Learning at the kitchen table

By: Jan Owen AM Chair, Cool Australia   |   Chair, Cool Australia   |   https://www.coolaustralia.org/

Quality learning, whether provided by a professional teacher, parent or carer, or self-directed, requires using high quality educational resources.

This is where Cool Australia comes in.

We provide access to high quality education resources, free, via our digital education platform. We currently reach over 170,000 educators, or 52 per cent of educators across Australia. Through them, 3.6 million learners use our resources each year. We design each of our 1,750 resources to support Cool educators to empower their students with the tools and knowhow to solve real-world issues through project and inquiry-based learning. We address inequality and the precarious state of our natural world by embedding environmental, social and economic issues into core subject areas, such as English, Science, Art and Maths. Our lessons extend to climate change, social justice, biodiversity, 21 century skills and much more.

Then COVID hit. Schools had to suddenly move to remote learning in early 2020. Learning shifted from classrooms to kitchens, lounges and bedrooms. And parents and carers suddenly found themselves at the front, integral partners in their child or children’s learning journey.

Enter Project Learn@Home, supporting parents and carers, as well as teachers, with resources tailored for use at home. The resources we designed range from science, tech, engineering, arts and maths, to healthy eating, our natural world, how to live more sustainably, connection to nature, exercise, creativity and critical thinking.

We based our offering on feedback from educators regarding what would be most helpful, fun and challenging real-world activities for 2-18 year-olds, while also enabling self-directed learning by upper primary and secondary students.

The 343 resources developed for Learn@Home have now been taught to over one million students. Cool’s traffic increased by 180 per cent and new registrations were 82 per cent higher than in the same period in 2019.

From our research (Lonergan, C. & Labour, D. (2020), every Cool lesson downloaded is shared with 2.2 other teachers, used in 2.3 classes per teacher and taught to 22.2 students per class. This means that for each unique teacher download, 133 students are taught with the resource. 7,675 individual teachers have downloaded one or more of the Learn@Home lessons to share with parents and students at home. 

Parents and carers have been extremely positive regarding our Learn@Home resources. The project is responsible for increasing our parent and carer membership from 1,058 to nearly 20,000 in a year. We have learnt that parents and carers are eager to engage in their child’s learning but require ready-made resources and guidance, including activities students can do independently, allowing parents and carers to look after other children, work, or meet households demands.

For all its awfulness, there are some positives that emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parent and carer engagement in their child or children’s learning journey has never been higher, as the enthusiastic take-up of Learn@Home has shown. Research by Professor John Hattie, of the University of Melbourne, has demonstrated that parent engagement can amount to the equivalent of an astonishing two to three years' of additional educational achievement for a child.

Our next step is to undertake in-depth research with parents and carers, particularly in remote and regional schools. We will work with thought-leaders such as Evidence for Learning and Thrive By Five to ensure the resources we create are best practice and evidence led. Our target is to engage 500,000 parents in real and meaningful ways by the end of 2023.

On the near horizon, early 2022 will see Cool Australia’s platform relaunched as cool.org, with a global Hub ready for our first international partnership funded and supported by CISCO with educators and schools in India.

The work of Cool is entirely funded by individual, family, community and corporate philanthropy. We are enormously appreciative of this philanthropic support to power the rapidly growing, and increasing sought after, resources of Cool Australia.

Our vision is for young people to grow up happy, healthy, informed and empowered with the skills to help tackle our greatest global and local challenges, creating a better world for all. The global disruption in education and learning has impacted hundreds of millions of students in every corner of the world. At Cool, we are driven by a mission to ensure educators, parents and carers can access real world learning resources to enable our young people and the planet to thrive.

Oct. 21, 2021

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