Our Small World Tokelau

Friday, 17 March 2017

To blog or not to blog - that is the question!

One of the biggest tools of the Manaiakalani model of 'Learn, Create, Share' was the sharing of students learnings through blogging, something the primary schools in our cluster have taught their students to use.  At Tamaki, blogging was being used by some staff with their classes but we still needed to use this better as it inconsistent and under-utilised in our school.

For our year 9 sustainability unit, I wanted to develop the use of blogging in our school to ease the transitions from primary to secondary and thought that if we enforced blogging as an expectation at in social studies at least it could be filtered across school into other curriculum areas.  I was happy to trial the setting up of the blogs and implementing it into our units. I decided to create class blogs whereby the teacher would post ideas that kids were learning or activities or questions that the class could relate to, in order to ensure that learning was visible to an audience like our parents and other students across the school.

Firstly we needed to ensure that our kids had blogs and although it was a little bit of a logistics barrier at first, eventually the majority of the students were up and running using their blog addresses from their primary schools.  One of the reasons why it was important to keep their primary school addresses was because we could see a shift in their writing and we progress in their thinking.  The tracking of their learning journey from years 0 (for many of them) to where they were now would help us know how much of an impact each of the stages of their lives had on them  - imagine looking at your blogs in 20 years time and remembering all the wonderful memories you made at school!

Secondly, I had to familiarise myself with blogger.  I have to admit, I had rarely used it for student work let alone as a means of communicating with the students.  The idea of my thoughts on teaching and thinkings as public to the world scared me a bit but I had to try!.  Thanks to Karen Ferguson's 'how to' site, I learnt that you could have lots of blogs and be administrators to all of them and not worry about being perfect in what I said.  I learnt that you needed to be factual.  I also looked at some of the primary schools class blogs.  I then created a site for each of the year 9 classes and shared them with their social studies teachers.

Thirdly, I had to see where my department were at with blogging and if they felt comfortable to give feedback.  I gave them some examples of class blogs and feedback, and assured them that with practice and collaboration between us as a department, we would be able to see how well (or not so well) class blogs worked.  I could sense a bit of apprehension on their part and explained that it would be a start of a relationship with the students that could be developed and as a department, we would support each other on the journey.

Here is the link to our class blogs and site.  

Our class blogs on the social studies site. 

Friday, 3 March 2017

“Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au - our visit to the River Talks

The theme for our year 9's was sustainability which we as a school, we had identified a number of different areas in the community that were issues.  One of the issues raised was how to protect and sustain our waterways.  The Omaru Creek runs through Glen Innes and is polluted.

Mad Ave productions invited our students this week to attend 'The River Talks'.  The production was run over two days which allows us to take some of the classes to the production over the two days, without disrupting subject teachers timetables which I was conscious of, even though it had been planned from last year. 

On our first day, we took 3 year 9 classes and although we were only able to see half of the production, they gained some insight into why and how the river became polluted.  They were told how 100 years ago, the river was a means of collecting food for families and kids like them, could swim safely in the river.

We were lucky enough to be joined by the other schools in the cluster.

On the second day, we took the remaining 3 year 9 classes and were able to see the entire production from beginning to end.  The students enjoyed seeing lots of different points of view about the river and one of the exhibits showed how water was collected and diluted but showed an excess amount of pollution and poison which surprised many of our kids.  A number of students wanted to know if they could choose the river as their topic for their sustainability projects!  All in all, the days were valuable in showing real life issues to relate to what they were learning about.

A few of our students holding up signs - future social activists maybe?


Always time for a selfie!


The kids were a little freaked out by this scene!


Our kids looking over the tunnel entrance where polluted water travels down from the businesses in St Johns to Glen Innes.

Looking for the theory behind an integrated curriculum

“It’s not about doing something differently, it about doing something really different…” (James Beane, 1998)


Integrated teaching didn't just happen over night.  Theorists have studied the effectiveness and the ins and outs of developing an integrated program - my problem was finding out which theorists were 'right' and which could support the why and how an integrated curriculum was needed particularly at a school like ours, where an established single silo curriculum already existed.


I wanted to research theories of integrated teaching and learning in New Zealand, to see what was happening out there and I came across two schools whose models of integration that appealed to me because of it's straightforward and logical approaches:
Both referred to the studies of James Beane whose research developed an interdisciplinary pedagogical approach and identified that curriculum integration occured when students experienced and understood connections. The concept of curriculum integration offered by James Beane (1998) involves four major aspects:

  • The integration of experiences uses both past and new experiences to help students understand and solve new problems.
  • Social integration is based on personal and social issues that can be identified in, and developed from, the students’ world. Social integration assists students to apply new ideas and understandings to their daily lives and to the lives of others.
  • The integration of knowledge involves being aware of the ‘big picture’ of learning. When knowledge and skills are connected, rather than fragmented, students begin to see situations as real to themselves and the world they live in.
  • Integration as a curriculum design occurs when students and teachers explore, gather, process, refine and present information about topics they wish to investigate without being constrained to a specific learning area

These four aspects all develop a sense of student centered teaching and learning, where students take ownership of their learning, rather than the teacher leading the learning.  


As an aside, the St Cuthbert's approach to integrated teaching and learning acknowledges the idea of 'problem based learning' as an approach that students could take towards learning, an approach adapted by Brown and Nolan (1989)


This approach acknowledges the complexity of real-life issues today’s students are grappling with, and has built-in flexibility that enables students to apply one or all these types of integration on their learning journey.


Teachers and schools fear that an integrated programme will mean disciplines disappear but Beane argues that the disciplines of knowledge are more likely to find legitimacy than they have now in the curriculum.  I have been interested in finding out more about how to emphasis this to our teachers and have evidence to show that an integrated curriculum could be an effective way to engage our students.


I wanted to find out if Beane's approach was a common one in other schools or whether there were other approaches schools used instead.


Sally Boyd and Rose Hipkins (2012)  NZCER study of 'Student inquiry and curriculum integration' found that schools were using a wide range of different approaches to inquiry and integrated-inquiry.  They found that most schools used a common generic student inquiry cycle, where learning was viewed as a process with different stages or steps that students are guided through.




It is important to understand that when students have been conducting an inquiry in their classrooms they are often using a single cell or one subject approach.  Inquiry approaches can be used to support learning within a single subject or learning area, or they can be combined with integrated approaches to the curriculum. Boyd and Rose (2012) identified 5 different approaches which have a mix of aspects that schools had chosen and/or adapted to suit their needs.


One approach which I felt suited our school was the thematic approach.  Because subject content is the starting point for planning, the thematic approach is described as subject-centred. Teachers identify the curriculum content focus and plan how connections will be made.  


On reflection, this approach seemed like the best place for us to start.  It allowed for subject teachers to relate to a theme that they could connect to and therefore base their planning around.  The downside was, it was very teacher focussed and centred.  There are other approaches which I am interested in finding out more about are provided on a diagram based around different approaches to integrated curriculums that schools have adopted outside of the traditional thematic approach.  These approaches are ones that I hope to investigate (and possibly trial) more about.  Please watch this space!


Beane, J. (1996). Curriculum integration. Designing the core of democratic education. New York and London: Teachers College Press, Columbia University. Brown, M.T. & Nolan, C.J.P. (1989).

Brown, M.T. & Nolan, C.J.P. (1989). Getting it Together: Explorations in CurriculumIntegration, Out of Class Activities and Computer Applications. Massey University, Palmerston North.