Since I became a teacher, I have had the chance to teach some really exciting lessons to some fantastic pupils But there is one year in my teaching career which stands out to me.
That was the year I discovered interdisciplinary learning.
Before I trained as a teacher I worked as a Countryside Ranger. I have always loved the outdoors and working as a Ranger meant that I spent much of my working day outside. Fantastic.
Part of my work as a Ranger was education – working with school groups and running a childrens’ wildlife club. I gradually realised that this was the part of the job I loved. Getting children outdoors in nature and seeing the enjoyment in their faces.
When I became a teacher I always aimed to make outdoor learning a part of my teaching as much as I could. Working in Fife, I came across the Natural Connections programme and was inspired.
That year I had a P4/5 composite class and for the full year I planned my teaching around the Natural Connections award as much as I could. We went out to various places in the local community two afternoons each week – this was as much as I could get enough parent helpers for. But Natural Connections wasn’t just done outdoors. We did almost all our classroom work across the curriculum for Natural Connections too.
Here is just some of what we did:
- Numeracy – we got pedometers for each child in the class and our numeracy was based around using these. The children learned place value and bigger numbers than they had previously handled because they wanted to know how many steps they had taken and if they had a higher number than their friends. Each day the children completed a table and a wall chart to plot how far they had walked that day. They had to round numbers up and down, understand kilometers and metres, add data accurately to a table and read and interpret a chart.
- Literacy – the children identified graffiti as a local issue they wanted to tackle. We learned about persuasive writing and speaking, held a debate, wrote letters to the local council and community police.
- Science – we learned about living things, conducted experiments with bean plants to find out what plants need to survive, grew our own sunflowers.
- Art – We worked with the local dog warden to produce posters asking dog walkers to clean up after their dogs. These were printed and put up around the local area. We looked at the work of Andy Goldsworthy and attempted our own interpretations.
- More numeracy – we learned about how maps are drawn by drawing our own. We followed OS maps and used compasses on our walks. We tried map reading with different scale maps.
- More literacy – we developed our speaking and listening skills through chatting to a different partner each time we went out for a walk.
- Health and Wellbeing – we carried out risk assessments for outdoor activities which had to be approved by the Head Teacher for the walks to go ahead. The children made new friends and got to know their classmates better by simply talking to those they might not previously have spent much time with.
- Social Studies – we learned about the history of mountaineering and famous mountaineers in Scotland before going out for a full days walk up East Lomond hill. We went on imaginary mountaineering trips and wrote them up as stories.
Sometimes it was hard to know what area of the curriculum we were learning about because everything was so closely linked.
We did have lessons which were not part of Natural Connections – it would have been difficult to link many of the RME outcomes to the project for example. I did not want to try and force connections – they had to be natural for them to make sense to me, and to the children.
It was a fantastic year.
Here are some of the things which stood out for me:
- Child-centred learning – although I held the ‘masterplan’ for the year and knew the Experiences and Outcomes which I wanted to cover, there was plenty of scope for the children to ask the questions and to follow their interests. One of the elements of the Natural Connections programme is ‘Helping the Environment’. We went for walks in the local area and the children chose what they wanted to work on – graffiti, dog dirt and litter were the issues they were concerned about.
- Motivation – the children were incredibly motivated to learn. They were articulate about their learning and could describe how it all fitted together.
- Behaviour – one or two of the children in the class struggled at times with behaviour. Yet when we were out of the classroom there were very few behaviour problems. Just having space around them seems to help some children enormously.
- Leadership – some of the most unlikely children emerged as leaders when they were given real opportunities to lead.
- Physical activity – the two afternoons a week out of the classroom were a great boost to the childrens’ physical activity. The pedometers were an even greater boost. The children wanted to lead the ‘race’ on the chart so took every opportunity to increase the number of steps they took. While discussing work with a child who was marching on the spot could be a little distracting, the children certainly met the guidelines for physical activity during the project.
I could write on and on about that year of teaching.
Real interdisciplinary learning is incredibly motivating for children. With a real-world context making learning meaningful for children, it is amazing what those children can achieve. It is also amazing how much fun it can be to teach.