Curiosity may not be good for the cat but it is fundamental for us as human  beings

By Rose Langridge–Humanities subjects Teacher; Careers Advisor–High School

Humans by their very nature are inherently curious. Curiosity has a functional evolutionary purpose since people had to be inquisitive about the world around them in order to survive.

There are two types of curiosity. The first is perceptual curiosity, which we exhibit when something confuses or puzzles us. This is exactly the curiosity that directs a three-year-old to spend a large proportion of their time asking a one-word question that always needs a long answer: “Why?” The second type is epistemic curiosity, which feeds our desire to know new things. Our brains and minds value this knowledge and due to this we derive pleasure from learning.

In our digital age the sheer amount of information available is immense and being able to answer any question is really literally at your fingertips. Google is not just a company but a verb. There are of course pitfalls to this open access– the internet is not peer reviewed and fake news is certainly an area raising concern around the world.

Curiosity is piqued and fed by this tool, but how do we learn how to navigate it? How do we know if the answers we find are true? Being able to discern if available information should be believed and used to sate our curiosity is one of the big things that we cover in humanities.

A key component of understanding both current and historical events is being able to understand the different perspectives taken by people for a variety of reasons and being able to see how their perspectives then shape their behaviour.

We learn how people make their decisions by looking at evidence. In order to make sure that this evidence is worth using, we consider the validity. Where is it from? What was the intent of producing this information? Who produced it? Is there bias? Being able to answer these questions means that we can analyse the process that people went through and still go through when making decisions about what to believe.

Learning how to decipher when an event has become contested helps us to understand people’s motives for their beliefs. We can then use our learning to face the hard questions. Once we can look into the past and analyse how opinions were made and changed, we can use this knowledge to tackle the ethical issues that we face today.

As Deborah Lipstad so decisively put it, “Not all opinions are created equal.”

At a time when news and events bombards us, often in bite-sized pieces through lenses that have ulterior motives or actions, we must be aware of how powerful this is. We have to be able to make informed decisions knowing we are reading the information accurately that we have access to.

The adolescent voice  

By Richard Goodyear–Kawakawa head teacher

Last term one of the classes in Kawakawa produced a podcast episode called Fluorescent Adolescent about ‘tribes’ in adolescent society. It’s a great piece of work and if you’d like to hear it, please contact me or look out for it on the airwaves soon. In it, students speak freely about their identity and their lifestyle. It made me think about the idea of ‘student voice’. I think we often underestimate how much they know about themselves and really how different their world is to that of an adult. This has implications for us as teachers and parents.

As a child develops, they go through phases with particular characteristics. For the adolescent phase, communication is an area that can be tricky. Sometimes we have trouble hearing their voice. How often do you hear an adolescent openly and honestly sharing their hopes, dreams and concerns? For many adults, it can feel like the adolescent is living in a foreign land. That’s not a bad thing; in fact, it is part of the inevitable chrysalis stage they are in. They will develop into the magnificent butterfly one day. But someone in a foreign land speaks a different language. And the guidebook seems to be published by some mysterious outfit called Patience and Opportunity Enterprises!

So we need to be patient and create opportunities for chatting. The best way to do this in my view starts by recognizing that they are living a life of their own and that just like anyone we love, they need certain things from us.

Like so much of what we do for our young folk, we need to provide structure and freedom, both aspects in measures that probably go beyond what we currently understand as adults. It means setting very clear, predictable and solid parameters and then stepping back. It means being their coach, their guide, their mentor. It means being there beside them and at times being far away. –-–-–

Listening to teens is at the heart of what we do here in Kawakawa. It is the foundation of restorative practice but it shows up all over the place. We hold community meetings. We have changed our parent interviews to be more partnership-focused and we try to put the taiohi (adolescent) at the centre of those meetings. We have changed the structure of their home/pastoral (advisory) groups, so taiohi stay in the same group as they move through Kawakawa, rather than being shuffled around every term. This way we can build rapport in an advisory setting. We also meet with them in their year groups. We maintain an open atmosphere with the taiohi including just ‘hanging out’ at lunchtime around the class kitchen. We structure some of our subjects to allow time for chatting. Allyson is very good at this in micro-economy–it turns out making bath bombs together is a great way to get to know someone!

Ultimately through our approach we consciously and incidentally set up opportunities for them to be themselves, and then simply chat and ask questions.

The holistic role of school sports

By Sarah Jane Lambie – High school sports coordinator

It is widely accepted that participating in sport has a positive impact on health and wellbeing. Wonderful things happen to us–physically, chemically and psychologically–when physical activity is regularly included in our daily lives: anxiety and depression are reduced; self-esteem and fitness enhanced.

Furthermore, through playing sports, there are opportunities to learn about commitment, trust and respect for others; opportunities for enjoying friendship, being in community, practicing teamwork; and for developing leadership skills, self-discipline and the fine art of achieving a balanced lifestyle.

This sounds great, especially for those who enjoy participating in sport; those who are ‘naturally sporty’. But what happens for students who are not sporty? How can we encourage and support the students who dread PE, are among the last to be picked for team games, who dislike the feeling they are being compared to their peers and who do not enjoy the competitive nature of sports?

Dr. Maria Montessori believed that competition in the educational environment was not only unnecessary, but harmful. She said that when children are taught to compare themselves to their peers, they become focused on what others are doing rather than the joy that comes with working to be the best they can be for themselves.

In keeping with this ideal at Wā Ora, competition in the traditional sense often associated with sports, is played down in favour of a focus on good health, participation and cooperation when it comes to PE and sport. While we acknowledge that winning in competitive situations feels good, we are clear it is not the main focus. Instead, those teaching PE and coaching sports work to encourage a balanced perspective.

At the school cross country on Friday we saw a favourable example of this approach. Senior PE students created a fabulous atmosphere filled with energy, fun, music, good will and community spirit. All Y4–13 students were expected to participate and this required real self-discipline and determination for some. Completion and a sense of achievement was the focus for most; the students who have expressed an interest in going to the interschool cross country competition will do so in June.

As well as the various team sports Wā Ora students are participating in throughout the year, we can look forward to two more area school sporting events, namely swimming and athletics. Undoubtedly each will present challenges for our students–and we will endeavour to ensure the same levels of encouragement, support and participation as we did for the cross country.

Looking forward to it!

Encouraging resiliency

By Carolyn Bohm – Rātā teacher

With all the conveniences in our lives today, it can become easy for adults to try and protect children from any and all obstacles in their lives. Adults can be quick to solve a child’s problem for them, or keep them from having to struggle for accomplishment. These actions, done with the best intentions, can rob children of the opportunity to learn the tools, challenges, and joys of being resilient. While it is not helpful to allow a child to become badly injured or frustrated beyond recovery to learn about resiliency, giving them opportunities to fail or struggle safely prepares them for the challenges they will face when older.

As much of human behaviour is learned, one of the best ways to teach resiliency is to model it yourself. When eating lunch outside on a chilly day I respond to comments about the temperature by saying “I was cold too so I put on my jumper”. When we model resilient thinking (remembering to bring a jumper and wearing it when cold), we encourage children to do the same. We also teach resiliency through asking questions encouraging resilient thinking; “Where else can you look for your pencil?” or, “Is there another tool you could use to complete that job?”.

When talking to your child about school, Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, suggests questions along these lines:

  • What have you learned today?
  • What is a mistake today that you learned from?
  • What were you persistent at today?
  • What can you learn from this?
  • What will you do the next time you are in this situation?

It is perfectly acceptable to make a mistake, as long as learning takes place around the mistake. It is also completely normal to handle a situation less than ideally as long as the situation is reflected upon so the response can be improved in the future. Asking children about their experiences and working with them to get the most out of the event is a great way to teach children about resilience.

When I started eating lunch outside with Rātā unless it was raining or wet, complaints abounded in winter about being cold and not having or not wanting to put on warm clothes. Now, having weather appropriate clothing and using it has become what we do. The other week at a lunchtime, I figured we would eat inside given the wet ground but the class headed straight outside with their lunches. Upon finding the ground was wet, but not raining, they brought our class mats out to sit on. Between their resiliency to wet, wind, and cold, at lunch and on walks, I have suddenly found myself to be working with a group of kids who challenge me to be more resilient. When we encourage resilient children, we create a stronger future.


By Tara Israelson – Nīkau Head Teacher – Preschool

I recently found myself in a discussion on the subject of rewards for young children and their merits and drawbacks.

As I listened to the rationale behind offering rewards for specific behaviours in the early childhood classroom, I wondered to myself where this fits within the Montessori context.  It’s a tricky concept to unravel because there are many rewarding experiences every day both for the children, and the teachers in the classroom.  However, how many of these rewards are extrinsic versus intrinsic, and what is the connection between rewards and motivation?

An extrinsic reward is something tangible and visible given to someone for an achievement they have made.  An intrinsic reward comes from within the individual and is grounded in satisfaction, pride in work done and a feeling of accomplishment.  In a classroom, an extrinsic reward might be a treat–maybe extra playtime outside or a grade on a paper or end of term project.  In contrast, an intrinsic reward in a classroom may not be obvious at all unless you are close enough to hear the tell-tale, “I did it!” before the child joyfully moves on to their next pursuit.

In our Montessori classrooms we value the intrinsic reward over the extrinsic for a variety of reasons.  Dr. Montessori felt that rewards interfered with children’s learning and studies show that this is true, particularly when looking at long term behaviour.  While for short term results, a tangible reward might get the response we are looking for, the child is not motivated to repeat this behaviour in the long term.  Part of the rationale for giving rewards to children at school is the notion that children do not enjoy learning and that they need an incentive.  In our classrooms we know that this is not true–that children are highly motivated to learn!  Their interest knows no bounds!  Rather than an incentive, we need only give the children time to practice their lessons, and materials to work and play with that feed their interests.  The reward for the child comes from the satisfaction of discovery or being able to complete something completely on their own.

Dr. Montessori said, “a child does not need praise; praise breaks the enchantment.” (The Child, Society and the World, p. 16).  We have found this to be certainly true in our classrooms. Even a seemingly unintrusive “good job” offered to a child who has been feeling quite proud of him or herself can instantly steal the joy.  They have already made their own internal judgements about what they have done and our remarks are completely unnecessary.

As we age we begin to need more external rewards for the work that we do, but for children whose natural inclination is to learn, they are merely a distraction from the real prize.  There is a great chapter on rewards in the book Montessori, the Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard.  It is available on Amazon and through Book Depository.

When are we ever going to use this?

By Michael Draper–Physics and Electro-tech Teacher–High School

“When are we ever going to use this?” This is a common question from teenagers in conventional high schools, yet we rarely hear this question in Tāwari. Why is that?

Maria Montessori identified that the primary drive for adolescents is learning what they need to function as an adult.

Part of this is social. Adolescents need to establish their own unique identity, to develop their own self-expression and to fit in with others beyond the environment of family.  In the 6–12 years, children learn through social play, safe in their position as children within a family/whānau.  With adolescence their awareness turns to the challenge of becoming participants in adult society and their social experimentation and learning suddenly becomes very real and earnest.

Another equally important part is occupational: the need to learn how to become a contributing member of the community.  Historically, this was the age children would enter into apprenticeships, working at the feet of a master to learn their trade or occupation. They started with simple tasks, then as their confidence and exposure to the real work developed, they would move on to progressively more skilled and more complex tasks.  This progression also reflects our more recent understanding of the process of body and brain development that occurs in adolescence, starting with broader physical capabilities and progressing through finer skills to the blossoming of abstract thinking proficiencies in later adolescence.

Adolescents want to learn. They are driven to learn what they perceive will be useful for them as adults. Just telling them there is purpose isn’t enough. If they can’t see for themselves a clear connection between what they are being taught and its usefulness for them as adults, they will struggle to maintain attention.  The key here is relevance. When ākonga see relevance in what they are learning, they learn faster, understand and retain more.

At Wā Ora this understanding is reflected in the different emphasis and work patterns of Kawakawa (school years 8-10) and Tāwari (the NCEA years).  In Kawakawa, the emphasis is on social development and on practical experiences of working with others and with the physical world.  There is less emphasis on academic learning in Kawakawa, partly because the young adolescent brain is still developing capacity for this and partly because of the need to give ākonga the experiences that give meaning to future academic learning.

In Tāwari however, the priority shifts to the more academic requirements of senior high school learning.  It is here that the experiences and practical learning in Kawakawa pay off; where conventional school students struggle to see the relevance of many lessons, Tāwari students have a rich store of practical experience to which they can relate the more abstract learning of senior high school.  With a richness of experience to draw on, the question of “When will I ever use this?” becomes redundant.

Why maths isn’t the most important subject

By David Starshaw–Mathematics Teacher–High School

I don’t believe that maths is the most important subject and I want to explain why below. There are also links to a great video and quiz at the end of this article. The quiz is quite confronting but the video contains an important message for everyone to hear.

On one hand, yes, maths is everywhere. It makes your computer work, it drives your car, it underpins the internet, helps people and governments spend their money wisely, it enables data-mining companies to predict your behaviour, it can be used to influence the results of elections and referendums, and it can be used to pass level 3 NCEA.

But while maths makes your computer work, you don’t need to understand the maths in order to use your computer. Only specific professions use high school maths in the real world. Be honest, how many times have you used quadratics since leaving school?

But I believe that the misuse of data is one of the biggest issues in today’s society. And it is allowed to happen because we all have misconceptions about the world that we believe, rather than the reality. I don’t think I’m overstating this. Look at Trump. Look at Brexit. Look at the rise of echo chambers where people can redefine their realities and warp the facts beyond all recognition. Did you know that most people overestimate the proportion of their country’s population who are immigrants? Did you know most people overestimate the wealth held by the richest 1%? It is the stories that we tell ourselves, rather than reality, that define our world view.

Most people are unaware that we have brought extreme poverty crashing down. In the last 50 years, poverty has reduced to 50% of what it was. In the words of the late Hans Rosling, “People say that we cannot solve poverty. Of course they think so. They don’t even know what has already happened! The first thing to think about the future is to know about the present.”

I think therefore that statistics is the most important subject at high school. And also the humanities subjects.

How many misconceptions do you think you have? Watch Hans Rosling’s TED talk: How Not To Be Ignorant About The World and take the Gapminder Global Knowledge Test he mentions. I assure you it’s quite confronting.

Odyssey 2019

By Allyson Ashfield–Kawakawa teacher

Well we couldn’t have asked for better weather for Wā Ora’s ninth odyssey to the top of the South Island this year, that’s for sure. This year’s focus, as well as to build our community for the year, was on Pedagogy of Place and that place was The Abel Tasman National Park, its environs and Motueka. We were reunited with Henry and introduced to Paddy, both of whom organised this year’s Odyssey.

Our journey started with a long day of travelling from Wellington to Picton and then a very warm bus ride over the Takaka Hill to Totaranui, our base for the next six days. Sarah Jane had travelled ahead and had a delicious meal ready and waiting for the weary travellers.

Having only just arrived, half the group were off on their Abel Tasman Coastal track tramping adventure the next day, while the other half spent a full day on Onetahua /Farewell spit on a guided adventure. From the omniscient Murray, we learned about the history, the special features and the flora and fauna of this unique part of New Zealand. A highlight was jumping off a giant sand dune and tumbling to the bottom.

Our planned tramp of 45 km over two nights was a little too ambitious, especially with the baking hot weather, and each of the two groups modified the hike to suit their group. I was really impressed with the tenacity and resolve our adolescents displayed to reach the campsites and the support and help they showed to each other. They all dug deep and I’m immensely proud of them. As a result, my group spent a beautiful day at Bark Bay, exploring waterfalls, swimming, investigating tidal flows, more swimming, learning how to secure tents in the wind and how to deal with a plague of bumble bees!

Once back at Totaranui we spent time in the local area visiting an art gallery for local artists in Takaka, Waikorupupu Springs and Wainui Falls and a half day sea kayaking before heading back over the hill to Motueka for our Marae stay at Te Awhina Marae. We were very lucky to be staying there on Waitangi Day as we got to experience welcoming visitors onto the marae, from the perspective of the manawhenua, and help out with hosting the visitors. Some of our students got to see the setting up of the hangi in the morning and we all had a good feed from it in the evening. A great way to end our 2019 Odyssey adventures.

A couple of thoughts from our adolescents about odyssey:

“Odyssey is a great learning experience for Kawakawa to connect and learn for the year ahead. I love how we get to go and explore New Zealand and learn about the Maori history.” A year 10 student.

“It was a good way to start the school year. A good introduction to Kawakawa; it helped me get used to the class.” A year 8 student.

The place of handwork in modern day learning

By Carol Palmer–Tawhai Teacher

Every year as a new wave of children joins our class I notice a surge in the uptake of handwork. Children are naturally drawn to this creative work because handwork connects to all things and meets so many needs in the child.

Handwork takes commitment, both to master and to complete a project.  Children in modern society can become so used to quick-fixes and instant gratification that they lose the ability or motivation to strive for anything longer term.  Knitting a scarf can take months, particularly if the child goes through all the steps of washing and spinning the wool, and knitting it on knitting needles that they have made themselves.  These projects teach children that we can achieve great things, if we take them one step at a time.

Handwork is therapeutic, it creates a space in time when the hands are engaged but the mind is free to process and unwind–it naturally slows down to meet the rhythm of the craft, and its natural balance is restored. In a culture where children are becoming increasingly stressed and anxious it is more important than ever that we offer them an outlet for their tension.

In a world where children are used to working with electronic devices–connecting with plastic, metal and glass and using finger tips and thumbs to tap and swipe–there is, more than ever, a need to develop the hand.

When we sew, we must hold our fabric in place and manipulate our needle to come out in the precise spot needed to make small, neat stitches. Then we must pull the thread hard enough to draw it tight, but not so hard that the fabric bunches up, or the needle becomes unthreaded. There are few other activities offered to children, which build their fine motor skills in such detailed and comprehensive way.

Any serious knitter will tell you how much maths is involved in resizing patterns and any IT specialist can tell you how closely the binary combinations of knit and purl relate to coding. When we make clay pots, we explore the pottery that our ancestors used, how it was designed and fired and what this tells us about our history. When we carve wood we learn to respect strict safety rules and when we weave baskets we have to think about the strength of our construction and its suitability to our intended purpose.

So whilst we are doing a lot of handwork, we are preparing hands for writing with our spinning, engaging the mathematical brain with our knitting and practising engineering as we make our tools. We are engaging the scientific brain as we discover the effect of pH on the colour of dye and building stamina as we commit to completing long term projects. We are learning mindfulness techniques and, as a side bonus, we are producing beautiful objects.

Handwork connects to everything and connects us to each other. Please feel free to come and join us in our creative work in Tawhai.