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Think the middle years of school aren’t important? Think again!

The middle years of schooling (Years 5 to 8) are often somewhat forgotten. It’s the end of primary, and the start of secondary in the traditional school system; when the excitement of primary and early learning has waned, but the challenges of high school are yet to really begin.

However, education modelling is increasingly shifting, as experts recognise how critical these middle years are to a child’s development. After all, these are the years where students find their interests; explore opportunities, find their passions and find themselves.

“The middle years are a critical period when young people experience substantial physical and emotional change…” Professor Stephen Dinham writes.

The ongoing challenge for schools is how to prepare students for a future of constant change while developing the necessary foundations for success into adolescence and career pathways.

Water sustainability hillcrest project5

Hillcrest Christian College is one Gold Coast school that is leading the way in middle years education. It is consciously shifting to acknowledge the middle years as a vital stage of growth and change.

To ensure students maximise their growth during this time, Hillcrest has formed a range of partnerships and joint ventures with local community and industry groups. It offers students a huge range of experiences both in and out of the classroom, which they can draw upon in senior years and into future employment. Accessing science and technology equipment normally only available in senior years further enhances these opportunities.

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Water management and sustainability in middle years learning

Utilising the local environment of bushland and watercourses encompassing Hillcrest’s grounds, the College has partnered with council and local industry. This latest project will expand student learning and experiences.

Under expert guidance from local tech leaders, the Hillcrest Water Management program has seen students work through plans to use cutting-edge technology to create, monitor and ultimately support a better ecosystem in the local catchment and waterways.

Water sustainability hillcrest project3

The joint project, conducted through the State Government-funded ICT Gateway to Industry School Program (ICT GISP), partners Hillcrest students with experts from the council’s Catchment Management and Digital City Program teams, and Gold Coast companies like IoT. Together, they monitor their campus environment and improve biodiversity through technologies called the ‘Internet of Things’.

Through the monitoring of the ‘Hillcrest pond’ and the creation of digital solutions to improve water quality and biodiversity, students will be learning an array of concepts found in the Digital Technologies curriculum. The data is also useful in other subjects such as Mathematics and Science.

“Tech industry-led projects are authentic and effective ways for students to learn with and about technology and understand how it is applied in the workplace. This, in turn, promotes the skills and knowledge used in tech roles, inspiring students to consider a career in technology,” says Matthew Jorgensen, Australian Computer Society’s ICT GISP project manager.

While partnerships aim to diversify and enrich learning experiences, local projects ensure learning is relatable for students. It makes tangible connections to learning in a real-world context.

Water sustainability hillcrest project2

Hillcrest students are also working on other agri-space projects. Hillcrest’s middle years students have also commenced the historic ‘What’ll Happen to the Wattle?’ program.

The program sends native golden wattle seeds into space to study what will happen to the seeds against a control seeds from the same lot who hadn’t ventured in space. It is run by One Giant Leap Australia Foundation in collaboration with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Making use of the natural bushland that surrounds Hillcrest, Students germinate and grow both control wattle seeds and the space seeds that lived at the International Space Station for six months. One Giant Leap Australia Foundation will run teleconferences and provide educational support.

Space Seeds Project

Students send the seeds away for genetic analysis, looking for abnormalities that may originate from additional space radiation.

“Now that these seeds have been to space, the next step is for our science superstars of tomorrow to see what effects the space journey has had on their germination,’ says Mr Porter, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology.

Wattle in Space at Hillcrest College

Technology, rockets and satellites

Hillcrest Christian College is part of a ground-breaking collaborative project with Griffith University and Gilmour Space Technologies.

This partnership project sees students develop a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) prototype satellite and deploy it for launch in mid-2022.

Cubesat Project at Hillcrest

Image: courtesy of NASA

The project collaborates with and is driven by Professor Paulo de Souza, Head of School, School of Information and Communication Technology at Griffith University. Professor de Souza brings a wealth of knowledge from his experience working with NASA on the Mars Rover projects. Students and teachers have exclusive access to a Space Tech Lab currently being built at Griffith’s Gold Coast campus.

A small team of students will attend various sessions at Griffith between February and June 2022. A second group will be based at Hillcrest. Students will learn about CubeSats, rockets, orbit, undergo media training and learn about other mission parameters. Involved in a core aspect of the CubeSat design and development, students work with experts as the CubeSat develops.

These types of experience enable students to apply their knowledge, work in teams and solve real world problems. More importantly make the tangible link between curriculum and real world challenges.

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Essentials skills and knowledge for middle years students

“How can we prepare students for jobs that have not yet been created? To tackle societal challenges that we can’t yet imagine? And to use technologies that have not yet been invented?”
These pertinent questions raised by the OECD Future of Education and Skills 2030 highlight the importance of equipping current students with skills for the future, and helping to develop learners enable agency.

Creating a learning environment that supports and motivates each student to nurture his or her passions is the best way to achieve Student agency. They make connections between different learning experiences and opportunities. They then design their own learning projects and processes in collaboration with others.

To meet this challenge, Hillcrest has adopted the ‘SECRET Skills’. It’s a framework of 24 essential skills critical to drive personal growth.

Designed by British educator Dan Buckley, the framework has six skill domains making up the SECRET acronym:

  • Self-manager
  • Effective participator
  • Creative thinker
  • Reflective learner
  • Enquirer
  • Team worker

One of the defining features of the SECRET Skills framework is that it is self and peer-assessed. Teachers facilitate and encourage students to achieve their SECRET Skills goals. Yet, the students are ultimately responsible for collecting evidence to achieve accreditation and recognition at each of the nine levels.

Hillcrest Students in the Space Seeds Program

Creating greater access to middle years education

To complement its development focus on the middle years, Hillcrest has restructured its enrolment intake. It sees the addition of one classroom at Year 5 instead of Year 7, which would be senior years in a traditional high school model. By doing this, Hillcrest provides differentiated learning experiences and access to science labs and other equipment earlier. It also provides a gradual transition into senior years and pathways by supporting the adolescent years from Years 5-8.

We may not know what jobs will develop by 2030, but it’s encouraging to see students at Hillcrest develop skills and opportunities to engage not only in their adolescent learning journey but also local and global contexts.

If you would like to find out more about Hillcrest, visit the website.


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Innovative Learning Community at Hillcrest Christian College

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By Angela Sutherland
After spending many years hustling stories on busy editorial desks around the world, Angela is now mum of two little ones and owner/editor at Kids on the Coast / Kids in the City. She is an atrocious cook and loves cutting shapes to 90s dance music. Angela is the editor of Kids on the Coast - a free family magazine whats on guide for Kids: things to do, school holiday fun and free activities for kids... Fun attractions, family food & travel, kids health & wellbeing, kids parties venues, parenting, pregnancy & babies, guide for parents. Servicing Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and beyond, Kids on the Coast is an online guide for parents with kids things to do with kids, schools and education and lifestyle news located on Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast & Brisbane, QLD.

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