December 2017. Intermediate students felt empowered by team investigations into local transport topics of their choice.
A zippy video features stop-motion titles made with Scrabble tiles, and girls smashing various materials with a hammer.
The bits with the hammer are all about testing a science hypothesis that aluminium would be a more durable material to use when making petrol tanks. The video shows how students can communicate in creative ways – while also demonstrating their grasp of curriculum knowledge and skills.
Made by Leah, Hermione and Mya, all Year 8 students at Christchurch South Intermediate School, the video was commended in the Future Transport Competition, run by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.
“Our original idea was to invent a new eco-friendly type of petrol. But after we considered our constraints we decided to limit the number of petrol tank explosions by inventing a safer petrol tank.”
The students researched the effects of petrol spills, such as from car crashes, and tested the effects of fire, force and absorption on aluminium to figure if it could be safer than current petrol tank materials.
Leah: “Doing the project made us realise that these problems do exist and that what we’re learning is not just classwork. We know now that we can go further, not just doing what the teacher has planned for us at school but going out and doing other things to make the project better.”
Hermione says the project involved thinking outside the box.
“We were determined to make this a really great project and one that we could remember, so we also worked outside of school to get the best result possible. Now we know we can do that, we can take it further along in our education.”
Another team – Ciaran, Sam and Jessie – were keen to design safety enhancements for urban cycleways.
Their innovative idea is for a sensor-activated kerb that runs along the length of the cycleway, keeping cyclists separated from traffic in adjacent lanes. When drivers need to turn into a driveway, they slow down, press a button in their car and a section of the kerb lowers into
It’s an idea born of the student’s own observations on the streets of the city. They report seeing cars and cycles getting close to each other.
“Cars are getting really close to the bike lanes which can be a hazard if they drift sideways,” says Ciaran.
“The cyclists are the least protected too,” says Sam.
“We did a 3D model which we presented to the class to show how it could work, and how it could be practical and realistic in everyday life,” says Jessie.
“I made a poster for our group,” says Sam.
“And I made a slideshow about the problems and what’s happening,” says Ciaran.
For the cycleways student team, framing their learning around an authentic challenge was a good feeling.
Jessie: “It feels rewarding that we could actually change the way our community works and try to lower the injury rates of cyclists and drivers.”
Sam: “It felt really good working on a real problem.”
Ciaran: “For me, it’s knowing that a difference can be made. People want
to be able to return to their families and their normal lives without
Teachers Libby Aitken and Chloe Riches planned the unit at Christchurch South Intermediate School which lead to these student learning experiences.
Libby says the school had an environmental sustainability focus for social sciences. The competition was a good fit, providing an open-ended forum for students to inquire into local issues.
“Here we call it deep learning or inquiry. We try to make the learning more meaningful and that involves working across the curriculum.”
Libby says student learning encompassed technology, English and science as well as social sciences. She says all students could relate to the context of transport, as it is about people interacting with each other day to day.
"We started by getting them thinking about what works well and doesn’t work well for them. So, it was based on their own experiences."
For young people growing up in post-Earthquake Christchurch, that includes familiarity with pot holes, detours and road building.
The teachers helped students find new ways to look at road use. They selected activities from curriculum resources written by educator Pam Hook, which are published by Waka Kotahi.
There were frequent check-ins for student teams with the teachers. Plus a transport engineer visited twice to share his work experience and to give feedback on projects in time for students to make revisions.
"We were really impressed with the outcomes," says Libby.
"They had to have a strong research element to it; it wasn't just making a game or video. Some students struggled with that dual nature of it, but in general the students were thinking about a real world problem and how to make a difference."
"For us, that’s what takes the learning deeper, that real world focus and working in groups, the collaborative aspect.”