Linking classroom learning to practical building activities

Issue: Volume 101, Number 13

Posted: 12 October 2022
Reference #: 1HAX2n

In Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, a local construction contractor is rolling out an education programme at the schools they are working with, linking classroom learning to the practical building activities taking place onsite. And at the heart of this is former primary school teacher turned quantity surveyor, Bronny Apted.

Bronny with Campbells Bay School students Freddie, Harry and Yigu.

Bronny with Campbells Bay School students Freddie, Harry and Yigu.

Bronny Apted is a quantity surveyor with Woodview Construction Ltd in Auckland. For 38 hours a week she’s in the office or out at one of Woodview’s construction sites across the region – many of which are schools with new classroom blocks being built to meet roll growth pressures. But for two hours every Friday, Bronny goes back to her roots and can be found in front of ākonga with a huge smile on her face.

As part of the contracts Woodview has for Ministry of Education property projects, former primary school teacher Bronny collaborates with schools to link classroom learning to the practical building activities taking place on their sites.

Bronny’s role as a quantity surveyor centres on cost analysis and financial management, as well as a key relationship builder and an oracle of knowledge about anything and everything construction. But her passion for education lives on, and it’s palpable as she tells Education Gazette that the work she does at schools with building projects is one of the best parts of her job.

“I just love this part of my role. The new classrooms under construction at their schools give the kids a visual representation of what I teach,” Bronny says.

“Woodview truly values the relationships they develop with the schools over the period of time we are onsite building.

Campbells Bay School student Gabriella.

Campbells Bay School student Gabriella.

“With the current skills shortage in the construction industry, I see this as a real opportunity to get students thinking early on about all the different careers available to them in construction and how the subjects they are learning can be used in the real world.”

Construction links with curriculum

Bronny undertakes eight lessons in each school. Drawing on her 10 years’ experience in education, she has developed a detailed teaching plan highlighting the steps involved in a new school building and the careers associated with this work.

The lessons are aimed at Levels 2 and 3, Years 5 and 6, and integrate achievement outcomes from Science, Mathematics, Technology, Social Studies and English.

Bronny spends the first lesson bringing the students on the journey of their new classroom build and describes all the people who contribute to getting classrooms designed, engineered, built and ready for learning. She touches on everyone’s roles – the construction site manager, the designers, the plumbers and electricians, and the Ministry of Education’s property staff, including the Capital Works delivery manager who runs the project for the school.

The lesson about architects and designers explores how building design is developed and delivered for construction. Students spend the lesson designing their own classroom or house, measured to scale.

Bronny’s favourite topic is quantity surveying – she’s in her element as she sets the children tasks to work out how much building material is needed, what types and how much everything costs.

When looking at the role of engineers, students utilise their understanding of science and maths to build the tallest free-standing structure they can using only 60 sheets of newspaper, Sellotape, and ice block sticks. The tallest structure Bronny’s seen in class was over 1.7 metres high, and much of the success was down to the group communicating their ideas, trialling, and then reviewing and reflecting on the outcome.

Bronny also focuses on the construction of the build – from LEGO creations to the chemical reactions of different types of materials. She has the students spellbound, using activators to mimic the chemical changes that take place on the building site, such as the setting of concrete.

Finally, students are given the opportunity to do a walk-through tour of the construction site in full PPE to see the build taking place.

In the last lesson, Bronny reviews what the programme has covered and takes on feedback from students, their whānau and the school. She’s spent a term turning the school’s new building delivery into an educational experience, and she has given the students direct access to her expertise – something they would not otherwise have had. Some of these children will look back on Bronny’s lessons as they think about future careers in the construction industry.

The students learning about the ribs, skeletons and muscles of their new classrooms.

The students learning about the ribs, skeletons and muscles of their new classrooms.

Broader outcomes

The teaching plan for Bronny’s class aligns with the Government’s commitment to achieving the benefits of broader outcomes from procurement activity, such as environmental, social, economic and cultural benefits.

Bronny’s latest school placement has been with Year 6 students at Campbells Bay School on Auckland’s North Shore. The school is one of the largest primary schools in the country, and the roll is still growing. Woodview Construction is currently working onsite to build a new block with 14 teaching spaces, set to open next year.

Recently, Bronny took a group of Year 6 students on a site walk-through of their new building which is the much-anticipated final lesson in a term’s worth of construction-focused classroom learning.

The visit demonstrates how engaged the students are with the building process taking place at their school, and how their knowledge of science, mathematics, technology, and design has been extended with real-life examples.

Bronny has a knack for keeping the children engaged and interested in some quite technical topics. On the tour, she ran through all elements of the building by comparing them to parts of the human body – an idea which came about at a site walk-through with a class of Year 5 students at Browns Bay Primary School.

  • Steel framing is the ribs and skeleton of the classrooms.
  • Timber framing shapes the building walls, keeping them strong – like our muscles.  
  • Service pipes and cables are the blood vessels and nerves for the building, sending messages throughout.
  • The black box electrical distribution board is the heart, keeping everything pumping.  
  • The big data cabinet is the brain of the building – or is that ‘brain’ actually the children who will be learning in these new classrooms? (You can guess how the students answered that question!)

Giving engagement a lift

Student Oscar is astonished when Bronny shows the group the lift that will be put together in the new classroom block. It wasn’t delivered in one piece as the students expected it to be. Instead, it is laid out in boxes.

Oscar, Year 6

Oscar, Year 6

The students see hundreds of different components that need mechanical engineering skills to piece together and get the lift ready for ‘passengers’.

“Bronny!” says Oscar. “Putting together the lift is going to be just like the LEGO we built. It’s like an older version of LEGO for adults!”

“Exactly Oscar,” Bronny explains, and the lesson quickly escalates to the technical aspects of mechanical engineering, with Bronny and Woodview site manager Jeremy showing the children where the lift would go and how it would be constructed in situ in the lift shaft.

Students also learn about weights and pulleys, electrical wiring, how pressing the buttons will call the lift to the correct floor, how the doors will open and anything and everything in between. All eyes are on Bronny and Jeremy in amazement as ākonga take everything in.

Sarah Shankland, a Year 6 classroom teacher, is delighted her room was picked to be Bronny’s class for the term.

“The programme Bronny has put together is engaging for all, and she’s great at making things real and easy to understand for the students.

“She incorporates algebra, engineering and maths cleverly into her lessons – extending the learning of those students who need it but keeping things grounded and relatable for everyone. For example, my class has been casually talking about tension and compression as they have undertaken magnificent LEGO builds with no instruction books. That was a highlight for me, to see their eyes opening to this style of learning.

“They’ve watched the new classroom block take shape at school and with Bronny’s help have learned so much about construction – and that there’s more to the industry than hammers and tools. I can see some of my students as future architects, site managers and of course some quantity surveyors just like Bronny!”

Now the build is drawing to a close at Campbells Bay School, where to next for Bronny? Well, she’s off to Windy Ridge School next term to do the same thing all over again.


Bronny and the students on a site walk-through of their new classrooms under construction at Campbells Bay School.

Bronny and the students on a site walk-through of their new classrooms under construction at Campbells Bay School.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 12:06 pm, 12 October 2022

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