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Coalface Cluster Reflection : Tahuna School Exploring 21st Century pedagogy in practice.


As an active part of our cluster's professional learning community we have taken part in much professional development  identifying and exploring  the needs of 21st century learners i.e. examining our values and beliefs about teaching and learning, exploring web2 tools and classroom applications, developing questioning and higher order thinking skills , examining effective assessment and examining inquiry approaches.  

Each school's staff has identified needs to focus on, and our particular learning journey has led us to explore the teaching skills, strategies and processes involved in guided inquiry learning.

What was important for us? (Refer P. 34-35 NZC).

We wanted to explore our understanding of inquiry in practice, by creating a rich and authentic learning environment for our Year 5 & 6 students. Within this, we wanted to ensure we were able to sensibly integrate technology with rich learning experiences. Basically, we wanted to examine our developing understanding of 21st Century ‘best practice' by actively employing some of the strategies we had explored in PD opportunities, and reflecting on outcomes with colleagues. (Refer P. 34-35 NZC).

"Knowing" our students, we believed their needs would best be addressed by adopting an immersive approach to learning. Creating an environment that stimulated their curiosity, enabling them to make real connections and to deeply explore a concept. It was important to examine how we could develop a depth of understanding, rather than simply skimming over the top, as we felt we often did.

 Why was this important?
We believed our students needed to become physically and emotionally involved in their learning to create real connections and develop a deeper understanding.

 What did we do?
Little Boxes Inquiry: Developing Student's Understanding of the Concept of Community: How Communities work together to support each other.

The Plan - Always a good idea

Timeline - Highlights in the learning process ( Brief overview of the set up below)

We began the term with an empty classroom which we'd marked into ‘sections' with the intention of building a 'community' from scratch. To enable students they were all left 'inheritances' in long-lost family member's  wills - so students were able to budget to build dwellings on their section.  House plans and dwelling types were investigated and designed (Google Sketch up) and after tenders for building materials were accepted, cardboard materials were purchased so students could construct their house. The usual surveys and building consents were needed and community infrastructure needs were investigated and established after visiting the local council and interviewing local community members. Over the term, the community became established, residents began adding special touches to their residences and neighbours came to value each other's skills. The community even worked very well as a learning space. Students enjoyed completing work, as they usually would, in their 'sections' (instead of desks) and met in small groups, and as a class, in the community park. 

Then disaster struck . One Monday morning everyone arrived at school to find the community had been completely destroyed by an earthquake. The damage was devastating and Civil Defence was called in. Everyone was evacuated to a nearby farm and a temporary tent city established. No one had any food or gear so civil defence provided limited rations and equipment which groups had to manage themselves. Civil Defence personnel examined responses to disasters with students, and the next day the big clean up and learning reflections began...

An overview of the process

Student Reactions - Processing emotional reactions to disaster

 The Prezi - An overview of the process (From a presentation to other schools)



At the start we intended this inquiry to be over quickly, then rebuild the classroom.  Initially we totally underestimated the depth of potential learning in this concept and the value in the pre-planning. Huge social, moral and ethical issues had to be dealt with along the way and it was certainly emotionally engaging for all, at a variety of levels.  Even to the point of feeling lynched when students realised the earthquake was a hoax (in fact it was necessary to re-develop trust)!

Building issues with the class renovation just added another dimension - very authentic! The problems the students encountered appeared very real and allowing the children to understand, problem solve and explore the issues (eg. having applications declined because the details were insufficiently explained or maths incorrect, building on fault lines, having insufficient money to do what they wanted and having to budget, having to negotiate with neighbours and authorities, gathering and processing information about community needs etc) was essential to their developing understanding and helped them to develop the emotional link to the community - which was needed before they could experience the destruction of it. Starting with absolutely no furniture in the room and removing the all too familiar computers etc initially, has made students appreciate them so much more once they had access reinstated.


Teacher Learning Outcomes

This inquiry certainly had a wow factor. I found teaching this way to be stimulating and immensely satisfying and I thoroughly enjoyed the journey. I felt it was a move from being a teacher, as we know the role, to real a facilitator of learning.  At times I felt bewildered - it's too wide, where is this going? How do I bring it back on track?  Around Week 5-6 I was close to throwing it in. Working at this level is exhausting - you are constantly on your ‘toes' sourcing and creating just-in-time resources, and responding to learner needs and unexpectedly rich learning opportunities. It was testing time - PAT's, STAR etc and I really just wanted a room back!  However, this was a perfect time for reflection and it's important to recognise the need for effective mentoring and support from leadership, when attempting innovative programmes. I was fortunate to have that support and discussed concerns and successes with colleagues. This helped me re-assess, and once re-focused, I had the end in mind and I was determined not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Student Learning Outcomes

Student attendance within the class was extremely high throughout the project and parents reported that students simply didn't want to miss out on what was happening at school. The learning appeared authentic, purposeful and coherent. The involvement of parents and community strengthened the experiences for the learners and access to  ICT tools embedded through activities, enhanced learning. All discussions and assessments reinforced my belief that student's learning was deeper than it would have been using my conventional teaching strategies. In fact, students were easily able to transfer understandings to the recent Christchurch and Japan Earthquakes and continue to display a deep understanding of the practical difficulties and emotional needs facing these communities.

Next Steps

Applying the strategies and processes learnt to other concepts, reflecting on all steps and sharing successes and challenges with colleagues.

Who are we?
Rob & Sandie Haddock  

Where: Tahuna School, Waikato ,  ICT-PD Cohort: 2009 -2011  Coalface Learning Community

Coalface Learning Community

Coalface Learning Community

Learning @ The Coalface -We are a group of 70 teachers representing 8 schools in the Waikato region. We're here to share - and to gather insight and ideas from like minded colleagues.