Posts Tagged ‘Firefly Education’

The first Mike Horsley Award recipient – Peter Stannard

In September 2019, the educational publishing community awarded the first Mike Horsley Award in memory of the man who established the EPAAs and inspired so many. The inaugural recipient is Queensland-based author, publisher and teacher, Peter Stannard of Firefly Education who we hear from below. 

Read Peter’s reflections on the progression of his career and some highlights, and also the thoughts of those in his team, showing the family man and leader behind all the great literacy and education work he has been involved with for forty-odd years. 

Peter Stannard with his trophy at the Educational Publishing Awards Australia 2019 – at The Arts Centre, Melbourne.

About Professor Mike Horsley

I first met Mike briefly in 2006 and then again at an Educational Publishing Awards ceremony in 2007 where we had a long conversation about why I should be actively involved in the APA. He was very keen to get home-grown Australian publishing companies involved in the APA. I then suggested that I come up to Noosa to chat with him since it’s only a 45 minute drive from the Firefly office. We spent a very fruitful couple of hours talking about teaching, schools and educational publishing beside the Noosa River at Noosaville where he lived. We had a number of these get-togethers on the river and during these times I got to understand his drive and passion to help kids learn.

Teaching and writing

After graduating in 1967, I became a science teacher at Noosa District State High School. Three years later I was appointed Head of Department (Science) at Aspley High School in Brisbane. During this time I submitted a manuscript for a series of science activity books to Macmillan Education. A week later I was signed up and then started the serious work of perfecting the manuscripts.

I worked as a Head of Department in two other schools over the next eighteen years, as well as writing and, at the start of 1989, I finally hung up my teaching hat to became a full-time writer.

The inspiration for my writing came from my style of teaching. I always believed that students need to be totally and actively involved in any lesson. They need to discuss, ask questions, clarify any uncertainties and be active in the classroom. The manuscripts of my science books reflected that style.

Over 43 years Macmillan Australia published more than 60 titles written by my co-author, Ken Williamson, and me. Notable titles include Exploring Science, Science Now, Science Alive, many editions of ScienceWorld and Secondary Science. In 1998 Ken and I received an award from Macmillan for 1 million copies sold.

Firefly Publishing

In 1988 my partner Ann and I and teaching colleague Lesley Englert established Firefly Productions, where we self-published school musicals.

Soon after, I recognised an opportunity to publish educational resources. In 1992 Firefly Education (initially Firefly Press) was born with the publication of literacy companion workbooks written by Lesley for a number of my science series.

Using my experience in the classroom, I wanted to publish materials that were different from those on the market. My vision was to publish educational materials that encouraged students to make connections between what they learned in class and their everyday lives. At the same time the resources needed to support busy teachers and be easy to use in the classroom. By creating resources that combined these principles, I hoped to foster a love of learning in Australian classrooms.

In the following years, I worked with several authors (who were also practising teachers) to publish resources such as Letters and Sounds, Jigsaw Maths and the well-known Sound Waves and iMaths series. Each of these series focused on the principles and pedagogical approach which originated in my classroom teaching experience.

The Firefly Team

Firefly Education has gone from strength to strength, publishing award-winning books and innovative online resources including Sound Waves, iMaths, Writing Time, Think Mentals, and the digital programs Think Mentals Digital Classroom and English Stars. These products were developed totally in our Buderim offices. Our talented team of writers, editors, designers, programmers, animators and artists collaborate closely to produce world-class educational resources. Then the dedicated marketing team and sales consultants offer our products to Australia and the world.

Our world of publishing has changed over the nearly 30 years we have been in operation. In the early days we published student workbooks and teacher resources. Ten years later we established our online presence, and now we have our own bespoke digital products fully developed in-house.

I feel very privileged to work with such talented people at Firefly. When other people of my age pull the pin on their careers, I feel excited about going to work and sharing the team’s progress in the development of products.

Peter Stannard: Beyond educational publishing 

written by the Firefly team

Peter’s impressive teaching career and contribution to the educational publishing industry is just a small part of what makes him the man he is. Peter’s magnetic enthusiasm for learning is evident in many aspects of his personal life. Here’s just a few insights into what shapes Peter Stannard. 



Family man 

Peter’s enthusiasm for education comes from a simple joy in helping children reach their full potential. So, it may come as no surprise that Peter and Ann are proud foster-parents. Over a period of 21 years, they welcomed four underprivileged teenagers into their lives. Now, alongside their three biological children, these family ties are as strong as ever.

Business mentor 

In 2014, Peter and Ann travelled to Bali and went on a botany tour in Ubud run by a young local woman named Dewi. Peter quickly formed a connection with Dewi, sharing her passion for science and plants. Over the next few days this friendship flourished as Peter and Ann enjoyed hearing about the local land and customs, and Dewi and partner Dhika enjoyed receiving business advice. These conversations sparked an informal
business mentorship.

True to their nature, Peter and Ann didn’t take this mentorship lightly, enlisting the talent of Firefly Education employees to enhance Dewi’s business. It culminated in a company-wide business development trip to Bali where over 40 Firefly Education staff were able to exchange skills and expertise with Dewi and her team.

A generous leader 

Peter has cultivated a truly positive and enriching environment for staff at Firefly Education. When you visit the head office, it’s immediately apparent that it’s a family-owned business. In fact, it’s not unusual to see a grandchild pop in on the school holidays. Peter has gone above and beyond to create an inclusive and collaborative environment at Firefly. There are daily morning teas, family fun days, AGM team-building adventures and the staff were even invited to Peter’s surprise very big ‘0’ birthday party!

‘I’ve been fortunate enough to work at Firefly for seven years with Peter and Annie at the helm. Our company culture is absolutely led from the top. Peter’s teaching insight, capacity for new ideas and his generosity in mentoring has made, and continues to make, the culture at Firefly Education truly innovative, creative and fun.’ – Carlee Driscoll, General Manager, Firefly Education
‘Having known Peter and Ann for more years than I can remember, I was lucky to observe the early years of Peter’s enormous talent and enthusiasm for his teaching evolve into the publishing company that is the “Firefly family” today. His everyday actions continue as an example of leadership, generosity and compassion to family, friends and colleagues.’ – Lee Lemon, Business Development Officer, Firefly Education

A very deserving recipient for the inaugural Mike Horsley Award. Congratulations Peter! Thanks for all the work you have done on the Schools and Educational Publishing Committee of the Australian Publishers Association as well.

Interview with Peter Stannard, Firefly Education

The Educational Publishing Awards are committed to rewarding excellence and innovation in the publishing industry at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. We have put together a series of interviews with the publishers, editors and individuals involved in the creation and development of educational resources. We caught up with Peter Stannard from Firefly Education to talk about Think Mentals, a shortlisted entry for the Primary: Student Resource – Mathematics (Numeracy) award.

What challenges do you think teachers face when teaching mental computation?

Maths can be scary for young learners. Without being explicitly taught effective strategies for tackling mental computation students can become overwhelmed and stumble upon everyday maths problems. Given that most of the maths we do every day we do in our heads, mental computation is an essential skill for students to learn. Likewise, teaching mental computation can also be daunting. Unless you’re equipped with a variety of computation strategies it’s difficult to teach students how to solve a maths problem quickly, easily and accurately. Think Mentals provides teachers with a unique and easy-to-use approach to teach mental computation, which in turn gives students an easy-to-understand approach to tackle mental computation.

How does Think Mentals make learning mental computation easy?

Think Mentals is all about making numbers friendly. It teaches students how to use strategies to break maths problems into friendly, manageable chunks so they can calculate answers fluently. The easy-to-follow weekly structure includes worked examples of strategies and carefully graded practice activities. Each Student Workbook builds on the strategies and skills developed in the previous year. The same friendly language and layout is used from Years 1 to 6, so students will learn new skills every year in a familiar context. This consistent approach not only helps students consolidate their learning, it makes life easier for teachers too.

Why does your product deserve to win at this year’s EPAs? Is there anyone you would like to acknowledge and thank for making this product the success it is?

I’m sure every product that’s made the shortlist deserves to win, but what’s special about Think Mentals is its innovative approach that systematically teaches students a range of mental computation strategies. Put simply, Think Mentals makes maths friendly. The unique Think Mentals strategies are ‘how-to’ guides for making maths calculations easy. By learning and practising Think Mentals’ friendly strategies, students can train their brains to solve maths problems quickly and easily.

As for acknowledging the efforts of everyone involved in Think Mentals, of course I’d like to thank our team of authors; Mary Serenc who wrote Year 1, and Chris Linthorne, Peter Williams and Sandra Williams who wrote Years 2–6. As with all of Firefly’s programs, the authors are practising Australian teachers which ensures a relevant connection to the classroom. With a manuscript in place, it was over to the Firefly Education team to bring Think Mentals to life. Everything from page layout to refining the strategies and even creating the gang of friendly monsters that feature on the front covers was carefully crafted to create this unique mental computation series.

Good luck and all the best Firefly Education!

The Educational Publishing Awards are held on Thursday, 6 October at The Pavillion, Arts Centre Melbourne.

Interview with Lesley Englert, Firefly Education

The Educational Publishing Awards are committed to rewarding excellence and innovation in the publishing industry at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. We have put together a series of interviews with the publishers, editors and individuals involved in the creation and development of educational resources.

We caught up with Lesley Englert (former ACARA board member and teacher) who has teamed up with Firefly Education to create English Stars, a shortlisted entry for the Primary: Student Resource – English (Literacy, Literature, Language) award.

Why do you think English is such an important subject?
English is the foundation for all learning! We rely on literacy for nearly every aspect of life; it helps us develop our knowledge and potential; allows us to fully engage with our community and culture. Our ability to read, view, write, design, speak and listen means we can understand and communicate effectively in the world we live.

What challenges do you think teachers face when delivering a comprehensive English program?
Being a teacher is a lot harder than most people realise! I know first-hand how much time it takes to put together a lesson. Teachers are expected to do so much more than just teaching: there’s also planning, finding quality resources, marking, and managing behaviour. Now, imagine this workload across five or more subjects! I wanted English Stars to include everything teachers need, so they can focus on what’s most important — their students.

What was your motivation for developing an English program?
The implementation of the Australian Curriculum for English was the subject of many discussions I had with Peter (Stannard) and Ann (Smales) – the Directors of Firefly Education. All of us have been in the classroom and know the kind of pressures that teachers face.

We incorporate English learning into just about every subject, but until now there hasn’t been a comprehensive English program available to teachers.

We wanted to create a program that would be teacher-led… Something with all the lesson resources, planning and assessment tools that teachers could use to deliver an effective English program. After a lot of late nights and long phone calls, working through our shared vision, we decided the time was right to make it happen– and that’s how English Stars was born!

Why does your product deserve to win at this year’s EPAs? Is there anyone you would like to acknowledge and thank for making this product the success it is?

English Stars isn’t just the same old workbook exercises — we really wanted to make the most of all the new technology that has been making its way into classrooms. At the same time, we didn’t want to arbitrarily digitise everything, just for the sake of it. There are things that technology allows us to do that we could never do before. But sometimes, it’s better to have students writing things, or collaborating, or interacting with real, material objects.

So, we created a program that could have the best of both worlds. We use digital technology to save time on things like automatically marking activities, monitoring progress in real time, or capturing results and collating them in interesting and meaningful ways. That said, we haven’t thrown the baby out with the bathwater! There are still abundant opportunities for kids to engage in handwriting, and hone their listening and interaction skills. It’s all there!

I think the program’s innovation in seamlessly uniting curriculum and technology is a great representation of what the awards are all about. English Stars is certainly unique in the Australian education landscape.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention all of the talented people at Firefly Education who helped create the amazing learning videos, and teaching slideshows and all of these clever interactive tools and activities that I believe are both delightful and useful.

Good luck and all the best Firefly Education!

The Educational Publishing Awards are held on Thursday, 6 October at The Pavillion, Arts Centre Melbourne.