Hands on Learning at FLO in Bendigo

A recent report from PISA “found a significant decline in how Australian students felt at school between 2003 and 2015”, with signs of feeling lonely and out of place (The Guardian, June 7). Unfortunately this is too often the case for students that need to be engaged with and attending school the most.

Hands on Learning, a program supported by Save the Children, has recently been internationally recognised by HundrED as one of the 100 most inspiring, global education innovations (http://handsonlearning.org.au/hands-on-learning-makes-hundred-global-top-100/). It has started operating in the Bendigo region, joining more than 75 other primary, secondary, alternate and special school settings throughout Victoria and beyond. It is a re-engagement program that is evidence based, data driven and run in schools, by schools with the Hands on Learning team’s support.

The practical program increases student achievement by creating opportunities for young people to discover their talents and experience success through hands on learning. Learning practical skills in a team environment is proving to increase attendance and engagement by students building connections to their peers, school and community. Linking a daily focus at hands on learning to a classroom or school situation allows students to transfer these practical gains back into the classroom.

Hands On Learning provides a comprehensive program that enables students, who are struggling to see the relevance of their classroom learning and may be considering dropping out, to develop their capacity to more effectively engage in schooling and graduate. Hands on Learning accomplishes this by establishing a unique setting within each participating school that kindles students’ sense of having a place to belong, people to belong to, and authentic purpose; a belief in their own ability to constructively contribute to their community. A core element of the program is providing students with feedback on their participation and achievement, from a strength-based perspective: growth in students’ capacity to sustain effort, to be resilient, and to respect their environment and support each other, is regularly acknowledged and celebrated.

Hands on Learning artisan teachers are provided with a complete suite of resources from professional development, annual conference, mentoring, and procedural frameworks, to an online portal to access resources, documents and track student’s participation and progress. Furthermore, the team at Save the Children provide ongoing on-the-ground support and program evaluation, even providing school leadership with statistical data annually.

At the Bendigo Flexible Learning Options (BFLO) campus of Weeroona College Bendigo, our Hands on Learning program is located at the disused Kangaroo Flat Tennis Club and staffed by a team of two; the Campus Principal and an Artisan Teacher. BFLO’s Hands on Learning program runs two groups. The first group comprises five youth with extreme challenging behaviours (not the regular target group for Hands on Learning); sessions run for two hours on two afternoons each week. The second group comprises twelve students (no more than ten attendees) all day, every Friday. This group comprises students who experience acute anxiety in social situations and may have difficulty making or keeping friends; Hands on Learning helps these students to learn the ‘tricks’ to participate happily in schooling.

While the BFLO Hands on Learning program is in its infancy, we are experiencing early success. Students who have not attended schooling for months or years, now regularly participate in Hands on Learning. Each day begins with settling in over breakfast together. We then discuss the ‘shape of the day’: projects and OH&S, student’s individual ‘focus plans’, and expectations… and then go to it! When students work on a project, we offer specific advice to improve just one key aspect of their endeavour at a time, e.g. how to effectively brace a piece of wood to be cut, before advising on the correct technique for a clean and straight cut. Hands on Learning helps students who have not known success, and who have begun to believe that success in life is beyond them, to reframe their thinking and realise that they can succeed. Hands on Learning is about learning how to build and maintain healthy relationships and an authentic sense of belonging to ‘my community’.

For more information on this exciting program operating in the local area, contact campus Principal Anton Van Maanen on vanmaanen.Anton.e@edumail.vic.gov.au. For more information about hands on learning go to handsonlearning.org.au or contact local School Support Manager, Steve Schneider on steven.schneider@savethechildren.org.au or 0427 815 331 / 7002 1759 for information or an appointment.