The New Approach

In 2017, my school has initiated a new Middle School Approach. Inspired by the documentary Most Likely to Succeed, our site has undertaken a structural and systematic overhaul for the new intake of our Year 8 students. This year, we refer to it as Year 8 PBL.

The Inspiration


Tired of disengaged students and a string of ‘When will I really use this’ comments, my site are experimenting away from the pre-Industrial Revolution educational system, to something that better prepares students for our ever-uncertain future in the face of rapidly developing technology.

If you haven’t seen Most Likely to Succeed, I encourage you to. Like, right now. It’s enthralling. It focuses a school in North America, High Tech High, and their abandoment of typical grade and test-driven pedagogy. Instead, students learn collaboratively, through cross-curricular problems or projects, and demonstrate their learning through public exhibition. The documentary also addresses the concern around collage admission and job readiness, so I’ll send you over there to watch before we get debating.

The Implementation

First off, this kind of approach is impossible with leadership/administration involvement. The school sought out interested participants, developed a leadership position specifically for overseeing a selected team of 12-15 teachers.

Dedicated planning days arranged by leadership were critical to the design of the approach. I was super pumped to be involved in 3 days (spread out across 4-5 weeks) of collaborative brainstorming and philosophical discussion about

  • Genuine student choice + voice
  • Course design (ending up with 3 ‘streams’ that each addressed a termly theme from different perspectives)
  • Focus areas (such as critical + creative thinking)

School-wide structural changes were an absolute necessity. The school timetable went through a long drafting and approval process, before ending with the following schedule

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Note the lack of after-school meeting times for teachers, and the late start for students on Wednesday. Staff instead schedule 30 minute ‘huddles’ at the beginning of the day, and rely upon general notices + email communication for run-of-the-mill information. I can’t tell you how glad I’m rid of the feeling of “this meeting could’ve been an email”.

Students start later in genreal, from 9:00am, and very late at 10:30am, to line up with research around adolescent sleep-and-thinking cycles.

But the longer ~2-hour lesson blocks force teachers to plan less lecture-style classes, and break up their lessons with a variety of learning activities.

The Teaching

As earlier stated, 2017’s year 8 PBl course has been divided up into 3 streams. While our PBL team has only managed the first term’s of planning, we really don’t know how this is going to impact on student learning and data. The remainder of the year we’ll wing it be flexible and plan according to student needs.

For Term 1, the theme of Community was chosen. We originally had the idea of Identity, but starting off with something so individualistic was deemed counter-productive to the true spirit of the Middle School Approach. While all 3 streams would address the theme of Community, the way each stream approached it is unique. This is to allow actual student choice from the very beginning.

Stream A: (the Literal approach) Are you ready to become a master of change? 

The world isn’t perfect, there are things we all want to change. Can you create change in your world? Is it possible for a young person to make the world a better place? This project looks at changes you would like to make and will provide an opportunity to make real change for you and the people around you.You will look at planning a change, bringing people on board with your ideas, negotiating with organisations, communicating your passions and just maybe, make it happen.

Stream B: (the Figurative approach) The Island

Imagine being cast away on a deserted island… In this program, you will build a thriving community from scratch. How will you explore, manage resources and trade to ensure that you have everything needed to survive and grow the community? How will it be governed? How will you plan for and deal with unexpected challenges? You will draw on your skills and knowledge from a variety of subject areas to ensure the success of the community and, ultimately, create your island’s journey.

Stream C: (the Metaphorical approach) In Company with Curious Creations

Ever wonder what your place would be in stories like Harry Potter, Star Wars and Adventure Time? Imagine a whole new world where you are in charge of creating this! Explore how fictional communities parallel the real world and how you can craft your own productive and sustainable community. Investigate community values through fictional examples, get sorted into fictional worlds, then create something bigger and grander by making your very own fictional community. How would your community look like if you were able to design it yourself?


Stream C is clearly the best, most prestigious choice of all three projects. And that is my totally professional, unbiased opinion. It’s also the one that I’m teaching – and blogging – about!


This page will be updated throughout the year as the Middle School approach grows and develops!