Over the last two weeks I have had three very inspirational encounters. Prof. David Price spoke eloquently at my school recently about the origins of UCL and the principles which it is built upon. Jeremy Bentham the founder of utilitarianism was an advocate of personal freedoms and called for among others equal rights for women, decriminalising homosexual acts and campaigned against the death penalty. Jeremy Bentham is also famous for coining terms such as ‘international’ and ‘maximise’ as well as the much lesser known ‘chrestomathic’. Chresthomatic is a term that means teaching or learning that has practical use. Essentially, the curriculum we are desinging is for this purpose and we want students to learn knowledge and skills that they find useful and relevant to them personally. For the Geography curriculum we have chosen topics very carefully based on this mantra and allowing students to think and problem solve based on contemporary issues. Prof. Price also talked about the need to work across disciplines, the value of this shared knowledge and learning from ones own ignorance can lead to greater ideas and outcomes. Essentially, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts‘.
My second encounter was with Dr Paul Clarke, who through his pop-up foundation has an impressive and inspirational range of projects around sustainability. Meeting people like Paul with such energy, creativity and intellect has really inspired me to design an authentic curriculum. The key component of our curriculum is around sustainability and students both thinking and experiencing the world around them. We also aim for students to think deeply about other challenges such as inequalities and societal changes such as ageing populations, that are contemporary and relevant to the inter-connected world they live in.
My third encounter in the last fortnight was with John Bosselman from High Tech High. HTH and the teachers I have worked with before, Loni Bergqvist and Chris Wakefield have had a huge impact on my thinking of curriculum design. Designing the curriculum around the pedagogy of REAL projects is the best way to inspire our students to produce outstanding work and to think deeply about the world around them. John introduced me to the idea of Human Centred Design which I will blog about later, but has huge potential in how I will design the geography and wider school curriculum in future. The double-diamond design process can be used to design curriculum around students producing authentic outputs that have real value for them and their local communities. We also want to go beyond the traditional view of rigour and empower and liberate students to develop wider dispositions and attributes fit for a future in a changing world.
Essentially, I want to strip down the curriculum for key stage 3 in particular (where there is more freedom to do so) to that more akin to the ‘classic theory’ of learning. Frank Smith is his book ‘The Book of Learning and Forgetting’ describes the classic theory as learning as effortless through collaboration. I aim to strip out my own and others inertia and preconceived ideas of the ‘official theory’ of making learning an effort, through memorisation and testing for example. However, this does not mean that we are not pragmatic about the fact students will sit exams later in their school lives at GCSE and A level. This is achieved with enabling students to learn some skills required for their future success with examinations. Our assessment system considers this as I have written about previously.
So the curriculum has gone through and will continue to go through an iterative process. As new ideas come, such as new collaborations with the community, university or wider world, we will embrace and change. We have a base of projects that students partake at key stage 3 that have huge scope for expansion into other disciplines and into the community and links with the adult world. We also have a focus on digital/web literacies and desire students to be able to use the online world effectively e.g. through being to enquire, research and record effectively. We still have some work to do in terms of students creating for the web and using the web to connect globally to enhance their ideas. Exploring the work of Mozilla for example would be a starting point.
Some examples of projects;
Foundation – year 7
Civilisation – Students work across the Humanities subjects to create their own civilisation based on Maslows Hierarchy of Needs. They are driven by the question ‘How can we ensure a fairer, happier and more equitable future?’ . This is an opportunity for students to see connections in knowledge and skills across the subjects. Students have skills masterclasses from subject specialists alongside creating places of worship, maps, laws and timelines for their civilisation.
Migration stories – Students come from a range of backgrounds, such as Somalia, Kosovo and Bangladesh. Students are given the opportunity to write stories about family and friends and their journeys to the UK. This involves some interesting geography and route descriptions alongside the push and pull factors of the migrations. An opportunity for students to learn about their countries history and sometimes reasons for migration such as conflicts and wars. The focus is on literacy and story writing so the project should be expanded into English lessons.
Urban ecology – Students visit their local urban ecosystems including Hampstead Heath. They discover the threats to the ecosystem and how the ecosystem works. They produce a guide to the sustainability of Hampstead Heath, inclduing beautiful drawings of flora and fauna, food chains and ideas to preserve the ecosystem. There is also potential for students to learn through their own aptitudes and interest such as literature (Keats house is here) and rich History of the area.
Level 1 – Year 8
Water we doing – Students learn about the issues facing Mumbai and the Dharavi slum in particular. They are introduced to gapminder and statistics as part of the project. They they come up with their own ways to improve sanitation and unclean water in their Chemistry lessons, leading to true authentic problem solving. The next stage to expand this unit would be to forge links with Mumbai and skype and conduct interviews with stakeholders directly. We aim to build a genuine ethnography into the curriculum. It is important that students also learn from the global developing south, where in Dharavi, recycling and sustainable practices are higher than in London for example.
Dereliction – An opportunity for real choice in the curriculum through the lens of dereliction. Students are taught how to research and record effectively and conduct their own enquiry with the view to creating an art piece and accompanying blurb.
Level 1+ – Year 9
Future food – This unit is currently being redesigned based on the human centred design principles. The aim is for students to design a prototype and concept for a sustainable restaurant based on the problems the world faces in food production. These will be displayed for local business people and residents for example. The aim would also to expand this so students actually produce food using sustainable ingredients.
Keep an eye out for future blogs about further projects and revisions of the projects mentioned.