At Opaheke School, a full primary school in the Papakura district of Auckland, New Zealand, students are cherished for their unique learning abilities. In place of a one-size-fits-all pedagogy, teachers focus more on helping students become agents in their learning. They have identified five key learner dispositions: Self-Regulator, Thinker, Collaborator, Innovator, and Challenge Taker, and the goal of every teacher is to nurture these qualities in each student and guide them on what to do when they get stuck.
The search for a system with longevity
To help students get “un-stuck” faster, and be more engaged learners, the school needed a reliable platform for digital learning. But they were limited by outdated systems and technology. Associate Principal Nikkie Laing explains, “Before we made the decision to move to Office 365 Pro Plus, we were using a learning management system which was developed in New Zealand as a standalone product. Even though we spent close to four years learning it, it was coming to the end of its life. We needed a system that had more longevity.”
Making the jump to Microsoft
In 2015, the school made the decision to partner with Microsoft. “There were huge opportunities with digital learning that we could access,” says Sean Valvoi, Principal at Opaheke School. These include more personalized learning experiences, as well as tools that would aid visualization and immersion in the classroom. Microsoft was also a natural choice as teachers were already familiar with many of its tools, and cost wouldn’t be an issue. Through the New Zealand Ministry of Education Schools Agreement, the use of Office 365 Pro Plus is available to schools at no cost. “We didn’t have to pay licensing fees, so the savings were enormous,” says Laing.
Empowering independent lifelong learning at Opaheke School
Learning as one with OneNote
It didn’t take much to convince teachers to use the new Microsoft teaching tools as well. For Team Leader Amesha Patel, OneNote has replaced most of the other resources she previously used, and enhanced collaborative learning. “We use OneNote every single day, whether it’s for reading, writing, or maths. Students can access a collaboration space with digital modelling books, where I can insert interactive videos, or highlight keywords from the text. So if we were to revisit that concept a week later, we can easily pick up where we left off,” she says. OneNote takes the waiting out of learning, allowing students to engage with a topic whenever they like. In a survey that Opaheke School conducted with 113 students across 5 classes, 82% of students overwhelmingly agreed that OneNote digital modelling books were a useful and important support for learning. “Students are so used to working [with OneNote and digital modelling] now, that they’ve even asked why we aren’t using it for all lessons,” adds Laing.
More than 80% of students believed all teachers should use digital modelling books
The school has also seen added benefits in other areas using OneNote. Deputy Principal Denise Horley shared, “The flexibility of the software and the apps that we have means we don’t have to look elsewhere for other things. For example, we use OneNote for our appraisal system. Many other schools would typically seek out external vendors for appraisal packages. But we don’t need to do that.”
Encouraging self-expression with Minecraft
But the tool that really gets students excited, or is, as Amesha describes, the “hot favourite at the moment” is Minecraft: Education Edition. The customizable, open-world game brings learning to life by empowering students to use their imagination, creativity and socialization skills to solve problems in a virtual environment. At Opaheke School, Minecraft is used to enhance learning across many subjects, including maths and languages, and teachers have noticed higher levels of engagement among their students. In a Year 8 class, for example, students were reading about an intricate World War 1 underground network built by soldiers from the Tunnelling Company. When asked to demonstrate an understanding of the text in writing, one of the students asked his teacher if he could express himself through Minecraft instead. What happened next left everyone speechless. “It was incredible! He re-built the entire tunnel network, with all the toilets, cookhouses, chapels and a hospital, even adding details like pictures and signs on the walls,” says Laing. The student also did most of his work and research outside of school time, which showed how much he enjoyed using Minecraft to engage with the topic.
Bringing stories to life with Learning Tools and Immersive Reader
Another Microsoft tool that students use regularly to personalize their learning at Opaheke School is Learning Tools and Immersive Reader. With it, students are able to adjust font sizes, page colour and text spacing while reading to enhance their understanding of the text. For Georgina Howell, Class Teacher and Special Education Needs Coordinator, Learning Tools and Immersive Reader has been a great ‘teaching assistant’. “It’s a really good way for students who struggle with reading English to pick up vocabulary. It can also read text aloud, so when I can’t be with a group of students because I’m with another group, they’ve at least got somebody reading to them and supporting their understanding,” she says.
Building a sharing community for digital learning
As Opaheke School reaps the success of better student outcomes with educational technology, they’ve not forgotten other schools on a similar journey. The school has been working with nine other local primary schools to bring teachers together twice a term to share how they have used Microsoft tools in their classrooms. Together, they hope to build a community that can strengthen parent partnerships; where teachers can devote more face time to their students, and where students will have more agency in their learning.
“With OneNote, there’s more visibility and easy collaboration where students can see each other working. They can contribute all their ideas to the same document without crowding each other. I also like the fact that it can capture audio and video feedback in real time.”
—Denise Horley, Deputy Principal