Exploring global themes through suspended timetable days

Dave Morgan reflects upon the collaborative experience of planning and facilitating a two day event with Year 9 to explore the global theme of water.

Students were organised into their regular learning groups of twenty five, and over the two days they rotated around four main activities, which included drama, poetry and film workshops, design and art, team-building and analysing media images. The event was launched with a whole-year assembly. We finished the event with a feedback session, which included one of the highlights of the whole experience – a short film set to music of the different activities and students’ reactions produced by our own Year 10 media studies students.

As a first attempt we would judge the event to have been a real success. The response from students was very positive. We took feedback from them in the form of a questionnaire and their main complaint was that two days was not enough! What was particularly pleasing was the response from staff involved. Whilst they agreed that the required planning and organisation was considerable, they found the experience extremely worthwhile and rewarding, and definitely worth repeating.

Students worked in groups to build a structure capable of moving water from one bucket [the well] to a second bucket. The idea was to try and collect as much water in the second bucket. This was a very successful team building activity and encouraged students to think about the challenges involved in providing water to some communities in the world.

Westwood College is a 13-18 mixed comprehensive. It is part of a DfES Contracted Key Stage 3 Pilot, which means that the vast majority of our students have already completed key stage 3 and have sat the tests in English, Maths and Science by the time they come to us. Year 9 is therefore principally an exam free zone. This allows us to be a bit more flexible with our curriculum, and we are encouraged to be more imaginative and creative in our planning. With this in mind, the organisation of a Year 9 cross-curricular event was one of the school’s strategic objectives for 2005-6. Westwood is also a Visual Arts College and we wanted to make the Visual Arts an integral part of the event.

As International Links Co-ordinator I volunteered to organise the event. Part of my role has inevitably involved investigating suitable links with schools overseas and maintaining those that already exist. I felt that broadening the scope of my role to organise an inclusive cross-curricular event would ensure that all Year 9 students would participate and be encouraged to engage with global issues.

I also felt it was a great opportunity to do something different in an educational sense - to move us all, both students and staff, out of our comfort zones and to move away from compartmentalised subject areas. From the outset I wanted activities that were not necessarily identifiable with particular subjects or particular staff. I wanted the focus to be on challenging students' thinking and preconceptions, and to establish different learning environments from the norm.

In terms of organisation, a teaching and learning working party that I chair was given the task of creating the structure for the event and designing different activities. In preparation, I arranged a very useful preliminary visit to the Tide~ Centre in Birmingham. From discussions with staff at the centre, I was able to formulate some initial ideas about a potential theme and they provided me with a raft of very useful resources. These included: Water issues ~ local and global; What is development? and Water for a city.

Rob Bowden from Tide~ then visited our school on two occasions to meet with the working party. These meetings were one of the most enjoyable and worthwhile aspects of the whole project. It is wonderful to have an opportunity as a group of staff to have time to discuss meaningful issues related to teaching and learning, and in this case to reflect on what we mean by global awareness and how we could raise it at our school. It was really invigorating to be part of these sessions with so many different ideas being generated. In planning for this type of event, I think it is crucial to have a small committee or group to co-ordinate planning, rather than the onus being on one person.

One of the key organisational challenges is getting as many staff ‘on board’ as possible. Apart from the planning committee I ran the idea past heads of department on several occasions, to establish their support. However, I learnt that broad support does not necessarily add up to active commitment, and in planning for future events I would like to reflect on ways of ensuring that all areas of the curriculum become involved, through contributing ideas, organising activities and providing staffing.

Inevitably, with something of this nature, there is going to be a certain amount of opposition from some staff, in their belief that yet another new initiative is being foisted upon them. I can appreciate their concerns, but I am convinced that this is something that actually does make a difference to student learning. It provides experiences that students will remember, challenges their thinking and encourages them to learn in different ways.

So, with more time and forethought, I would like to have sold the idea more effectively to more staff, to ensure that there was wider commitment and that the burden of planning and running the activities could have been more widely shared. Our event was organised at rather short notice. We started the real planning in April, for the July event. What was particularly difficult was finding a slot for the event in the school calendar. Ideally, I feel a summer event should be planned from the autumn term, and in future I would plan a whole staff meeting to launch the event. I think it would be extremely useful to invite in an outside speaker to launch it, and to engage the staff with some of the issues surrounding global awareness – getting them talking and thinking about what is a very complex issue. Our Headteacher has already made room for a similar event in this year’s calendar so we’d better get planning. We’re looking forward to the challenge!

Web Links:

Useful sites to support work on the theme of water are:

Water Aid: www.wateraid.org.uk/uk/learn_zone

Water UK: www.water.org.uk

World Water Council: www.worldwatercouncil.org