Taupō school tackles real-world problems

Issue: Volume 98, Number 5

Posted: 20 March 2019
Reference #: 1H9sQn

A group of Taupō teachers is helping a diverse range of students to work on real-world problems – and first up is creating the ultimate rat trap.

Students in the Te Waka STEM Innovation Hub are issued a real-world problem.

By integrating curriculum areas and embedding learning with future-focused skills, teachers at Tauhara College have developed a diverse and inclusive new area of the school – Te Waka STEM Innovation Hub.

The college’s Head of Science James Lamb says Year 9 technology, mathematics and science content is taught through a real world problem where working together is key to success.

“We try to find a rich, engaging context or a real-world problem in the local community and a stakeholder presents that to the students,” he says. “Then they use their learnings in science, technology and maths and embedded with the 21st century skills of collaboration, ICT use, to find an appropriate solution and to feed that back to the stakeholder. Their learning journey and solution is recorded with photos and videos.

“Our first unit is called Predator Free Waitahanui and we’re jumping on the Predator-free 2050 nationwide campaign. We’ve been briefed by our stakeholder who’s down in Waitahanui and the students are to design, build and evaluate the ultimate rat trap.”

The aim is to prepare all students for the changing world of work and students are selected through an application process during enrolment. The school has tried to engage those who are currently under-represented within STEM careers, including Māori girls.

“There’s a broad call for more diversity in the STEM fields, like engineering, where actually diversity has been lacking traditionally.”

Roel Michels demonstrates how a standard rat trap works.

To do this, teachers are working to ensure Māori culture is acknowledged in the classroom setting; for example, by using whakataukī (proverbs).

“We’ve got a taonga wall on which they place treasures and that’s their connectivity with the learning space. The students are on a reflective and innovative learning journey, so we’re trying to embrace as much Māoridom and culture as we can,” says James.

“We’ve also focused on whānau engagement; we ran an activity a couple of weeks back where we took meeting the parents to a very informal off-school site and that was very successful.”

The STEM initiative was named Te Waka STEM Innovation Hub to represent the collective journey of students and teachers working together as a team and is based on the founding whakataukī ‘He waka eke noa – a waka in which we are all paddling’.

Students with various learning differences are also taking part in the programme.

“We’re very interested in their response to this curriculum integration approach delivered in an innovative way with stakeholders and using social media and video to record their journey and present their solutions.”

The importance of teamwork

Head of Technology Kris Watson says the aim is to encourage all students to feel comfortable in taking ownership of their learning.

“Thinking along the lines of dyslexic students, Asperger’s students; we know they’re really creative and we’re trying to grab that as well and show that they can be fantastic scientists, fantastic inventors if they’re put in the right forums, in the right areas, with the right teams of people around them,” he says.

“We are focusing on Māori girls because they are a group that is under-represented in STEM fields. We want to encourage Māori girls to get into the workforce in these areas. We’ve also got students of every background to maintain diversity.”

Students are given the opportunity to explain the links between the different curriculum areas themselves and are also able to work with people who have different strengths from theirs.

“They can work together in teams to ultimately create amazing results and learn from each other,” he says.

“They’ll just about be able to walk into any problem, any issue, in the workforce when they’ve left high school and work out how to answer things, work out how to find the knowledge and use it correctly.”

Inviting members of the community to share their expertise allows students to access knowledge in areas teachers may not have.

“They’re getting that real depth of knowledge and that real enthusiasm towards solving the problem.”

The transdisciplinary approach also allows teachers to work together and team-teach, constantly sharing and discussing content, regularly reflecting and always using positive, innovative teaching methods, says Kris.

“We’re approaching it with a very agile planning method and constant reflection. We’re meeting on a regular basis and we’re in contact over digital forums too,” he says.

“The three of us get on well enough that we can ask the hard questions and have those conversations and accept that and work as a team.”

Learning journey for all

Mathematics teacher and Year 9 Dean Dan Piper says creating and delivering the programme has been a learning journey for everyone involved.

“From all the professional reading I’ve done it’s only really in the last couple of years that schools in the country have been doing this approach, so it involves us meeting together to try and ensure that skills and content is being delivered and to see the overlap. We’re only one month into this journey so we’re learning all the time,” he says.

“I think that the world’s a rapidly changing place and the education system needs to change to reflect that, so by integrating all the curriculum areas and having the course embedded with the future-focused skills – where kids work together and collaborate – we feel we’re better preparing them for this world of change.”

It is these skills that will prepare students for life after school, Dan says. While they are learning content from various curriculum areas, the key is providing authentic learning contexts for this learning to occur.

“Often students can’t see the relevance to everyday life or the community world around them. It’s just an academic exercise when they walk in the classroom till when they walk out. This actually provides real, rich, deep, meaningful, relevant context for them to embed their learning in.” 

What students are saying…

Rowan Davies, Year 9

“The STEM programme is an inclusive programme that is taking very diverse brains and helping them to make something great. This style of learning is working well for me and most other students in the class.”

Maddie McLeod, Year 9

“The most important thing I’ve learned so far is the design thinking process because it has helped me understand what goes into making a product, and how to interact with a stakeholder.”

Maraea Waipouri-Callaghan, Year 9

“This programme has helped us become more independent and helps us make better choices.”

Jorja Morrissey, Year 9

“I think the most important thing we’ve learned is not to give up even when it goes pear-shaped and you don’t get the results you want, you just have to keep trying.”

Zoey Brasell, Year 9

“I have found that STEM has been great for me because its been more hands-on learning which is different to what I’m used to. STEM’s great because it shows us how science, technology and maths all come together in the real world.”

Pippi Lawson, Year 9

“The most important thing I’ve learned is working in a group. This is important because we can join our ideas and interact.”

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

Posted: 11:41 am, 20 March 2019

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