Local mountain guides students’ goals

Issue: Volume 98, Number 2

Posted: 7 February 2019
Reference #: 1H9r1G

Mt Fyffe stands just north of Kaikōura, inspiring and challenging students to aim high in their learning opportunities.

On a clear day, Mt Fyffe can be seen from base to peak through the windows of Kaikōura Suburban School.

Students at the school are known as ‘Fyffe FORCE (fun, organisation, respect, communication and excellence) learners’ and commit to climbing the mountain of ‘Learning for life’.

Deputy Principal Rebecca Macer says the school operates a typical inquiry model, with a twist unique to Kaikōura and its maunga.

“We use our mountain as a goal to climb to the top. Once we climb to the hut we have a break and reflect on what we’re doing, then we climb to the summit to celebrate and share our knowledge, and then we start again,” she says.

“It’s a pretty cool visual. Every classroom has a mountain and the children use that as a guide to know what stage they’re at and what they’ve got to do to move forward with their own learning. Before the first stage we say we fill their backpack up with knowledge and then they decide where they go and what they’re going to answer. So a lot of student agency, a lot of student voice.”

Each student’s inquiry topic also aligns with the overriding class question. While choosing their question, students need to consider how they can make a difference to themselves, the school or the community.

One group of Fyffe FORCE learners created a bus stop bench, after students who caught the bus advised there was no seat to wait at. As well as learning to build the seat, students learned how to work with the local council and members of the community.

Expert input helps teachers

Enabling students to learn within the scope of their interests helps them to have ownership of and genuine enthusiasm for their learning, Rebecca says.

“I think that giving them their voice, their student agency is powerful.

Students are asked to consider how they can make a difference to themselves, the school or the community.

“They might have a learning difficulty or they might just not be able to concentrate. The fallout from the quake has been huge with wellbeing and anxiety as well, so we just wanted to nurture them even more in a way to express their love and what they’re interested in.”

While allowing students to have agency is important, it can also be quite demanding on teachers, she says.

“It’s not easy because you’re constantly like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to go down this way now’ and ‘What am I going to do to support Sophie in what she needs to know to answer her question?’.”

To minimise the impact on teachers, experts from the community share their knowledge with students.

The school values fun, organisation, respect, communication and excellence in its learners.

“We were talking about entrepreneurs in Kaikōura so we got in local entrepreneurs that the children recognised and that the children know. They help us as teachers to share their knowledge of learning with the children as well. The teachers, we’re constantly talking, sharing ideas and supporting each other in the best way. Our whānau community is just amazing so we’ve often got parents in here helping too,” Rebecca says.

Teachers need to be open to not having all the answers, as each child and every inquiry is unique, she says.

“You just have to be honest with the child and say, ‘I’m not sure, I need to find out how we could do that’ and often they’ll come into the office and they’ll be talking on the phone to someone or they’ll listen to me or other teachers have a conversation about it. It’s a journey with the children.”

Annual mountain hike for all

As well as the mountain of learning, the whole school takes part in an annual hike up Mt Fyffe.

“So Mt Fyffe has a base track at the bottom of the mountain and you can stop (several times) on the way up,” Rebecca says.

“They start out as a little junior and they can’t or don’t want to go to the top (although some do), but by the time they’re in that senior class they’re up there.”

Whānau and local experts who have shared their knowledge throughout the year are also invited to take part. A hāngi is held following the hike to celebrate the success of the climb.

“We look out to it constantly and we say you’re climbing that mountain of learning for life and it’s tough, learning’s hard. We constantly refer to that, throughout the year.”

Student waiata teaches correct pronunciation

Have Courage

Following the 2016 earthquake, Kaikōura found itself mentioned frequently in the news. Kaikōura Suburban School students watching this coverage realised there was another issue; many people were pronouncing Kaikōura incorrectly.

They decided to try to restore the mana of their town’s name by using manaakitanga and teaching others the correct pronunciation.

To do this, they created a waiata with the help of their teachers and local experts. The students have since shared their song with local council, hospital, businesses and other schools in the area.

“We went to the hospital and we found because the older generations have always said Kai-kora, ‘it’s Kai-kora to me’, so we learnt about how Kaikōura got its name,” Rebecca says.

“We surveyed 100 people before and 100 people after. It was different people, but we could see within the school community, within our whānau and within the community more people were starting to pronounce it properly.”

Teachers used the learning objectives from The New Zealand Curriculum to ensure this learning had been embedded. Students needed to give examples of how they could help in a range of contexts, identify people and their role in the community and show understanding of how their actions could influence others.

“So ‘how can I help my mum and dad to learn to pronounce it correctly while being respectful to others?’ That was a huge thing. You can’t just say ‘No, that’s not right’,” Rebecca says.

“By us teaching the song, it’s actually influenced others.”

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

Posted: 1:57 pm, 7 February 2019

Get new listings like these in your email
Set up email alerts