Authentic Learning at Hukerenui School

It is important to rethink educational strategies to support our NZ learners to develop futuristically, taking in account effective student engagement, providing opportunities for learning to have a purpose, to develop creative and critical thinkers, and align current fast changing digital technology to support this development within an authentic and culturally sensitive educational curriculum.

Authentic learning is real life learning. It is a style of learning that encourages students to create a tangible, useful product to be shared with their world. Once an educator provides a motivational challenge, they nurture and provide the necessary criteria, planning, timelines, resources and support to accommodate student success. The teacher becomes a guide on the side or an event manager, a facilitator not a dictator. Processes become the predominant force and the content collected supports holistic learning.

At Hukerenui School, we developed a whole school authentic learning approach; we use our school land more effectively for our education, use problem solving programmes, learn through play in the junior years and honour neuroscience and programmes that are creative and futuristic. The success of our implementation allowed me to research those elements that are required to support schools in NZ to implement authentic learning in any school.

Our students faced huge challenges in researching the resources needed to plant 6 ha of maize, measure and build a paddock to house animals, find suitable areas to plant lavender, sourcing lavender, sourcing and planting fruit trees, re-claim and extend the native bush, learning how to use plants in the native bush for natural medicines and learning to revive their bee hive to farm honey.

Finding companies, writing and phoning them taught more real-life business skills than we ever would have dreamed of. It was challenging but they managed to find wonderful sponsors and experts who pledged their support and as a result they learned to farm maize (6ha of it), lavender, reclaimed their native bush and made natural remedies, developed the bee hives and used the wax and honey to produce balms, planted an orchard, build a paddock and have loaned alpacas to farm.

They succeeded and managed to get all the resources sponsored. From there they researched and created lesson plans and made teaching resources of each initiative for each teacher. They taught each class and then lead more lessons in making products with the raw materials from the land.

The profit they made from selling their maize provided enough profit to buy a still which they used to teach the classes to distill essential oils from the Lavender and Manuka plants on the grounds. From this they made healing balms which is used at school for cuts and grazes.

Under their supervision classes felted with alpaca fibre, made dried fruit from the orchard, made Manuka balm from the native bush, made lip balm from bees wax and lavender balm and hydrosol spray from their lavender plants. We bought a still from their maize profit, extract their own essential oils and are learning to make all sorts of products and to be self-sufficient. This developed into more enterprise as they organised a Christmas Craft Market day where students sold only goods made from the raw materials on the school land.

The team created lesson plans, teaching resources and games for each class for each of their initiatives. As a result, the school managed to develop 71% of the unused land space effectively for education

Developing the school’s agricultural identity through this broad learning in science, technology, maths and literacy has brought invaluable learning to the whole school. The A-maizing maize company was established and with the help of Pioneer Seeds is now an integrated part of the Year 7+8’s learning. Not only do they organise and care for the 5ha of maize close to the school, they also measure the growth of 8 hybrids planted as a science trial by Pioneer Seeds on the school grounds. They measure soil temperatures and rainfall and before harvesting work with Pioneer Seeds’ trial manager to weigh, mulch and dry each hybrid to establish the potential feed quality of each. They established that they are contributing to the dairy industry by producing quality feed for the cows.

As explained above, this initiative provides incredible hands on learning opportunities to develop skills for life.

Another problem solving team supported the school to increase the personal capability of all in order to expand and sustain these learning initiatives.

They made sure that experts were developed in each area by re-arranging the responsibility and learning areas of each project to specific year levels. They made incredible knowledge gains working together with the different classes and teachers and made plans for the sustainability of knowledge keepers in the school.