Earthquake evokes deeper community connection in students

Issue: Volume 98, Number 3

Posted: 25 February 2019
Reference #: 1H9rRq

Experiencing a natural disaster has inspired Kaikōura students and staff to help the community heal through their learning and teaching.

Following the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake, teachers at Kaikōura High School considered how to increase student wellbeing through different teaching methods and community connection.

Principal John Tait says the school was halfway through a two-year modular curriculum pilot in its junior classes when the earthquake struck. The quake helped highlight how the programme could be improved to promote further collaboration, not only within the school but also with the wider community.

“Heaps of our kids were involved in all sorts of community things just to get people fed, to get people water and essential supplies. I think it’s taken our teenagers into a much less selfish mindset and into a much more community-oriented mindset,” he says.

Year 9 and 10 students at the school now choose different subjects each term with minimum requirements in place for core subjects, such as English. Each subject is taught through a variety of contexts and often have a community focus. Teachers use the achievement objectives in The New Zealand Curriculum when planning each course.

New Zealand is fortunate to have a curriculum which allows for innovation, John says.

“In some ways we’ve become more creative, but at the same time when you take a risk and you see the positive outcome it makes you think well, actually, maybe we should be ready to risk a little bit more,” he says.

“If you look at the objectives of The New Zealand Curriculum there’s a lot in there which is about attitudinal qualities. That’s what builds a society really, as well as the particular skills that people take out of school.”

Recently Kaikōura High School has focused on numeracy and literacy at all levels.

“Those two things underpin academic success and that has necessarily meant a lot of cross-curricular discussion,” John says.

“Take graphs for example. They’re going to be taught in a whole range of subjects, so in our curriculum mapping we look at where is it taught, how is it taught and are we all teaching the same thing? Is it consistent? It gives us a better picture of how we are scaffolding across a range of subjects with literacy and numeracy targets.”

Students’ interests considered

Deputy Principal Jo Fissenden says while the content is similar to any other school, it is divided differently and delivered through contexts that interest the students.

“This has definitely been shaped a lot more by what the students want as well. I think they’re more proactive in saying something in the community is something they value or is important or what they’d like to be part of.”

One group of students decided to join University of Canterbury scientists in studying the effect of the earthquake on Kaikōura’s seal population.

“They were out there with the researcher learning how to do surveys.

“They’re doing real work. It’s not just ‘oh, we’ll teach you a bit about science’, they’re contributing to something wider, to a research paper, to information that’s going to have an impact on what happens in their community.”

As well as the science objectives, students also learned other skills through the seal context.

“The other big side to the town is tourism and so many of these kids have links to that industry. They can see that if we didn’t have the seals, if the earthquake had impacted the whales or if we lost the dolphins, it would have even more of an impact,” she says.

“It was the appreciation that this is really important for our town and we need to know more about it.”

As part of this project, students captured drone footage to document the coastline. This footage was then compared to data collected a few years earlier by the university, to see how the seals’ habitat had changed.

Another group of students completed similar work by snorkeling along the coast to create underwater transects of the same area.

At the end of the course, students eager to continue the work formed an independent ‘Seal Club’.

“They’re learning important academic skills for school, but they’re also learning a lot of those life skills – dealing with people from a different agency. They are realising that some of the things that they hear in school actually relate to real-world jobs and learning about how these people got into a place like that,” Jo says.

“I think it’s really awesome that they can feel like they’re part of the community healing as well and come up with ideas for where the community goes.”

Opportunity the key word

Head of Social Sciences Alistair Lean says the new structure allows teachers to cover the achievement objectives a number of times in different contexts.

“Students can pick the ones that they are going to engage with best,” he says.

Students work together on projects that often have a community focus.

“The really good thing is if you don’t want to choose it, as long as you have done enough social sciences over the two years, you don’t have to, but the opportunity to do it is there.”

Students are also beginning to see the learning and links between subjects more clearly, Alistair says.

“The keyword through the whole thing is opportunity to me. It’s opportunity for the students in a heap of different ways, to try different things, to do different things, to succeed in different ways. It’s opportunities for the teachers to take things in different directions or have more time on things or to include new stuff, like we’ve been able to. It’s also opportunities for the whole school to develop a culture of success in different ways.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:10 am, 25 February 2019

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