With no subjects, a Kaipara school has become the first in Northland to scratch the old way of learning and adopt an experience-based teaching model.
And the new system at Ruawai College is backed by a neuroscience educator.
Ruawai College has removed subjects from its curriculum and replaced them with themes and experiences that students can hinge on their learning.
The students are at liberty of designing their own learning pathway from the new inclusive and innovative system.
However, to ensure students are receiving the standard New Zealand curriculum, a colour coded tracking system has been devised.
Students can select up to three modules from each colour, which is coded to ensure that all learning areas are covered and literacy and numeracy are prioritised.
For example, one may need to pick at least three blues, reds, and greens where math or chemistry or social science fall under blue, English or history under red, and green could include PE.
For senior students preparing for NCEA, rather than having a year-long course of geography, they might only have two standards of geography throughout the year that are embedded in what the school calls learning packages.
Assistant principal Jay Warren says packages are made of standards from all different learning areas pulled into one and it is one package per term.
"Credits are still the same, NCEA-accredited, only the method of delivery is different.
"We are now not delivering education only inside the classrooms and in the form of subjects, but giving them experiences and pulling it all together. It is still the same qualification, you just got it a different way."
The curriculum was set on the foundation of shared experiences, Warren said.
Each student or class would have one experience per term per package, and an experience could be anything from tree plantation to doing a Tongariro walk.
"There might be a situation where Years 9 to 13 are in the same experience or Years 7 to 10 are doing the same thing.
"It is breaking down the isolated nature of curriculum delivery, that was the most important thing to do. Because isolated learning is thing of the past ... collaboration and integration helps to remove ingrained competition between learning areas.
"Competition is good in business or sports, but it is not necessarily beneficial to things like equity, developing empathy or those social skills that society is desperately in need of. Instead of focusing on competition, we are focusing on collaboration."
Warren said the idea to change the style of delivering education came from a meeting last year and staff were worried they were losing a connection with the students.
"We want happy kids, enthusiastic and happy to be at school, experiencing all the wonderful things the school is all about."
Warren said as soon as the kids were given their choice, education became something they were interested in and connected to, and that resulted in engagement.
Principal Raeleen Harre said the change was necessary to ensure the student voice was heard and to bring a focus on localised curriculum, thereby involving the community too.
"Our kaupapa has the child at the centre of all the changes. Our aim is to provide and create an environment where learning is more interactive, is aligned to real-world events/happenings, students are stimulated through choice and there is much more of a blend of education rather than piecemeal."
Harre expected and "hoped" students, staff, and community would be now more invested in teaching and learning.
The school staff happily came on board and Harre said they were already seeing the passion and interest in developing new ways of approaching their kaupapa.
The students also responded favourably to the new approach and concept.
"Our hope is that through this approach our students especially will feel that they are being listened to, responded to, feel more connected to their local community, have a part to play as global citizens and that their wellbeing is at the centre of what and why we are adopting another way of approaching learning."
The new approach was initially designed for the senior school, but following consultations and a field trip to a few New Plymouth schools that were using a similar approach, staff realised it was not enough to change the top layer and decided to start at the bottom.
Neuroscience educator Nathan Wallis endorsed the Ruawai College Innovative Curriculum, saying the focus on the wellness of young people was the "best way" to raise academic outcomes.
"It's not sacrificing academics, it's actually enhancing academic outcomes. For well over 100 years there has been a social perception that hard work equals misery."
However, Wallis said, evidence and research suggested otherwise.
"Happy kids have more social awareness, are more able to regulate emotion, they have better interpersonal skills. Statistically, this leads to better outcomes in adulthood, in those key areas of employment, mental health and social adjustment."