Working with schools and industry to develop block courses

Working with schools industry develop block courses

In response to student feedback, Unitec has introduced three-day block courses aimed at Year 9-12 students.

Students enjoyed the Year 12 engineering programme

Students from six schools enrolled in last year’s three-term Year 12 Secondary-Tertiary Pathways Project (STPP) programme. It aimed to engage students and teachers with engineering and show how the maths and science students learn at school is applied in industry.

Robyn Gandell, Learning, Teaching and Quality Assurance Manager and Unitec Engineering Education-to-Employment project leader – Unitec Pathways College, said the programme was successful in focusing students on engineering as a potential career. “While some were already thinking about engineering,” she says, “we opened their minds to engineering and study options.”

Students said they enjoyed the programme and that it helped their maths and physics studies at school. Teachers gained a better understanding of the opportunities available with an engineering career and, after co-teaching activities with Unitec tutors, could see how to use engineering as a context for teaching maths and science subjects back at school.

Three-term course is a big commitment for school students

When surveyed, some students reported feeling stressed about committing to one day a week for a three-term programme which didn’t allow them to achieve any NCEA credits. Running a three-term programme did impact on student participation, with some dropping out before the end.

In response, Robyn and her team decided to replace the Year 12 programme with three-day mini-engineering projects aimed at a wider range of year levels.

Five block courses

Small groups of students from Waitakere College, Massey High School, Green Bay High School, Kelston Girls’ College, St Dominic’s College and Kelston Boys’ High School are invited to the block courses. On Day 1 they have an industry visit and are presented with an industry-related project; they meet again a fortnight later for two days to work on and present their projects. The courses are:

  • Year 11 – Warkworth Observatory visit (physics of waves, pulsars, rockets)
  • Year 12 – Fulton Hogan (trigonometry)
  • Year 12 – Schneider Electric (electric circuits, technology in building design)
  • Year 10 – Beca (data collection to design)
  • Year 9 – Junior Space Engineering (rockets)

A collaborative approach to developing the block courses

A key objective for the Unitec team, right from the start of the STPP programme, was to work with school teachers rather than just providing professional development. Teachers, in turn, were keen to have more opportunities to work with Unitec lecturers and engineering employers.

Industry representation is also important – each course will be developed by a group of two school teachers, one engineering lecturer and one industry partner. The short timeframe, in comparison to a three-term programme, more easily allows for teachers and engineers to be involved.

“Teachers can determine how the course will best suit a particular year level,” Robyn says, “tutors can see what links with engineering, and employers can show students how maths and science is applied in their industry.”

“It’s also helping develop the relationships between teachers, lecturers and industry,”

Selecting students who do maths and science but haven’t decided on a career

Unitec requested that the five schools involved in the block courses recruit a different selection of students this year.

“We asked teachers for students who aren’t in the very academic classes,” Robyn says, “as those students have usually already decided to go to university. We’re looking for students who are interested in maths and physics but who don’t know what they want to do as a career.”

Warkworth Observatory course

26 students participated in the course –18 of them girls, 10 Pasifika and 6 Māori. They toured the observatory in the morning, then came back to Unitec to talk about the engineering involved, and the physics applied to that engineering. The students returned to Unitec two weeks later for two days in which they worked on the question ‘How does the shape/size/angle of a signal collector affect the strength/quality/focal point of the received signal?’

On the final day, each group presented its project to parents, teachers and Unitec staff, after which a panel of lecturers, teachers and an industry representative gave feedback on their work.

Potential to transfer engineering projects to the classroom

If all the block courses go well, Unitec is looking at the potential to transfer the concept to the school classroom or to Unitec holiday workshops. This, says Robyn, could expose larger numbers of school students to engineering. “If we reproduce it for a whole class, the teacher could use evidence from the course towards NCEA credits.

“Another possibility, is to transition the engineering courses into the holiday courses Unitec runs through our Pathways College. The main work – developing the mini-engineering projects – is done; using these in schools or as holiday workshops creates a sustainable model for when our Engineering e2e funding finishes.”

Keeping last year’s students in the loop

Unitec is keen to keep last year’s students engaged with engineering and invited them all to attend a series of four guest lectures from people involved in aspects of stormwater engineering. A group from Kelston Boys’ High School attended the first lecture.

One of the challenges of working with schools is that sometimes one teacher is driving the relationship and if they move on things can change.  Another is the issue of teacher time – one of last year’s schools decided there wasn’t enough student interest to warrant the amount of teacher time required for a mini-engineering project. This means that one less project will be delivered this year.

Their students are still invited to all STPP events, including the mini-engineering projects, the final day presentation and the Year 13/Unitec lecture series.

Case study: Connecting students with engineering and industry
Case study: Engaging students with engineering
Case study: Plugging the engineering skills gap

Our thanks to Robyn for her time and advice; if you have any queries please contact

June 2018