“Outside the square”

“Horizon is the closest I have come to not just seeing outside the square, but being there.” @DartaHovey, via Twitter 6/617.

For the past 18 months I’ve been working with a team of Learning Leaders from Catholic College Wodonga (@CCWodonga) in NE Victoria, Australia, trying to solve a problem. We’re not sure, but we think we have a potential solution.

Our problem was – what is stopping students in our school from really engaging and wanting to do their best? Are we giving every student the opportunity to pursue their passions and areas of interest – in an authentic way, not just a tokenistic nod? Where do we hear our student voice?

Our solution – Horizon.Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 1.06.54 pmHorizon is an independent (but collaborative) program that we have begun this semester for 13 students across Years 8-11.

Students effectively have a blank timetable that they fill with the following three elements:


  1. A weekly challenge – where they set a question that they want to answer (about anything!) on Monday and present their findings on Friday.
  2. An ongoing project – an area of interest that the students pursue in a sustained and developed manner over the course of the semester.
  3. A collaborative project – connected to Catholic Social Teaching Principles and located in the local area for the common good.

In addition, the students can also choose to continue attending some of their classes, or apply to attend classes that pique their interest (a Year 8 student may apply to attend a Year 11 Physics class, for instance).

Also, Tuesday and Thursday are non-compulsory school days. We know that learning doesn’t simply happen at school between the hours of 9am and 3pm, so, if the students’ weekly challenge or ongoing project requires (or would benefit from being somewhere other than school) a visit to a worksite, a chat with an expert, a day in a library/museum, or a day at an airport, then Tuesday and Thursday can be used for these experiences.

Application Process

Students were presented with the program outline in year level groups. A parent information night was held prior to applications opening in order to get their support and clarify any questions they had (it was fundamentally important that they were onside!)


Students then applied in any way they felt best able (written, video, interview, presentation) to answer these questions:

  • Explain your experience of school so far …
  • Why do you want to be a part of the program?
  • What do you think it will look like for you?
  • What are your areas of interest / what are you passionate about?
  • What makes a good team?
  • What motivates you? What do you put effort into?
  • Why would the program be beneficial to you?
  • Provide the name of two referees who can talk about you as a learner.

40 applied. We shortlisted. 21 were interviewed by the Principal and another leadership team member. 14 were offered a place. 13 accepted. From Years 8, 9, 10 and 11.

We’re 7 weeks into the program and we have identified strengths and gaps. I’ll be blogging over the coming weeks about some of the challenges we’ve faced and how we’re going about tweaking the program. I’ll also share more details about what our students are up to, how we’re monitoring their learning, the literature that supported our program, the role of the teachers and how it’s working logistically.

We’d love to hear from people who have tried similar programs or who want more information.


Shaun (@shaunmason79)


  1. Anonymous · September 3, 2017

    Sounds amazing, I really like the flexibility that the students seem to have within a set of parameters that still allows fir them to chart their own learning


  2. gregmiller68 · September 4, 2017

    Some interesting use of time for student to be real, relevant and meaningful with clear guidelines. It sounds like and looks like… “Change is on the Horizon in education!” Well done. I look forward to future blogs.


  3. Mark O'Farrell · September 4, 2017

    Reblogged this on Create Great Schools and commented:
    Innovation looks a little like this! Great work for thinking outside the square. Can’t wait to here more. Building a community of collaboration means we must learn from each other and not be afraid to share our successes and failures. Keep up the great work. #cathed #innovation #leadership


  4. Anthony Gleeson · September 4, 2017

    Love to hear how it goes – sharing this with my Leadership Team!


  5. michaelburden · September 4, 2017

    Reblogged this on Authentic Learning at St Clare's and commented:
    This is a great example of what can be done when a group of educators start thinking outside the square. Can we do things better? Of course we can. We just need to start thinking a little differently about what education could look like. Seeing the wonderful learning experiences of our students involved in the UNSW Sunsprint Challenge on the weekend should inspire us to look at incorporating more of these types of projects into our classrooms.


  6. Anonymous · September 4, 2017

    A few weeks into the program and I hear my 15 year old son say “I love this….” He is very fortunate to have to have this wonderful learning opportunity


  7. Pingback: Who are our Horizon students? | mrmasonblog
  8. Pingback: The path of significant change | mrmasonblog

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