Sunnystones Day 2 and 3

Here’s another batch of photos from the evening of Day 2 (talent show), and Day 3 (breakfast, wildlife, and Survivor Game). Enjoy!


Asking Questions…

Picture a traditional classroom… What do you tend to hear the teaching saying, and the students responding to? You would often hear a lot of questioning… by the teacher… and a lot of (or maybe not so much) answering… by the students. Probably you would see a lot of hands flying up by mostly the same kids every time.

So let’s flip that around a bit! At BEPS we value curiosity and inquiry – a sort of intellectual playing and learning. To be curious surely requires students be the ones to ask the questions?

According to the book A More Beautiful Question, one David Hacket Fischer (Pulitzer Prize winning historian) sad that “questions are the engines of intellect – cerebral machines that convert curiosity into controlled inquiry.” How perfect is that for our school’s beliefs?

Later in the same book, the author discusses how pre-schoolers, then primary children, then high school children are conditioned to ask less and less questions as they get more and more entrenched in institutions where filling students with knowledge, and taking knowledge tests, is more valued than curiosity and inquiry. He describes how questioning literally falls off a cliff!

The problem is, as kids stop questioning, they simultaneously become less engaged in school… There may be a relationship between students asking questions and their being engaged and interested in learning. – Warren Berger, A More Beautiful Question, 2014

BEPS has long encouraged the development of questions to set forth an inquiry topic. The inclusion of philosophy in the weekly program helps to embed this as well.

This year, however, the Su Nei Cieli learning community decided to take a closer look at questions, and What Makes a Good Question. We wanted to see if someone who visited the LC could wonder around and hear at least as many students asking questions, as teachers. And we wanted students to be able to ask a range of questions, including the critical, philosophical, inquiry questions.

As you may have heard in our three-way conferences, Su Nei Cieli has been investigating concepts around evolution. We took a side step during term 2 to work on developing good questions, and you may also have had your child talk you through the “What Makes a Good Question Rubric”.

Now in term 3, we have turned our attention back to the evolution inquiry, and students have used all that they have learnt about questions to create their Evolution Inquiry Question. Here are some examples:

What if Earth evolved so that there are only 1000 humans left, what could it be like? – Anna


What effect has pollution had on the evolution of animals and humans? – Daphne


How have diseases and cures progressed over time? – Ethan


How have story lines, genres, and the technology of movies evolved over time? – Gabe


How would the world be different if all humans followed a paleo/cave man diet? – Lottie


What effect has the evolution of writing had on human existence? – Roma

There’s some really interesting thinking in those questions! And there’s many more like them in our LC.

Our next step will be to position each of our questions on a thinking tool called The Question Quadrant.

Here’s our giant Question Quadrant, ready to accept students’ questions:

2017-08-09 15.22.14

Each quadrant describes a different type of question, and takes kids deeper than simply describing questions as Open or Closed. It is a useful tool, to help us know how we might go about answering questions, and the kinds of answers we expect to get.

  • Closed Text Questions – Answers are found by observing or comprehending. eg. “Was it Jack or Jill that broke their crown?”
  • Closed World Questions – Answers are found by doing scientific or social research. eg. “What are other ways people get water?”
  • Open Text Questions – These are speculative questions and could have many different possible answers. Usually they start with “What If…” eg. “What if Jack and Jill had access to tap water?”
  • Open World Questions – Answers to these tend to be philosophical in nature. eg. “Is anything really ever an accident?”

(You might note that traditionally, teacher questioning in schools generally fit mostly into the ‘Closed Text’ quadrant.)

The challenge will now be for students to work out how they might come up with an answer to their question. Although each has their own question to answer, they will work in small teams to develop their ideas, share knowledge, and support each other to find a solution, or a range of possible solutions.

Encourage your son or daughter to ask you questions about their question. And be encouraged to ask them questions about their question! Help them think and make sense of what they find out.

We’ll let you know how we’re going. Look out for a day in term 4 to visit and see what we all came up with! And maybe soon you will hear, as you walk through the learning community, lots of different questions, asked by young and old.

A final note from A More Beautiful Question… Don’t be afraid to change your question – even to ratchet it down a notch. (that might happen to some of ours!) You may also wish to expand it, broaden it, or possibly add pieces into it, turning it into a compound question (which can be a clunky yet beautiful thing). Be sure to take it on a walk, and to the museum. Create time and space for inspiration, … which comes in unexpected waves. Don’t be put off by learning how much you don’t know. That darkness has always been out there, surrounding you; you just had no idea how vast it was until you began probing it with a flashlight. Questioners learn to love that great unknown!


Throughout first term SNC has been inquiring into Evolution. Not just Evolution in the biological sense but by the much broader definition of “incremental change over time”. Through this lens we have examined such questions as: Who were prehistoric humans and how did their intelligence compare to ours? When did civilization begin? How have plants helped shape our planet? And many things in between.

This term we will continue to look at Evolution this term, peering deeper into the ideas that spark the curiosity of the learning community or broadening our scope to encompass other areas of the curriculum.

Below are some of the questions that students have generated this term.


Thinking Like A Mathematician

Finally, our first post of 2017!

As always, it’s incredibly busy coming up to speed each year, introducing new students to our learning community, and getting back into routines. But now we have a moment to reflect, celebrate, and share progress so far.

Inquiring into new maths concepts, and continuing to develop maths skills, has gotten off to a solid start, so let us share with you some of what we’ve been up to.

One of the important concepts in mathematics that we belive in, is the ability to apply different strategies to solve problems. One great strategy, and one that underpins so much of our mathematical understandings, is “looking for a pattern”. You see patterns (a repeated design or repeated sequence), everywhere you look! And so we want students to be seeing patterns when they are inquiring into maths.

This is one of the things Mathematicians do, and we can certainly  all “think like a mathematician”.

Another thing that mathematicians do is ask “What if…?” questions. For instance, “What if I changed a rule in this pattern, what difference would that make?”. This is where deep thinking and deep investigation and deep inquiry takes off!

Today, one group of students modeled a problem, collected data, and began organsing the data to find a pattern. The problem was in a story format:

I was camping by a lake at the weekend and there were some lucky people who came to camp on the island in the middle of the lake. It must have been a couple of families because there were 8 adults and 2 children. Trouble was that their boat was missing. I helped them hunt around for it, but all we could find was an old canoe. We tested it and found that it could take the weight of one adult, or one child, or two children. At first it didn’t look like the canoe would do the job, but they figured out how to use it to cross the lake. Could you figure it out?

Students solved this by modelling it with concrete materials, by drawing a diagram, and by acting it out. All great strategies! It turned out that 33 trips across the water were required in order to get everyone across. Can you work out how?

However, we recalled that thinking like a mathematicians means that we could then ask: “What if we change one aspect of the problem? What would we find out”. We decided to change the number of adults involved in the problem. In groups, students replayed the problem with a different number of adults each time. For the chosen number of adults in the problems, students found out how many crossings it took.

So now we had some raw data that we could organise in a meaningful way to see what we could learn, and especially what patterns we could find. If we’re really clever, perhaps we can soon find a generalisation that can be turned into an algebraic equitation! (But maybe we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves… )

At the same time, another group of students has started looking at the patterns of animals as they roam around Earth. Some websites are available that allow you to see the GPS tracking of various animals that has taken place. It’s surprising how far they have wondered.

So what sort of maths can we draw out of information such as this? Are there any patterns? Can we think like a mathematician and ask “What if…” questions?

We shall see… Stay tuned…

Spelling Workshops

This term we have introduced some short and sharp spelling workshops in addition to our normal literacy lessons. These workshops are designed to target spelling by increasing the profile and practice of a range of spelling techniques. These groupings are fluid with the intention of up skilling selected who can then filter the information on as experts. This practice reliably supports the students who have a need of a small intensive group arrangement because it gives them the ongoing practice that comes with being a teacher and expert to others.

Literacy is a language in it’s own right and as a semi-phonetically based written language, English is incredibly challenging to learn unless you use ALL strategies cohesively.

The strategies that best support reading and writing are centered around the following structures:

Phonetic – The attachment of a specific sound to a letter or a combination of letters.

Phonemic- The identification and awareness of separate sounds within a word.

Phonological- The identification and manipulation of units of oral language such as words, syllables, and onsets and rimes.

In addition to these structures, visual recognition, repetition, comprehension and an understanding of grammar and punctuation help to form a strong foundation which supports and enables students to extend themselves, successfully predicting the spelling of unknown words.

In the gallery below you can see the current group identifying words within words on the board and also some of the self editing and memorizing techniques in their workbooks.


Looking Into Literacy

This being a brand new blog and all, we thought you might like to have a peek at some of the literacy happening in Su Nei Cieli.

Narrative is by far the most popular form of writing and even more so with young people! Teachers across the universe are besieged by mountainous piles of workbooks filled to bursting with never ending adventure monologues, ever so slightly reworked fairy tales and re imagined video games!

And so the three teachers met, all covered in webs                                                                           And dust and ink from centuries of marking.
They kicked over their chairs and gasping for air cried                                                             
“These drafts are sending us barking!!!”

“As mad as we are, this has gone too far.
Student drafts going on, on and on!
Where’s the beginning? The middle?
The conundrum? The riddle?

We must focus on planning for greater understanding
of the publishing world at large
We want detailed story boarding and vocabulary hoarding,
Character profiles and a thickening of plot.
We need evidence of thinking, editing and linking
In draft one, and draft two and draft three!
And once the drafting is done, we shall publish at once!
As professional as we can be.

So there you have it, our hearts set on narrative.
This last bit’s not part of the rhyme!




Ethics Inquiry

Next year, the Victorian Curriculum will be introducing the teaching of Ethics as a subject. Our school is lucky to be one of schools who will be contributing to the Department of Education’s knowledge of the teaching and learning of Ethics as a subject. As a result, we have begun our Ethics Inquiry to best determine how to teach and most importantly assess Ethics.

Our Ethics Inquiry began with a bang! Students were asked to create groups or “countries” based on the colour of their clothing, create a secret handshake, come up with five group values and design matching passports. Each group is assigned to a certain area within the room which they cannot yet leave.

“But where are the ethics?” you ask.

Well consider the wildfire of conversation sweeping through our Learning Community! Groups of students forming allegiance, others rebelling against the majority, students debating decisions and plotting escapes to more favourable countries.

And shall I tell of the bone shuddering noise made when the political structures for each country were being designed? The entire building shook with the roar of the republics, the justifications of the monarchs, the crumple and tear of the democratic voting papers, the shaking fury of the dictatorship and the simmering rage of the oppressed.

Or, shall I tell you of the whispers of civil war as breakaway groups plot against the governments, of the clandestine recordings of our spy network or of the sidelong gazes that cross borders, fraught with promise and hope?

The exploration of ethics is not supposed to be a comfortable experience. By shrinking the world into one small room and the population into a small group of people it is our hope that, faced with the very real challenges of today’s world, experiencing the discomfort, uncertainty and reasoning of solving the ethical dilemma, our students will begin to develop and consolidate their own ethical behaviours and apply them to an ever broadening range of contexts.

Alas, at this point in time, there is little more I can say except for this: The road ahead may be fraught with danger.  A notorious government will be disbanded and exiled, fleeing across the border. But where will they go? Who would want them? And how are they going to get anywhere without their passports?

Click on the images below to view the gallery