Saturday, 3 February 2018

When the Context drives the Learning...looking at the 'Big Picture'.

Over the past few years, I have been working with Jacquie Bay from the Liggins Institute to develop and implement a context embedded curriculum for our year 9's.  A recent study published by Jacquie and the team, trialled a context embedded science based curriculum within a number of different schools, including our own.  "Adolescents as agents of healthful change through scientific literacy development: A school-university partnership program in New Zealand" found that when students learnt about what they were eating, they made changes in their attitudes towards food habits. This in
turn had the potential to 'improve long-term health outcomes for adolescents'(1).

'Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the leading cause of preventable ill health, related disability and premature death in the world today(2)'.   Part of the Liggins kaupapa is to support schools like ours, to educate our young people on this epidermic, through a context embedded curriculum.  To support this theory, one of our own ex-students is leading research which relates to the our kids and their community.  Alvina Pau'uvale, Dux and head girl of 2011, is completing a Masters degree looking at the 'Health-related Attitudes, Perceptions and Practices of Young people' at Tamaki College and compares them with students at Tonga High School.  Last year, Alvina conducted a survey with our year 9's and collated data from a number of focus groups to find out that:
  • Students generally had poor food consumption 
  • Those who have the poorest diet scores were those who though that what they ate doesn’t matter very much to them
  • Their preferences were influenced by cost, taste, their current mood, access, availability and advertising.
Alvina presents the data to our staff


I could relate to some of the findings when thinking about my senior students.  For most of 2017, our school was kindly donated bread from Countdown.  Every second day, I would gather a whole heap in my arms and trudge down to my classroom to an eager group of seniors who had neither eaten breakfast nor brought any food to eat for the day.  At the back of my room would be milo, coffee and hot water for them to have with their bread.  This routine came about after two weeks of kids telling me how hungry they were when they came to class.  We know that kids can't learn if they are hungry.  I could see that the seniors in my classes were accustomed to the habit of not bothering to bring food to eat because to them, being hungry and not being able to learn was something they could not link together.

The logical step from knowing what our kids think about food is to figure out how we can use the research and data, to shift their mindset and bring about change.  In 2015, Tereora College in the Cook Islands led an integrated unit across it's year 9 cohort that looked at developing a healthy attitude to food, diet and wellbeing.  The Ministries of Health and Education supported research developed by Liggins and utilised data gathered from students and their families at the school.  Within the school,  the Social Studies, P.E/Health and Science departments created a unit and robust resources, that used real examples from their communities and found that students were making conscious informed choices about food, that extended out into their homes.

Students at Tereora sharing the resources that were created for them, about them.

On a personal level, my interests in the project haven't just stemed from knowing that our kids weren't eating healthy.  I myself have been bought up in a world that has revolved around eating whatever we could afford, whether it was good for you or not.  Now I can see my own children battling with their own struggles with food, and it is really disheartening.
If we can get it right, the resources that we can develop for our kids will allow for the use of real data collected by real people that our kids can relate to, to address the real issues that they are facing now and in the future.   For our kids, if we make the context real and meaningful for them, they can potentially change the health and wellbeing of their generation and the next generation that will follow.


1.  J. Bay, M.H. Vickers, H.A Mora, D. M Sloboda, S. M. Morton (2017).  "Adolescents as agents of healthful change through scientific literacy development: A school-university partnership program in New Zealand"

2.  Jacquie Bay, Karen Tairea, Celeste Barrett-Watson, Delaney Yaqona, Heimata Herman, Mark Vickers, Upokoina Herrmann on behalf of the Cook Islands Pacific Science for Health Literacy Project team presentation (2017).  The Pacific Science for Health Literacy Project: Evidence of Sustained Positive Impacts for Rarotongan Adolescents at 12-Months Post-Intervention

The 'Writing Plan' for our Junior school.

In November, our juniors will be sitting their second round of the asttle writing tests for this year, a test that will gage where our stude...