Making real things


By Jason Johnson – Kawakawa Teacher

When I think of the moments of true engagement that I witness as I work in Kawakawa they are, almost without exception, when ākonga are busy creating real things.  There are many opportunities in the adolescent program for rangatahi to make real things.  Things that are beautiful, functional and have value to themselves and others in the community.  To the adolescent, producing real objects brings “a valorisation of [their] personality, in making [them] feel capable of succeeding in life by [their] own efforts and on [their] own merits” [From Childhood to Adolescence p.61].  These are the feelings that help us to build our intrinsic motivations.

This term I have worked with a group of students making flatbreads.  We have come back to this activity every week, and it has yet to lose its appeal, or its value as an opportunity to learn. Its success lies partly in its simplicity.  The ingredients are nothing more than is necessary – flour, water, salt and yeast (if we’re feeling fancy) we cook them on hotplates in the classroom.  But it is this very simplicity that allows ākonga to easily come back to it again and again, to practice and refine their technique.

While working our dough and cooking and taste-testing our bread, we discuss many things: The cross-cultural appeal of traditional flatbreads; the nature of proteins and polymers, like gluten; the relationship between surface area and volume.  We also talk about our lives, comparing family traditions and our preferences for takeaway curry.  This “casual” conversation becomes deeply linked to the work we are doing – we are learning new skills, so our brains are building neural connections at a phenomenal rate. It becomes a part of who we are, and who we are becomes more deeply linked to the things we can do, and the people around us. As a friend of mine likes to say “Neurons that fire together wire together!”

Throughout her writing, Maria Montessori implored us to provide opportunities for students to work with both the hand and the head.  Our ability to manipulate our environment, and thus construct it alongside our own personality, is posited as a driving force of civilisation:

“It is characteristic of man to think and to act with his hands, and from the earliest time he has left traces of his work, rough or fine, according to the type of civilisation…. All changes in man’s environment have been made by the hand of man. It is because the hands have accompanied the intelligence that civilisation has been built, so it may well be said that the hand is the organ of that immense treasure given to man.” [Education for a New World. p62]

So I value the work that we do with our hands in Kawakawa. When we make real things, we are making ourselves. This is important work.

Kawakawa Coffee Cart & Canteen

By Sarah Jane Lambie –  Micro Economy Teacher

This term we welcome Rebecca Faulkner to the Kawakawa team. Rebecca is an experienced high school teacher, now business co-owner of Espresso Rescue, and works on Friday afternoons in the prefab training small groups of our Y9 – 10 rangatahi in the fine art of making coffee.

Each course consists of four, two hour sessions. While on the course, trainee baristas are expected to use their independent work time on Mondays to hone their learnings. Once they have ‘graduated’ as baristas, students have opportunities to work in KCC&C (Kawakawa Coffee Cart & Canteen), at Coffee House pop-up café and at various school events where we know an opportunity to buy a great coffee is welcomed by the parent (and teaching) community!

The barista training is a hands-on course, balanced with some science and a look at the back story – where does coffee come from, how does it get to us, and why does it matter? Rebecca explains that

On average it is going to take around five years for a seed to grow into a plant, and then go on a series of processes to get to our cups. A single tree will produce on average 0.9kg of fruit a year! So, each cup of coffee we make has been a long time in the making – let’s make each coffee we make count!

Teaching rangatahi about the interconnectedness between humans and the environment is fundamental to Montessori pedagogy. Through this holistic approach, rangatahi come to understand and take responsibility for their place in the social world as well as the living world.

This is in contrast to the old idea which was that life in the environment meant to get as much as possible from it; today ideas are very different. Now, it is realized that each animal behaves in a particular way, not only for his own good, but because he works also for the environment. He is an agent who works for the harmonious correlation of all things

Maria Montessori., Citizen of the World, p19

Working as a Kawakawa barista is one of the many opportunities we offer rangatahi to engage in the real-world activity of making, marketing and selling something they have produced. By experiencing what Dr Montessori called human interdependence (division of labour and exchange of goods and services to meet human needs) our students are learning, at a micro level, how society is organised along with how to develop skills, and utilise their strengths and interests, in collaboration with people and the environment, to meet the challenges they will face in the adult world.

“We must study the correlation between life and its environment. In nature everything correlates. This is the method of nature. Nature is not concerned with the conservation of individual life: it is a harmony, a plan of construction. Everything fits into the plan: winds, rocks, earth, water, plants, man, etc.”

Maria Montessori., Citizen of the World, p22

Looking forward to seeing you at the Kawakawa coffee cart sometime soon!