‘Te Waka STEM’ aims to increase participation and engagement from Maori girls within the school, strengthening their pathways for future success. Designed by teachers James Lamb, Kris Watson and Dan Piper, the initiative has been launched in Year 9 and sees students working in groups to solve real-world problems put forward by community stakeholders. Just a few months in, and Te Waka STEM is already making an impact.

“The students are highly engaged and are actively collaborating in teams (hoe) to problem solve,” says James. “Also, students with learning differences such as dyslexia are expressing their creativity and seem well-matched to the programme.”

Implementation of the pilot has been made possible thanks to The Education Hub’s Bright Spots Awards, which support teachers to trial and develop innovative new practices through funding and mentorship.

“Without this award the programme simply could not have been implemented at our school due to financial restraints.”

As well as that, the team have benefited from SPARK workshops, professional learning and guidance from The Education Hub CEO Dr Nina Hood, and the opportunity to connect and share ideas with other schools who are also implementing STEM programmes.

A decile 6 school, Tauhara College has a roll of 633 and is predominantly NZ Pakeha (59%), Maori (33%) and Pacific Island (3%). Poor attendance, engagement and achievement of Maori students – particularly girls – is a major challenge, with their attendance across all year levels 10 – 15% percent below that of their NZ European female classmates.

“We believe this is due to a lack of engagement with current courses and it culminates in academic underachievement, and little or no participation by Maori girls in our senior level STEM programmes.”

The team hopes that by better engaging its Year 9 Maori female students, they’ll continue on to senior STEM based courses, and eventually careers in the field.

Dan says, “Subjects such as science, technology and maths are gateways to STEM based careers that are so desperately needing to be filled on a national level if New Zealand is to be competitive in future international markets.

“Underpinning this approach is a commitment and moral imperative to not only see our Maori girls achieving success as Maori, but doing so in contexts and learning pathways that will see them being the innovative, wicked-problem solving leaders of the future.”

The new learning programme builds future focussed skills and content knowledge that prepares students for a changing world.

Kris says, “It is our role to allow students to develop as learners, and as citizens, to fully prepare them for all endeavours beyond high school.”

Significant progress has been made in a number of areas since the launch of the pilot scheme.

“Since the start of the year we have seen massive acceleration in the change of our practice. We’ve moved from a multi-structural approach towards a transdisciplinary one where all subject areas have morphed to become just STEM.

“Team teaching has also allowed us to observe different pedagogical approaches in the learning space so that we can embed them into our own practice. This has been most refreshing and has allowed us to continue to grow in our own learning journey as teachers.”

Innovative ideas that connect whanau with their child’s learning have also been introduced, including Te Waka Café, where whanau catch up with teachers once a fortnight at a local café to discuss student progress and course design.

James says the project has been a steep learning curve, and has taught them heaps, including the ability to work collaboratively as an effective team, and to move from a multidiscipline mindset to a transdisciplinary approach. They hope that this initiative will develop capacity within their school for other teams to plan and implement cross-curricular programmes, and perhaps even pave the way for other schools to start moving towards transdisciplinary learning.

First and foremost though they want to increase diversity in enrolment in Tauhara’s STEM courses and get more school leavers entering STEM based careers. And hopes are high.

“If the rest of the year and beyond continues as this year has started, the future of the Te Waka STEM Hub looks very exciting!”

Applications for the 2019 Bright Spots Awards open April 29 to June 14. The Bright Spots Awards support the development, evaluation and sharing of innovative practice in schools and ECE centres. For more information and to access the application form, go to www.theeducationhub.org.nz/brightspots

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