Connecting the dots at Mountainview High School

Issue: Volume 97, Number 16

Posted: 10 September 2018
Reference #: 1H9kY6

Classic film and chemistry. Usain Bolt and maths. On paper they don’t match up, but if you’re a student a Mountainview High School in Timaru the connections are obvious.

For Years 9 and 10 students at Mountainview High School, traditional English, maths and science lessons are a thing of the past. In their place are 90-minute cross-curricular classes co-designed by teachers and students.

A pair of teachers bounce ideas off each other as they take classes of up to to 50 students across both year levels.

“It’s a responsive and flexible curriculum that suits the needs of all our students not just a sector,” says Mark.

Take the film/chemistry example. Principal Mark James is a chemistry teacher by trade and last year worked with one of his English teachers to help the students understand the real-world science behind the classic Frankenstein horror movie.

“We started off by looking at Frankenstein in a film study and then as the science teacher I put the science underneath it. And so we made the whole thing relevant. It is about joining those dots,” says Mark.

Another example is how the school used Usain Bolt to cover maths, PE and health. The lessons referred to as “Lightning Bolt” saw students applying mathematical thinking to Bolt’s impressive results and then taking those lessons outside for the PE side of the curriculum.

For the health component of the course, students focused on Usain Bolt’s hauora and how he prepares mentally, socially, physically and spiritually for an event. Each student constructed a whare using mathematical concepts. The whare had to display individual aspects of their hauora.

The module covered mathematical concepts of number, geometry and measurement as well as statistics. Students covered activities relating to rates (e.g. Usain Bolt’s average speed in comparison with their own), conversions, equations (e.g. start positions and times), tables, metric units, gathering data, and using and applying statistical methods to practical situations.

Students took part in the Athletics New Zealand 5-Star Awards Scheme based on personal improvement and were encouraged to participate in a range of athletic events. Students combined their statistical knowledge with their athletics results, recording their data and calculating relevant statistics which they displayed in a variety of ways.

Change prompts creativity

These ‘modules’, as the school calls them, and some of the other changes that the school has made are producing some unexpected results according to Deputy Principal Kenny Diamond.

“We’re starting to see students becoming increasingly creative in how they are displaying their knowledge. No longer are we seeing an essay, or a science report or a speech; we’re starting to see interactive videos, we’re starting to see podcasts, we’re starting to see students coming up with ways that, from a teacher’s perspective, you would never imagine that you could display the knowledge in that particular capacity,” says Kenny.

Student Josh Lovely’s presentation for his “Marauders and Explorers” (English and Social Studies) module is given as an example of the increased student-driven creativity.

“He actually did his presentation as a news show. He was a news presenter and he did the whole of his presentation on video. It was fantastic,” says Mark.

21st-century learning

Mark joined the school four years ago and says that after a settling-in period he and the rest of the leadership team decided to do some reflecting on what they wanted for their students.

“We came together and worked to identify actually what our curriculum should look like for kids of today. We frequently talk about 21st century learning, but actually we’re 18 years into the 21st century. It’s what should learning look like today? And what should it have there to be future-focused?” says Mark.

“We started to look at the curriculum as a whole and we started to ask ourselves questions like actually what is the purpose of us being here? Why do we exist? And when we started to burrow down into that we actually started to realise that educating students and asking students to learn in siloed curriculum subjects like English, science, maths, social studies across the subjects was artificial and that when we examined the curriculum holistically there were some quite cool links and connections between the subject areas,” adds Kenny.

Bumps in the road

Mark is keen to make it clear that the change wasn’t all smooth sailing.

“Staff were knackered. It was a big ask of staff to go from this mindset to this mindset over two months. And it really was a case of that old metaphor ‘building the aeroplane while it’s flying’; it really was. And staff were really tired, but they’ve done a fantastic job.”

Kenny says that focusing on supporting teachers and creating commonalities across the lessons was one of the key ways they managed the transition.

“We recognised that just putting two teachers together and throwing them in the classroom with 50 kids and saying ‘you’re going to do it this way’ was just going to be a disaster. So we built a common language of learning that we would hang our pedagogical approach on so that, although things were changing for students, they’d have a common language of learning.

“When they were going into the different classes the learning intentions put on the board would clearly state: ‘Today we are exploring by…’ and anchoring that to specific learning verbs and those learning verbs would be used throughout every single module and it just gave consistency to the whole system that we have in place.”

Students didn’t immediately universally embrace the change either.

“When it was first floated the then current Year 12s who had the four years in the old system were in almost open revolt about the idea of going to these long lessons and all this change.

“When we surveyed our Year 12s after the first four months, we’d gone from open revolt to 84 per cent of those Year 12 and now Year 13s saying, ‘Actually these longer periods are letting me learn to a much deeper level’, and that’s what we’re seeing in the vast majority of our learners. They are able to engage within our learning framework down to that deeper level,” says Mark.

Looking forward

The Mountainview team is keenly watching the NCEA Review process and have put their own proposal to roll the new programme out to the senior school on hold while they await the results of the review.

Nonetheless they’re excited for the future and what students will come up with next – starting with a Circus module next Semester.

“It’s cool. It’s really good and the kids love it. It’s a perfect example of that real-world learning opportunity. They gain credits through it and they never feel like they are sitting an assessment, it’s just naturally learning,” says Kenny.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:15 am, 10 September 2018

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