The day Microsoft’s CEO met ordinary kids doing extraordinary things from Sydney Secondary College


Microsoft - Sydney

By Pip Cleaves, head teacher, learning innovation, at Sydney Secondary College – Leichhardt Campus

Sydney Secondary College Leichhardt Campus works hard at being future focused by experimenting with new ways to learn that encourage students to dream big. So when we heard we would meet Satya Nadella at the flagship Microsoft Store in Sydney, plenty of them said they were keen to show him what they’ve achieved. We asked students to showcase their ideas so we could decide on two groups to take to the store.

We have about 910 students in years 7 to 10, and we think of ourselves as a pretty ordinary school with a technology edge. We emphasise one-on-one, future-focused learning, which is a wonderful way for our students – average Aussie kids in Sydney’s Inner West – to unleash their natural curiosity about the world around them.

Among the students who wanted to show their work to Satya were kids in years 9 and 10 who participate in a project-based learning subject, ACCORD, in which they choose a topic and study independently. Like all of our subjects, ACCORD uses OneNote and many students also make imaginative use of the digital storytelling application Sway.

Students participating in ACCORD are working on a variety of projects. These include building a healthy snack food business, offering awesome vegan chocolate cheesecake;  from one of our girls whose current project is building a healthy snack food business. Another had her guitar on hand to play some of the music she has made into an album.

In addition to these culinary and musical delights, we also had a few flying drones coded by one of our lunchtime technology groups, the Tech Ninjas; our school media group, Leichardt TV; and a video developed by a student that has just won an Australia-wide competition.

In addition, we also have kids from a year 8 Japanese class who play Minecraft and have constructed a medieval Japanese village in the program.

My own kids introduced me to Minecraft and I had long wanted to use it to create a learning experience in class. So when Minecraft for Education became available, I structured a unit around the question ‘What would Musashi Miyamoto do if he woke up in Minecraft?’

To work out what the famous samurai would do, we divided the class into different social groups: samurai, shogun, daimyo (feudal lords), peasants and merchants. We loaded structured content into OneNote and the kids created the village, working out rules and consequences.

We also have a class in our support unit for students with autism. These students enjoy exploring robotics and coding with Sphero app-enabled robots and littleBits, which are cool modular electronics components that snap together.

After much deliberation, we decided to take some Minecraft players and some students from the support unit to the Microsoft Store.

Once we were logged in and playing in the store, Satya dropped in to chat.

In the collaboration space of OneNote, the students explained their research and what they were building. It was a fantastic success. The learning, engagement and fun were there to see. And we thought Satya would like to see what they had built.

Satya spent some time with the special needs students, sharing the infectious joy they experience when learning comes through doing.

As you walk around our campus, you see how technology is part of school life. We are a bring-your-own-device school, which works incredibly well for us, mainly because 85 per cent of teachers use OneNote to deliver lessons. That’s up from 0 per cent in March 2015. Part of my job is coaching teachers in learning innovation, working with them one on one. They have all cooperated because OneNote gives them what they need, and it works well with the educational website Edmodo for communication and collaboration.

If you empower teachers to try new technology at a level they are comfortable with, you lay the foundation for success. We have a lovely, blended environment that suits each teacher’s skills and capabilities; one where they feel confident enough to keep trying new things.

For kids, trying new things comes naturally. Their curiosity and fearlessness should be celebrated. It was great to see Satya do just that with our kids.

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