms of the curriculum. We based it on a Year 10 syllabus topic called “urbanisation” and used blended learning and Minecraft Education so that the students could create a sustainable suburb. Whenever the department says ‘we need a pilot school to try this out’ I’m the first one to put my hand up.

What other technologies do you use?

We are a multi-platform school; we use Microsoft, Moodle and Edmodo – it’s quite a range and the students are good at learning all of them. Regardless of the employer they go to later on they will be able to use their technologies.

Microsoft Teams and One Note are among the most critical tools we use. We also have an intranet and are looking at how we can move that over to SharePoint and Teams. At the moment we use Teams for the faculties – for their subjects, faculty communications, uploading their practices and policies and tasks, and lesson plans. Lot of teachers are using Teams with their students to push through work.

We’re doing a lot with virtual reality and working with STEMshare, a new department initiative that lets you hire equipment, and we are hoping to get equipment such as HoloLenses. The students want to understand how we create the VR behind it, what they can build to see in the HoloLens.

Have you been able to quantify the impact of the innovation centre?

Not formally – we are able to see the improvement in our students but it is very difficult cohort to cohort. It has made them much more engaged and committed to learning though, and we do feel that the participation rates are much higher.

What benefits do you get from being an active member of the MIE Expert program?

All MIE Experts are passionate about developing teaching and learning spaces and pushing new boundaries to deliver curriculum. All MIE Experts work toward the same thing, regardless of which country they are from. I have just returned from a conference in New Zealand and the work that teachers are producing over there is just as inspiring. We all want to push the envelope and try new things.

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