Thinking-Based Learning


Here at Birkdale Intermediate School we have developed a thinking-based learning approach in social science, science, technology and The Arts. We give our students ‘real world’ problems to solve with no one right answer. Their work is judged on the quality of their argument. Each unit has a particular thinking focus where the thinking skill is explicitly taught.

To support this learning we are developing units of work we call Quests. A Quest for new insights and understandings. A major Quest lasts for about six weeks. The Quests come with a teachers guide and a multimedia iBook of specially chosen resources. We are happy to share these with other schools.

We also have a teacher’s guide titled, ‘Developing a Thinking Curriculum’ which explains our approach.

 Developing a Thinking Curriculum 7.7.mb


Quests Available


Aye Aye Captain! – Two famous names in exploration are Captain James Cook of the Endeavour and Captain William Bligh of the Bounty. They are important figures in world history but does this mean they are ‘great’ people? We need to ask ourselves how well do we really know these explorers? What were they really like as people? Were they ruthless, or compassionate and humane? Using skilful ‘compare and contrast,’ who would you wish to sail with, Cook or Bligh?

 Aye Aye Captain Parents Pamphlet 371.kb

 Aye Aye Captain Teachers Guide 341.kb


Lest We Forget – On hundreds of War Memorials all around New Zealand you will find the words ‘Lest We Forget’ engraved in stone, etched into glass or cast in bronze. These monuments are designed to last many centuries. People have gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to get this message to everyone who stops and reads the words. Make a well-founded judgement. What should we remember about War?

 Lest We Forget Parents Pamphlet 162.kb

 Lest We Forget Teachers Guide 438.kb


Filemoni’s Dilemma – Filemoni is a 13 year old Samoan student. He is the eldest of five children. He lives in a village on the island of Upolu with his mother, father and siblings. His parents are thinking about emigrating to New Zealand under the belief that the children will be able to have a better life there. They would be able to stay with extended family members in Auckland. However, Filemoni is very confused and has called upon his friend (you) in New Zealand to help him through this time. Using skilful ‘compare and contrast’ what would you say to Filemoni? Should he come or should he stay?

 Filemonis Dilemma Parents Pamphlet 249.kb

 Filemonis Dilemma Teachers Guide 456.kb


James Shum’s Dilemma – In 1873 James Shum’s family were trying to decide if he should join the men from his village and sail from Canton, China for the goldfields in Otago, New Zealand, in the hope of gaining a fortune. James was a 17 year old Chinese farmer. Using your knowledge of skilful compare and contrast what would you say to James’s family? Should he come or should he stay?

 James Shums Parents Pamphlet 143.kb

 James Shums Dilemma Teachers Guide 539.kb


Faster, Higher, Stronger – One day you or someone you know will be standing in an Olympic or Commonwealth stadium while the athletes’ oath is taken. “In the name of all competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams.” Can we live up to the true spirit of sportsmanship?

 Faster Higher Stronger Parents Pamphlet 133.kb

 Faster Higher Stronger Teachers Guide 454.kb


Not a Drop to Drink – Many New Zealanders take our safe and reliable water supply for granted. Taking things for granted can be difficult and costly when something suddenly goes wrong. When a resource like water becomes scarce our view of it changes. Using your knowledge of skilful prediction how would your view of water change if the taps failed? This can be purchased from World Vision at They sell a resource pack for $30 which includes the CD for this Quest.

 Not a Drop to Drink Parents Pamphlet 169.kb

 Not a Drop to Drink Teachers Guide 432.kb


Disaster Strikes! – Every year we strongly support World Vision’s 40 hour famine. World Vision has been providing disaster relief to the earthquake stricken state of Gujarat in India and the city of Bam in Iran. Anyone giving money has the responsibility to be well informed on how this money is used. If you had input as to where the funds should be spent in an earthquake, which 3 areas would take the highest priority?

 Disaster Strikes Parents Pamphlet 731kb

 Disaster Strikes Teachers Guide 345.kb


Titanic – When something tragic happens people are often quick to guess at the cause. This can be very dangerous. If we are to protect ourselves from further harm we must be very certain of the cause. It is vital that we are skilled at causal explanation. In 1912 Captain Smith was on the bridge of the largest man made moving object on the planet. The R.M.S. Titanic was near the leading edge of technological development and was thought to be virtually unsinkable. We all know it hit an iceberg and sank, but knowing what happened will not protect us from another disaster. Knowing why it happened is the key. Using skilful causal explanation and the original documents from 1912 can you work out why the Titanic hit the iceberg?

 Titanic Parents Pamphlet 154.kb

 Titanic Teachers Guide 380.kb


Let the Buyer Beware! – Your family is about to purchase a very expensive new home. The real estate agent has shown you homes in the Thorne Bay area, Takapuna and others on the cliff top south of Takapuna Beach. As it is so costly you decide to investigate everything possible about the two locations. Make sure you take a very close look at the geology of the area before making your choice. Using skilful compare and contrast which house would you buy and how does your new knowledge of the geology of these two areas affect your decision? Designed for Auckland schools, this Quest has a focus on sedimentary and volcanic rocks.

 Let the Buyer Beware Pamphlet Parents 155.kb

  Field Trip Parents Booklet 461.kb

 Let the Buyer Beware Teachers Guide 542.kb


Survivor Rocky Shore – Every second year groups from our school monitor our local rocky shores to see how well life is surviving in this harsh environment. It adds to our understanding of the Hauraki Gulf which is so important to the life of our city. This year it’s your turn to make a report. Your task is to become the class experts on a particular animal and using skilful parts-whole relationships report on its special features for survival. As part of this you are to form a question about your chosen species that can be investigated at the shore. How is your species a survivor?

 Survivor Rocky Shore Parents Pamphlet 163.kb

 Survivor Rocky Shore Teacher’s Guide 942.kb


The Hunt – Most of us are familiar with the kereru, our native wood pigeon. Kereru are now protected but have traditionally been a source of food for Maori. In New Zealand and other countries such as Australia and America arguments have developed over the rights of indigenous people to resume harvesting protected animals. A South Island iwi recently asked to have the right to resume harvesting kereru. Make a well-founded judgement. Should iwi be given the right to resume harvesting Kereru?

 The Hunt Parents Pamphlet 193.kb

 The Hunt Teachers Guide 317.kb


The Real Pocahontas? – Many books and movies are based on historic events and the lives of real people. Disney has produced a movie called ‘Pocahontas’ which they say is based on the life of a real person who lived over 400 hundred years ago. Use skilful compare and contrast to decide, is she the real Pocahontas?

 Pocahontas Parents Pamphlet 543.kb

 Pocahontas Teachers Guide 594.kb


Science Fair – Every day we make decisions – which soap powder to use, which bread to eat, which battery is best. Many of the decisions we make are based on assumptions. When asked we may have difficulty giving good reasons for our choices. Your challenge is to bust an assumption. Carry out a scientific investigation that uncovers the real truth and display the results so the rest of the school can learn from your work.

 Science Fair Parents Pamphlet 151.kb


Waste Not, Want Not – The North Shore City Council wants everyone to reduce the waste going into landfills. One day their aim is to achieve zero waste. Worm farms and composting are two ways of reducing organic waste. Using skilful compare and contrast could these assist your family to significantly reduce their waste stream?

 Waste Not Want Not Parents Pamphlet 142.kb


Gunfire Stockade – On the morning of the 14 September 1863 gunfire was heard near the settlement of Pukekohe. Around a small church a group of settlers stood behind a stockade as a Ngati Maniapoto war party attacked. The small church still stands on the hillside with bullet holes in its walls. What happened there over a hundred years ago when guns were fired in anger across these now quiet green fields? Make a well founded judgement, what should be said about this event in our history?

 Gunfire Stockade Parents Pamphlet 119.kb

 Gunfire Stockade Teacher’s Guide 320.kb


Predicting the Weather – For many reasons we all need to check the weather forecast. To fully understand the forecast it helps to have an understanding of weather predictions and how they are made. Please submit a short presentation in which you clearly demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of the major factors and patterns associated with Auckland’s weather. What would you use in order to make a skilful prediction on the next day’s weather?

 Predicting the Weather Parents Pamphlet 422.kb


Do you have an idea for a Quest?

Over the last four years we have built up considerable expertise in creating thinking-based learning Quests. We have undertaken a number of joint projects with other schools and organizations. If you have an idea for a Quest and would like our assistance please contact us.


Other Information Pamphlets

 Three Level Guide Parents Pamphlet 613.kb

 Supporting Learning Y7 4.4.mb

 Supporting Learning Y8 4.3.mb

 Review of Problem-Based Learning 33.kb

 Using a Green Screen 223.kb

November 12, 2012 |