So this was an unexpected, most incredible treat of a school visit and way beyond anything I could have imagined when I was going to one of the largest schools in the nation and the largest metropolitan area in New Zealand! As you can see from the pictures, a farm on campus! And it was located smack-dab in the middle of a great residential area that was highly developed all around! Someone with some fantastic foresight and dedication has helped to preserve this little island of Eden for high school (“college” is the term for most secondary schools in New Zealand) students that attend this school in Auckland. The agriculture and horticulture classes have the privilege of using these facilities and learning everything from milking cows to operating tractors to food production. Amazing learning environment. And to boot, the farmer and his wife live at the top of the hill to look after the 10 hectares of land, beef and dairy cows, sheep, chickens and pigs. According to the adorable students that took me on a tour (I will call them “Stan” and “Molly” for anonymity’s sake for my research requirements :), the only animal they could imagine missing were goats! It was so cool. Stan and Molly were the top seniors in their class and had taken the three levels of the courses and were really knowledgeable about the animals and the plants they were growing in their garden plots. I was super impressed that they had these facilities, as agriculture is the largest sector of exportable goods for NZ. However, if they are like most urban students that I have experienced, they have little knowledge of their food supply. Therefore, an area like this is vitally important for a connection with these rural practices.
And this was just the cherry on the top of the cake that was this school. Twenty-eight teachers in science alone and the head of the department is most amazing. I looked at the timetable (schedule) for the teachers, and I could not hardly make heads nor tails of it, much less imagine being able to organize it all! Not only did she do this, but was organizing field trips for her students and organizing the upcoming student/parent/teacher meetings. Yet, another commonality that I see as being stronger in NZ than even the amazing schools in which I have worked in the U.S. – parent involvement for meetings. Interestingly, the parents play a role not of the recipient of the information in these meetings, but more of observers of the goals being set between the student and the teacher. I am really impressed with how much responsibility is put on the students to set their goals and work out ways to attain those goals – ownership is strong with this method. Definitely setting the stage for responsible and self-functioning students/future citizens.
The other critical factor that helped the science department to function so effectively from my vantage point was the science lab technicians! These two technicians were phenomenal and the support they offer the teachers and students is such a godsend. I cannot imagine how much teachers in the U.S. could actually focus on teaching and planning activities for students to have authentic learning opportunities if they were not having to gather, organize, order, clean and find materials! All the science teachers have to do here is make a list for their labs and give it to the science technicians! It is like they are the fairy godmothers/godfathers (many are male and I don’t want to discount them 🙂 of science departments! They organize everything, order everything and make it appear and disappear to be cleaned for each class!!! Astounding! This enables the teachers to use their teaching skills to create effective learning lessons and assessment tools that require deeper thought than multiple choice assessments for the students! Brilliant! I wonder if I can start a movement for these in the U.S.? This may be the answer for science teaching reform! Wow.
The other school that I had the pleasure of visiting and observing/experiencing was a school of one of the Distinguished Award in Teaching Fulbrighters that came to the U.S. from New Zealand last year! David Taylor was so kind to offer his school for me to visit! He also organized some great learning opportunities for me while I was there! I was able to see several different level science classes and gained some incredible feedback from one of the most incredible science teachers! He was a high-energy, former physicist turned educator with a passionate attitude about his profession. When I compared our daily timetables in the U.S. with schools in N.Z. where most start near 9am and release at 3pm, he stated something so profound, yet so simple, “Sometimes more is not more.” Nailed it.
Some additional photos of the beautiful city of Auckland and the nearby island of Waiheke