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Pathways in senior science

A huge range of science-related careers can be available to school leavers if their learning in science is connected to these opportunities. Traditional pathways in science cater for the ten percent of students who will follow science at tertiary level. There is a need to redesign science programmes and courses to engage a wider range of learners and align the learning with career opportunities.

A student’s learning pathway is the journey they take through the curriculum. The New Zealand Curriculum encourages schools to design flexible science programmes that give students purpose and direction on this journey.

Flexible science programmes provide diverse learning pathways rather than narrow corridors of progression. They allow for a range of courses with different entry prerequisites. These courses may vary in duration and may combine areas of study from the different contextual strands, but they are integrated within an overall programme that is both coherent and flexible.

Learn more:

  • New Zealand Curriculum Update 9 (PDF 1.1MB) (June 2011) contains information and case studies to help secondary schools review their curriculum to ensure that all students experience effective pathways throughout their learning.

A flexible mix-and-match approach

Programmes and courses in science can offer learning experiences that relate to curriculum achievement objectives from any of the four contextual strands in The New Zealand Curriculum. These strands are:

  • living world (biology)
  • material world (chemistry)
  • physical world (physics)
  • planet Earth and beyond (earth and space science).

They are explored through the overarching nature of science strand.

Schools may also weave together learning from the different contextual strands – as, for example, in biochemistry, astrophysics, and marine biology.

Ideally, schools will also look for opportunities to do this across different learning areas. Cross-curricular courses can help students to recognise the value of bringing together knowledge and skills from different disciplines. For example, in Education for Sustainability, students explore the relationship between people and the environment.

This mix-and-match approach allows courses to be developed and evolved in flexible ways to capture the interest of students and connect learning in science to their physical, social, and cultural worlds, and future aspirations.

It also allows schools to make the best use of their resources, including teacher strengths and the wider whānau/community.

Multiple pathways of learning

In the past, most secondary schools offered full-year general science courses at level 6 and full-year courses in biology, chemistry, and physics at levels 7 and 8. Some schools encouraged students to specialise earlier by offering courses at level 6 in each of the specialist sciences.

Today schools can offer students many more choices.

Some students may complete a three-year programme of study in one area of science. Others may include science courses in a media studies/journalism programme or a business studies/economics programme. Some may select two or more half-year courses to make up their personal science programme, which may include Māori and Pasifika-related courses; others may spread their learning across two years because this gives them maximum opportunity to reach the desired level of proficiency. Others will follow the more traditional trajectory and achieve levels 6, 7, and 8 in consecutive years.

Flexible entry points into senior science courses will ensure that all students can find a realistic pathway.

Strategies such as half-year programmes, two-year revolving programmes at a single curriculum level, and combinations of general and specialist courses can be effective. The sample learning programmes section of this guide shows a number of different approaches. 

Last updated May 6, 2013