Tairua School, located in the Coromandel, is taking learning beyond the classroom and embracing the digital world - it's first move to replace desks with e-hubs.
Inspired by the Educational Leadership Summit in Singapore earlier this year, Principal Brendan Finn is focused on looking at ways to bring the school into the modern world.
He says education as a whole needs a ‘serious overhaul’ to meet the demands of today’s students.
“Most of the learning programmes and methods in New Zealand schools haven’t changed much in the past 20 years.
“We have to ask ourselves are we preparing our students for the world we grew up in or for the one they will be part of,” he says.
The education summit featured leading experts and innovators in the field, including internationally acclaimed Sugata Mitra and Tony Wagner, both of whom argue that future schools need to have a much stronger focus on innovation, creative thinking and self-directed learning, says Finn.
“Thanks to the internet, our students now have access to as much information as they could ever need on any given subject.
“We live in a world where the answer to a question is at the touch of a button. The new challenge is how to evaluate, assess, how to be discerning about what we read and, most importantly, what we can do with that information,” he says.
To test some of these new learning concepts, Tairua School launched a pilot programme at the beginning of Term 3.
The challenge was to develop a ‘classroom of the future’ where, alongside traditional literacy and numeracy programmes, Year 5-6 students would engage in ‘big question’ studies.
To support this, there has been significant investment in new technology and furniture in order to create learning and research hubs where students can work in pairs and groups.
“The classroom looks very different. We don’t have a teacher standing at the top and all the students looking in the one direction.
“Our students are moving around the classroom, conversing with each other, exchanging ideas and theories and the classroom teacher takes on more of a facilitation role than an instructional one,” says Finn.
“Big questions do not require a right or wrong answer because there isn’t one. It asks the student to delve into a pretty broad topic and research and study it from their own chosen perspective.
“The aim is to inspire a child’s imagination and set them on a genuine process of discovery.
“Students must then present their work in some capacity which requires them to reflect deeply on their own learning,” he says.
According to Finn, with teachers such as Chris Hogarth who are in full support of the initiative, the results from the pilot have been promising.
Elements of the pilot programme are also being introduced in other classrooms, with the goal of extending the full programme to the whole of the senior school next year, according to Finn.
“The level of engagement is pretty incredible. We are seeing students at all levels in that class really excelling. The attendance rate has improved and is the highest in the school.
“We are also seeing increased levels of confidence among the children. We will be conducting formal testing in Term 4 ahead of end of year reports and we are confident that the increased engagement will be reflected in the achievement data,” says Finn.
Continuing with the global learning theme Tairua recently welcomed international student teacher, Ina Dersen, who will be working in the new classroom of the future until the end of the year.
“Ina joins us from Munster University in Germany and, while we are delighted to be able to show her how New Zealand schools work, we are also excited about the perspectives she can give us based on her experiences in schools in other parts of the world,” Finn says.
Finn has also recently been selected as one of 10 principals from across New Zealand to represent the Ministry of Education on an international delegation to China later this month.
“Having the opportunity to compare and contrast what we are doing here with what is happening in some of the top performing schools in Shanghai and Beijing is very exciting.
“Being able to establish connections and even partnerships with schools in that part of the world will be fantastic for our students and will be another step towards our goal of developing globally minded citizens,” he says.