A month before Anzac Day, the last in a series of virtual field trip plans to give students the opportunity to think critically and creatively about the nation’s past, writes Wayne Erb.
Last year, students from Hira School, near Nelson, were studying the First World War. They joined a virtual field trip to Pukeahu National War Memorial Park and then sought ways to shape their own participation in a national conversation.
“We like the idea of a place where the thoughts of children about war and peace could be displayed – like on a wall. Do you think this could ever be built here?” asked Macey, Year 6, speaking to a government historian during a live audio-conference. A planned education centre could include that possibility, he answered.
Pukeahu National War Memorial Park opens in Wellington for Anzac Day 2015, the centenary of Gallipoli. A fourth and final virtual field trip runs in March to explore the project and is open to all schools. Teachers who took part in the first three virtual trips say student learning was activated by making vivid connections to people, places and stories.
“The students love the involvement,” said Jane Pearson, a Year 5-6 teacher at Hira School. “It’s the audio-conference that makes a difference to their buy-in – they love that feeling of connecting. In education, so much is about connections with people and experiences.”
Marcia Karaitiana took her Year 5-6 class through all the Memorial Park field trips from the confines of a classroom in Rosebank School in Balclutha. Students enjoyed creating questions for the live sessions.
“They get the answer from someone’s perspective, someone they feel they can connect to,” she explained. “With the audio-conference it becomes a real person, not just the name of someone who wrote an article. That gives them confidence and the feeling of being valued.
“It also shows them the importance of developing those questions, by thinking about the impact of events, looking at the background information and the people involved and then asking questions to get extra information – it develops a sense of agency in the kids.”
Likewise, the questions Hira School students posed to experts (they also wanted to know how we would remember the impact of war on children, conscientious objectors and modern peacekeepers) were the result of in-depth learning before the trip. Pearson says the class listened to a recording of ‘My Brother’s War’ by David Hill, read last year’s World War editions of the School Journal, and the Memorial Park booklet, Right Beside Our School (learnz.org.nz/memorialpark/resources).
“Children talked about their great grandparents, and they would go home and discuss. There was lots of discussion. I wanted them to think about how the issues around war and conflict are ongoing with impacts on everyone, and how there will be decisions that they have to make in the future, without getting too heavy about it.”
Andrea Milligan, lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington’s Faculty of Education, says citizenship education is about how young people interact with and shape their communities – and how their existing participation in society can be strengthened.
Participation in the democratic process around issues (in this case how we commemorate those affected by war) involves creative and critical thinking.
“Citizenship education is effective when learning experiences make strong connections to learners’ lives and focus on issues that matter to them,” said Milligan. “Teachers can identify genuinely contentious topics that are open-ended, authentic and real-world. They can help students explore different values and perspectives, consider how change occurs, and find opportunities to make a difference in society.”
Hooked with a story
Karaitiana adds the Memorial Park virtual field trips engaged some students who started the year reluctant to be involved in their learning. It hooked them with a story about the past, present and future. The fact they could click on the field trip website to listen to background information helped too, she adds.
“And with Memorial Park 1, 2, and 3 it wasn’t just a one-off. They were able to track the project’s progress. The students have gone back and forward over their own learning and looked at where they want to go next in their studies. They were looking at family history, so there was engagement not just in the classroom but at home as well.”
Wayne Erb is a freelance writer.
More from Memorial Park
The last Memorial Park virtual field trip runs March 24-26. During this fourth trip, students will see the final stages of creating the park, including the paved Ceremonial Plaza in front of the National War Memorial.
The centenary of New Zealand’s participation in the First World War will be marked from 2015 to 2019 through commemorative events, projects and activities. Find out more at