An exciting new initiative is bringing together the Hills district’s best and brightest primary school children to intensify their learning potential.
Established by Hills Grammar Junior School, the Hills District Think Tank compounds the intellectual, creative and athletic power of high-ability students from seven independent schools in the local area, including: Tangara, Pacific Hills Christian School, William Clarke College, Rouse Hill Anglican College, Adventist College and Australian International Academy.
The Australian Curriculum (AC) defines gifted students as those “whose potential is distinctly above average” intellectually, creatively, socially or physically, whereas talented students are characterised by their demonstrated outstanding skills in any field of human endeavour.
While the AC acknowledges the influence of a number of factors on student achievement, it emphasises the transformative role of schools in helping gifted students to translate potential into talent by “giving students appropriate opportunity, stimulation and experiences.”
The Think Tank series of workshops meets this imperative by providing deeper and broader enrichment opportunities to supplement classroom learning, says Hills Grammar Gifted and Talented Coordinator Deborah Wightley. “Gifted programs are often just an extension of existing studies. We wanted to expand on what was already on offer and bring in students from different domains of learning: academic, creative and athletic so we can cater for the learning needs of all high-potential students.”
“Research shows that these children need to work with like-minded peers to maximise their learning,” says Mrs Wightley.
Last term’s inaugural Think Tank event focused on physical prowess. Led by elite sportswoman and Hills Grammar teacher Alyssa McMurray, a group of 28 athletically-gifted Year 5 and 6 students participated in a sports science workshop examining performance-optimising strategies.
Students analysed the impact of diet, fitness, technique, skill, and strength and conditioning on athletic outcomes to create a personal training regimen, which they then compared to that of an elite athlete from their chosen sport. Utilising the Hudl app on iPads, these students were able to log their results and can continue to record their progress as they incorporate theory into practice.
The collaborative nature of the workshop was enthusiastically embraced by students. “The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. They really enjoyed making connections with like-minded kids from other schools and working together on their area of passion,” Mrs Wightley says.
And it’s not just the kids who are loving the opportunity to take a deep dive into their favourite field. Teachers too are excited by the prospect.
“We asked our staff to self-nominate to design a workshop in their own area of interest,” Mrs Wightley says. “They’ve been very positive, especially as the students’ feedback has been so good. Teachers from the network stayed for the entire day at the first event and were really impressed by the level of engagement of the students.”
This term’s workshop, Debating Skills and the Secrets of Adjudication, was designed for Stage 2 students by Hills Grammar Debating Coordinator Fiona Khoo who is also an adjudicator, “so she’s perfect to run the workshop”, Mrs Wightley says.
In Term 4, Creative Writing and Cookie Characters will bring high-ability students together in a literary bake-off.
Students will be tasked with creating a fictional character and then designing and baking a cookie representative of that character.
“It’s a stimulus to creative writing,” Mrs Wightley explains. “The idea of the workshops is to be engaging for students who have a strength in that area already. It’s about engaging them in higher-order thinking and adding some complexity to the task so they’re challenged.”
After the biscuit-making, participants will spend the afternoon dramatising their characters. The action-packed day is calibrated to match these students’ natural aptitude, says Mrs Wightley. “The fast pace is deliberate because the kids acquire knowledge so quickly.”
With every member school scheduled to run a workshop for each learning stage, the Think Tank will eventually comprise a multifaceted set of learning tools designed to turn propensity into proficiency.
“We will have a lovely collection of workshops,” Mrs Wightley says. “The schools are really engaged with the vision and see the opportunity for their own school. Between us it’s a very positive network aimed at providing more opportunities for our high-potential students and staff members.”
Interested parents are encouraged to contact their school about this program and other enrichment activities available to their children.
For more information on independent schools in the Hills area, visit the Hills School Expo on Saturday, September 9 and Sunday, September 10, 2017.
Where: Federation Pavilion, Castle Hill Showground, Showground Road, Castle Hill
When: Saturday, September 9 and Sunday, September 10, 2017
Time: 10am to 4pm both days
Cost: Free admission
Parking: Parking is free and plentiful at Federation Pavilion
Contact: Dorothy Willoughby on 0412 233 742