A small revolution in Kawakawa occupations work began this term. Growing plants under cover, composting, setting up a radio station, keeping chickens and preparing a fleet of bicycles are projects being undertaken by our 12-15 year olds that aim to serve needs in the community. All italicised quotes below are Maria Montessori’s, from Appendix A of ‘From Childhood to Adolescence’.
‘Men with hands and no head, and men with head and no hands are equally out of place in the modern community … Education should therefore include the two forms of work, manual and intellectual, for the same person, and thus make it understood by practical experience that these two kinds complement each other and are equally essential to a civilized existence.’
The occupations units aren’t just a means of occupying students with directed manual tasks. They are about applying knowledge from the curriculum and elsewhere, in the service of the community. The teachers have the challenge of making the New Zealand Curriculum a living thing expressed in the form of this project work. It becomes ‘just in time’ learning rather than ‘just in case’ learning.
‘Adaptability – this is the most essential quality; for the progress of the world is continually opening new careers, and at the same time revolutionizing the traditional types of employment.’
Beforehand, the occupations teachers engaged in quite a bit of planning, thinking through how the new occupations units would work. But many of the genuine problems of each project remain and students will work alongside teachers to discuss, refine, and implement solutions. Charles Leadbeater writes ‘Our highest educational achievers may well be aligned with their teachers in knowing what to do if and when they have the script. But … this sort of certain and tidy knowing is out of alignment with a script-less and fluid social world. Our best learners will be those who can make ‘not knowing’ useful, who do not need the blueprint, the template, the map, to make a new kind of sense.’
‘We might call [Third Plane education] a ‘school of experience in the elements of social life’ … The difficulty of studying with concentration is not due to a lack of willingness, but is really a psychological characteristic of the age.’
As established by Maria Montessori at least 70 years ago, and rediscovered and researched since by others, the prime focus of the early years of adolescence is not of the academic and intellectual strain, but is about identity and place within the community. Our new occupations units agree. Even so, ākonga can often be seen in deep consideration of some pretty heavy-duty science concepts when allowed to choose and explore from the options presented. With this new work we are now engaged in building up the community, and the school, literally alongside the tradespeople who are finishing the walls of the buildings around us.