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Arrowtown School – Lighting up minds through project based learning

Year 7 and 8 students from Arrowtown Primary School have designed and created illuminated ski suits for a competition run by the school in collaboration with NZ Ski. This authentic, hands on project has:

  • provided engaging and rich learning opportunities across a range of learning areas, especially science 
  • required students to practice the school's GOLD learner qualities which link to the key competencies
  • enabled the school to develop learning focused relationships with the wider community. 

Grant Hammond and Joe Bailey, year 7 and 8 team leaders at Arrowtown School, explain their journey in implementing “Illuminate” – a project that has lit up the minds of their senior students and the slopes of Coronet Peak.

Year 7 and 8 teaching team from Arrowtown School.

Grant (left) and Joe (right) with the year 7 and 8 teaching team from Arrowtown School (Karen Neill, Katie Keane, Alan Forsyth, and Kelly Scoles).

Setting up the project

We dreamed up the idea of making illuminated ski suits during a project based learning (PBL) course that we both attended with John Santos from High Tech High. Our school is part of the New Pedagogies for Deep Learning programme with CORE Education and we were looking for ways to raise achievement through student engagement. The PBL course encouraged us to frame up a meaningful challenge for our students based on their interests and passions.

Making illuminated ski suits was a good fit for our school context. With mountain ranges on our doorstep, skiing is a key part of our PE curriculum. We also knew that we wanted to incorporate science into our project learning this term. 

The course with John Santos gave us some key principles to follow as we implemented PBL back at school.

Authentic PBL should:

  • address real challenges 
  • connect with students’ interests and passions
  • use a real world context
  • allow for student voice and choice
  • involve regular reflection
  • enable students to share their project work with people beyond the classroom.  

A key ingredient to the success of our project was the relationship we established with NZ Ski. We met with them to share our PBL idea. They were very excited to collaborate and proposed that we work with them to support their marketing campaign for night skiing. 

We decided to run a competition which challenged our students to create an illuminated "safety" ski suit or an illuminated "ambient" ski suit. We planned an evening event called “Illuminate” where the students would present their suits for judging on the slopes of Coronet Peak. Students, whānau, teachers, and the wider community were invited.

NZC Curriculum icon.

Community engagement principle
Grant and Joe bring the community engagement principle to life at their school by considering ways to connect learning with their students’ wider lives. They have used a local, meaningful context for learning which has enabled the school to grow educationally powerful relationships with local business and whānau.

Illuminate poster.
Designing and making the light suits.

Designing and making the light suits


Nigel from NZ Ski launched the Illuminate project with our students by explaining the PBL challenge and the criteria for both the ambient suit and the safety suit. Our teaching team wrote the criteria for the two competition categories to clearly describe to students what their work would be judged on. The project required students to practice all five key competencies and develop understandings in a range of learning areas including science, technology, English, and the arts.

PDF icon. Proposal for Arrowtown School (PDF, 52 KB)

Research and inquiry

Research and inquiry
Our students explored topics such as wearable art, ski jackets, LED lighting, prototyping, brochure writing, and Matariki. They researched their wonderings and questions. Our Year 7 and 8 teachers each ran a lesson based on the science of light that the students rotated around. This allowed our learners to build their scientific knowledge for the project.

NZC Curriculum icon.

Providing sufficient opportunities to learn in science 
The Year 7 and 8 teaching team at Arrowtown School were clear about the scientific knowledge and skills that they wanted their students to develop through the Illuminate project. They planned a series of lessons to ensure that students had time and opportunity to engage with, practice, and transfer new scientific understandings. 


Students drew up initial designs for their light suits using pencil sketches and digital platforms such as Tinkercad, Pixlr Editor, and Google Draw. Several students from each class attended a workshop with Fifi Colston, a wearable arts designer. Fifi shared her expertise, advising the students to incorporate a story into their suit designs, and emphasising the importance of working with others to achieve high standards.

Student design for light suit.
Student design for light suit.


This phase enabled students to get their design ideas out of their heads and into a visual form. Students found that cardboard was a great material to use to create a prototype of their suit. They spent several days experimenting with cardboard to create a design base. Then they introduced other materials to bring their ideas to life. 

Student voice:

“It was really fun when we got to use cardboard to prototype because I personally like designing and creating and using the cardboard really gave us freedom to create what we thought about in our minds.”

“I enjoyed prototyping because I could be really creative and free when we were doing it. The teachers trusted us to do whatever we liked which was really cool.”


Our students presented their ski suit prototypes to their class. Each class could only enter two suits into the competition (one safety suit and one ambient suit) so students had to sell their designs to each other in order to choose two to go through to final judging. They used a PMI tool to provide meaningful feedback on each prototype before working collaboratively to combine the strengths of the popular suits for their two competition entries.

Students present prototypes to class.
Students present prototypes to class.


Making the suits

Making the suits
Each class then split into two project teams – one team responsible for making the safety suit and the other for making the ambient suit. Each group had to build their light suit, create a brochure that detailed the design process, and prepare a speech about the suit to share at the Illuminate event. Some students even chose to choreograph their route down the mountain to showcase the suit.

To help ensure the success of the project, each student took on a role such as project leader, designer, craftsperson, brochure creator, speech maker, lighting technician, or performance manager. The idea was to place students in a position that matched their strengths and interests. 

Student voice:

“I found that working in a team with defined roles was a very good idea as it enabled people to delve into the parts of the suit they were most passionate about. I was very lucky and got the perfect job for me which I was excited for (brochure). I got on amazingly in this job and went all in, I tried to make the brochure look as professional as I could.”

“I was given the role of project manager. The project manager takes meetings for the group to make sure everyone knows what they’re doing, and that they always have something to do. I enjoyed this role because I got to do a little bit of everything.”

“I enjoyed working in a team. My role was craftsmanship. I helped build and craft the suit and brought some ideas to the table. Everyone in the team was working well together. There were good leaders of the team.”


The Illuminate event took place on the Shirt Front Trail of Coronet Peak on the evening of 26 June 2019. Our year 7 and 8 students stayed on the mountain after a day of skiing to prepare for the event. Parents and members of the public arrived from 5.30pm to watch the presentation of the light suits. 

The safety suits were showcased first followed by the ambient suits. Student models paraded each suit by skiing down a dark Shirt Front Trail, which led to the base where the judges were. Student speech makers described design details of each suit over the sound system. 

Facebook: Illuminate at Coronet Peak with Arrowtown School


The Illuminate project has exceeded our expectations in terms of the outcomes that have been achieved. We did not expect the journey to open up so many possibilities, particularly around student agency and the relationships for learning that have been built with NZ Ski and our whānau.  

Our students have had complete agency over the project from start to finish. They have made decisions about:

  • how to manage their time
  • where they wanted to work
  • who they wanted to work with
  • what design elements to incorporate into their ski suits
  • what materials to use
  • what speciality role they could fill. 

At times we have had to guide the learning but the majority of decision making around design, suit construction, and project management has been left to the students.

The agentic nature of the project has allowed our learners to practice and reflect on our school’s GOLD learner qualities, which describe our collective vision for learning and link to the key competencies in The New Zealand Curriculum. The students recorded their progress against each GOLD category (Guardianship, Opportunity, Learning, and Determination) on a co-constructed rubric. Some students found self management difficult, others excelled at collaboration. Reflecting on the GOLD learner qualities enabled our students to know their strengths and identify areas for future development.

GOLD learner qualities.
NZC Curriculum icon.

Key competencies
The team at Arrowtown School use their GOLD framework to bring the key competencies to life. Students used and developed the key competencies across a range of learning areas as they participated in the Illuminate project. With appropriate teacher guidance and feedback, they self-monitored and evaluated their use of the key competencies to identify future goals. 

The project also allowed our students to practice the 6Cs, the deep learning competencies recognised by NPDL. We focused on the creativity competency for self assessment and our students filled out a creativity competency rubric to identify their strengths and next steps.

PDF icon. Student example Arrowtown_NPDL Competency Focus Rubric for Illuminate - Creativity (PDF, 287 KB)

We think that the resilience and confidence that students have developed through Illuminate is spilling over into other learning areas with the majority of our senior students tracking really well in reading, writing, and maths. They are transferring their positive mind-sets and enthusiasm from Illuminate into other areas of school life.

Working collaboratively with NZ Ski has brought authenticity and meaning to our project. Our students had a real life client who wanted their help to promote night time skiing. This gave them a purpose for their learning and a taste of what it might be like to work in design, marketing, and project management careers. NZ Ski visited our school to film the students at work which added a whole new layer of excitement and engagement. NZ Ski want to work with us again, which is a great sign!

Jill Tester, from NZ Ski, comments on the benefits that collaboration brought to their business and brand: 

"I can say on behalf of the marketing department, it was an amazing opportunity to work with you guys. The exposure was great with TVNZ getting on board. It aligned with the vision and values of Coronet Peak as a brand and showcased this to the community." 

Illuminate also allowed us to work in close partnership with our parents. It feels like they have been on this learning journey with us. They’ve discussed ski suit designs with their children and they’ve come into school to help us source materials, sew the suits, and build contraptions. It was fantastic to have parents and whānau join us at Illuminate so that they could celebrate their children’s achievements with us.

Presenting the suits at Illuminate.

Advice to others

  • Communication is key
    We found that open lines of communication were paramount to the success of this project. Communication channels had to be effective between teachers, between students and teachers, and between the students themselves. Because there were so many sub teams we needed to have constant updates. Design changes to the light suits affected everyone. We held regular meetings and wrote updated notes on project boards to ensure everyone was on the same waka. 
  • Trust your students
    Trusting our students and relinquishing control was also essential to the success of Illuminate. We wanted our students to be active participants in their learning and have the power to act and make decisions. This meant that we didn’t always know what direction the learning would take. Sometimes it got chaotic. We had to trust our learners and continually revisit our project criteria to keep things on track. In the end, the students stepped up, dealt with problems as they arose, and met their deadlines. They did an incredible job! 
  • Teacher’s role
    The teacher’s mindset and role is absolutely critical to project based learning. As a PBL teacher, you lead and guide but you must also be prepared to be led and guided in turn. The entire teaching team have really embraced this mentality. We stayed open, we stepped back, and we let the students run the project. It’s not an easy thing to do but the depth and breadth of learning and the level of agency that has occurred is something we are all proud of.

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Updated on: 01 Feb 2020