May 2023. Shoot marbles, gather data, use evidence: a DP talks about how science and other learning areas are embedded in a new cross-curricular resource for Years 1-8.
Students take turns with a hand-made device – 2 cardboard tubes, 2 rubber bands, a pencil. It’s a marble launcher and they’re taking aim at a paper cup. You can see the concentration in their eyes.
Someone releases the rubber bands. Boom, the marble flies out, knocking the cup backwards. A teammate records the exact distance moved. There’s laughter, fun.
Watching with interest is Rāroa Normal Intermediate School Deputy Principal Matt Boucher, who is taking the group of Year 8 students through a trial of a new curriculum resource he has written, called Safe speeds around schools. This has been published by Waka Kotahi; you can download it from the link at the bottom of this page.
The unit has 3 lessons related to the changes being made to speed limits around New Zealand’s schools. The curriculum unit is designed to build on these changes by giving young people a rich local context for persuasive writing, presentations and hands-on science.
Lesson 1 includes learning about Road to Zero, New Zealand’s road safety plan. Students brainstorm hazards and road safety measures and produce a piece of persuasive writing.
The second lesson is hands-on science. The marble launcher experiment introduces the idea that something moving at greater speed exerts more force in a collision. Then students move outside and get running, to test how speed affects stopping time.
In Lesson 3, students map the hazards on their routes to school and create a presentation.
Matt says the resource can be used as a whole unit of work, or activities selected for one-off lessons.
‘Kids get told all kinds of messages. We tell them what the rules are, but they don’t always get an explanation of why those rules are in place, other than just saying it’s for your safety,’ says Matt.
‘Buy-in for kids comes from understanding, and one of my teaching philosophies is exploration before explanation. Students need to have a play with a concept – and then it makes sense for them at a different level because they’ve seen it for themselves in action.’
During the trial session, his students discuss how the greater the speed of the marble, the greater force it exerts on the cup. He asks the group to extrapolate this information to road crashes.
‘It's a very clear picture for them that if a vehicle is moving slower, the likelihood of injury or damage is a lot less. The learning is deeper for them having paired these ideas after seeing it themselves through proper experiment.’
Plus, the hands-on learning is enjoyable.
‘It’s really fun and super engaging,’ says student Imogen.
Classmate Juliet agrees.
‘I found it really interesting, learning about how much force is changed by the speed. It’s a lot more engaging, I find, being able to do learning in a fun way compared to sitting down just reading about examples.’
Their comments back up what Matt himself observed.
‘We're doing experiments based on measurement and recording of your measurements, which can be quite dry. But there was there was a lot of laughter throughout. They’re out running around and being quite active, and in another case they’re firing marbles, and having a bit of a laugh. The hands-on aspect meant the kids were really engaged.’
Matt says the sweet spot in primary science teaching is hands-on learning in which the deliberate use of scientific skills is strong.
‘It might not literally be explosions, whizz-bang stuff, but the kids are involved and having fun. We’re looking at science capabilities. Students gather and interpret data; they’re taking their own measurements through these experiments. And then making sense of it, using evidence – the patterns they recognise – using that to form conclusions.’
He says this experience of the scientific process is valuable, and accessible. Teachers don’t need to see themselves as an expert in a large body of knowledge before they can jump in and give science a go with their students.
‘We talk in education about ako and that idea of reciprocal learning. Actually, one of the best ways to learn more science and science education is by jumping in and just doing it along with your kids. It's okay for the teacher to be surprised by the results as well, and to draw their own conclusions and to learn.’
Matt says lessons covering local routes to school, hazard identification, and persuasive writing tie into the social sciences – thinking here of achievement objectives about how people participate in response to community challenges.
He says teachers can get students involved in such an authentic context by asking good questions. Get them talking about the tricky parts of their school journey, safety features they recognise and the safety messages that feel relevant to their own lives.
‘One of the best sources of information about what's needed is from the kids themselves who are out there walking, biking, scootering, taking the train or bus to and from school every day,’ says Matt.
‘As a deputy principal, often when I hear something to do with road safety that needs to be addressed, I found it out from the students themselves. They tell me rather than the other way around.
‘I might then either go look at the issue myself or take it up with the council or bring it back to the rest of the school staff and board. But the students are the people on the ground, they’re the eyes and the ears on our local streets.’
Matt encourages teachers to try out the resource for themselves and see how it helps your students grow their knowledge and capabilities.
The Safe speeds around schools resource aligns to achievement objectives in Science, Social Sciences, and Health and PE. It includes adaptations for Years 1-3, 4-6 and 7-8.
Free to download: