Hot Potatoes & Cool Learning: The Innovator Hunter Series

 The Innovator Hunter Series by Mark Sparvell 2015


by Mark Sparvell
School Leaders Program, Microsoft in Education

Hello leaders and learners!

Continuing my journey across the globe and capturing the voices, images and insights from some of our amazing Microsoft Innovative Expert Educations and the leaders in the inspiring Showcase Schools. If you haven’t been following my journey on twitter, might like to add @sparvell to your follows.


Location: Silverton Primary School, Victoria, Australia

Distance from home: 13266 miles

Silverton Primary school has a very long history with Microsoft as an Innovative School, World Tour School, Global Mentor School and now, proudly, Showcase School. Silverton school is situated in an diverse community with lower than average mean incomes and higher than average unemployment…yet Silverton shines bright in national testing results and the school, staff and principal have received multiple recognition for excellence at local, state, national and international .

Silverton are experts at hosting visitors, people travel from across Australia and globally to visit this high performing school which defies expectations based on social or economic context.

What strikes me about Silverton is the absolute clarity of expectation from the leadership team throughout the entire school regarding respect for learners and learning. The powerhouse of Tony Bryant and Amanda Prosser have combined to create an environment which balances pressure and support on all the inhabitants of Silverton Primary to be the very best they can be in all areas…music, performing arts, academic, sports, citizenship, languages etc. There are impressive systems in place for all elements of school operation and organization yet, these , like their clever use of technology are invisible to the naked eye, enablers of a culture of learning.

Tony and Amanda clearly believe that the role of a leader is to create leaders and, across the staff ,everyone seems to have ownership and opportunity for leadership within an area of interest. This conscious vertical leadership model combined with great transparence of data, has produced a high involvement innovative culture where there is permission to explore…not surprisingly, this approach has infiltrated teachers approach to teaching and I have yet to visit a school where more authentic personalised learning, extended by technology, exists.


A fundamental difference at Silverton is the dedicated discover time which builds from the very youngest years through to grade 6. Students are constantly being supported and challenged to design learning, to collaborate, the co-construct knowledge with peers and to think and talk about the process and the products of learning. I have never seen so many students write so much! Simply put, they have something to write about. Student preferred learning styles are levered to drive deep learning and educators are constantly observing, engaging, recording and intervening at critical points.

microsoft-toolsMicrosoft tools and devices provide a unifying experience in a device diverse landscape. I had 7 year olds explain and show me how they use Lync to record themselves explaining a learning discovery so their classmates can peer assess. When I asked why Lync was useful, they explained that the IM conversation is automatically sent to the conversation folder in Outlook! Two small girls patiently showed me how they use Outlook to share thinking, ideas and media with one another when collaborating on learning. Another girl was busy creating a gift for her mother using a 3D Printer…she showed me her complicated sketches of circles and measurements taken from a variety of cup models. All around this learning space students were choosing and using technology to get learning ‘done’ and occasional public screens allowed for ‘on the fly’ demonstrations by teachers or students. I saw students programming and testing hand-made robots, students publishing texts, students painting and students working individually, in pairs and in small groups….all this was happening simultaneously and no one was off task out of 60 students!

predeterminedBut, the potatoes…I approached a couple of boys who had three potatoes by a computer screen and observed them for a moment. One boy was dancing his hands over the potatoes while the other was intently watching the screen and mumbling. I interrupted and asked for an explanation. The boys kindly (patiently) explained this was a ‘Makey Makey’, they placed probes into the potatoes and connected via USB to the computer. Touching the potato completed the circuit and caused a figure on the screen to move in a pre-determined direction. This was a computer game with programmable potatoes as the controller. One boy was providing directions, the other was following the sequence.

There is palpable energy in the air at Silverton and a sense of 100% commitment by all the staff to lean in, to own success and to trust in the capacity of their young people to inspire and amaze.

I don’t think Silverton Primary will be running short of visitors in the near future.

Visit Silverton at

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