Whilst the school is fairly isolated in terms of staying abreast of the latest and greatest teaching and learning techniques, stakeholders are committed to finding the most creative and engaging ways to teach the curriculum on offer. With a unique blend of natural environmental education, technology and a Project-based learning (PBL) approach which encompass all of the all-important 21st century skills we know as the four Cs – Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Thinking.
Last year was tough for everyone, but for Kingfisher, it turned out to be one of the most life-changing learning experiences of our lives, in more ways than one! Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the school was lucky enough to bring on board PBL specialist, Clarise Bezuidenhout, from Inside Out Teachers (IOT). Together with Bezuidenhout, we crafted a vision for the school and at the end of 2019 – pre-COVID-19 – our vision was to shift the entire curriculum to an inquiry based approach.
We agreed to implement cross-curricular PBL (with a field work element) and cross-grade collaborations, to integrate technology and to switch up any remaining lessons that still required teaching or where concepts needed to be taught in isolation to active learning experiences (as opposed to passive consumption and prescribed textbook work). Working with IOT we’d do a slow and gradual release of this plan with teacher buy-in. Bezuidenhout would be on board to support teachers with implementation, delivering tailored workshops and co-facilitating PBL units to model best practices.
The year started off with an introduction to equip the teachers and students with the practical, tangible tools needed to kick off our plan.
For teachers this included:
Creating a curriculum plan for the year that would allow them to meet learning objectives whilst transitioning to PBL Units and Active Learning Units.
Cultivating holistic learning readiness, which meant setting children up for success at the start of the year. This included establishing a social container of belonging in the classroom (introducing our value model AMP – accountability, mindfulness and passion); getting a foundational grip on the learning skills required to work more independently (using the 4 Cs mentioned above; making thinking visible; project management and navigating curricular requirements), and preparing and getting comfortable with the learning environment and resources.
This is an incredibly important step in the process, as it allows all the students an opportunity to navigate their new learning environment, and eliminates a lot of unnecessary hand-holding once the learning begins, leaving teachers free to do what they need to do – observe, ask questions, challenge the students, redirect, give feedback and teach.
Switching to using rubrics for assessment purposes. We thus translated the curriculum into student-friendly language so that students would be able to play a more active and independent role in their own learning process.
Tackling accommodating student-driven vs. teacher driven projects. We encouraged teachers to have some well-prepared PBL units ready as well as to block in time for student driven projects. This has since turned out to be a fantastic way to boost curiosity, student sharing and engagement.
Focusing on tech integration. We wanted to go paper-free, have more dynamic lessons, and most importantly we wanted to bring in technology that would empower student creation such as G-Suite and Sphero.
For students this included:
A Learning Readiness Period (depending on the age groups this lasted anywhere from two-four weeks), during which time we:
Introduced G-Suite and Google Classroom to bring the paper-free dream closer and to equip them with the basic tech skills they’d need to access learning units
Addressed digital responsibility.
Did non-credit bearing projects so they could learn the ins and outs of PBL.
When COVID-19 hit, we were then able to transition into remote learning and independent learning with more ease, as our students and teachers already had a tool kit.
We have been incredibly fortunate to have teacher buy-in during this transition.
In our pre-school, the Grade 0 teacher emptied her entire classroom of all equipment and resources before the start of term, and as part of the learning readiness period, set up the classroom with the children. She focused on slowly bringing in resources, making sure students were proficient in using and caring for resources, and then along with the students find appropriate storage spaces and tidy up routines.
This has meant that when asking students to make thinking visible, students can use materials of their choosing and create independently. It has also created a harmonious atmosphere in the classroom, as all the students agree with and feel a sense of agency over rules and responsibilities.
In the Grade 00 classroom, the students have weekly outings into the natural environment surrounding the school to observe and play and find stimuli for student-driven projects. So far they have studied flowers and insects, shells and sea creatures. The teacher makes sure to model curriculum outcomes according to themes and topics chosen by the learners.
Seizing learning opportunities
In the Grades 7, 8, and 9 (KS3) group, the teacher took advantage of the students being in quarantine with parents exhausted by the demands made by their children for food – especially with teenage appetites — and rolled out a cross-curricular PBL unit that incorporated biology, design and life orientation.
She presented students with the learning outcomes in rubric form and a problem to solve: how to feed themselves a healthy balanced diet during quarantine without having to rely on their parents to prepare everything all the time.
They would need to stay within their family budgets, responsibly source seasonal products and prepare a number of meals, documenting their progress and submitting videos and photos of their process as well as finished products.
The learning outcomes included an in-depth look at teenage nutrition (biology), budgeting and learning to take care of their own needs (life orientation), and designing and making something to solve a personal problem (design).
In Grades 5 and 6, the students have been collaborating to create a world map with all physical geography represented – climates, mountain ranges, biomes, weather patterns, tides, tectonic plates, country borders etc.
Each week they research independently and add their findings onto the map. The teacher facilitates by guiding students to ask relevant research questions, stay organised and on topic, critically evaluate their research, take measurements and make accurate drawings.
This is an ongoing project, but so far it is extremely successful in giving the students an opportunity to practice the 4 Cs, as well as problem solving, time management and actively constructing their own knowledge.
All kinds of collaborations
Cross grade and cross subject collaborations have also taken place. Before COVID the KS3 group and the Grades 1/2 classes collaborated on a short biology unit to give both groups an idea of the different aspects of PBL.
They found an hour a week where their classes could meet together. They agreed beforehand that the rubrics would be very simple, with a couple of learning outcomes for the different groups. They also set expectations for the timeframe of the project, and the roles and responsibilities of the students.
The younger students would be paired with older counterparts who would act as mentors, helping them navigate their project. The Grade 1s and 2s needed to choose an organ system or part of the skeleton that they wanted to study and then create a physical representation thereof.
The KS3 students had to support their research and draw on their own learning to challenge the younger students to deepen their understanding and to learn how to document accurately. In PBL, documentation is incredibly important and can be tricky if you have never had to do it for yourself.
In Grades 3 and 4, science, English, art, design, technology and Information technology were combined to create a meaningful habitats study. Students studied an animal of choice and had to design a miniature, mixed-media habitat for that animal. They used English lessons to create a non-fiction or information text based on their animal and then learned how to create the document on a tablet or laptop.
In the same term, a geography project dominated most subjects when pupils had to make a paper Mache earth, complete with all the features one might find on any globe (continents, oceans, lines of longitude and latitude etc). The focus then moved to local area studies including mountains and rivers, which ‘spilled over’ into Portuguese lessons and kids went to visit a beautiful river, the source of the province’s drinking water.
What has been extremely helpful about having Bezuidenhout around, is that our implementation is not interrupted by teachers being unsure of how to navigate challenges.
One example of this included when the Grades 3 and 4 classes had a five-week field project which involved no less than five full day visits to the beautiful Barra Mangroves. All the classes were carried out there, on site, and by the end, each learner had a poetry anthology (with five different types of poem in it) for English; in mathematics, some of the time was spent on statistics that so the kids were able to collect actual data that interested them (birds, crabs, tree species), in order to create bar graphs, charts and tables upon their return to class.
The teacher was able to draw upon Bezuidenhout’s knowledge and experience at every hurdle, so that an engaging, student centred PBL project was created out of the experience.
Online and in the community
Seeing how teachers and learners adapted so beautifully to the remote learning programme gave rise to KFlo – Kingfisher Learning Online – a virtual sister school to the brick and mortar Kingfisher which aims to serve remote or nomadic families in Southern Africa. Partnering with Inside Out Teachers, we’ve developed a remote version of what we’re offering at the brick and mortar.
Since returning to school in 2021 we have continued our professional development with numerous workshops, each with a different purpose. These included:
Differentiated planning in the mathematics curriculum using hexagonal thinking.
Mind-mapping as a tool to make thinking visible.
We have also continued to expand our vision to include the surrounding community. Taking into consideration the effects of COVID-19 interruptions on students who attend Mozambican public school, the KS3 teacher and the students at Kingfisher are launching an initiative to bridge some of the gaps that have been created as a result of the pandemic. The teachers have already met up with the chief of the area, known as the Secretary de Bairro, to discuss the logistics surrounding this plan.
Ultimately, Kingfisher students will be tutoring younger learners from the immediate community, whose education was virtually non-existent during the first wave of the pandemic. The basics of mathematics and language will be the focus in a project that covers a number of subjects.
We remain committed to our vision, a growth mindset and lifelong learning as a school.