Context plays a significant role in teaching and learning. Setting learning within contexts that are meaningful to students can support improved engagement and achievement, as well as the development of inter-related capabilities across multiple curriculum areas. These capabilities should facilitate engagement in active citizenship now and in the future.
Context-embedded learning is centred in exploration of contexts that are meaningful to students, the community and society. E.g. Students may learn about concepts and develop capabilities relating to multiple curriculum areas by exploring contexts such as sustainable energy supply, food security, the non-communicable disease epidemic, climate change, waste management, the use of nanotechnologies, road traffic behaviours, fisheries, natural disaster planning, immunisation, etc.
Context embedded learning should support students to use knowledge and skills in decision making that is set within a social context, therefore is associated with consideration of attitudes and values. It should challenge students to ask questions and to develop actions in response to their learning. Through this process of exploration students are supported to develop understanding of the nature and process of research, as well as relevant concepts and capabilities which traditionally are associated with individual subject areas such as English, Science, Social Studies, Health/PE, Mathematics, Languages, Arts, Technology etc.
We note that this is very close to inquiry learning, however inquiry learning traditionally starts with a question posed by the students. We argue that students need to explore a context before they can actively drive the development of a question or refine a large question to enable a focussed inquiry. This is limiting. It means that the student is limited to shaping questions for which they have experience and knowledge. By exploring the context prior to developing the question, context-embedded learning allows the student-centred inquiry to be based within contexts of relevance for which the student may have no prior knowledge or experience and acknowledges that in order to examine an issue, considerable time is required to explore the issue.
The model can be utlised in a single learning area, or across the curriculum. The LENScience Diabetes: An Issue for My Community learning resources usesthis model within the setting of science learning.
However the learning module "Me, Myself, My Environment: Nutrition" developed by LENScience and a group of Auckland schools in 2009, has been successfully integrated across multiple learning areas, particularly in Year 7-8 classrooms.
Tereora College teaching teams are currently utlising this model to develop a cross-curricular learning programme exploring the issue of sustainable energy use in homes and families with Year 9 students. This is part of the Pacific Science for Health Literacy Project.
The learning module will be piloted in Term 2 this year, reviewed, and published for other schools to explore in 2015. The model below shows the intended process for these learning modules.