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Integrating the curriculum at Opunake Primary


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Digital story: Opunake Primary

Pedagogy should at its best be about what teachers do that not only helps students to learn but actively strengthens their capacity for learning.

David Hargreaves.

Four years ago the Opunake School Board of Trustees began a consultation process with the community, which resulted in a strong mandate from the community to make changes at the school. Together the board, staff and community wanted to create a vision for the school with meaningful goals, where students and teachers would be immersed in purposeful learning, and which would, where possible, involve the whole community.

Curriculum integration and inquiry learning

The curriculum integration programme originated as part of this vision using the philosophy of James Beane. The programme still has many of the features of the James Beane model but has evolved as the needs of the students have changed.

We think of the curriculum like layers of an onion. On the outer layer we use the democratic principles of James Beane to decide what we will be studying, by looking at the issues and questions from the students to develop the key concepts for each unit of study. From there we work inwards through the other layers and we have adapted our model over the years to meet the needs of the students at Opunake Primary. We now incorporate the work of Kath Murdoch, Lane Clark and ‘the Big Six’ principles of teaching information and technology skills of Mike Eisenberg and Robert Berkowitz.

Curriculum integration at Opunake primary encompasses a whole curriculum approach, with the key competencies providing a foundational framework, “We don’t want to assess the key competencies as individual units of work. Rather we want to look at the models of learning and teaching we are using, such as inquiry learning, and ask ourselves what the various competencies look like within our models, how do they translate into the classroom environment?”

Features of curriculum integration and inquiry at Opunake Primary School

  • based on student questions/interests
  • related to real life as often as possible
  • hands on learning
  • cooperative learning
  • incorporates thinking skills
  • habits of mind
  • whole school including community
  • Big 6 inquiry model
  • evolving

Open days

Every term the school showcases the students' work at an open day. The school invites the whole community and staff and students work towards this during the term.

The open days are a critical factor in the success of the integrated curriculum at Opunake Primary. They happen each term and the school invites the whole community to participate.

What we’re finding is that we’re getting a whole community engaging in the learning process. We recently interviewed and surveyed the parents, asking them what they liked about the school, what they thought we needed to improve; every single response came back saying they loved the open days: 'We love seeing what our kids can do, we love being in school and sharing their work, we really enjoy walking around with our children while they’re telling us what they’ve done.' The quality of the work at each open day keeps on improving because the students have got an authentic audience.

Curriculum principles:

Review questions image.

Are the New Zealand Curriculum principles evident in all aspects of the interpretation and delivery of our school's curriculum?

This digital story illustrates the curriculum principle 'Community Engagement'. The Opunake Primary School community's consultative process resulted in innovative learning programmes that involve the community.

Discuss the role of the school community in curriculum development. How important is it that you have community participation in curriculum development?

Consider the different ways a community can become engaged in a school.

Published on: 25 Jul 2008