Teaching as inquiry 2019 – improving student achievement Level 1 Geography (Focusing and developing a hunch)

At the beginning of Term 1, 2019 I was looking for a focus for inquiry. Starting my first term teaching at a new school I initially thought I would like to focus my inquiry on finding ways to include and incorporate student and whanau voice into the geography program. However, I quickly Continue reading “Teaching as inquiry 2019 – improving student achievement Level 1 Geography (Focusing and developing a hunch)”

Reflections on Rotorua field trip, 2018

P1010412.JPGI took my level 3 Geography class to Rotorua for 4 days in Week 7 of Term 2. I made a few changes based on my learnings and reflections from the 2017 trip. Here a few things I adjusted:

  1. Based on the results from both the exams and internals tied to the trip I decided to establish a criteria for students attendance on the trip (80% attendance and 3/4 assessments submitted prior to the trip) – see more on this here 
  2. I changed the days from 3 days to 4 largely because I felt the time there was too rushed and it didn’t leave my time for students to reflect and plan their field work. In 2017 there was only one opportunity to collect field work data but the locations students choose wasn’t appropriate so there was no space to fix this. This year the extra day allowed for 2 research slots. After the first data collection I got students to reflect and then re-evaluate their research plan for the following day – including location. E.g. if they went to an area where there were no tourist they could then reflect and change their location for the next day.
  3. I included more fun activities e.g. the ogo and white water rafting – this is based on my reflections of 2017 and the professional development I attended at the end of 2017.  I wanted to take a more holistic approach to teaching and learning.
  4. I included more cultural based activities – as this was something maori students appreciated from the 2017 trip (seeing their culture valued). So we spent more time at Te Puia, Mitai and Kaitaki Adventures (run by iwi).

Some general reflections on the trip this year:

Putting criteria in place was a positive step to motivate students prior to the trip but also meant that some students missed out. However, we were left only bringing the engaged students on the trip which meant we had less behavioural issues etc on the trip.

The research over 2 days was definitely better and allowed students to critique their own research process. However, a couple of students skipped a significant number of classes prior to the trip which meant they really had no idea what their research plan was. Getting students to actually carry out the research in the mist of all the fun activities was a bit tedious I will need to look at solutions to this for next year – perhaps not allowing students to come if they haven’t planned in advance and making this really clear with students. I could also find ways to get students to evaluate their group members to avoid some students “carrying the weigh of others” on the trip. Having morning briefings with students prior to starting the day will also make sure the schedule is clear and everyone knows what is expected of them.

The first and second day were good in terms of students following instructions and showing up on time. However, by the end of the second day I started to feel a little like a nagging mother getting students up and ready in the morning. Perhaps an incentive for students displaying RISE values could help address some of this issues. Again regular briefings with students could also provide opportunities to reinforce expectations around behaviour and attitudes.

Overall, the trip was a success – especially in terms of getting students to do their research and critically reflect after each data collection. Students had a really great attitude (most of the time) and enjoyed the trip. However, there are still some organisational and structural issues I need to tighten up for 2019.


Changes to Level 2 – Contemporary Issue. Ihumatao, Otuataua, Stonefields.

In my second year of teaching Level 2 Geography at Tamaki College I wanted to make some changes to the course content. In particular to AS94245 – contemporary issue. Last year students had looked at whether or not a rail link should be built to Auckland’s International Airport. However, students (and myself) were not really engaged in this issue. As noted in my previous post about teaching Child Poverty in my level 1 class I feel it’s important to teach content that I find interesting and exciting to teach as enthusiasm can be contagious – this is especially important for issue related content. One of the reasons I think geography is such an important subject is for it’s potential to engage students in the world that we are living in.

Students are Tamaki College, living in Glen Innes are living the realities of a significant redevelopment project happening in their community. When I have discussed this in class with students this seems to be an issue they feel passionate about and are keen to discuss and debate in class. The Level 2 Social Studies class looks at this redevelopment and the perspectives around it and since their were some strong parallels between what is happening in Glen Innes (in particular with the Point England reserve) and Ihumatao.  I felt that this might provide students with an opportunity to draw links and think about issues a little deeper – especially for those who were taking both Social Studies and Geography.


Additionally, Ihumatao is a good example of the Treaty of Waitangi in a contemporary context. Highlighting to students the Treaty is not simply a historical document that has been left behind. Rather, that is has implications in todays society too.


Since Ihumatao is a local issue (located in Mangere, Auckland) this also provided an excellent field trip opportunity. I contacted organisers from SOUL (Save our Unique Landscape) to see if they were willing to take the class through and discuss their various perspectives with students. SOUL were happy to accomodate us and we organised a trip to visit the land. This was a fantastic way for students to see the land, hear stories and gain a deeper understanding of the cultural, archeological and historical significance of Ihumatao. Students then returned to school with a deeper understanding of the issue and heard a variety of perspectives on the issue (SOUL had 4 different speakers talk to the class!).

On reflection it is important to reflect on and change units of work in class and attempt to find issues that engage students and me as their teacher especially in a subject like geography that allows students to explore the world we are living in. Using locally based issues can be a powerful way to bring the issue to live for students especially when field trip opportunities are available. This can allow students to explore the issue and different perspectives first hand rather than reading off a website – this is especially valuable for students whose literacy levels are not good. Lastly, it is important as a teacher of social sciences to keep topics fresh and relevant!


Level 3 field trip to Rotorua – some reflections

In August, 2017 I took my Level 3 Geography class to Rotorua for a 3 day field trip. Over the 3 days we did a range of activities including, Te Puia, Skyline, Rotorua Museum, The Buried Village, Agrodome and Tamaki Maori Village.

What was particularly interesting to me about this trip is the way students responded to the cultural contexts. I noticed the moment we arrived in Rotorua students were greeting everyone they encountered with “Kia ora”. On the first night we were there we went to Tamaki Maori Village this involved a tour and short lessons on traditional Maori culture (pre-european contact), a concert and a hangi dinner. The whole experience was awesome but as I looked around at the visitors (5 tour buses in one sitting) I couldn’t help but think about the consumption of culture and wondered how Maori students (or visitors) would interpret this.


I decided to ask several Maori students in the class they assured me this was not the case. As one student explained:

I loved every minute of it miss, it made me feel like my culture was valued and people were actually interested in it. You don’t get that in Auckland cos Maori culture gets lumped in with other Pacific cultures but here I feel proud to be Maori!

These students also explained how much they loved visiting Te Puia and I realised how valuable this trip was for some students in terms of valuing and appreciating their own culture. This is something I need to consider in my planning for the next trip. Perhaps more time at Te Puia (they offer weaving workshops and hangi lunch for school groups).


Identity and culture

In my Year 9 Social Studies class as part of our unit on sustainability we are looking at culture and identity. As this lesson was being taught early into Term 1 – I am still getting to know the students in my class. The Year 9 unit plan included a particular lesson where students looked at their own identity by creating a “Code of Arms.”

As culture and identity is something I see as closely related I felt that a “Code of Arms” was a particularly euro-centric approach to learning about identity. This I felt was particularly problematic approach to take with a class of students who were mostly from Māori and Pasifika backgrounds. Especially considering within this particular unit of work we were attempting to demonstrate the value in sustaining cultures. I decided this was a useful opportunity to give students some choice in which task they would like to use to consider their own identities.

I initially thought giving 9tgn the option creating a pepeha to consider their identity was a good idea for a number of reasons. Firstly, producing a pepeha fitted nicely with the LO’s for this lesson of considering identity but was also a way I could use te reo Māori and tikanga in my classroom in a way that was relevant. I also felt this was an opportunity to include the cultural background of my Māori students in the classroom environment.

However, I knew that 9tgn were also doing their pepeha’s in their Te reo Māori class. For this reason I went to see their Te reo teacher to collaborate on this particular lesson. I didn’t want to teach students to do their pepeha in a different way nor did I want to interfere with what they were learning in another subject. Their Te reo teacher was supportive of me introducing a pepeha into the social studies lesson but also suggested that I could give the option of producing a pattern as a way to express identity.  She explained this was something that had been learning and using this in Social Studies could then further reinforce this learning. We also discussed how the pattern could be something that my Pasifika students could relate to aswell.

I decided to give 9tgn three different options to express their identity; a pepeha, a code of arms or a koru pattern.

Option 1: Pepeha template

Option 2: Code of Arms

Option 3: Koru Pattern

I found this lesson to be particularly positive for a number of reasons. Firstly, it seemed students in 9tgn really appreciated having choice. This was expressed through student voice at the end of the lesson. I realised this was particularly important to provide this for 9tgn whenever possible as I noted that students were significantly more engaged in the task when they were given an element of choice. Prior to this lesson I had noticed that work completion was a bit of an issue with this class in particular. However, the majority of the class were committed to finishing their pattern, pepeha or code of arms during the double period. Those that hadn’t finished seemed to be sending completed work to me after school and so were obviously committed to finishing off the work for homework. To me this is a positive indication that providing student choice and options that were culturally responsive to learners in my classroom was worth the effort as students were far more engaged in the learning process.

GAFE (google aps for education) Summit 2017

In April, 2017 I attended the 2 day GAFE summit at Aorere College. Over the 2 day duration I attended a range of workshops and talks focused on using google more effectively for teaching and learning. Some of the work shops I attended included:

  • Using google docs more effectively
  • Using google maps, my maps and google earth
  • Using google ups to support te reo in the classroom


The key highlights for me over the two days that I have since taken to the classroom have been:

  1. Jefferey Hail’s work shop on google documents. While prior to this work shop I felt I was relatively proficient in using google docs I still felt I could learn a few things. The main “hack” I took with me to the classroom was being able to change the settings of a google doc to make sure students make a copy of the document straight away (simply changing /edit on the document to /preview or /copy). This was particularly useful as I was using google sites in most of my classes and regularly posting work on the google calendar but forgetting to change the settings. I had been caught out a few times with students writing on the original document. This tip has saved me a lot of time and hassle!
  2. Jefferey Hail’s workshop on my maps, showed me how to use my maps in an engaging way – especially important in geography! I have since used this with my senior classes as a way to become familiar with location. I like this app in particular because students can mark points on the map, annotate and add videos. Here is the link to the presentation.
  3. I went to a workshop on applications that were focused on using Te reo in the classroom and got some basic tips such as adding te reo as a language to include macrons in your text as well as basic sentence structure and grammar a site for waiata (which I haven’t used yet but could be helpful if I’m ever required to come up with and teach a waiata).I also learnt about māori maps which maps Aotearoa’s marae and the macron restoration site you can transfer text and it adds the macron into the correct place (I wish I knew about this when writing my thesis!).