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Developing student curiosity and critical abilities using a critical analysis process


Our faculty has as strong outdoor education focus and we wanted to find an event that we could critically investigate that had meaning for our students and our programme. The coast to coast multisport event in the South Island in early February has been running for over 30 years and is established as an iconic physical activity event. 

Focusing inquiry

Our aim was to critically investigate:

  • the social and cultural significance that an event such as this might have for individuals and society
  • how and why such an event might contribute to wellbeing for self and others
  • recreational opportunities in our locality as a participant, spectator, or volunteer. 

Achievement objectives that could be used as a basis to develop learning intentions

  • 7D1: Analyse ways in which events and social organisations promote healthy communities and evaluate the effects they have. 

Possible assessment links to achievement standards

  • AS91331 (2.5) Examine the significance for self, others and society of a sporting event, a physical activity, or a festival.

Teacher inquiry

We used the Gillespie and McBain Critical Analysis Process to provide a focus for the investigation.

Students were asked to:

  • investigate the Coast to Coast multisport race 
  • listen to the experience of a Coast to Coast participant, a supporter, and a spectator
  • gather newspaper articles/media reports about the event
  • gather a range of images from the event.


Students were directed to the website to gather information on the event with the following questions:

  • What do you see or hear from the resources?
  • Whose voices were present/missing?
  • What messages about event do you get from the range of resources?
  • What do you think is missing?

Identify assumptions

Students were given the following questions:

  • When looking at how the event is portrayed, what assumptions have been made?
  • Who and what have assumptions been made about?
  • What stereotypes are obvious?
  • What has contributed to the assumptions and stereotypes?
  • What might be influencing the way the event is being portrayed? 

Identify and explain influences

  • Who and what has influenced your ideas about this? Students were asked to consider their own experiences, that of their family, media, school, community etc.
  • Whose and what are the different points of view about this?
  • Who and what has influenced others ideas about this?
  • What is the role of the media in portraying and or constructing any of these messages?

Identify sociological ideas and themes

  • Are there any messages about masculinity or femininity?
  • Are there any messages about how the body is prepared for the event?
  • Is this portrayed as a sport, a business, or something else? 

Inquire and investigate, gather information, and evidence

  • What do others say in support of or against perspectives about this event?
  • What evidence is there for the different views or perspectives? 

Understanding the nature of the relationships

  • Who is most advantaged by the event? Who has the most and least influence in this event?
  • Who is disadvantaged by the event?
  • Are there any vested interests and what are they?
  • Why is the event portrayed this way? 


  • What were some of the consequences of the event?
  • What might some of the outcomes be of “buying into” the assumptions and messages? 

Critical action

  • Where do you stand on the various opinions you have discovered?
  • What do I think about the event? Should it continue as it is? Should there be any changes? Why? Why not?
  • How could you go about contributing to change?

Learning inquiry

Students began to look at this event from different perspectives with some interesting results, including:

  • They were interested in issues around sustainability and how as a country we need to balance the access and use of our environment and impact of participants, organisers, support crew, and spectators on it.
  • They wondered whether or not the original intent of holding the race was still the same.
  • They were interested in the naming rights of the race and looked at why this company wanted to be associated with the event and what the potential consequences of having an alcohol company involved might have on participant, organisers, spectators.
  • They wondered what might happen if alcohol companies could no longer sponsor such events, as happened with tobacco.
  • They were interested in the range of motivation people had to participate.
  • They were surprised about the time and effort some participants put into training.
  • They were interested in the type of training required.
  • They were interested to have more knowledge about the impact of a participants training on their family/job/life and how they saw this impacting on wellbeing.
  • They were surprised at the range of points of views by businesses that had some connection with the race, some of whom made money from the event and some who were affected negatively by it.
  • They wondered if there were many returning participants or if it was a one off challenge for people.
  • They were interested in the comments by a top level participant about what changes could be made and why he thought they should be made.
  • While they had some suggestions about changes to the event they did wonder whether anyone would listen or care what they thought.

Learn more

Promote students' critical abilities and curiosity. See:  Gillespie and McBain (2011) Critical Analysis Process.

Last updated August 10, 2015