How can local and global issues be used to inspire curriculum innovation? 

How might it work?

School Context

The King’s CE School, Tettenhall, Wolverhampton, is an 11-18 mixed Church of England comprehensive school with 865 students. Although Tettenhall is a leafy suburb of Wolverhampton, our students travel from diverse areas of the city to attend school. The percentage of students eligible for free school meals is significantly higher than the national average.

We are proud to be a multicultural, multifaith, Church of England school with specialist status as a Visual Arts and Sports College with Science. Our pupils are diverse and energetic, and class environments are dynamic. The geography department is flexible and proactive and is collaborating in teaching and learning through improved cross curricular networking. The school is entering the BSF building stage and the humanities departments will form a world zone, to be centred on themes at key stage three.

Initial Plan – taking the initiative

Attending the Wolverhampton Leading Teachers conference at Tide~ gave the stimulus for making changes to the KS3 geography schemes of work. Reflecting on the key question of “How do you as a leading teacher support others to develop the global dimension throughout their teaching?”,  I decided to plan for objective-led cross curricular sequences of lessons with a focus on independent enquiry and creativity.

As a starting point I used the Tide~ publication ‘Enabling Global Learning through the KS3 Curriculum’ (2009), and the QCA (2007) curriculum planning guide ‘The Global dimension in Action'. I was confident that content could be delivered whilst also giving pupils the freedom to experiment and use their imagination. The diagram below introduces my thinking process.

Extended learning opportunities

  1. Sustainable Forests - geography and maths extended lessons
  2. Geography on a Plate! - geography and food technology project
  3. My Vision of 2050 debate – Year 13 debating against Year 9 students

Taking a flexible approach to the KS3 curriculum enables teachers to be more experimental and creative. I feel that the new KS3 curriculum and geography programme of study provide opportunity for this.

My initial starting point was to contact staff from other departments and discover what topics and skills they were delivering and when. All three initiatives were developed in line with the current geography schemes of work, but also gave teachers and students the freedom to experiment and use their imagination in their approach to meeting the aims.

Although open ended tasks encourage creativity, and can meet several key objectives, students still need to be able to select from a range of Personal Learning and Thinking Skills [PLTS]. It became clear when working with the Year 9 class on the two projects listed below that embedding the PLTS, and methods of tracking and supporting progress, needs to start at Year 7.

Encouraging thinking from the start – mind mapping and silent debates

The silent debate strategy introduced at the Tide conference was used at the start of the new academic year with the Year 9 focus group that would also complete the geography on a plate and 2050 debate. Allowing students to comment on comments by their peers on a topical issue or theme is very effective. To complement this thinking process, a number of cards with abstract images were given to students, who had to find the links between the images and comment on their relevance to a ‘risky world’, their current topic.

It is important to have control of the class in this lesson, however, with only minimal guidance students soon want to share their thoughts on paper, and critically evaluate the ideas of their peers!

1. Sustainable Forests:

An objective-led lessons approach was taken with the maths department when planning for the ‘sustainable forests’ unit of work. Team teaching was used to deliver the lessons to a mid level ability Year 8 class. Evidence, taken from the evaluation and self assessment documents that we created [Download pdf 1], indicated that students preferred a project based approach to learning new maths skills.

2. Geography on a Plate

This project was developed to meet several key issues linked to the local and global environmental content on the geography and food technology programmes of study.

Pupils explored:

  • Factors affecting food choice and how to take these into account when planning, preparing and cooking meals and products.
  • The impacts designing and making has on environmental and ethical dimensions.
  • How to research and think about the use of renewable sources or exploring alternatives to less sustainable materials.
  • How to follow an enquiry and find creative ways of applying their geography skills and knowledge.

The vision for the outcome was that one plate of food could represent (among others themes), fair trade, world hunger, food miles, waste and recycling, organic produce and renewable sources.

This project was mainly delivered through planned geography lessons, with the final learning space being the cookery room. The objectives were shared with students but direction towards the outcome was deliberately minimal – the only guidance was on the project sheet [download pdf 2]. Working in teams, and on a £10 budget, lessons focussed on discussions about world food issues and how to calculate food miles. A variety of clips from BBC documentaries were shown to encourage thinking.

This was a particularly successful project. Students were only supported and encouraged to think creatively through posts on the class blog – all other lessons were student-led in teams.

A Governor acted as judge during the final cooking session and used the student-created mark scheme – this demonstrated their knowledge of the task. By designing a recipe book there was still opportunity to reach the higher key stage attainment levels, for example, research sources were critically evaluated.

Students evaluated the project using the Global learning skills chart from Global Dimension in Action (QCA 2007). This provided useful feedback. Over 90% of students had gained confidence; all students indicated that they increasingly worked easily as part of a group. Over 85% felt that the project had ‘made a difference’

3. My Vision of 2050 debate:

To support the department’s Gifted & Talented strategy and to celebrate the final lesson of Year 13, a debate was planned bringing together Year 9 and Year 13 students. Students were given 5 minutes to present a speech entitled “The World in 2050: My Vision” to an audience of students in the conference centre.

Key questions were: What might the world look like in 2050? What might be the main issues facing society? What will be the state of the environment?

Students were given minimal guidance, as in the other projects, but were provided with objectives encouraging them to address specific skills. Students were supported with weekly updates on the blog and were asked to take a personal approach supported by evidence. The audience (made up of the year 9 and 13 class) were provided with a simple peer assessment sheet and scored each speech.

This was a fantastic way to end the A level course and revise A2 topics for the exam, it also gave the year 9 Gifted & Talented students selected an opportunity to shine in front of their peers. Creativity was again evident – one student introduced himself in Chinese as a way of setting his vision for the future. This was unexpected!

When this task is written into the unit plan it will be linked with the English department and will be assessed using the speaking and listening criteria.

Next Steps – sustainability

This approach to curriculum planning at subject level requires a flexible approach. It is possible to deliver the content set by a unit plan without having to follow a prescribed sequence of lessons and tailor made resources that are provided by a traditional scheme of work (from the folders in the cupboard!).

To encourage creativity (both in staff and students), planning needs to focus on a clear set of objectives, supported by a ‘vision’ of the outcome. It is also important to remember that students will not be creative if teachers are not imaginative in their approach to learning resources.

Planning using the PLTS framework can be effective, especially if these link to the objectives that are shared with students. At The King’s this method of lesson planning is being developed and shared through the staff Learning Development Group and Learning Trios Network.

The aims of these initiatives, and the resulting project outlines, would not act as stand alone units of work in the future, but become an integral element of the KS3 geography curriculum at school, and feed into the thematic approach being taken as departments form learning zones for BSF.  It is hoped that geography will be able to support a school curriculum rich in global issues.

Further resources:

A silent debate

Leading Global Learning!~ cross-curricular approaches at KS3