Evolving the Curriculum: Focus on Values

There is so much dialogue about the need for education to evolve. From TED talks, to twitter chats, youtube videos to HuffPost articles -it’s literally everywhere; in popular literature, academic literature, on the news, in the media, in politics and of course in schools. But for all we talk about it, the question has to be asked – are we actually evolving education? And if we’re not, why not? If we are, are we doing enough?


This year I realised I’d done enough thinking, and I really needed to start doing. So I did (don’t worry it wasn’t thoughtless change – I kept thinking too). And the place I started was with our own New Zealand Curriculum. This document is amazing. It has already laid out a map for our learning evolution, now we just have to be brave enough to follow it.

In the front of the curriculum (page 7 to be exact) is this diagram entitled ‘directions for learning’ (see I told you – map!). What I love about this image is the way it organises learning. At teachers’ college I was taught to always start with the achievement objectives, but if you look here, you’ll see that they form only a very small part of a whole. Through this diagram, the New Zealand Curriculum advocates a a three-way approach – values, key competencies and learning areas. These are guided by the curriculum’s vision and underpinned by the curriculum’s values. All these parts together make up the whole of education.


Of course all of these bits are equally important, but I want to focus today on the values.


This term the teachers in our syndicate have been working with groups of students on wicked problems, using design thinking to tackle these. As our students work on these they have been noticing and commenting on the learning dispositions (key competencies) they have been using as part of the process. These dispositions will then help them in creating CVs, portfolios and learning paths later in the term as part of our Future Selves topic. But the really interesting bit (today at least), is the way they students are using the values of the curriculum as a focusing lens for their ideation and investigation.


The NZC explores seven principles, and has an eighth overarching idea, which are explained like so:

“Students will be encouraged to value:

  • Excellence, by aiming high and by persevering in the face of difficulties;
  • Innovation, inquiry and curiosity, by thinking critically, creatively, and reflectively;
  • Diversity, as found in our different cultures, languages, and heritages;
  • Equity, through fairness and social justices;
  • Community and participation for the common good;
  • Ecological Sustainability, which includes care for the environment;
  • Integrity, which involves being honest, responsible, and accountable and acting ethically;

and respect of themselves, others, and human rights.”

(New Zealand Curriculum, 2007, p. 12)

The curriculum further goes on to explain that the values should then be interpreted by the school in consultation with it’s community. Our school values look like this:
“At [our school] we want our students to be constantly
pursuing excellence in everything they do. They will value:
  • Integrity
  • Personal responsibility
  • Diversity
  • Lifelong learning
  • Creative and innovative thinking
  • Positive relationships
  • Collective achievement
This is underpinned by Tūrangawaewae – a sense of one’s place in our changing world”
As you can see, there are many similarities, but also naturally some differences. I particularly love the last line in our school’s values statement about Tūrangawaewae and the sense of place in a changing world.
But stating the values isn’t enough – and talking about them isn’t either. Not if we’re going to evolve education; so lately I’ve been starting to explore and unpack these with students. In the wicked problem context described above, I asked students to choose two key values to explore their wicked problem – human rights and the media. I created a values frame that looked like this:
Untitled 2
After a brief discussion of what the different values meant, it was interesting to see which ones the students chose to focus on, because of course this will change they way they approach things. Unsurprisingly, a lot chose diversity and community (two of the more understandable ideas and most relevant to the context) but I was interested and pleased at the number of students who chose to focus on ethics.
We’re only a little way into this process but already I can see that my students are starting to think critically about values and the actions that stem from them. By giving them the language to use, and the concepts, they are becoming increasingly aware that values give rise to opinions and opinions to perspectives and, often in the case of wicked problems, perspectives to conflict. So as they continue to explore the context and settle on their own particular smaller problem to apply the design process to, I plan to provide my students with lots of opportunities to discuss differing opinions and how values might frame these.
“Ahh, but what does this actually look like in the classroom?” you ask. Well it will start with these discussion questions:
  • How might humanitarian organisations use social media in innovative ways?
  • How could social media be used to develop a culture of excellence in human rights reporting?
  • How might personal ethics be supported through social media?
  • How might improving our ecological sustainability (environmental practices) reduce breaches of human rights?
  • How might it benefit refugees if we apply the principle of equity, rather than equality?
  • How can social media bring communities together to support human rights?
  • How does diversity impact on human rights?

And then we’ll go from there – where exactly we’re still figuring out.

See the thing I realised last term, is that it isn’t ever going to happen if you wait until you the end destination to set out. You actually just have to start and trust that the road will guide you, a sentiment Tolkien captured perfectly.

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say.”


So wither I’ll end up? I do not know, but the journey so far, though just begun, has been most marvelous indeed.

Integrated Modules: One Term In

Term three saw some big changes for me in my professional practice. After attending the #edchatNZ conference and getting super inspired, I decided to take a risk and try all the new ideas that had been slowly taking hold of my imagination in the last year. So I mixed everything up and I rearranged my timetable and I linked up new things, and hacked things that weren’t working. It was awesome and you can read about it here.


Of course whenever you try something new it’s important to reflect critically. While it definitely felt like an awesome step in the right direction, there are lots of things that need refining, reworking and adapting. But like everything in life, it’s a learning process. The questions I have used to guide my critical reflection come from my school’s Teaching as Inquiry Process.

New teaching and learning tasks – what did I try?

I moved from teaching subjects to teaching concepts, from teaching in isolation to teaching in an integrated way, because I believe this is far more reflective of what learning looks like in everyday life. I developed two modules – one based in maths and science (also incorporating PE), and one based in English and Social Studies (also incorporating drama and health). These modules each had 4 1.5 hour blocks per week. The two modules both related to our overall theme – communities. Both modules used design thinking to lead students through the process and develop their understanding of cause and effect (the underlying concept we were focusing on).

I tried to make the learning more of an organic flow, rather than fixed group rotations. I used a combination of collaborative and independent tasks and provided lots of discussion opportunities. We used the SOLO Taxonomy to develop a way of measuring our learning and understanding of concepts. We focused on ideas and understanding the reasons for things – trying to go deeper and think about how and why things work and happen.


Resources – what did I use?

The SOLO Taxonomy was particularly useful and I really like the SOLO self assessment tool developed by Pam Hook. The students found this very easy to use.

The use of visual images was an important part of our English/Social Studies module and formed a really effective base for eliciting ideas, emotions and issues.

The SOLO Hexagons were also useful as a visual way for encouraging students to see connections between their ideas.

The Building Learning Power Empathy and Imaging Rubric that we developed also served as a useful basis both as a teacher to guide learning, and for students as self-assessment and check points.

Using authentic data (students’ heart rates and the results from a SPARC survey) provided a really great foundation for our maths/science module and really helped the students see the authenticity in their learning.

And finally the design process organisers that I developed based on the Standford d. School‘s way of approaching design helped to firstly guide students through what is undoubtedly a complex process and also helped to deepen their thinking.

Outcomes – Successes and trials. What was successful and what wasn’t?

The design process worked really well – it was surprisingly simple for the students to follow and needed little teaching scaffolding. I was really impressed with the depth of thinking and understanding that this helped to generate.

The rearranged timetable and being able to spend  a whole morning focusing on one thing worked really well for the English/Social Studies Module, but felt a little bit more forced for the Maths/Science Module. The students really loved being able to focus on one context and stay focused on that for a prolonged period of time and so did I. The flow of learning worked really well in the English/Social Studies Module I think because there were better connections between the areas. At times the Maths/Science Module felt a bit disjointed and almost too contrived.

The self management of students was fantastic and they were really deeply engaged and absorbed in what they were doing, to the point where they often got quite cross when I stopped them. They were able to move in and out of independent and collaborative work naturally as needed which was very cool to see happening.

The sophistication of the learning coming out was great and they all developed a deep conceptual understanding of the topics we were talking about. I saw fantastic work on recrafting in writing (which was a much needed area of attention in my class) and they were making excellent use of peer feedback too using the rose bud thorn idea introduced to me by @geomouldey. While there was some great mathematical thinking going on in the module, I don’t think I provided enough opportunity for skill practice. Though again I find this a hard one because it was statistics based and that is more about the thinking that the specific mathematical calculations.

Overall English/Social Studies worked well, had a very natural flow and produced some very deep and critical thinking, Maths/Science worked well but took longer than expected, felt a bit too contrived sometimes but ultimately still produced some great statistical reasoning.


Student Voice – what did my target group think? What feedback did they give me?

The students’ feedback was very positive, and I was really pleased about how much they loved the changes. Of course there were a few who preferred a more traditional way of doing things, but those tended to be my bright students who liked being able to coast along rather than actually working hard and found that harder to do in the new way of doing things.

The particularly liked the longer time to focus on things, without arbitrarily shifting to maths just because it was after morning tea now. They liked the flexibility of learning and being able to work in different places and ways. They also found they design process useful though got frustrated that they ran out of time to go all the way through to the end. Most of them found the SOLO taxonomy helpful though said it wasn’t very useful.

Learning Conversations – After talking with my leadership team support person what did I decide to do next?

I have been talking to my syndicate leader and one of the DPs all the way through this process, but also had a fantastic conversation with my principal towards the end of the term. She basically gave me an open slate to keep trying this way of doing things, as long as I kept documenting the process and kept reflecting on it. She also said that I should be prepared to share this with people. So based on all the awesome conversations I have had with people, I’m going to try this again this term, but maybe with a few less cross-curricular connections – particularly with maths. Sometimes it’s okay and actually necessary to focus on just one area for a while. I’m going to just try to integrate two areas this time, but still have one as a primary focus for the maths-based module (the English/social studies one works with two focus areas) as this fits better with our algebra topic.

I think I’ll save the specific details of next term for another post as this one was only really meant to be a quick (ha! who am I kidding?) review of last term.


Ultimately I feel like I’m on the right track, I know it’s deepening students’ conceptual understanding, I want to but more thinking into how to integrate the maths better, and I’m really enjoying teaching and planning this way.