Hagley College – Connecting the curriculum through the Sustainable Development Goals
Over the last few years, Hagley College has been focusing on how to reduce subject silos, particularly for the junior cohorts. The school has developed ‘Connected classes’, a collaboration between the English, social sciences and science faculties with individual teachers delivering learning around a single unifying concept.
About Hagley College
Hagley College is a special character secondary school located in central Christchurch.
Hagley provides a broad curriculum with a range of learning programmes. The school’s culture is one of innovation, creativity, and adaptability.
Its roll of over 2000 students is comprised of both full and part time students, school-aged and older learners, and students learning during traditional school hours, after 3pm and during the weekend.
Students do not wear a uniform, they address teachers by their first name, and are encouraged to take agency over their learning.
Hagley’s inner-city location means it doesn’t have a standard geographic catchment like most state secondary schools. This gives students a sense of being in the midst of a larger context of activity – recreation, industry and education on their doorstep. Students who choose to attend the school are commonly engaged in the world around them, and in addressing real-world issues and concerns.
Despite Hagley’s overall size, its Year 9 and 10 cohorts are comparatively small, giving these two junior years a whānau feel.
In 2018, during a Year 8 orientation evening, prospective junior students were told about the Connected classes on offer at Hagley College.
Students who are part of the Connected classes have nine hours of lessons per week led by individual teachers from the English, social sciences and science faculties. These lessons focus on a single unifying concept.
Students who opt into this course are made aware that they need to be willing to work with others as the Connected classes involve a lot of collaborative project work.
Teacher feedback on the first year of the Connected classes has highlighted the value of students learning to collaborate positively, to learn from and with others, and to build positive relationships.
Connected classes support learner agency by bringing students’ interests and passions into the classroom and through the integration of authentic concepts from the real world.
Sustainable Development Goals
One of the challenges in developing the Connected classes was to decide on the concepts that would be the common thread between the three learning areas.
A meaningful concept was an important component to ensure the learning was equally driven by all three curriculum areas.
Staff decided to focus on the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This allows learning to grow and deepen across the two junior years, with students in Year 10 learning more about Global Citizenship rather than focusing on specific SDGs.
In 2019, Year 9 students covered a different SDG as the main concept for each school term, including climate change, sustainability, and poverty.
In term 4, students were able to select one of the SDGs as their own personal area of focus.
Learning is project-based and has a strong emphasis on student inquiry. Across the year, students’ ability to inquire critically is scaffolded by teachers, with a shift from teacher-led inquiry to student-led inquiry by the end of the year.
At the end of each term, students present their learning through a range of mediums, including Minecraft, documentary making, website design and Stop Motion animation.
The focus on the SDGs prepares students as they transition into Year 10, with students bringing a stronger understanding of world issues and critical thinking skills.
The Year 10 cohort have applied these skills to topics as varied as space and conspiracy theories.
“When getting them to think critically what to believe, COVID-19 and 5G and the conspiracy theories around these key issues were quite timely. Often our planning is responsive to what’s happening in the world and that’s one of the things that I really enjoy.” - Tamara Yuill Proctor, Head of Faculty, Social Sciences
Teachers hold weekly planning meetings face-to-face and online through Microsoft Teams.
The initial unit plan will include the achievement objectives for English, social sciences, and science, as well as the transferable skills or key competencies that each teacher is wanting to focus on. From here the teachers populate any coordinated key learning activities that will take place. For example, they visited the Antarctic Centre during their focus on climate change.
In line with the real-world context, teachers try to utilise the local environment as much as possible and also consider who they can bring into the school to work with students. In 2019, one of the student leaders of the climate change marches came into the school to work with students and unpack the rationale for climate change activism.
Teachers work out key dates and outcomes, and backwards map from there. This mapping, combined with talking to students about what they would like to learn, allows them to work out what students will need to know and understand at each stage of the project, and they can then create a live learning sequence.
During weekly meetings the teachers revisit the sequence, adding to it and changing it as necessary.
During 2019 teachers found that building in check points or sign-offs for students along the way helped them to plan their work and self-manage more effectively.
One activity involved creating a sustainable city, following a Liberatory Design process. Students went through multiple prototypes in Minecraft before eventually building physical prototypes from cardboard. Students were challenged through this by alterations to the operating environment, in line with what could occur in a real-world setting. For example, the removal of lithium mines when students had already selected their power sources. While some were frustrated at the time, students later reported that the project-based approach forced them to problem solve and learn to persevere.
The integration continuum
An important feature of the school’s approach underpins why the classes are referred to as ‘connected’ rather than ‘integrated’.
If we view integration on a continuum, then siloed separate learning areas would appear at one end of the continuum, and fully integrated learning areas would appear at the other. In a fully integrated setting, students would not be able to identify which learning area they were focusing on at any given time.
The school believes that complete integration can limit flexibility in the same way a fully siloed approach does. The ability to be mobile on the continuum allows more flexibility, and makes it possible to focus on the needs of the student as well as the needs of particular learning areas.
In the Connected classes, this means that while all three learning area teachers will maintain a focus on the overall concept, there will be times during the learning sequence that a teacher may be working on knowledge or skills that are specific to one of the learning areas.
One metaphor for this is that each subject becomes a different colour brick that makes up the building of a house. You can point to a brick and know that it’s English or science or social sciences, and the students have used the knowledge from each of these different learning areas to build or create something new.
“It is about honouring the subject teacher, and their speciality area, and understanding what their students’ needs are in relation to their subject area. I don’t believe we should all aspire to be at that transdisciplinary end of the continuum, I think you move up and down to meet the needs of the students in our learning areas so the students get the best of both worlds.” – Tamara Yuill Proctor
- Be prepared to learn from and support each other – If teachers haven’t done curriculum integration or collaborative planning before, this will require a lot of learning. It is important teachers are able to be upfront about this with colleagues, so a high trust, supportive environment is essential.
- Consider contextual fit – The fit of a model will be very dependent on the context of the setting – the teachers, the students, the school culture. A model that is operating well elsewhere isn’t a guarantee it will operate as effectively in another setting.
- Support the students with their self-management – Students are taught a number of self-management skills and strategies, as well as being involved with goal setting and evaluating their own learning. This helps to keep them on track, and to look at where they’re going next. Instead of assessing it is about evaluating learning. It is about identifying where you are and where you need to go, and celebrating where you have come from.
- Real-world contexts have real-world impacts – The SDGs can be quite sensitive in content. When studying poverty, students were encouraged to share their own experiences if they felt comfortable to do so, and this was very enlightening. When studying climate change and rising sea levels, counsellors were brought to the class to share tips on how to deal with anxiety as the risks of future sea level rise in Christchurch could impact where students currently live.