Plans come to fruition at Kaikorai Valley College

Issue: Volume 95, Number 19

Posted: 25 October 2016
Reference #: 1H9d58

Dunedin students are benefiting from a Teacher-Led Innovation Fund project that aims to increase their engagement with science, technology and agriculture education.

Mornington Primary School students sampling wind speed, GPS and temperature as part of developing a plan for the farm’s layout.

Students at Kaikorai Valley College are learning critical thinking skills by way of a farm on their school grounds.

The college, which caters for students from year 7–13, is situated on the edge of Dunedin city, and received funding from the Teacher-Led Innovation Fund (TLIF) in June 2015 to boost school and community projects.

The TLIF is part of the government’s Investing in Educational Success initiative, and aims to support innovative practice in schools.

Kaikorai Valley College science teacher Ruth Eley says planning for the urban farm concept has been underway at the school for several years, and the new funds gave the school community the impetus to kick-start the project.

“The TLIF has been phenomenal for our school so far,” she says.

“We’ve had numerous teacher PLD days to look at how we can best teach and assess critical thinking skills, using our farm as the context for learning."

“We’re also hoping the farm will open up scope for our students to learn more about careers in agriculture, science and technology.”

Teachers have been making changes to their teaching and assessment practices and these changes will be analysed so that they can understand what has led to the improvement for learners.

These insights will be shared and spread across and beyond the schools. In addition, teachers have worked collaboratively, across the primary and secondary divide in ways they haven’t before.

Two projects

Ruth says the school’s TLIF grant has been used to support two separate projects – the first being the Science and Technology Learning Innovation in Sustainable Agriculture programme, which has seen the development of the farm.

“Our overarching goal with this project is to help our students build their critical thinking skills, and for this we’re working with four primary schools in the area,” she says.

“Each of these schools has a class dedicated to thinking about what sort of things they’d like to see on our farm this year, and we have a group of students within our school to do the same thing."

“We’re also working as a group of teachers to assess the critical thinking skills of the students, and to teach how each of our choices has consequences as we interact with the environment,” she says.

All the students involved are ‘given’ a limited budget to help make plans for the land, and so far these have ranged from families of alpacas to crops of vegetables.

“Now it’s about working with those classes to actually put those ideas into action and start getting the farm going,” says Ruth.

First on the list: tree-planting – heritage apple and pear trees, specifically.

“The students decided on the fruit trees, and then we realised it was almost autumn, so we ordered a whole lot in. The nursery gave us suggestions about the heritage varieties, and we worked out what would be best planted where.”

The fruit trees arrived as bare root stock, and this provided another lesson for the students in how best to care for and plant saplings in this condition.

Sustainable collaboration

Ruth says HOD Science Simon McMillan has been instrumental in leading the TLIF at Kaikorai Valley College, but at the time of writing was currently in the United States completing a Fulbright Scholarship.

“He’s also been responsible for getting the community to work together on this project, including local representatives from the agricultural industries and ITOs,” she says.

“It’s important to us that we’re not just filling up the farm with plants and animals, but rather looking carefully at the technology involved, with a focus on sustainability and the environment."

“For example, a group of year 12 students have started designing a micro hydro plant to put in the Kaikorai stream next to the farm, and this could provide power if we need it on the farm in the future."

“We’ve also got areas set aside for teaching fencing skills, and rather than having permanent animal stocks, we’re hoping to have display animals that could be moved through, for teaching and learning purposes."

“So it’s a teaching and learning farm,” says Ruth. “When the apple trees grow, we’ll start researching pruning and harvesting technologies.”

Growing with the farm Ruth says the TLIF project has involved different year groups at the school, but there has been a particular focus on the year 7 and 8 students.

“Because the intermediate-aged students will be at Kaikorai Valley College for the longest period of time, they will be the ones getting the most benefit from the farm."

“They’ll be growing with it, so we felt it was important for them to be the ones making the decisions about trees and other planting projects."

“But obviously, as they move on through the school, all the students will become engaged with what’s going on.”

An important element has been collaboration with nearby primary schools.

The hope is that through an improved understanding of students’ needs and capabilities as they transition from primary to secondary schools, this work will build good relationships within the wider community.

“We’ve been working with our nearby schools and we’re hoping local primaries will come and use the facility, providing easy access to an agricultural experience,” she says.

“We do have some fantastic grounds around the school that are underutilised, so we’re always thinking about what we can do that will really benefit the students in our community.”
In fact, poultry is next on the list."

“We’re looking at getting chickens in for a trial this year, and hopefully in full production next year.”

The school also received a grant for its Active Education Project, a joint initiative run by Kaikorai Valley College and Queen’s High School.

The project aimed to extend both schools’ learning from the Sport in Education Project, which has been running for the past four years.

It found that being active in the classroom helps engage students, which in turn lifts their achievement results in a range of areas.

Buzzing with ideas

Running alongside the urban farm development are Young Enterprise projects, which have so far included the 2015 award winning ‘Kaika Energy’ group where students made biofuel and liquid fertiliser.

Additional to this, kitset beehives have also been made by students through the 2016 Young Enterprise programme – some built from pine, and others from recycled materials such as old shelves and school desks.

“It’s great to utilise these other student projects as well,” says Ruth.

“For example, the handmade beehives will be used on the land, and the biodigester could be used to heat a glasshouse, potentially."

“It’s exciting to see all sorts of ideas linking into the farm.”

More information about the Teacher-led Innovation Fund can be found on the Ministry Of Education website.(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 12:23 pm, 25 October 2016

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