05 Building capabilities to implement an integrated curriculum

ERO 's 2012 report Science in the New Zealand Curriculum: Years 5 to 8, found a neglect of important aspects of the science learning area. Teachers tended to subsume science into other learning areas, with the result that students had few opportunities to experience science as a pure discipline. Schools' curriculum often lacked attention to both the science curriculum knowledge strands and the overarching nature of the science strand. Typically, students' science programmes lacked depth and coherency and the necessary focus on interactive and experiential learning that leads to deep understanding and engagement.

Leaders at Alfriston School deliberately led curriculum changes to make sure their integrated curriculum gave attention to all the science strands and focused on both interactive and experimental learning. Leaders began planning a whole term topic that integrated science learning with the annual school production. Leaders used questions to guide teachers through the planning, implementation and reflection stages of the topic. They provided many opportunities for teachers to work together and learn from each other.

This narrative shares the leaders' and teachers' curriculum planning, implementation and reflection strategies along with their focus on building opportunities for teachers to collaborate and learn from each other.

Leaders began making the changes towards having a more integrated curriculum in 2011. Previously, although teachers were working hard, their planning and teaching was done in isolation and curriculum learning areas were taught as discrete subjects. The sharing of successful practice wasn't common across the school.

As part of their curriculum review and development, a new goal was established that sought to strengthen and enrich all areas of the curriculum, linking them by relevance. Leaders and teachers saw that children were highly motivated to learn about the arts and English learning areas from their involved in the school's annual production. The event not only brought children, parents and teachers together, but the children enjoyed working together across age groups and enjoyed higher levels of engagement. Teachers wanted children to transfer the success they were experiencing during the production, to other curriculum areas. Leaders saw that their performing arts production could be used to bridge the gap between subject areas.

We saw it as an opportunity to bring the whole school together for deep learning. We knew we would be able to clearly show the links of the integrated learning from the stage to the page.


Subsequently, over recent years leaders carefully developed teachers' capabilities to work together to implement an integrated curriculum, linked to the school's annual production (usually in the third term). Every year, their curriculum focus widened and became more complex. In some years, the production was specifically written to focus on a curriculum area that would most benefit their learners. The chart on the next page outlines the production and the growing foci.

In 2015, curriculum review identified the need for children to experience more opportunities to engage in science. The questions leaders and teachers asked during the review were as follows:

>   How well does our school's science teaching complement student achievement in numeracy and literacy?

>   What literacy and numeracy strategies can be applied to improve student learning in science?

>   To what extent is science education responsive to students' different abilities, genders and cultures?

>   Science Pedagogy - How well do science lessons at our school connect with the lives of students?

>   Science Pedagogy - What data do we have to identify what students' think of their science lessons?

>   Science Pedagogy - How is student thinking, discussion and investigation supported by classroom teaching?

>   The Strategic Place of Science - What events, learning experiences or celebrations do we have to value science and science learning?

Science then became the major focus and was explored through the school's major production, This is Your Life! featuring a fictional science professor, as well as being integrated through reading, writing, mathematics, drama, dance and e-learning. The leaders initiated the planning for the integrated topic by determining the links between the production and possible science investigations. They then thoroughly examined the science curriculum strands from The New Zealand Curriculum and divided all the ideas from the productions into the strands from the science curriculum.

Curriculum Planning

We [leaders] did the initial planning because we wanted to make sure the curriculum was enhanced and not compromised by the school's production. We also wanted to take the teachers through a stepped approach to developing an integrated curriculum. Finally we wanted to make sure the science unit benefitted everyone, both students and teachers.


Teachers met together in the holidays to begin the planning for the integrated units that linked to the production. Before they met, leaders prepared key resources such as video clips and other internet links, a synopsis of the script, school wide learning themes and developed some possible learning outcomes. Leaders also modelled activities teachers could use with children. The purpose of the planning day was to share thoughts and opinions to create the very best learning experiences for the children.

Fun teacher activities undertaken to start planning the Lion King topic:

Teachers were given links to five different internet quizzes about the Lion King with these instructions - In your team design a kahoot to use with your students. At the same time, two leaders designed a kahoot for the teachers to try.

Find a quote from the Lion King that means something to you and share it with a buddy.

Lion King Characters - who's who in the zoo?

During the initial planning for each of term three's topics, teachers carefully considered a series of questions designed to elicit a shared understanding of what they wanted the children to learn and how they would go about facilitating that. The questions differed depending on the key curriculum area of focus. Below are the questions considered for the planning of the 2015 science/arts integrated topic.

>    What are the main scientific outcomes you want for your students?

>    Do you need to add to your own scientific knowledge? What is that knowledge?

>    What experiments will your students undertake and how will they be recorded?

>    What artwork will be integrated/displayed?

>    How will the physical appearance of your classroom promote science learning?

>    What format will the open afternoons for parents take for your class?

>    What format will the open afternoons take for your whanau?

>    Have you addressed all the outcomes (oral language, written language, visual arts, digital, etc.) specified in the planning templates?

>    How will you promote assessment capability and visible learning principles throughout this learning?

>    How will you manage the differing capabilities and levels of science knowledge in your class?

>    How will you cater for students who already have a developed base of science knowledge?

The questions above were subsequently used when planning any integrated topics.

Teachers and children working together

Alfriston School had always tried to maintain a sense of family where children could enjoy working together. Leaders decided to extend the concept of family/whānau by formalising opportunities for both children and teachers from across the school to work together.

In 2015, leaders introduced whānau grouping to necessitate both further collaborative planning and teaching and the sharing of practice. Classes from different year levels were purposefully grouped together to help children and teachers with different interests and levels of experience, work together. The whānau groups in 2015 also aimed to:

>    allow for tuakana teina learning, in which older children helped the younger ones

>    allow children to experience deep learning across the science strands

>    help teachers learn about students from other year levels and build relationships with them

>    build a collective responsibility for student achievement.

Although much of the work was undertaken in children's usual classrooms on 'Whānau Fridays', classes were split into cross level whānau groups, each focusing on one of the four science strands:

>    physical world

>    material world

>    living world

>    planet Earth and beyond.

Leaders also built in opportunities for teachers to learn from each other by having teachers observe others' science teaching practice while their class was at the Performing Arts Centre working on parts of the production. Not only did they see how other teachers implemented science investigations they also saw what children in other year levels were capable of.

Implementing an integrated curriculum

Teachers in each whanau group used a planning template and a set of questions to consider as part of their planning. They were asked to think carefully about and record:

>    the current skills and knowledge of the children and how they could build on these

>     genuine and engaging learning experiences for the children

>     how they could best use e-learning and devices

>     what 'success' would look like

>     content and quality

>     outcomes for students

>     differentiated activities within the class and the whanau group

>    how this topic could support the school's charter targets through literacy links and focusing on boys' achievement.

The following tables show how learning in two science strands was integrated with learning across the wider curriculum. The first gives an overview of some of the integration of learning linked to the physical world and the second shares some of the learning linked to living world objectives. All classes also used reading resources related to the topic in their instructional reading programmes.

Teachers learnt it was important to give children sufficient related opportunities over time to revisit and consolidate learning through practice and review and to apply new skills in purposeful ways. They worked collaboratively to plan and implement a curriculum that would engage children in experiences across the learning areas and use their own and the teachers' strengths. They were skilful in developing termly topic studies that combined many learning areas while undertaking an annual major production.

Weekly reflections from the whanau activities were introduced to contribute to the improvements. These written reflections:

>   provided evidence of the effectiveness of the approach to determine it should continue

>   further encouraged teachers to work together across the year levels

>   helped determine what specifically had worked well and what should be changed

>   identified some individual aspects of children's engagement and leadership when working across different age levels.

Reflecting on Teaching Practices

All teachers in a syndicate completed weekly reflections. Their school's reflection template involved considering the four questions shown here.

How did you use Whanau Friday timetabling this week?

(E.g. - as a whole whānau, rotations, individual classes)

What hands on learning happened for your kids?

How engaged were your learners? How do you know?

Breakthrough moments for your students and yourselves?

What would you change if you could do the lesson again?

How would you refine the learning experiences for better student outcomes?

When completing the reflections, teachers included detail about the actual activities, resources and internet links used and how successful they were.

They also commented on individual and group behaviour, describing what excited them and what didn't work as well. These reflections were so detailed they would be useful for other teachers in the school when planning a similar topic or approach in the future.

Whānau Fridays were an established and successful strategy, particularly for integrated learning. Older students said working with the younger children improved their own learning, while teachers found their role morphing from teacher of content to teacher of learning. A parent open day near the end of the term also gave children the opportunity to share what they had learnt during the term.

Other integrated topics not linked to the school's production

Teachers then planned other integrated topics using the processes established in 2015. However some terms the children work within and across the teaching teams rather than across the whole school. Teachers aimed to make sure integrated topics included authentic learning with a tangible outcome at the end of the term.

An example of a recent integrated topic not linked to the schools' annual production occurred in the second half of Term One. During each Whānau Friday the school was divided into three teams of five classes from across the year levels. The topic Education Outside the Classroom was designed to give children practical activities to learn together while also focusing on getting to know and working successfully with others.

The Whānau Friday Activities are shared below.


Learning focus


Insect Investigation - finding insects, close observation, researching, sharing information


Marble Run - planning, including others ideas, constructing, meeting the agreed success criteria


Team building activities - five rotations with 10 minutes at each physical activity where teamwork was key in each rotation


Children spent 15 minutes in activities such as sketching, buddy reading, story writing board games and toasting marshmallows, working with children of different ages


Orienteering, looking for different markers to complete a secret


The senior students went on camp while the younger students shared things they had learnt with their parents/whānau

Constructing the marble run

ERO spoke with some Years 5 and 6 children who shared some of the things they enjoyed when working in their class or during Whanau Fridays:

Lots of the little ones had really good ideas about how to hold the structure together in our marble race.

The younger children seem to have more open minds when they share their ideas.

When we were doing the orienteering code we helped each other find the codes. Some of us got really excited.

When we did the buddy reading I didn't have to do much. I saw one of the juniors got stuck on a word and the other juniors asked her questions and collaborated to help her.

In our class we started off doing a budget for our food for camp as part of our maths. But then we really went for it and started planning other trips. We had $20,000 to plan a trip to London. That included flights, accommodation, trips, rentals and food. Some of us then decided to plan a trip to London for the same length of time with unlimited funds. One boy managed to spend $2 million. In some of the budgets we had to convert the currency from euros to dollars.

Years 5 and 6 children

Teachers also saw the benefits of working more collaboratively. They valued the opportunities they had to:

>   get to know other teachers' successful strategies and activities

>   use their own strengths in cooperative teaching activities

>   plan activities together during staff meetings

>   reflect on outcomes together to improve their own teaching.

They also reported they subsequently worked more closely with teachers from different year groups more frequently. They had started working together during the integrated topics and Whānau Fridays, but now collaborated to share ideas, successes and concerns related to many more aspects of their teaching.

Planning a budget for a trip to London.