We’ve been working in Wales on KS3 curriculum, Hywel Roberts and I, and it’s making our hearts soar. Maths rubbing shoulders with PE; Languages and English hanging out together; Humanities peering over the shoulders of the Arts…everyone is uniting and it’s lovely.
The new Welsh curriculum forces a collaboration of sorts by not only grouping subjects into Areas of Learning and Experience (Languages and Communication, Expressive Arts, Humanities, Maths and Numeracy, Science and Technology, Wellbeing and Health) but also having cross AoLE competencies that unite them – numeracy, literacy, digital literacy and Welsh culture and language as well as the health and wellbeing of children. On the surface, this could seem like an attack on subject integrity (as indeed has been claimed by some), but instead, it’s an opportunity to find exactly the coherent links across curriculum that Ofsted, over the border in England, is beginning to look for. Where are the crossovers between subjects? What ethical, global and social issues can unite us? How can children make connections between the things they learn so they think more flexibly and creatively? These are opportunities and not restrictions.
We began last year working with a Humanities team which I blogged about here and following on from the successful implementation of that, we are now working with the whole school to develop more inquiry led practice that allows subjects to connect. Some of that is expected through the AoLEs but as we plan, we find new connections. For example, Maths had already started to think about the expectation in the curriculum that numeracy could link to wellbeing and had decided to work their data handling unit around food and health. Getting children to keep food diaries, totalling calorie intake, presenting this and working out how calories/energy consumption is calculated and how they are burned would form the basis for presenting data in a number of ways that would normally be taught anyway. This led to a natural collaboration with the PE (or Health and Wellbeing) team. The PE team wanted to look, in addition to building skills in PE, at the impact of exercise on mental health. They intended to use questionnaires and information to get the children to consider this, so why not team up with Maths to make this a bigger project about nutrition and health without compromising on either subject’s individual needs? It’s just another layer of application. And once that idea started to grow, there was no stopping the Maths team. “How did the Ancients Map the World?” turned our gaze towards Humanities. But the Maths would come from mapping angles in the constellations, looking at grid referencing, co-ordinates and patterns in nature.
In Languages and Communication, the English, Welsh and Spanish departments came together and within minutes, connections were being made. Suggestions to build on the existing Triple Literacy bonds they had (where each department agreed to look at points of grammar at the same time so that children could compare, for example, tenses across the three languages), they decided to unite over the same text that the Humanities team were using to explore migration – The Arrival by Shaun Tan. There’s no need to co-plan with the Humanities team – the use of the same text creates an ‘echo’ across the curriculum, encouraging children to make connections without unnecessary repetition.
In the text, the use of language to both engage and disengage human beings from communities is strongly explored. The idea of language as power is inherent throughout and so it seemed like a good place for the English department to start. In the Welsh and Spanish classrooms, the children would use examples from the text of people struggling to communicate in a new place and would ask the question “When people arrive in an unfamiliar place, what are the most important things they need to ask and understand?” – vocabulary would be learned in response to the children’s thoughts in this area. The wonderful librarian at the school sat in, making notes and suggesting that the children could make and listen to audio guides for visitors to new places. And a collaboration between library, languages, communication and humanities started to emerge.
We moved on to Science and Technology and to the context of a human evacuation to another planet under the question of “If we were to ruin this planet, what right would we have to move to a new one?” Science content will cover climate change, space exploration, growing and storing seeds, nutrition, air quality and composition, materials and ethics. Technology will create memory boxes for human beings to leave behind as evidence of their time on earth, flags for the new colony, food for the trip…The same things can be learned, but wrapped in common exploration.
Unlike other curriculum models, Expressive Arts sits as an equal partner in learning in Wales, along with the other subjects, and it came as no surprise when the team came in that they saw immediate links to all the other work the AoLEs had been developing. Such is the nature of the Arts – the world gives a context to the work and all other subjects are inherently present. But it was the work of the artist Hundertwasser that gave us our starting point. The notion of ‘hiding in plain sight’ takes on additional meaning when we learn about his story. Hundertwasser and his mother avoided the holocaust by hiding as Christians during the war. Baptised in 1935, protected from suspicion by the fact that his father was Christian and completing his disguise by joining the Hitler Youth, Hundertwasser grapples with identity and the notion of hiding in his art.
These experiences find expression in a number of ways – describing a square, for example, as “geometric rectangles compressed columns on the march” he demonstrates how his identity was formed in repression and survival. And taking this idea of how we express our identity through Art, Theatre and Music, the Expressive Arts department have chosen this as a theme. The department is rubbing shoulders with History but not imposing on History – across the curriculum, this echoing is being deliberately planned but not forced.
Underpinning it all is an ethical frame bound in the idea that education should seek to empower children to be the active citizens that will change the world, not simply to exist within it and this purpose sits firmly at the heart of the new curriculum that makes explicit the duty of teaching as a means by which we don’t simply create knowledgeable citizens, but also help children towards becoming ethically informed, healthy, aspirational citizens of Wales and of the world. I know that there will be cynics who sneer at such ambition. But not me. I embrace it and it’s wonderful to see the staff and pupils of this school doing the same.