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Bullet trains and paddle boards

December 2017. Students share their passion for future transport, and teachers discuss the cross-curricular learning that took place. Video and article.

Hamilton has increasing transport needs that could be met, perhaps, by bullet trains or even river-going paddle boards powered by bicycle.

These are among creative solutions to local transport challenges thought up by Year 7 students at Southwell School. The students investigated local transport, designed prototypes and entered their presentations in the Future Transport Competition.

Matty Cole, one of the Year 7 teachers involved, says staff used the context of transport to integrate learning across technology, writing and maths.

“The students were working on an outcome for a real issue. They liked being able to choose how to present it. Some liked to make a physical model, and some wanted to make a video, for example.”

Student talking.Design and technology teacher Kerry Williams supported the students in their project planning and practical design work – what he dubs “plan, do and review.”

“I’m really big on innovation and creativity – letting them explore their ideas. These kids are very interested in what the future holds for them,” he says.

Kerry says the classes followed an inquiry based model with freedom to explore.

“You can’t handbrake them too much in terms of creative thinking. There were some exciting ideas about the future. I became the facilitator, and we took a team teaching approach. We also role modelled good work, for example around the design process and how to go about solving a problem.”

Matty says his class could see how transport can be an emotive subject, and one which affects everyone.

“Once we talked about it, they could see that. I made it real for them. We used Google Maps to see how long it takes to get to school and how long it would take at other times. They could see that traffic makes a real difference to their commute times. When I did that activity, we started having those conversations when they ask questions.”

The students surveyed family members about transport problems and their social impact. They also drew on personal experience – a long bus ride to Tauranga sparked some students to develop ideas for regional rail services with all the latest technology.

While the competition was a spur for learning, transport was also a good fit with the school’s term theme of sustainability, says Matty.

“We looked at social, economic and environmental sustainability. The students tested their solutions against these criteria. They presented to class at the end of term and had questions and answers for each other.”

Learning by design

Teacher Kerry Williams says planning, doing and then reviewing their solutions is a cyclical process.

“That circle keeps going – the students can think about whether their idea solves the problem, and can we make it better. It’s like how an engineer works.”

More than the prototype models, videos and presentations, it is this thinking process that provides lasting outcomes, he says.

“As teachers, you look beyond the end result to what the students were learning. There was a lot of good thinking and good collaboration.”

What worked

Student thinking.Teachers helped the students learn how to define the problem before moving on to design solutions.

  • Students’ prior knowledge activated and extended through activities such as mapping travel routes to school.
  • Student teams had freedom to choose presentation methods that suited their ideas and interests.
  • Focus on thinking and collaboration skills.
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