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Oakura School – Homes for penguins

Oakura Community and the Department of Conservation (DOC) had a project to do and needed some assistance. As a result of construction along the coastline of the community the little blue penguins were losing their homes. DOC approached Oakura School to see if the students would be interested in constructing and placing boxes to encourage the little blue penguins to return to the area and nest.

Image of students building.

In conducting this project, teachers chose to focus on the learning area of science. The living world strand, particularly ecology and how things are suited to their habitat and how they respond to environmental changes, both natural and human induced, fitted with the project. The important concept explored was the sustainability of New Zealand's unique flora and fauna and its distinctive ecosystem.

Four learning intentions were identified:

  • To investigate the environment and adaptations of the little blue penguin.
  • To investigate why DOC were promoting the project to put penguin boxes on the beach.
  • To identify the threats and predators to the little blue penguin.
  • To co-operate with others to create a safe nesting box for a penguin.
image of students digging.

Oakura School principal, Lynne Hepworth, explained, "we have been trying to focus on the key competencies since we received the draft curriculum – what do they mean to us, what do they look like?"

Teachers focused on the key competency participating and contributing by assisting DOC in a project that will better the environment for the whole community. The values highlighted were community and participation for the common good, and ecological sustainability including care of the environment. Teachers constructed T-charts with their students around the key competency, what it looks like, and what it sounds like. These were displayed prominently so the students could refer back to them during the project.

Teachers gathered anecdotal evidence to observe the key competency development. At the end of the unit, students reflected on what they had achieved over time. They discussed how they had achieved the values and to what level they participated in the project.

Many children were extremely passionate about the project because they lived down by the beach and really wanted to be involved. Some of the penguin boxes were placed on properties that belonged to our families. They could see on a daily basis the connection between their schoolwork and their home environment. Others who lived more under the mountain were still keen and we helped them to understand the impact they were having on their community.

To add authenticity to the project, the placing of more than 20 nesting boxes constructed by the students was helped by Paige Hareb. Paige was the spokesperson for Seaweek and an ex-pupil of Oakura School. Paige is best known as a surfer on the world scene. She acted as a positive role model for students.

"The key competencies and values are so clearly outlined in the new curriculum. It gives us the opportunity to make stronger links. This was such an authentic context for study. The motivation was high and it was practical and hands-on. We feel quite privileged to be a part of this project. It's all about localising our curriculum. We are currently at the stage of reviewing our charter to align our curriculum with the school and community needs. This project fits perfectly with that."

Lynne Hepworth

Students standing in flax near the beach.
Where to now?

Oakura school students will have a continued connection with DOC in regards to monitoring the penguin boxes. It is hoped they will be set up with particular strategies on counting little blue penguins, looking for signs of their activities, and reporting these back to DOC. It is envisaged to have experts talk to students about the strategies they use to keep track of the penguins.

This is a 'real life' context for learning and an authentic project for participating and contributing to the community. These students have made a difference.

community engagement
effective pedagogy
key competencies

Updated on: 13 Mar 2013