Rob Kelly || Writer & Educator
On the other side of the world, 40kms South-East of Melbourne in Australia, a small urban school named Berwick Lodge Primary School has set itself a big challenge. Using Augmented Reality (AR) as the tool, the school is attempting to use immersive technology to better engage students in the classroom. In order to understand why, we have to travel back into the past nearly 6 years…
In 2014, Berwick Lodge Primary School was in trouble. Student enrolments were declining, as new schools were being built in the surrounding area. Berwick Lodge had to do something radical to stand-out above the rest. It was thanks to the school’s current (and founding) Principal Mr Henry Grossek that the school made a turn in the right direction. Mr Grossek decided that the school needed to better engage with the local community. It was then that he employed a Community Participation Co-ordinator, Ms Liz Symonds (formally Mrs Liz Blanchard) to develop a network of partnerships for the school, as well as liaising with local kindergartens to develop a much needed ‘bridging curriculum’ program.
The ‘bridging curriculum’ program proved to be a great success and Ms Symonds worked tirelessly to gather improvement feedback from Foundation teachers and educators. A regular roundtable discussion was held with local kindergartens and the school to develop the program and from the discussions a comprehensive program grew and enrollment numbers at the school increased. Overtime, a valuable set of online and onsite learning activities for kindergarten teachers developed. These activities promoted self-responsibility, care for others, the unity between nature and families, connections between the mind and heart, and emotional intelligence in the classroom.
From the ‘bridging curriculum’ program, a Forest Room concept was established in 2016 whereby students were connected to nature via the senses and the program went in a new direction. A space within the school was devoted to the resource where the ‘outdoors was brought indoors’. Students who entered the room were encouraged to rest, recover and refocus (RRR) and they immersed themselves within nature through play-based learning activities including; small wooden bamboo drums, basket weaving with ivy, various kinesthetic activities and mindfulness tasks.
To this day, the Forest Room remains a success at Berwick Lodge especially with the school’s wellbeing team, as it has become a calming influence for students disengaged with their learning or those needing a safe ‘timeout’ zone at school.
It was in 2017 that Mr Grossek used the Forest Room concept as a way of launching a new innovative idea at Berwick Lodge called The Forest Classroom. This time, the project wasn’t about increasing student enrollments, rather increasing ‘student engagement’. A picture storybook, with an environmental focus (titled ‘Hettie and Harry’s Forest Adventure’), was written using Augmented Reality (AR) as the catalyst for engagement. This brought Berwick Lodge to the forefront of contemporary learning.
When discussing the project Mr Grossek said, ‘In focusing on digital technologies, we were attracted by the potential of Augmented Reality (AR) to promote student engagement, in this instance, in reading. By ‘bringing to life’ characters in the book our team wrote, we were hopeful. The book has a strong emphasis on the protection of our natural environment. AR has enabled us to develop colourful, ‘real life’ characters, with which the children can readily identify.’
Working in partnership with one of Australia’s leading institutions for higher education; Deakin University, Mr Grossek developed a leadership team at Berwick Lodge to drive the AR project forward. This team primarily comprised the school’s Assistant Principal’s Mrs Sandra McCrum and Ms Angela Maskery, along with continuing support from Ms Liz Symonds, Multimedia Learning Specialist Mr Rob Kelly (that’s me by the way) and Deakin University researcher Mr Manjeet Singh.
When discussing the AR component of the project Mr Singh said, ‘I feel the potential of AR in education is still being realised. We are at the tip of the ice-berg, waiting for new tools, both hardware and software, to be developed around augmented reality to bring it to a whole new level of learning. I consider myself fortunate to be able to play a part in this evolving digital landscape.’
In 2019, the AR project – like the Forest Room before it – continues to build and gather momentum. Mr Grossek and Mr Singh will be presenting a talk about AR in education (and Berwick Lodge’s experience using it) to dozens of leaders at a prestigious conference called ‘The Educator: Leaders Summit’ on Thursday, 25th of July, 2019 in Melbourne.
Mr Singh said, ‘Coming from an academic research background, I am excited to be part of the AR project which not only allowed me to develop educational AR applications, but enabled me to observe students and teachers interacting with Augmented Reality (AR) in the classrooms.’
After nearly 6 years in the making, Berwick Lodge is once again leading the way via digital technology, as a tool for learning. It seems only fitting to end this article with Mr Grossek’s final thoughts about using AR in education as an engagement tool in the classroom.
‘Early indications are very promising and gives us cause for hope. At the end of the day, without genuine engagement, learning is made much more difficult.’