Cross-curricular course takes flight

Issue: Volume 100, Number 11

Posted: 2 September 2021
Reference #: 1HAPJ9

A cross-curricular NCEA science and maths course at Albany Senior High School has resulted in deep learning about the physics involved in the principles of flight.   

Sebastian, Aleksandra and Markus enjoyed flying a Boeing 747 in virtual reality across the Auckland skyline.

Sebastian, Aleksandra and Markus enjoyed flying a Boeing 747 in virtual reality across the Auckland skyline.

Albany Senior High School (ASHS) has a history of teachers working across curriculum areas and collaborating to deepen learning, and many organic connections have formed in the mathematics and science departments.

Three years ago, this informal connection between departments led to more formal collaboration between science and maths to deliver a bivariate assessment, which pulled learning from both subject areas. 

“In 2020, Albany Senior High School stepped up its focus on designing and delivering more contextualised, connected and integrated courses,” says principal Claire Amos. 

“This resulted in the creation of an integrated maths and science class taught across option lines, co-taught by two teachers – maths specialist Sylvestre Gahungu and science specialist Aidan Gibson,” she says.

The NCEA Level 1 science and maths course at the Auckland school has been designed to provide foundational knowledge of science and maths with real-world contexts, to foster students’ interest in future career pathways.

The NCEA Level 1 science and maths course features three parts: 

  • Aviation and Aeronautics in term 1 has a physics and maths focus. 
  • Our Burning World in term 2 looks at climate change and the evolution of renewable energy with a chemistry and numbers focus.
  • Life Beyond Earth in term 3 has a biology and statistics focus.

Seeking common ground

“Although maths and science seem quite a natural fit, often at secondary level subjects still tend to be siloed,” explains Aidan Gibson, who teaches physics, chemistry, science and maths at the school. 

“You need collaboration from teachers who are trained across different domains who can find those commonalities and really put them together. To combine the two subjects in the Level 1 paper for the physics and maths unit, staff took the standards, clarifications and assessment criteria and sought commonalities between them,” he says.

Aidan explains that in terms of physics for the Aviation and Aeronautics course, they were aware that a lot of processing of equations and rearranging formulas was required to get solutions. 

He says they started with the standards that would be the culmination of the term’s work. 

“Then we worked backwards from there to say ‘ok, what other skills do both of these things contain?’ For example, looking at linear algebra for the rearranging of equations to try and take those concepts and relate it to a real-world context.” 

Regan, Markus and Tyler engage in some hands-on learning and exploring of forces and energy conservation through the use of a drone. 

Regan, Markus and Tyler engage in some hands-on learning and exploring of forces and energy conservation through the use of a drone. 

Flight simulators

Last summer, Aidan took part in a School to Skies Ed-ternship Programme at Whenuapai Airbase. The five-day PLD programme for primary and secondary teachers was delivered by 21C Skills Lab and the Royal New Zealand Airforce (RNZAF). 

Participants learned about developing and testing a real-world learning experience for students in STEM and aviation aligned to The New Zealand Curriculum.

Aidan used the context of flight to introduce drones, flight simulators and virtual reality. He says students loved the opportunity to be able to effectively fly an aircraft and being within the simulator experience sparked good real-world discussions around physics.  

“From that experiential learning, lots of their natural questions came out because they wanted to dig deeper and learn more, and so they were able to ask more insightful questions,’” he says.

“For instance, we were able to show them the maths and physics involved in how a plane actually stalls and takes off at too high an angle and why that would happen.”

Once the students understood the maths and physics behind forces and motion, they looked at velocity and acceleration, as well as the question ‘What is a force?’.  

“We were able to look further than you might normally look in Level 1 science into drag and how that has an impact on real-world physics,” he explains.

Paper planes and drones

A lockdown in Auckland during term 1 had a positive impact on the flight unit.

“We were able to bring some of those exciting experiences into online learning – that’s where the students were introduced to the flight simulator through one of the Google Classroom streams that we did,” explains Aidan.

“A lot of them used paper planes and looked at how the aspect ratio or the wingspan of the planes would affect flight distance.”

Students also used a drone to make an aerial map of the school campus. Aidan says this was developed to help familiarise students with the school layout and introduce the use of drones and other technologies into the classroom learning environment. 

He says it also helped to excite them with the opportunities available by introducing the context for the term, emphasising that the students would gather and process their own data throughout. 

“They were able to see the value of aerial photography and used mapping software to interpret distances and results digitally.” 

Bookwork and online learning is still important for Marcus, Marl, Amar and Sam.

Bookwork and online learning is still important for Marcus, Marl, Amar and Sam.

Deep learning

Formative data collected during assessment for the Aviation and Aeronautics course suggests most students will achieve 9/10 of their total numeracy credit requirements for NCEA Level 1, and 7/10 literacy credits in the term 1 course alone, with a high proportion of Merit and Excellence endorsements.

“I think the higher grades came from that depth of understanding and ability to dive deeper and link concepts together.

“It was quite mind-boggling to me how much they had taken on. It was amazing the depth of information they were able to go into for their individual research as well as the practical components we had for them. It became apparent that they had gone away and thought about ‘what’s actually happening here?’” says Aidan. 

He adds that the overlaps in the combined course means students get to spend more time on a subject, which can deepen their learning. 

“The research does suggest that because you have more time effectively, because you’re not introducing a new context in each subject, you can really dive deep into it and explore it in a much more intricate way.

“This gives students more time to be active participants in their learning, and for them to be able to use the tools at their disposal such as their cellphones. We could take things they had recorded and put it into data logging software so they could also gain some of those real-world examples of the science in action,” he says.

Future focus

In developing the cross-curricular course, ASHS has used real-world framing to focus on industry and potential career pathways for students.

“One thing we had noticed in both maths and science is that although students can understand the concepts, you really do broaden the learning when you focus on ‘where does this actually apply in our world?’,” says Aidan.

He explains that a study by the World Economic Forum, which looked at the skills required in the present-day job market, noted key areas as creativity, critical thinking and being able to co-ordinate with others.

“We wanted to bring those skills that are becoming more critical in the job market and actually give students the understanding of what’s actually out there, rather than keeping them focused on the theoretical understanding.” 

More cross-curricular courses

ASHS is keen to move towards more cross-curricular learning, with a cross-curricular working group developing potential courses. 

There have been several cross-curricular courses running in 2021, as well as the NCEA Level 1 Maths and Science course.

“One cross-curricular course is on democracy, liberty and justice – that has a focus on social studies combined with elements of history and political theory. 

“There’s also a social studies and history focus that they call ‘Back to the Future’, looking at the past through a historical lens and how that informs our present through the social studies lens,” explains Aidan.

You can read about learner agency at Albany Senior High School in Issue 16, 2020(external link) Education Gazette. 

Natalie, Marcus and Emma used data loggers and cellphone footage to investigate the relationship between velocity and acceleration.

Natalie, Marcus and Emma used data loggers and cellphone footage to investigate the relationship between velocity and acceleration.

Student Kōrero

What was most interesting about the Aeronautics and Aviation course?

Connecting the science and the math to the real world. It was a real eye opener and it showed everyone in the class that what we are learning can be applied to our lives. Natalie

Applying what we have learnt into a real-life context (flying planes and drones). Mechanics, I learnt a lot more about motion and energy. Markus S

It got me interested in the physics of how planes fly and how all the different parts of the plane worked.  Sam

New aspect of learning in physics, such as arrow vectors. New practical equipment, such as the use of drones and flight simulator. Markus K

That we were able to experience flying a plane through a virtual reality. Aleksandra

Do you think a cross-curricular course like this is a good way of learning?

I think it is a great way of learning! My classmates and I now have a way to easily connect what we are learning to the world and we can now connect math to science and science to math. Natalie

Yes. It helps combine what we learned in class (theory) and apply it in a real scenario (practical). Markus S

Yes, as it combines both math and science and by doing that we can explore how they both work together. Sam

This cross-curricular course is clearly the wrong way to go in learning, it utilises a learning environment that is built on the belief that two teachers on thirty children is more effective than one teacher on fifteen children. This is not the case. Markus K

Yes, because not only you are able to learn maths and science together, you are also able to get a deeper understanding of how things work and how both maths and science are needed. Aleksandra

Has this course got you more interested in maths/physics study, or in pursuing a future career pathway?

Yes. I believe that because I was engaged in the subjects in the right way by our teachers, I will go on to use this information for the rest of my life! I want to spend my life studying physics because of this course! Natalie

It made me want to further pursue mechanics and theoretical physics. I just found an interest and I like knowing how things work. Markus S

Yes, because it’s really interesting and exciting to understand how a plane works and be able to fly it. Aleksandra

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

Posted: 11:28 AM, 2 September 2021

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