• iceberg
  • boy with flowers
  • checking water quality
  • planet eclipse
  • solarsystem model
  • rangitoto trees
  • kids with test tubes
  • kids with earth
  • snowy mountains
  • teens in physics class
  • Rainbow Clouds

    Refraction and diffraction of light through ice crystals in the clouds

  • Philippa On The Ice

    Philippa On The Ice Philippa Werry at an Antarctic research camp 2016

New Zealand Science Teacher


Supporting Achievement in Physics for Maori Students

This article, by GRAHAM FOSTER of Avondale College, follows a piece about supporting Māori achievement, which you can find here.

The article "Finding a better way to facilitate the improved achievement of Māori students in science. Some arguments and evidence - a qualitative research study", first published in 2003 in New Zealand Science Teacher:

1. Explored strategies that apply matauranga Māori’ in the science classroom as they relate to science

2. Discussed the differences between the two knowledge systems and the implications of these for science teachers.

3. Summarized the existing research articles to determine the effective strategies to improve achievement of Māori students in science.

The findings provided teachers with the challenge to:

• Re-consider Māori values and fundamental principles so that teaching and learning provided best experience learning contexts and integration of cultural perspectives.

• The translation of these values and principles into practice to make the learning inclusive of these cultural values.

• Enable students to compare indigenous knowledge and western (empirical) science.

• Resist simple assimilation of matauranga Māori into our science teaching, but advocate for it as a part of the culture of Aotearoa New Zealand and recognize it as a valid and legitimate knowledge system.

• Implement quality teaching excellent pedagogy through scaffolding student learning styles, and provide valuable feedback rather than the teacher’s preferred teaching style.

• Very clearly and continuously express that they will not accept mediocrity from any student, no matter what their ethnic origin might be.

Conclusions for Science Education and Assessment

The article advocated that:

• Teachers needed to provide strong advocacy for matauranga Māori as a legitimate knowledge system.

• A broad, culturally inclusive science program that used a variety of teaching strategies and included a wide range of learning and assessment procedures.

• Teachers needed to put aside their preferred teaching strategy to recognize student needs and learning styles; they need to implement strategies that provide attention to and recognition of individual students; strategies of feed forward are practiced; there is a greater emphasis on co-construction, metacognitive strategies and formative assessment.

• There needed to be more emphasis on formative assessment and feed-forward, resulting in a gain of time for more effective teaching and learning, leading to improved achievement.

• Teachers should use a variety of assessment modes rather than only external examination mode Achievement Standards. NCEA should have provided greater opportunity to develop, implement and apply strategies that lead to engagement providing teachers and school policies limit the amount of assessment required and allow for the development and use of several forms of assessment.

Finally it challenged the Ministry of Education and NZQA to provide more assessment modes in Science. The article called for professional development programs, similar to those provided for NCEA, as these were needed to address issues of metacognition, effectiveness and responsive teaching and assessment.

The National Education Priority to “improve attainment of Māori students” identified the importance of effective teaching, learning and assessment that all science teachers needed to work through.

Unfortunately there has not been sufficient and satisfactory professional development opportunities provided by the Ministry of Education for teachers to process the issues and scaffold the implementation of this priority.

The 2003 article was endorsed by the Minster of Education and sent to all teacher training organisations at his request.

Since then the author has continued to implement teaching strategies.

From 2009 to 2012, I participated as the Physics Department Tuakana leader at the University of Auckland.

In that role I discovered great support and fellowship, together with further modes of improving Tuakana student success in Physics at the entry level and above.

In 2013 at Avondale College we were challenged to improve the achievement of Māori students in physics and increase the amount of Māori contexts used in Physics.

This article attempts to provide:

1. The perspective that it is insufficient to use contexts alone to engage Māori (and Pasifika) students since the underlying importance of te Reo (Māori language), hanaungatanga (relationships) and tūrangawaewae (a place to stand) exert very significant influences on our students.

2. Acknowledgement and utilisation of the significance of cultural perspectives such as mana (prestige or authority), utu (balanced exchange) 3. 3. The advantages offered by using whakataukī (proverbs) and understanding of the implications of brain theory as vocabulary and memory support.

4. Reinforcement of the importance of individual acknowledgement of students as part of the learning and teaching experience.

5. The suitable integration of taha Māori into physics.

Sharing and promoting each other’s cultures not only promotes peace and goodwill within the communities, but it creates a greater opportunities for meaningful relationships to be established.

Sharples, P (2006)

1. Te Reo and Whanaungatanga

As Physics Tuakana leader I was drawn to the important ideas provided by Prof. Mason Durie in Te Whare Tapa Whā. This advocated the need to explore the learner’s journey with them as shown in Figure 1: Te Whare Tapu Whā

2. This implies the essential need to know the learner and, as much as practicable, to attend to all four domains. The need is particularly difficult since we must not become emotionally involved with the learners. Perhaps the best strategies are those from the perspectives of mentoring. My research experience shows mentoring is extremely successful.

In 2012 I supervised a Mentoring project in physics using six physics tutors as mentors, They met with their assigned Tuakana student once per week for one hour and emailed them once per week, over six weeks. All Tuakana students studied the higher level physics courses and all were successful in their examinations.

The Māori conceptual frameworks in which mentoring takes place include Kaupapa Māori theory and the Māori potential approach.

Kaupapa Māori theory is the philosophy and practice of being Māori, and generally refers to the provision of services by and for Māori that are culturally appropriate and relevant.

Figure 1: Te Whare Tapu Whā: The teacher’s journey should be able to attend to all four domains from “Knowing your Māori Learner” video.

Kaupapa Māori theory is closely related to self-determination and is anchored in Māori values, knowledge, and cultural practices.

The Māori potential approach affirms Māori as key “catalysts for achieving exceptional life quality for themselves, their whanau and their communities”, in ways that reflect Māori people and culture as assets, and acknowledging Māori as indigenous people with accompanying rights and responsibilities (Te Puni Kōkiri, 2009).

Both the ‘Kaupapa Māori theory’ and ‘Māori potential approach’ support the practice of using Māori epistemological and pedagogical traditions in mentoring for Māori students. Additional Māori concepts that support Kaupapa Māori theory and the Māori potential approach include:

  • whānau (principles of family, including whānau values, structures and practices),
  • aroha (care and respect);
  • manaakitanga (mutually beneficial and reciprocal nurturing relationships);
  • rangatiratanga (self-determination, authority and responsibility);
  • kotahitanga (sharing a unified purpose); and kaitiakitanga (guardianship, responsibility and accountability), and Tuakana/teina (senior person working alongside the learner)

The writer maintains that to ‘know the learner’ includes:

  • the sharing of personal information from the student to the teacher;
  • involvement of whanau through direct contact with family to seek positive support and feed-forward;
  • acknowledgement and ensuring that the group situation provides knowledge that stays within the group
  • acknowledgement that they may already have knowledge and we are facilitating further understanding
  • our willingness to ‘give it a go’ and find out how to do things in a worthwhile and patient way.
  • the importance of being prepared and allowing others to help us.
  • making the effort so that we might find out we enjoy the effort.

2. Mana and Utu

In the recent New Zealand Science Teacher print journal, Edition 132, Jo Tito explored the outcomes of the Pounamu science communication game and the interesting conversations that were ‘sparked’ by the game. He provided an extended challenge by asking “what if science embraced curiosity and questions as a way to the answers? What if science embraced the conceptual Māori language as a science itself?’

Perhaps this leads us towards a way of challenging and engaging Māori students.

As teachers we are all sensitive to the need to preserve and develop the self-confidence, pride and risk-taking ability of our students. This is particularly difficult at senior secondary levels where the learner’s comprehension, analytic and evaluative abilities are challenged, and their ability to show their proficiency in using development of the Key Competencies strongly influence their success. This suggests that we need to support students to develop these Key Competencies, particularly ‘Thinking’, ‘Participating and Contributing’ and ‘Managing Self’ and that we should explicitly teach the Key Competencies as part of the learning and teaching process. The student’s willingness to engage in learning activities (rather than be ‘spoon fed’) such as active reading of their texts, completion of problem solving and other homework to tight deadlines, active and effective study, positive participation in discussions, and finally becoming independent learners and achievers are real challenges for both teachers and students.

Developing Accurate and Adequate Explanations

D Identify and Define the Physics topic in the question.

E Explain the topic using your Physics understanding.

L Use Link words

A Look back to what you were asked and Answer the question.

Figure 2: DELA strategy

Throughout this learning process both teachers and students need to preserve those confidences and scaffold the development of the Māori learners. Several strategies useful for this purpose include targeted flash cards, supported and un-supported problem solving, use of structured explanation strategies such as DELA (Figure 2: Define, Explain, Link, Answer the question), Starter questions, demonstrations-with-questions, student led problem solving after homework, etc. Although teachers have their own resource bank of strategies it is necessary to identify which strategies identify the individual learner. I have also provided more strategies in my 2003 article.

In physics, it is recommended that students are encouraged to korero in te Reo, to share explanations of topic theory and applications, together with written explanations and calculation assignments. The verbal exchange reinforces mutual support between students, while the written aspects develop more formal language and symbols used frequently in physics. The student must not imagine physics as a process of ‘finding the correct formula to use’, rather they must experience the need to understand physics.

3. Physics whakataukī and memory.

Whakataukī plays a large role within Māori culture. They are used as a reference point in speeches and also as guidelines spoken to others day by day. It is a poetic form of the Māori language often merging historical events, or holistic perspectives with underlying messages which are extremely influential in Māori society. Proverbs are fun to learn and have benefits for language learning. They can be interpreted as required.

A Māori example is:

Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei.

Aim for the highest cloud so that if you miss it, you will hit a lofty mountain

In my experience one of the main issues students complain about is their difficulty to remember ideas. Students might be encouraged to develop some physics Whakataukī to support them to remember topics of importance in physics. Simple examples include:

‘He who gains speed most quickly will have the greatest acceleration.’

‘He will only have elastic collisions if he conserves both momentum and kinetic energy”

‘Power is only possible if both the speed of the current and the energy per unit charge are involved.’

‘Opposing currents are induced when a magnet moves in a coil.’

To add to the reason for, effectiveness and significance of whakataukī, it is strongly recommended that the Physics teacher spends time explaining to students about the two types of memory:

۰ short term memory used for immediate recognition of topics;

۰ Long term memory needed for retention and recall.

Frequent recall ‘starter tests’ can be useful for establishing short term memory, as could the use of flash cards.

It is very worthwhile to discuss the nature of the brain and the rapid development of the frontal lobe. During adolescence the frontal lobe, the main area for memory and synthesis, is developing by increasing the links between neurons.

Astrocytes are cells in our brain that carry out automated functions. They are produced to enable us to form new conceptual frameworks and sequences. They are covered with hormone sensors that enable us to sense emotions. To ‘think’ we must wake up neurons by dumping adrenalin into the synapses. Strong memories are related to emotions and passionate experiences. It follows that passionate teachers can elicit hormonal responses causing patterns in our memory. (Treadwell, 2008)

Students are still transferring new ideas and processes from their temporary to their permanent memory.

Teachers need to develop the sense of how we think and what we can do to cause others to form patterns and develop long-term memory.

It is very important that the student practices active revision so that as many ‘links’ are formed as possible to maximise the ‘Thinking’ (analysis and evaluation) competency. Hopefully this will provide some encouragement to participate in problem solving.

Given what we know about brain development and the other changes taking place in the young adolescent, teachers can improve student learning by doing the following things:

1. Present limited amounts of new information, to accommodate the short-term memory.

2. Provide opportunities for students to process and reinforce the new information and to connect the new information with previous learning. (Encourage students to talk with their classmates about the new information; have them debate or write about it; create small group discussions.)

3. Provide lessons that are varied, with lots of involvement and hands-on activities. Brain stimulus and pathways are created and made stronger and with less resistance if they are reinforced with a variety of stimuli. (Create flow charts, use music, and visual resources.)

4. Provide lessons and activities that require problem solving and critical thinking. Brain growth is enhanced and strengthened through practice and exercise.

5. Teach students how to study. There are many resources for teachers to structure these experiences.

6. Establish, teach, and practice consistent expectations and routines. Don't expect to tell students once and have them remember and follow the "rules."

7. Use process charts to detail steps on a long-term project and revisit these steps periodically.

8. Use graphic organizers to assist in visualizing problem solving.

9. Distribute assignment sheets that clearly articulate benchmarks, and timelines.

4. Individual acknowledgement of students as part of the learning and teaching experience.

Without any doubt, the most important strategy to improve the achievement of all students is the recognition and support provided to individual students. Jan Hill and Kay Hawk identified that both “positive relationships with teachers are critical”, and “positive relationships between the students in the class are also very important”. Positive relationships provide a safer learning climate that encourages contribution, risk-taking and better learning”. These relationships were formed from the “very beginning of the year and helped create group dynamics that lead to improved student motivation and attitudes toward learning”. The positive learning classroom created a sense of “busyness, focussed activity at a high pace, a relaxed atmosphere and an ethos of mutual respect and enjoyment”.

John Hattie’s research (Hattie J (2008). Visible learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement) provides two very important considerations. He maintains that Visible Learning means an enhanced role for teachers as they become evaluators of their own teaching and occurs when teachers see learning through the eyes of students and help them become their own teachers. This is being promoted through the ‘Teaching as Inquiry’ thatis now part of appraisal.

Hattie (Hattie & Temperley, 2007) also explains that feedback is among the major influences, but that the type of feedback and the way it is given can be differentially effective.

Feedback is most effective when it is linked to the goals of the learning, and related to the positive accomplishments of the learning.

When the learners are inefficient it is better for the teacher to reinforce expected learning through clear explanations than to provide feedback on poorly understood topics.

Teaching Implications

This article emphasizes that we should be looking past contextual examples when teaching physics.

It is very important to recognise that tūranagawaewae, te Reo, and whanaungatanga are all relevant to guiding our Māori (and other) students towards success.

We should advocate that we legitimize and facilitate the inclusion of matauranga Māori into Physics through whakataukī and mentoring strategies that relate to kaupapa Māori theory since they reinforce the learning and teaching process through their concepts.

The explicit teaching of the Key Competencies is reinforced by the need to support students to find ways of improving their memory and their commitment to the learning and teaching process.

The use of physics whakataukī, the DELA strategy, and targeted flash cards are strategies that could support the improvement of learning and teaching that lead to development of students as independent learners.

These all sit under the umbrella of Effective Teaching Practice which emphasizes effective relationships, with a sense of motivation and purpose. Teachers need to be engaged in active review of their teaching and need to use feedback related only to learning accomplishments and using reinforcement explanations when students are less efficient in their learning.

Ko te kete aronui – knowledge to help mankind is given significance in our teaching of physics when we encourage more students to join the journey of striving for knowledge, education and enlightenment, to become better people so that they might enter successfully into Te Whare Wananga, the house of learning.


My thanks to Kay Hawk, @ Learning Network for supporting me with comments and suggestions during this project.


Foster, G.F.  “Finding a better way to facilitate the improved achievement of Māori students in Science.
                       Some arguments and evidence – a qualitative research study.”
                       New Zealand Science Teacher, 2004

Foster, G.F    “Tuakana Mentoring Programme”

                         Document written while Physics Tuakana Leader, University of Auckland, 2012

Ford, T           “Contributing to a new education story for Māori”
                        Culturally Responsive Methodologies,  edited by Mere Berryman, Suzanne SooHoo, Ann Nevin,
                         Emerald Publishing

Hattie, J  and Timperley, H        
                       “The Power of Feedback”  Review of Educational Research 2007  77:81

Hill, J and Hawk, K 
                      “Making a Difference in the Classroom: Effective Teaching Practice in Low Decile, 
                        Multicultural Schools.”            March 2000

Lorain, P      “Brain Development in Young Adolescents”

Sharples, P.   “Boys in Education Conference ”

                      New Zealand Journal of Teachers’ Work, Volume 3, Issue 1, 3-11, 2006

Tito, J          “Pounamu proves to be a science communication treasure”
                      New Zealand Science Teacher, Edition 132,  2013

Treadwell, M  “The New Zealand Curriculum – Whatever!”
                          Presentation by Mark Treadwell at Epsom Girls Grammar, 21st July 2008.

                          “ Knowing Your Māori Learner, Engaging the Māori Learner”
                           Video available from Ako Aotearoa, National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence

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