Can video games, early start and finish times be the secrets to a better education?

A public school in Sydney's multicultural heartland certainly thinks so, as it also connects students with remote Indigenous communities.

The Year 5 class at Merrylands East Public School, in Sydney's south-west, is undertaking a unique class project.

As student Quincey Hona explains, the class is using modern tools to learn about traditional Indigenous cultures.

"This project, our driving question is, 'How can new technologies be used to tell traditional stories?',” the nine-year-old told SBS.

“So we're learning about Dreamtime stories, and, like, where they originated, why they were told, where they were told, who told them. So the end product for us is kind of to make a movie out of it, and then we put it up on YouTube. It'll look real cool."

The movie is being made using the video game Minecraft, where users can create virtual realities.

Student Jesse Ihimaera says the excitement of playing a game as they learn keeps the students enthusiastic.

"I like how we get to use Minecraft for learning, not just for fun,” she said.

“I think it's fun, and like, also, you get to learn how to play them, and it's also unique."

Sharing stories

The class is already sharing the stories with schools in remote Indigenous areas, particularly in the Northern Territory.

Student Muskan Nazari says it gives her and her peers a chance to gain both inspiration and insight.

"I enjoy it, because I learn a lot about the people before us, the Aboriginal people,” the ten-year-old said.

“My favourite part was Skyping them (an Indigenous school) from Arnhem Land."

“We got to at least try and learn where they came from, what they used to do and how they did stuff,” added Quincey Hona.

One in 10 students at Merrylands East is a refugee, and an even higher number come from non-English speaking backgrounds. Three-hundred-and-seventy students attend from kindergarten to year six.

Project-based learning

John Goh has been the principal for 12 years and says the school adopted project-based learning to meet the needs of its diverse community.

"We still teach the basics of English and mathematics, but what we do is we integrate a number of programs into that,” Mr Goh explains.

Sydney school technology innovation indigenous connection
Students are connecting with remote indigenous communities. Workbooks aren't gone from classes, but are used sparingly for maximum impact. (SBS)

“Children can solve real-world problems and make authentic change, in terms of their local environment and the global environment."

Teacher Lee Hewes has been at the school for four years, and says he plans his lessons to reflect real life.

"There may not be as much focus on breadth of content, but what you cover within a project, I can see that they (the students) can remember really well, they can articulate reasonably well and they've had the chance to be creative with that," he said.

"It's really important that we provide our children with the programs and the skills and the knowledge necessary for them to engage in full time employment,” adds Mr Goh.

Shorter school hours

Merrylands East also overhauled its hours in 2012. Class starts at 8am, and school is out by 1:15pm.

It was a controversial change at first, but Principal Goh says positive results are starting to appear.

The national curriculum and reporting authority put the school on its merit list last year.

"So we're starting to take some empirical data that shows that our children are engaging a lot more with our learning programs,” he said.

“Our suspension rate last year, for example, was down to zero."

Sydney school technology innovation indigenous connection
Merrylands East is one of only a handful of public schools to reduce its hours. It introduced those changes in 2012. Desks and chairs are rarely used in class. (SBS)

'Innovative' classrooms

The layout of each classroom is also different to conventional practices. There are no desks, and there is a focus on open spaces.

Lee Hewes says that, hopefully, allows the students to collaborate further.

"You think about outside of school now, with technology advancing, and the way people work outside of school is typically project-based. They might work on something, collaborate with people, whether in the same office or outside of your city," he said.

Muskan Nazari says she loves the fact her school is unique.

"Because it's an open environment, and I think I can move around in the classroom. I love the students, because they're all sweet, kind and honourable."