Celebrating the Curriculum: Oturu School
What do olive oil, tadpoles, soap making, and honey have in common? The answer is Fraser Smith's determination to use the New Zealand Curriculum's wide ability band for growth in a rich learning environment. Smith describes the curricula of Oturu School, where they are building confidence and knowledge in creating integrated and contextualised learning.
Smith is principal of Oturu School in Kaitāia, where he led the school community in developing their own curriculum. The story of how this was developed is told in Snap Shots, Curriculum stories on TKI. He is passionate about the environment and writes stories and songs and plays and sings in a band. He has published children’s literature including “Awatea’s Treasure”which is targeted at boys and Māori students.
This talk was a part of Growing from Strong Foundations in Auckland on 5, June, 2018
- New Zealand Curriculum
- Te Marautanga o Aotearoa
- Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (English translation, pdf, 0.39MB)
- Te Whāriki (pdf, 4.4MB)
Best Evidence Syntheses
- School Leadership and Student Outcomes Best Evidence Synthesis: Chapter Seven (pdf, 0.7mb)
- Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) Hei Kete Raukura Resources
Developing Mathematical Inquiry Communities
- School leadership for improvement in primary mathematics education: Russell School best evidence in action implementation exemplar
- Improvement in Mathematics Education: Evidence in Action Hangaia te Urupounamu Pāngarau Mō Tātou
- Developing Mathematical Inquiry Communities
Hei Oranga Tika: Wellbeing Matters
- Hei Oranga Tika: Wellbeing Matters Emerging evidence of the impact of the Christchurch earthquakes on young children
Reading Together Te Pānui Ngātahi
- Reading Together Te Pānui Ngātahi: Implementation for impact and enduring, reciprocal high trust relationships between families, whānau and schools
- Poutama Pounamu
- Evaluation of Te Kotahitanga Phase 5 (2010-2012)
- Disciplined innovation for equity and excellence in education: Learning from Māori and Pasifika change expertise
- 'Walking the talk' matters in the use of evidence for transformative education (pdf, 0.7mb)
Writers in Schools
As you watch the presentations, think about these questions:
- What is something that has challenged or confirmed your thinking about the curricula?
- What can I do as a result?
Fraser Smith: Mana, e ngā reo, rau rangatira. Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.
Ko Fraser Smith taku ingoa.
My mother was a preschool educator, she was a preschool advisor actually and my father after being a Principal became the Director of Māori and Island Education. That was back in the days of Norman Kirk and he was instrumental in bringing about Kohanga Reo in his day which is very interesting.
My Great Grandparents were Paramount Chiefs of Ngati Hau, Whakapara te Marae. With parents like that I really didn’t need to go to Teachers College because conversations at home had we pretty well versed in educational theory. And as we saw earlier this morning, it hasn’t really changed very much since the 1950s, so that’s cool.
Oturu is 98% Māori and as I say, decile 1A. Our kids bus in from Kaitaia and what we found when I first got there was that we needed to connect kids to meaningful experiences. And we did lots of field trips, but those field trips were getting expensive so we developed the grounds as an environment for learning. We started by planting a mandarin tree for every kid and we planted 60 because we had 60 kids. And that worked.
The field trips were a big part of our time when we were trying to get our kids actually right into this cooperative learning stuff. We planted more trees, we got beehives, chooks, olive trees, gardens, hothouses, worm farms, composting stations and then the kids requested a registered kitchen so that we could sell the products that we made. We grew medicinal plants and we started to use them to cure our ailments. I had kids taking propolis out of our beehives and I got a still and put it in the schoolhouse – for medicinal purposes only – and we used it to … 90% alcohol dissolves propolis which comes from beehives which kills bad infections like school sores and any pussy infections; its marvellous. It kills kutus… and then we thought we could make kutu kakite so we grew Catnip and that worked.
Then we thought what hits us on camp is mosquitos, so we made this stuff we call Tipi Haere and Namunamu, which is sort of like go away mosquito – and catnip worked for that. And we made… oh, stuff for scabies. We used olives and olive oil; so, we started picking olives and it grew. We formed partnerships and we ended up picking large amounts of olives, like a tonne a day. And then we ended up with all this oil and we had to find other ways to use it and we started inventing soap and all sorts of stuff. So that is sort of part of how everything grew from there.
When the NZC came along, in a way we were already doing it. In the first year of NZC, ERO came along and they said to me – how long have you been doing the New Zealand Curriculum? And I said, I think about five years because we sort of had, you know?
And then National Standards were introduced and I just carried on. I asked Hekia Parata, because she said we … she wrote it in the school budget report – take Oturu School – learning and earning and having fun. So, when I got a chance to get in her ear, I said to her – well, does that mean that we can carry on doing this stuff? And she said, you should do more. And I said – okay, so I am just going to use National Standards as a check twice a year? And she said – yeah, that will do. So, I thought, we have got permission now so I carried on.
At about that stage we had community problem solvers go over to the States and our community problem solvers got second in the world, so we sent them again. The second time we couldn’t get much money so we had to make heaps of olive oil and products to sell… we had to get 30K worth of products all made in our registered kitchen, so that was cool.
At the moment, as we are now, Oturu School has a high level of transients. So, the roll dropped from 52, but then we got a good name and it started to grow and in three years we had three times that number. And then it became really difficult to be these entrepreneurs and have kids out in gardens and in the kitchen and doing stuff because all the classrooms were full, the library was full, the kitchen had a classroom in it and we had run out of space.
Then along came the Ministry of Education and said your school is getting too big, you are going to have to have an enrolment zone so we did that. And then we will give you a new school, so I thought cool – we will have the new school but the roll dropped after the zone came in and the roll just went boof again and we lost 40 kids. And when we lost 40 kids, all of a sudden there was $100,000 out of the budget this year that I have to find somehow. I’ll have to get picking more olive oil I guess.
But our community problem solvers – we wanted to empower our kids so we wanted them to design their curriculum to be in charge of their learning and they got in with the architects on the re-build and they helped the architects with the re-design. It is five years down the track now and they have started building which is great. We are still getting prefabs, but the prefabs are with the kid’s ideas in them so we get to keep a registered kitchen, we get a wharenui and a dining hall and things like that. So, all of that is pretty cool.
This is on an aside here, but the first lot of kids had tadpoles – like 2000 – and they were hatching out and the kids started squeezing them to see the squiggly bits that came out and my measure of improvement was that they stopped squeezing the tadpoles and they actually got to metamorphosise and the kids watched them metamorphosise. The kids discovered things like if you feel tadpoles pollen, they metamorphasise twice as fast, so that is what we started doing. Taking pollen from the health shop and then we found it in the beehives – yeah.
In the future, because we haven’t really changed much, except the teachers have come and gone, and new teachers… all the new teachers – which is all of them – have to be retaught in Oturutanga. The idea of life without National Standards is quite foreign to them, so there is a wee challenge for me.
For the future, we need to hold onto Oturutanga and that is a challenge. We have got visions, mission, values… we have got our community, our teachers and our students and they have all spent two years working on aligning values and then building a graduate student profile and that is aligned with the student curriculum. And this is also aligned with the key competencies so that we don’t have to double up and then we have created an ideal teacher profile. We use a student graduate profile for students to write written reports on their own achievements and our ideal teacher profile is used with teacher enquiry as a basis for teacher’s appraisal.
So yeah, we are there except that the teachers keep changing. Where we are now, we have got four modules of eight new buildings arriving in a month and we will be fenced into a tiny space. We have a strong belief in student agency and contextualised learning.
The video shows a photograph of a child sailing.
I take the Year 8s sailing every year; that kid there turns out he is a natural tiller man. It is interesting what the sea turns up for us sometimes.
We use our gardens well, but we need to build on this. All our gardens and 100+ fruit trees and the medicinal native plants will have to be replaced next year. Our rebuild will have a registered kitchen and a dining/kitchen area and a wharenui – the kids insisted on this. We are going to have our library back and we can have a ‘make a space’ area – a bigger one. Whānau have given us land so we have shifted the fences, because it is Māori land around us… just go out that way a bit… and so I spent quite a bit of money on fencing last year.
We got a couple of extra hectares. I told the Ministry it was for boundaries.
The kids will be able to totally redesign our landscape and we will be working in multi-classroom blocks of three joined classrooms and they won’t leak. Again, the challenge is to hold onto what we have already got. Over the last nine or so years, the influence of the standards on teaching has been huge. None of our teachers really know about life without the standards and we have to build confidence and knowledge in how to build integrated and contextualised learning.
I imported a partner from Kristin, she was the Leader of Dance and Drama at Kristin. So, I got her into Oturu school one day a week and next minute, we got onto the Auckland University Dance Department and through Dr Barb and Professor Butkin and all these other people, we are now working on integrating dance and drama and the arts right through the learning … and I will get onto that in a minute.
Now we are working on ways to show progress instead of assessment; we are working on ways for our written reports to be student-driven and on ways to reduce assessments and give teachers the assurance that we can integrate and encourage deep and meaningful learning as everyday practice – Oturutanga.
So, we are big on the environment – that is that extra learning space. It is easy to produce and it is right there. It is hard to maintain and I have to teach teachers continually gardening skills and all the skills that they need to develop that curiosity and discovering outside. Soap, our latest discovery, was really cool because olive oil makes the meanest soap.
So, for conferences like this, what people do is they get onto our website and they request Oturu School Olive Oil, soap, honey and those products and we sell thousands. That is the way to do it – a little marketing ploy there in case you are having another one. For gifts for speakers and all that sort of stuff; yeah that works.
The video show an image of the School’s Strategic Plan.
That’s pretty much the strategic plan right there; I worked with the Springboard Trust and that is pretty much it.
The last one – the green one about the Kauhiaako – I have been working on the kaitiaki group for maybe three years now and it is a very slow-moving beast. We have got 21 schools in the Far North, so to get something cohesive with five iwi and 21 schools is not particularly easy but it is really happening, it is just slow. Interesting that what the iwi wants and what all the communities want totally lines up with what everyone is talking about here today. So, it is not about … they don’t want mathematicians or professors or doctors who are going to come down to Auckland and buy a house. They want people of value to come back and live in their communities and they want good citizens. That’s it in a nutshell.
I will read you a little bit from an article by Dr Barbara Snook.
In New Zealand, arts education has not been a focus in teacher education institutes for several decades. As a result, there are many teachers in schools who are not confident to teach in or through the arts. A great deal of support is therefore required to empower New Zealand teachers to teach the arts curriculum effectively as a stand alone learning area and also to teach across the curriculum and through the arts integration. Oturu School has one arts teacher who is teaching one 40-minute lesson per week in every classroom to provide the teachers with strategies and ideas that they themselves may implement. As researchers, we are supporting the arts teacher so that she might understand the difference between teaching an art form and using arts integration to teach in other subject areas when using arts integration. It is important that lessons are not driven from an arts perspective as a non-arts curriculum content can end up being superficial.
So far, we have run several professional development days with teachers and these have been extremely valuable in developing teacher understanding and enthusiasm.
What is happening is really interesting because someone once … in the learning pit you can draw a graph like that. We had been in the pit and we are coming out the other side and we are climbing up the wall now and we have got that willingness… I have got eight teachers at the moment with a willingness to learn about the arts. They have found that it is actually working in many ways. Students have become more accepting of each other and are working more co-operatively. Boys who were once reluctant in oral language are becoming engaged and showing exceptional ability in arts subjects. Students who were shy and withdrawn have developed confidence.
One previously shy student has gone on to become a leader in dance and movement-based lessons, and another now contributes ideas in class. “Were in the early stages of the research,” says Barb, “but the results so far support current research on the benefits of the arts and nurturing student learning.”
The video shows a photograph of students making soap.
That’s the old soap making right there. Batch number one. Batch number two they tutu’d with the scales and we put not enough Caustic Soda in it and it never set. This idea of science and everything is right there in it, everything has to be just perfect for soap… temperature, you name it. Anyway – the dance and the drama.
So, I walked into a class to do a day’s relieving and they had been working on the concept of a limerick through dance. Josie took the first lesson and she was working on a hip-hop dance, clapping time, phrasing, rhyme patterning and these were written for an audience and for participation danced and sang in pairs. So, when I got in, they had an idea but they couldn’t really get the discipline of a limerick; like you have got the first two lines rhyme, the second two lines rhyme and the last line rhymes with the first two.
But it didn’t take long, because I had my guitar and that sort of helped things along because you can get a bit of rhythm going. So, one boy came up with one – “there was a boy called Jake, who wanted to bake a cake. He put in some malt and plenty of salt and found it was a mistake.” But this is going on because it is like you generate it in class, so with me the kids shared and called out the verses as they wrote and others added rhymes and lines by calling out their ideas. And this was an engaged and happily, a very noisy class. But then we sang them all together and everyone is hitchhiking off each other and I made up some tunes on the guitar and then they started flying out – all over the place.
So, we got Bob the Slob – “I have an uncle named Bob, who was an incredible slob. He eats possum stew with all the guts and the goo, stuffing it all down his gob.”
And this one … my favourite one is – “There was a young man named Jack, who was always on the attack. He used a machete to chop up spaghetti, until it flew all over his back.”
They are supposed to be silly, that is one of the criteria. Kids are surprised and gratified to learn those off by heart very quickly and perform to others for a laugh, so we got kids teaching kids and there was a total engagement with both audience and performers. Here we had kids as teachers and the teacher was having fun.
Video shows a photograph of three kids lying on the ground in a circle.
That’s a fruit bowl.
So, what we have to do next is find joy in the New Zealand Curriculum right? So, I have to get to the point where teachers aren’t spending three weeks before written reports assessing kids. I moan about it but they can’t stop. Yeah.
So… here’s another example of stuff. The other day I walked into a lesson with skip counting in fives. It was a Year three class and there was a large clock face that was drawn in chalk, on the floor of the class and the furniture was cleared away. The numbers are drawn from 1 to 12 around the clockface and all the class members are sitting around the circle. One child jumps around the clock as the rest of the class clap – 5, 10, 15, 20… and they take turns doing this. Then they go outside and draw their own clock to jump around.
After three lessons, each one graduated to a time-like sequence and within two weeks the kids were telling analogue time and they could tell quarter to, quarter past and all the rest of it and counting in 5s… they learnt fractions, backwards, forwards, half turns, quarter turns, left, right etc.
Video shows a photograph of children performing.
That’s Maui, he has just been discovered in the waka. Voila! But he fished up New Zealand. The kids asked to freeze-frame text and show what is happening.
Video shows a photograph of children flying kites.
That is a wind study day, we were studying the wind and taking it to Tokerau Beach. The kids made kites or sailing boats… we just get on two buses and off we go.
Video shows a photograph of children dancing.
This is dance for the wind – this is a wind dance and they are interpreting aspects of the wind.
Video shows a photograph of a teacher and child drawing.
Here teachers and teacher aides are designing a concept for the planting with their gardens all mapped out. There are fractions and all sorts going on.
Video shows a photograph of children dancing.
This is an interpretation of precipitation, the rain. And there are the storm clouds building. Teaching moments.
Video shows a photograph of a wasp and wasp nest.
That wasp lived on the window sill of a classroom for ages and the kids just watched it and it was almost like tame… you can see that it has got a large drop of water coming out of its mouth. It was outside in the rain and it was putting its mouth inside and sucking up the water and spitting it out. And so, we got close to the cameras and took the photos and then we used that as a teaching moment. Very distracting; it can distract you from learning… you can’t see any maths in there can you?
With two more years of arts integration for provisional development of teachers, and we have just been shortlisted on the innovative teaching funding awards, so that might help. We might be able to really push things along. We will not stop the enviro-school green-gold kaupapa that we have earnt so far now and with our new classrooms we will have opportunities to develop all sorts of very learning experiences without being cramped into leaky prefabs.
That is pretty much us, except there is this problem that we are still getting. I am trying to make things exciting.
Video shows a photograph of four students.
Those are Year 9 kids right, but the College and Oturu ourselves are expecting a certain amount of complacency in quite a large number of Year 8s and Year 9s and I am trying to get to the bottom of what that is about and whether it is just gaming… they won’t take part in anything and they won’t take risks. That’s a little challenge we have got.
But at Oturu we are determined to use the New Zealand Curriculum’s wide ability band for growth in a rich learning environment. There will be no at or below or above – but there will be progress and high expectations and the kids have got high expectations of me, they stood over me while I wrote this book and added to it, edited it and told me when it got boring to the point that when I sent it to the Publishers… when Oturu kids consistently listened to it, the publishers just said ‘yep’ and it has just got a notable book award – one of eight in the children’s fiction finals along with Joy Cowley and Gavin Bishop.
So, Tihei Mauiora to lifelong learning I say.
More from this series
Do you want to explore and be inspired by our National Curricula, understand more about the values and principles that underpin them, and focus on possibilities for creative implementation? Curricula experts share their expertise in working with all the New Zealand curricula in Growing from Strong Foundations - Exploring the potential of the National Curricula for all children.
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