Electrifying cross-curricular education

Issue: Volume 102, Number 11

Posted: 24 August 2023
Reference #: 1HAbbx

Two Nelson teachers are using resource kits to enrich learning within their schools and set ākonga on a path to success within the curriculum and future career pathways.

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All the images in this article show ‘creativity, coding and electronics’ projects, supplied by St Joseph’s School in Nelson.

A passion for technology teaching led Vince Fox back to the classroom after a retirement false start – and he’s passing this passion on to future generations by introducing electronics to young minds.  

Term 2 saw a hive of tech activity for Vince’s Year 9 students at Tapawera Area School. He taught students some generic electronics concepts and set them off on self-managed learning tasks using kits, remote-controlled cars and Lego.  

“The pre-set lessons within the kits we used allowed the students to take charge of their learning,  

self-managing their way through the activities and exercises,” says Vince, who has been teaching at the area school for over seven years.  

“They experienced a sense of achievement when successfully assembling the components and witnessing their functionality. In moments of uncertainty, students actively sought assistance from their peers, fostering collaboration and teamwork.”  

The STEAM kits were one of three electronics-based activities Vince engaged students with throughout the term. Lego Mindstorm electronics packages and tiny remote-controlled cars were the other modes of learning about the essentials of electronic engineering. Not only did they have fun with these activities, but they also got the students moving – in body and mind.  

“I got ākonga active,” says Vince. “We had done some front loading on the basics of electronical concepts, so that when they were let loose on the activities, they had an understanding and could get stuck in.

“This involved plenty of moving around, physically, as well as mentally figuring things out. I had to try to stand off, as best I could, as the intention was that this part was self-taught.”  

Pre-learned knowledge  

Vince ran the programme for three lessons a week over what turned out to be rather a disjointed term. This impacted on the final stages of the work and the evaluation process, during which he had hoped to be able to link the learning to Te Mātaiaho | the refreshed NZ curriculum. However, much was learned, and enjoyed, says Vince.  

“An important lesson for students was the significance of following pre-learned knowledge, rather than randomly assembling components. This was exemplified in a lesson where an LED was intentionally meant to blow as part of the learning process!  

“They were saying, ‘it’s not going, it’s not going’. It was a test, to see if they had read the rest of the instructions. It was all part of the learning.  

“They had to show they could fault-find and th ey learned how to use a meter. I hope to get even further along and extend the learning with the next Year 9 group,” says Vince.

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STEAM kits  

Not-for-profit organisation Ministry of Inspiration produced the STEAM kit (the brainchild of Alan York and Amy Cornelisen) that Tapawera Area School used as part of their electronics programme.  

The compact kit contains the necessary materials for learners to work through lessons themselves, with minimal teacher input.  

“I’ve always been an advocate for The New Zealand Curriculum,” says Vince. “I believe it was well-written and forward thinking for its time. The refreshed curriculum will have some new aspects that I will be able to bring in to increase students’ skills and knowledge.”  

He plans to explore the more advanced features of electronics with his next year group, by building on his work using the kits.  

“I found these effectively introduced and engaged students in activities that apply their acquired knowledge and skills to solve real-world challenges within the materials technology field. The hands-on nature enhances student learning outcomes and deepens their understanding of the subject matter.”  

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STEAM in action at St Joseph’s School in Nelson.

Tech meets Harry Potter  

Across the Nelson District, electronic exploration has also been a feature at St Joseph’s School.  

Teacher Antonio Sardella introduced a talented group of Year 4–8 students to the fascinating world of creativity, coding, and electronics.  

Unleashing bright young minds on self-directed projects, with the use of kits, “students eagerly embraced the challenges they presented”, says Antonio.  

“We had a really talented group who were really into Harry Potter, and they made a replica Hogwarts Hall. It had LED lights in yellow and orange that they had made to look like candles flickering, as well as a broomstick that rotated around a tower. It was impressive stuff!”  

Adapting, reflecting, and overcoming challenges was a key part of the learning.  

“While some students struggled with resilience when hitting bugs, it is important to note that younger students, such as those in Year 4, surprised us with their resilience and ability to navigate through the lessons. Ultimately, we found their success largely depends on the students’ motivation, drive, and personal interest in coding and electronics.”  

A focus on science  

As an educator, Antonio appreciated being able to gain a comprehensive understanding of each lesson and its objectives through an educator handbook.  

“This empowered me to effectively support my students and enabled me to pass on accurate information and troubleshoot effectively too,” he says.  

The focus for Year 5–8 students at St Joseph’s School in term 3 is science. This will culminate in an upcoming area science fair, which will see the school pit its skills against others in the region.  

“We ensure that every aspect of our learning comes from a topic that we focus on for the term,” says Antonio.  

“We have been teaching about the scientific process; gathering, analysing and using data, and integrating maths and English into this, too, as it all helps when it comes to both researching and presenting their science projects.”  

A teacher at the Nelson school for six years, Antonio is mindful of taking a slow and steady approach to linking past and present learning into Te Mātaiaho | the refreshed NZ curriculum.  

“We’ll be able to tie a lot of aspects of the refresh into our learning,” he says.  

“But right now, we are trying to wrap our heads around all the new elements and giving information to students so they can set themselves up for success, as opposed to making too much change too quickly and risk setting them up for failure.  

“That is why we are delivering integrated unit style teaching to bring related subjects into our science learning.  

“Connecting lessons to real-world applications enables students to develop a deeper understanding of the relevance of the skills and knowledge. Furthermore, the open-ended nature of the projects they engage in encourages critical thinking and fosters creativity.”  

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STEAM in action at St Joseph’s School in Nelson.

Advice for kaiako  

Antonio says he would suggest the use of resources such as kits to educators seeking to incorporate coding and electronics into their curriculum.  

“They may find they are suitable for a range of age groups, although older students tend to benefit more, due to the fine motor skills and patience required to complete each lesson successfully.  

“It is always important to consider the students’ age and level of motivation, drive, and willingness to tackle challenges when determining the appropriate audience for any lessons.” 

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

Posted: 10:20 am, 24 August 2023

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