Science at Wā Ora – Primary Learning Supports NCEA Success

By Stuart Mason – Chemistry Teacher, High School

I have already mentioned in this space how easy it is to become trapped in one’s own high school silo and not realise the great things going on not far away. Through recent conversations with my colleagues in the primary school, I have been prompted to think more about the experiences of our students in the sciences in the primary school and high school at Wā Ora.

Working as we do under Maria Montessori’s guidance, one might expect that learning in science had been very deeply considered and that is indeed the case. In other primary schools the quality of the science learning experience for young people can be determined by whether there is a teacher present in the school, who feels confident about teaching science. There is nothing haphazard about the strategy for a Montessori student’s science learning from 6-12 years. They are offered the entire universe as their domain of exploration, then provided with materials that deal with everything from atomic structure, properties of materials and hands-on chemical experiments to key developmental concepts in biology, geology, astronomy and more.

But then, about that bomb-proof age of 12, bodies and minds start to change radically. Suddenly things aren’t so certain. The learning domain is no longer the universe, but the world of social discovery. A key Montessori concept now is the ‘hands in the soil’ experience of the history of human cooperation. Other schools have tended to call this social learning the ‘hidden curriculum’ and in the worst examples, it is side-lined or suppressed. But actually it is the day job of the adolescent. So, what science learning is appropriate? In the Kawakawa class, ‘occupations’ is the name of an activity in which students work on projects with a community orientation and learn the scientific knowledge they need to complete the project ‘knowledgeably’. This is just-in-time learning, not just-in-case learning. Richard has worked with the occupations teachers in the past year to add some science experiences that cover aspects of the curriculum that don’t arise quite so automatically in occupations. In Kawakawa the net effect is students with real, practical experience of science-related community activities.

At 15 years, the focus shifts again in preparation for ‘social life’, the adult world. This will include formal academic learning and assessments that might open doors into that world. And so the much-anticipated NCEA appears over the horizon. Are our students well-prepared by their past science experiences? Consensus amongst the Tāwari science teachers has been ‘yes’. All the absorbed experiences of the young mind, that well thought-out plan from the Second Plane, the practical experiences of Kawakawa upon which formal learning can be based and what I am convinced is the encouragement of natural curiosity that happens right from the start in families that choose Montessori education for their children, all work together. The result is, our NCEA students are succeeding in the sciences and our graduates are too.