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Breaking down the notion of a subject based curriculum at Logan Park High School

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Paul Enright, Head of social sciences at Logan Park High School, discusses a new way to create senior school courses while still keeping the integrity of discrete subjects. He provides the example of an environmental studies course which draws standards from geography, education for sustainability, and earth science making an assessable course at three levels.

Professional learning conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

Making connections across learning areas

The NZC states (p34) that students learn most effectively when:

  • they have time and opportunity to engage with, practise, and transfer new learning
  • connections across learning areas are made
  • they encounter new learning a number of times and in a variety of different tasks or contexts.


Social studies has always been an amalgam of geography, social studies, economics, history, politics and so on. It’s been a broad base that’s tried to pick up on principles of citizenship as well as those other more sort of intangible things alongside the (what become in the senior school) discrete subject disciplines. And so there’s always been, at that level, a bit of mixing and matching and allowing, in a way, teachers in a broad format to teach to their strengths.

What's beginning to happen in the senior school is we're looking at, in the social sciences, we're looking at subjects that can perhaps be made up, courses that can be made up of a variety of what were once seen as discrete subject areas. The best example of this that we have currently is environmental studies which is operating at three levels this year for the first time. Environmental studies is made up of inevitably some geography, some education for sustainability and some earth science material. The course has been created around that and has drawn standards from those three areas to make an assessable course of three levels.

Students generally still have an amazing capacity, as I suspect people at large do, to compartmentalise learning. We're supposed to be looking at student interest. We're supposed to be looking at making connections. We're supposed to be looking at aligning learning with experience and all of these sorts of things. Which I think are really nice guiding principles but you've got to make them solid. The way to do that, it seems to me, is by looking at things and saying, ‘Why is there an artificial barrier between history and media studies? So you do these four periods, is where you do history and these four periods are where you do media and they don't overlap. Why can't they? Why can't you intrude on each other?’

This is something that we've only begun to look at. In terms of environmental studies - because what we've done is taken different elements and set up a discrete course - in terms of the impact on assessment, it doesn't as such have any. Where as more and more of the realigned standards start to come on stream then the potential to offer more of these cross subject courses emerges, I suppose that will be a case of perhaps having to work with students to make sure that the course that they design actually meets their needs. Because what you have is a situation where it would be entirely possible for schools and students to sit down and design wonderfully exciting courses that may still leave students short of the various gate-keeping measures that they need as part of their national qualifications thing.

I don't think that it means you lose what makes your subject unique either. I'm a committed historian and I believe that it's an exceptionally valuable important intellectual skill as well as a way of structuring knowledge to help you understand the world. But I don't particularly have a problem with the notion that they’ll perhaps do some less history but do it really well and really creatively by involving other things.

Published on: 12 Mar 2012