Let’s offer Religious Studies!

Let’s offer Religious Studies!



Seriously, those were the thoughts running through my head and the conversation I was having with myself when I decided this was a good idea.  Sure, no one has done it at our school.  It’s not offered at any other year level, but I can do this … right?!

The Religious Studies Standards look awesome!  They honestly do and they made me so excited.  But, as always, it’s not as easy as it seems.  As I have noted in previous posts, I am a Social Scientist at heart and it is my belief that learners should be given knowledge so that they can be understanding and knowing citizens in our communities and the wider world.

I hear so many of my learners saying stupid things such as “look at that turban head” – my first thought when I hear things like this is always, do you have any idea what that means?  But it’s more than just that ignorance, it is also the questions “why do you go to church?”, “why do you wear a head scarf?” – and so I decided to create a Religious Studies course for Level 1 learners for this year.

I had a very specific idea of what I wanted to do in this course.  I didn’t want this to be like RE used to be in my primary school or to focus on a specific religion, I wanted learners to gain a broader understanding of religion and what it means to different people.  Again, here my Social Scientist heart came to the forefront.

At the beginning I was knocked back a little.  I put a post on Facebook in the Senior Social Studies Teachers NZ page asking if there were any Religious Studies teachers who could give some advise and clarification on the Standards I had chosen to focus on.  The comments advised that it was going to be difficult for me to do these Standards in a secular school.  This set me back a step.  I didn’t understand.  Nothing in the Standards or the clarifications mentioned anything about this or why learners would find it difficult to complete these assessments if they had no personal religious backgrounds.  However, I had never taught these standards before and these teachers had, this meant that I needed more help or more clarification.

It wasn’t until I went on Twitter and connected with Jeremy Cumming that I finally got some clarification and realised that actually, this is possible and it may be difficult but the learners do not need to be from a religious background to attempt these standards.  With no religious background learners may find some of the standards more difficult than the others because of the level of content that is required, but this just meant I needed to be more selective about which assessments to choose for the purposes and the ideas I had for this course.  Finally, I could see some direction for this course and after discussion with Jeremy had decided on the three religious contexts I wanted to focus on:

  • Catholicism, Hinduism and Buddhism.

This means that learners would gain an understanding of monotheism, polytheism and spirituality without a specific deity.  Each of these religions are very different and may have common themes running throughout them but their beliefs and their rituals are varied, hopefully allowing learners to gain a deeper understanding of religions.

Now I just need to learn about them myself, make connections with the different institutions and find people who were willing to come and work with our learners.


Collaboration through Social Media


(I wish I had been able to find an image of a map of Aotearoa and social media but this one will have to do.)

Lately I have been stepping outside of my comfort zone a lot.  Creating an integrated programme for Level 1 means I’ve been going all over the show.  Using Level 2 Education for Sustainability in a Level 1 course and incorporating designing and creating a media product (turns out it is more than just using a camera!) into the same programme, are just two examples of where my brain has been going lately (and one of the many reasons I am not sleeping through the night haha).

On top of all of this thinking, learning and collaboration I was also asked to create a Passion course for Year 11 next year.  Passion courses will run once a trimester (12 weeks), three times a year and include (on average) one Level 1 standard.  Okay… I can do this!  Right?!  Let’s just say I was a little tired and all the Achievement Standards I really wanted to teach had already been taken.  I was using Education for Sustainability, Media Studies and Senior Social Studies in my own integrated programmes.  Other Learning Leaders had taken on the History standards.  I am already doing Level 2 and 3 Classical Studies.  What could I do?  What did I want to do?

Embarrassed emoticon

A one-on-one pep talk with myself was needed but finally I decided on Religious Studies.  As a Social Scientist I think it is important that learners are aware of different ideologies and beliefs in our community and society at large.  From the information they gather (or are given) I believe it is part of our role to help learners create their own informed opinions around these issues.  It is this philosophy that was forefront of my mind when I decided to create a Passion project around Religious Studies.  One problem; I have never taught (or even looked) at the Religious Studies curriculum before.  All I had done was look at the standards and decide that I liked the look of 1.1 and 1.4 the best.  I knew there would be ethics involved in teaching within this area and that I would need to be careful in my approach to the study of different religions.

Through all of these weeks and this planning social media has become the most awesome tool!  I tweeted using the edchatNZ hashtag and that very same day made contact with someone who was more than willing to help, give advice and share resources.  A Skype call later and my head was overflowing with information, ideas and sources.


This was not the first time social media had come to my rescue.  The week before I had made contact with a teacher at Whangaparaoa College through a post I put on the Senior Social Studies Teachers NZ Facebook page who had shared with me the resource they use for the Education for Sustainability 2.5 standard.  The sharing of this resource allowed me to see how this particular standard could be scaffolded to meet the needs and ability of Level 1 learners.  More importantly this resource made me realise that I could use this particular standard in my integrated Year 11 programme and that my learners would be able to achieve this standard.

The teaching community is so broad, spread all across the country (and the world) that social media has provided a tool for us to come together, to share our ideas, to share our voices.  For me social media has become an invaluable resource – allowing me to learn from people I would have never made contact with without it.  The different Facebook pages, Twitter and the #edchatNZ hastag, the online community (etc.) are a great start to creating a collaborative community of learners and educators.  So, to all those who make these communities possible (and that is all of you/us) thank you!  Give yourselves a pat on the back because we are changing the world of education – one conversation, shared thought, minute change at a time.

The start of integration…

This year our school has asked it’s teachers to pick up the challenge of creating integrated programmes for NCEA Level 1.  When we got the news I was so excited!  To me integrated learning is the way of the future, they path that education should be taking.

A week ago I finally found out that I am to team up with another Learning Leader (name for teacher at our school) and create a Level 1 programme that covers three disciplines to be completed over 12 weeks.  But before this I needed to pitch my ideas to a group of staff who have been timetabled to work in our Year 11 integrated area.

So many ideas running through my head.  So many possibilities.  How do you choose just one?  But in the end it wasn’t too difficult.  My passion at the moment is the environment, specifically making our practices sustainable and reducing the amount of pollution we create.  (My flatmates go crazy because I’m always harping on about the amount of plastic bags and bottles they use.)  However, I am also extremely passionate about learners taking action.  It is fine for me to teach them about an issue but it is what they do with that knowledge that is important to me.  So there I was, one week ago, with this idea of Sustainability and Social Action.  Easy right?


It was not as easy as I had initially thought it was going to be.  My original proposal was good but I had failed to look at the Achievement Standards or the Clarifications in detail.  I had a plan in my head but one that would not work in practice.  On top of that I needed to find a Learning Leader (LL) who was interested in what I was and wanted to teach with me.

Finding a buddy:

Everyone had been told to pitch their own ideas, and that is exactly what we did.  Some had already teamed up with other LLs and pitched their ideas together but to me this defeated the purpose of the pitch and the process.  In my eyes I saw the pitch as a way to express our ideas and passions and then to create connections with other LLs where we could see connections being made.

I eventually teamed up with Vicky who specialises in English but is also capable of doing Media Studies and some Geography.  She expressed an interest in the taking action as long as we found a way for English to be included in the programme.

Hashing it all out:

We were tasked to come up with a proposal of our integrated programme for the Senior Leadership Team (SLT).  The proposal needed to include all the different Learning Areas and Assessments involved, as well as our schools learning principles, any contexts and content we were planning to include, and formative assessment opportunities.

During this stage I went and had conversations with different LLs from different Learning Areas.  I needed to consult with Media, and Health.  Vicky consulted with Science and Geography.  I also needed to find which of the Social Science standards would actually fit.


This is what I looked like by the end of checking all the Assessment Standards and Clarifications and having conversations with the different LLs.  My trimester long course had gone through so many changes!!  Health needed to be more personalised and look at an aspect in their direct community, it could not be a on a national or global level.  The Science concepts were so difficult that reading through them just confused my poor brain.  The Social Studies standards that I wanted to include could not focus on sustainability unless it directly affected human rights i.e. access to clean water (even though I think sustainability is a human rights issue).  The Media Studies standards needed to be assessed together and could not be separated.  My buddy wanted to include more English (totally fair enough since this is her area of expertise).  So here I sat, with only an awesome idea on taking action to do with sustainability and entering The Outlook for Someday film challenge but no standards that fit!

It took a lot of rejigging, many frustrated hours, a number of conversations with Vicky, meetings with SLT, messages on the Senior Social Studies Teachers Facebook page, the sharing of resources by other teachers, and lots of planning and then re-planning to come up with a final proposal.


I learnt that although NCEA is flexible (and awesome!) it also has it’s limitations.  Standards have limitations.  For example Health AS91097 must focus on well-being within their community, Social Studies AS91042 must focus on human rights and social justice.  The ways that these aspects are explained in the Assessment Standards and Clarifications made these standards unusable in my integrated context.

To my affirmant ~ thank you.

It has been a few months since my last teaching-as-inquiry project but lately I have been analysing data from my current project and wondering just how much impact this has had on the me and the students.  My current topic is Stretch It, it focuses on my questioning techniques and how these lead to higher-order thinking in students.  The inspiration behind this project was comments from AT’s while on practicum.  I had a tendency to respond to a right answer by saying “yes” or “good” or by adding my own knowledge.  I’m not the only one with this tendency and my passion for education and subjects that I teach means that I can’t wait to share my knowledge with students and get them excited as well.  “Learning can and should continue after a correct answer has been given” (Lemov).  So, again because of my passion for education, this became an area of my practice that I had (for my own violation) to work on and improve to benefit students and enhance their learning.

“The sequence of learning does not end with a right answer; reward right answers with follow-up questions that extend knowledge”. (Lemov)

What an awesome way to put it, reward students with more knowledge, more information, more skills!  This is what I am attempting to do in my current TAI, however, it is hard to analyse exactly how successful I have been in achieving this goal.  I’m not sure it is really something you can test through assessment data.  What I narrowed it down to was observations from my mentor and other teachers, and student feedback, which brings me to the point of this post.  I am currently responsible for two History classes; a Year 12 class and a Year 11 Extension class.  I asked students to complete and online survey.  I assured students that their responses would be anonymous and therefore encouraged them to be completely honest in their answers (how am I going to learn if they are just pampering to my ego?).  One particular response from a student in the Year 11 Extension class (it has to be one of them, although I am not sure which one exactly) made me smile and brought a tear to my eye.

I believe that no further skills/questioning techniques are required, only a refinement of common teaching skills that would come over more time teaching. For a first time teaching I thought she was very good.

Now clearly this student thought my questioning techniques were up to par (I may disagree with this) but it was the way it was worded, the emphasis behind it, and the fact that he or she did not have to write it, that made me feel like I accomplished something in the last two terms.

The results of my current TAI have led me to conclude that I still have work to do on my questioning techniques and that this project is ongoing.  The results of the student survey prove that I often obviously use the same set of techniques and that I can stretch these and bring in other questioning methods to further extend students thinking, skills and knowledge (see results below).  But I wanted to thank the anonymous student for his/her feedback and for reaffirming that teaching is a path that I took a long time to find, but is a path that I am extremely thankful to be on, even if I still have a lot to learn.

TAI student survey results:

tai results

Food for thought…

Food for thought: I wonder if it will take a generational leap for MLE/MLP schools to really take off?  Don’t get me wrong, I know there is a lot of interest in them already but I wonder if it will take more time for them to become the norm in our education system.

The reason I say this is threefold:

  1. I don’t think most parents are ready;
  2. I don’t thin most teachers are ready; and
  3. I think it will take my generation (or later) having children to see the overdue potential and necessity for MLE/MLP schools.

I was having my bi-weekly meeting with my current supervising mentor (I am just a newbie teacher) when the topic of MLP camp up.  He said “I can understand what they are trying to do, I’m just not sure I agree with all of it.”  I can understand what he meant.  The four weeks I spent teaching and learning at MLP school made me realise the type of environment I want to teach in, the type of teacher I want to be.  However, I only scratched the surface of all that goes in that school and I can fully appreciate, and understand, that the concepts and ideas are scary, unnerving and not practical to some teachers.  This thought is further backed up by an open day the school held for expressions of interests in teaching positions.  Through the grapevine (I was unable to attend), I heard there was a lot of muttering behind cupped hands (so to say) about the openness of the school and the “new age” concepts it puts into place.  This leads me to conclude that some teachers (perhaps most) are not ready for the dramatic shift that MLP schools display in the ways of education and whether we like it or not, it is going to take time, understanding and results for these teachers to join the “wave”.

My second point – my sister is 11 years older than me, she is married and she has three sons.  My oldest nephew is 8 years old and for a while now my sister has been discussing and looking at different secondary school options for him.  This of course has led to frequent conversations about education at family dinners.
While on placement at HPSS I remember having one of these conversations with my sister about the school and it’s MLP: “But Mickie (my family nickname) why does any of that matter?  All the boys need to know is the facts so that they can write it down in an exam … That’s what I had to do in my Biology exam, write down everything we had learnt that year.”  Now, of course, I advised my sister that she might like to do some research on NCEA and how it works and the key competencies that are a part of our curriculum.  But regardless of that, this conversation got me thinking about how many other parents think the same way my sister does.  I recently attended an event at HPSS to watch Most Likely to Succeed (great documentary, I would highly recommend it!) and many of the parents in this film mirrored my sisters thoughts.  “Where are the textbooks? How much homework are they getting? What do they need to know for the test?” etc.  Again, this got me thinking that perhaps it will take for my sisters generation to move on for MLE/MLP schools to really take off.  Maybe it will take until my generation or my nephews generation grow up and have children for this “new” type of education and teaching to become the norm? – My only question then is, will it be too late?

How much of an introduction do teachers need into Maori culture?

How much of an introduction/immersion do you think teachers need into Maori culture?

Is three “classes” (approx. 2.5-3 hours each) and a day visit to a marae enough?

Maybe it is the Social Sciences teacher in me coming out or perhaps it is just the culturally sensitive and aware person that I am, but in my opinion eight or so hours of “Maori class” and a day visit to a marae is not enough.  We are officially a bi-cultural country, one who is supposed to recognise both Maori and European cultures but beginning teachers are only getting a very limited introduction into Maori culture.  Yet we are to step into very diverse classrooms and teach in a way that is respectful to all cultures but especially Maori culture.  How are we to do this when the “introduction” we get into Maori culture is limited?

Moreover, we do not get any introduction into Maori language, but the Graduating Teachers Standards specifically state that we need to use Te Reo in our lessons.  Would it not be beneficial for beginning teachers (and all teachers) to have lessons in Te Reo?  My answer to this question is yes.  I believe that all teachers should have an understanding of Maori culture (being one of the recognised cultures in New Zealand) and moreover, should be able to understand and speak basic Te Reo.  I believe that it is important that we incorporate this into our teaching practice, even if it is as simple as telling a student “ka pai” when they have done a good job or “whakarongo mai” when we want to gain their attention.  However, this should not be the limit of our understanding of Te Reo.

A BIG thank you.

Today I finished my final and most inspiring placement at Hobsonville Point Secondary School (HPSS).  It was the educators at this school that made it the most positive experience of my fledgling teaching career.

Students are the focus of our schools, and so they should be, but for a student teacher learning the trade it is the Associate Teachers that are the focus.  These teachers are the ones that give up their time to help our training by being our guides and mentors, and helping us learn the ins and outs of our trade.

After having my confidence knocked more than once it took only one day at HPSS to remind me why I had chosen teaching as my new career pathway.  It is amazing what can be accomplished with the innovative, student-focused and inspiring educators who make up the staff at this school.

I want to say a massive thank you to these educators.  The ones that gave up their time to help me learn and inspired me all over again to be the best educator I can possibly be.  These people went out of their way to provide me with help, they were always there for support and advice, they did more than what was expected of them.  They went beyond their duties, helped me to understand my chosen trade and were always there when I needed to unwind.  They understood the stresses of a student teacher and accommodated for them.  These educators became more than my mentors, they became teachers that I am inspired to be like.  It is for this reason that I dedicate my first ever blog post to the most amazing mentors a student teacher could ever ask for and to all the other Associate Teachers that support the training teachers of today.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

PS.  To HPSS #I’llbeback