Authentic local learning in Roxburgh

Issue: Volume 101, Number 3

Posted: 16 March 2022
Reference #: 1HATES

Students at Roxburgh Area School have been making authentic connections with local organisations and businesses, as well as learning a range of skills from ideation and prototyping to time management.

Year 10 student Luc created a Facebook page which has resulted in a lot more customers when vegetable crops are ready.

Year 10 student Luc created a Facebook page which has resulted in a lot more customers when vegetable crops are ready.

Near the end of 2021, Year 7–10 students and their teachers came off timetable for two weeks to take part in an inquiry-based project to find out about the problems and opportunities faced by local businesses and organisations, and develop solutions.

The 40-plus students were joined by the Central Otago school’s Year 12 students, who were learning life skills.

“We wanted our students to see themselves as problem solvers and innovators, and we wanted them to see that in an authentic context and within their local community, so the first thing we did was look at our local businesses. We asked them what issues or opportunities they saw, and we had all sorts of different responses from things around Covid to problems developing our skatepark, issues around paperwork, to problems with staff and pests on orchards,” says Adelle Banks, assistant principal,
Years 9–13.

Workshops develop skills

To develop design thinking, the project began with a series of workshops which taught skills for an inquiry process model.  

“All those kinds of skills that they needed before they could actually even start the project. You start with emphasising, then you have to define your problem, you come up with ideas, you prototype and you test,” explains Adelle.

While students had mentors and support, they had to be self-directed, plan their own time and work through their projects by themselves. 

“There was a huge student agency focus.”

Supported by an outside provider, Karla Sanders from Using Technology Better, and using the strengths of the school’s teachers, teachers ran workshops that included building empathy, ideation, prototyping and time management.

“We did ideation workshops – ‘how do you come up with a really good idea? What are the skills to be able to do that?’ There were time management workshops – ‘how are you going to do this in a week and a half without getting to the last two days and freaking out?’

“We had some design challenges just to get them started. We looked at perspective taking – ‘this might be what YOU think the business needs, but you need to actually listen to the people to find out’. To start with some of them would say ‘I’ve got this great idea for whoever’ and we would ask, ‘is that what the business wants, or what you think they want?’. 

“This is where it was really cross-curricular, they had to learn how to make a good graph, or find the best way to present the data they found and how that will appeal back to the end user. In our second week, we had extra workshops once we had started the projects, just to be able to develop those kinds of skills as well,” says Adelle.

The project was also a good opportunity for Year 12 students to develop effective communication and interviewing skills. 

“A lot of students don’t like ringing businesses on the telephone – they actually had to script it before ringing a business and talking to them.”

Choir and community garden

An expo was held, where students had an opportunity to pose questions to people from organisations and businesses including the Central Otago District Council (based in Alexandra), Fulton Hogan, Horticulture New Zealand and local orchardists.

Adelle Banks brainstorming project ideas with a group of Year 9 and 10 students.

Adelle Banks brainstorming project ideas with a group of Year 9 and 10 students.

“Rather than students just sitting and listening to a presentation, they made authentic connections. We had to drag away some of the students! We were really impressed with the engagement both ways – how engaged the students were, but also how open our businesses were to share with them,” says Adelle.

Students came up with many solutions, which were presented at the end of the two weeks. These included a prototype for a mask dispenser at a supermarket, ideas for a local website, a mountain bike park and ways to solve the worker shortage crisis for local orchards.

The local community garden was growing produce, but locals did not necessarily know what was available, so one student came up with a solution. 

“Luc, who focused on the community garden, found they weren’t getting people buying the vegetables from the community garden. He set up a Facebook page that he puts on the Teviot Valley noticeboard, that now has 140 followers – and he still does it even though the project is over!” says Adelle.

After the empathy building workshop, several groups of students were keen to do something for the rest home over the road, but they were constrained by Covid restrictions.

“But they managed to be able to speak to someone outside the rest home and they sent emails. In the end they formed a choir and sang outside the windows. The rest home posted on the Teviot Valley noticeboard how thrilled they were and how wonderful that was for their residents. It was such great feedback for the students,” says Adelle.

Teacher feedback

The project was a big ask for teachers at the end of a stressful year and some teachers who had not done this kind of work before initially found it difficult. But Adelle says that with the support of the outside provider, teachers found the experience very worthwhile. She hopes the project will be repeated this year.

“The provider gave a lot of ideas for how to teach things such as brainstorming and empathy. But we also used their strengths, for example the maths teacher did the data workshop. 

“Initially they found it quite stressful, especially if they hadn’t done that type of work before. It took quite a lot of extra work, especially at the end of the year. But at the end they said it was an amazing way to build relationships with students that they don’t necessarily teach; also to see their students in a different light. Some students might not shine in class, but get them into that problem-solving technology area and they just fly.”

Horizons widened

Adelle reflects that the students’ awareness of what goes on in their community was increased and many authentic connections were made.

“I don’t think they realised how many wonderful businesses we have. They even said later that they LOVED the expo, just getting to talk to different people. They go to Jimmy’s Pies, but they don’t necessarily get to talk to Dennis, the owner. Even having him come in and being able to ask questions was really powerful – to be able to delve into how he started and developed his business.

“We’ve got a lot of students who pick fruit in their summer holidays, but none of them really look any further than that – they don’t delve into what they do. 

“We ended up getting two former students to talk about the issues the orchard sector has faced. One of the women had been at school at Roxburgh, gone overseas and then got a degree and came back and she’s right in that design and development part of orcharding, and it just makes them think a little bit more than just picking the fruit.”

Adelle thinks that many of the students now see themselves as innovators and problem-solvers and have learned more about what their community values.

“When we did our own expo when the students were presenting, we had parents come in too and they gave students a lot of validation about what they’d done, as well as other people in the community.

“It’s all about that connection with our local community, having an authentic context for students – that’s wonderful local curriculum,” she says.

Pathways to employment

The initiative has helped the school build stronger connections with local businesses, but Adelle also says providing this experience to younger students was beneficial.

“Often, we have people come in and talk to Year 12 and 13 students, maybe Year 11 too. We do career expos and we take our older students to look at businesses like Fulton Hogan. But actually, at a younger age, you want them to start thinking about what is possible. What do they enjoy and what is out there that they could be aspiring to? 

“And now they know if you go into horticulture, you can actually be at management level – you can go and get a science degree and go into a business like that. 

“Quite a few students liked digital technology and could see that they can have a job in that sector if that’s what they want to do. We’ve certainly had quite a big uptake of students wanting to do digital technology as an option this year,” she concludes. 

The community garden Facebook page has resulted in extra money to buy more seeds and equipment and to pay the water bill, says volunteer Alice Moore, pictured in the garden with Luc.

The community garden Facebook page has resulted in extra money to buy more seeds and equipment and to pay the water bill, says volunteer Alice Moore, pictured in the garden with Luc.

Community garden kōrero

Year 10 student Luc and Roxburgh community garden organiser Alice Moore kōrero about Luc’s project

What was your solution to help the community garden and how did you develop it?

Luc: To help the community garden I had to come up with the idea of a Facebook page to inform the community when the garden was open. After doing some research I decided to create a Facebook page showing which fresh veggies were for sale every week. 

How successful has it been and how do you think it has helped the garden, and the community?

Luc: I can’t believe how big a difference it has made towards the Roxburgh community garden. We have a lot more customers than we did last year. If I continue on my Facebook page, lots more people will want to buy fresh veggies. 

What motivated you to get involved and why?

Luc:  When I was working at the community garden the volunteers told me that we were not getting enough customers because nobody knew about it or what was for sale. So I decided to change that by creating a Facebook page and make sure that everybody knew that there were fresh veggies being sold and without chemicals on them.  I love getting involved and I guess this is what I am good at.

Alice, what was the problem you sought help with and how had you tried to solve it in the past?

Alice: We did not have enough customers and therefore often had extra produce. We relied mainly on word of mouth in the community.

How has Luc helped the community garden?

Alice: Luc has been working with us every Saturday since last June as part of his Duke of Edinburgh Award. His Facebook page has significantly increased the number of customers we now receive. We are able to use this extra money to buy more seeds and equipment and to pay the water bill. 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 10:30 AM, 16 March 2022

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