Te Puke High School students have impressed Google's Australia and New Zealand head of education Suan Yeo with how they use drones and virtual reality in the classroom.
Yeo flew across the ditch last week to see firsthand how Te Puke High School integrates technology into its "authentic" learning curriculum.
Head of science and acting deputy principal Matthew Park rejigged the junior school curriculum in 2015 to allow Years 9 and 10 students to engage in learning without assessment. Park called them 'Fokai'.
"Kids were doing things they wouldn't normally do," he said.
But Park, who has a Masters in educational leadership, said the problem was all creativity was lost when the junior students were funnelled down the NCEA system.
"All of the creativity opportunity is gone and all that stuff we have worked through the juniors suddenly kind of stopped," he said.
So principal Alan Liddle supported a STEAM (Science, Technology, Art and Maths) system for senior students with an interest in drones and virtual reality, where students could earn credit towards their NCEA.
"It is more about the learning, about connecting to the world around them ... so the kids are actually engaging with the employers and tertiary providers," Park said.
Park said students had since had meetings with Trevelyan's managing director James Trevelyan to see if drones could be used in the kiwifruit industry.
"Times are changing ... This is putting Te Puke on the world map in terms of innovation," Park said.
"I think it is key for that authentic learning for kids, connecting them with what's going on, what's going to be needed and with industry connections going forward."
The school's ITC manager Armand de Villiers said the STEAM curriculum was not funded by the Ministry of Education, so the principal's support had been key.
"We hit a roadblock with the drone programme where the latest $5000 model didn't support the technology we wanted," he said.
"So we asked the principal do we sell the drone or buy a new one and he said just get the new drone ... now you can see where technology pays off."
Yeo said technology enhanced what happened inside a classroom, however, technology was just a tool.
"It becomes magical when education is not involved in technology but more about learning and the process and the journey to get you there," he said.
"When you can involve the community, local businesses around the area I think that is when it truly transcends what happens already in a classroom."
Yeo said the role of education was to prepare children for their future.
"And every kid's future looks different," he said. "The more you can personalise learning that is the Holy Grail of education."
Blair Beeching, 16, learned how to fly a drone in Year 9 and had since gained his drone licence.
The Te Puke High School student used the school drones to create a three-dimensional map of the school. He also filmed rugby and football matches on weekends, as well as school athletics days.
"For me, it leaves me with another career opportunity," Beeching said.
"I just like that it gives you a new way to look at things. When you're on the ground you can't really see much but if you're up in the air you get this whole new perspective."