Bridgework construction

4th November 1994 at 00:00
Despite acknowledged benefits, cross-curricular work remains something of a rarity. Malcolm Swan explores some possibilities Just occasionally I come across secondary schools where departments are working collaboratively on common projects. Their staff claim many educational advantages: "in the real world, experiences are not found in separate packages with subject labels, " "cross-curricular work allows more efficient use of time and resources. " Some also mention the possibility of submitting the same piece of coursework in two GCSE subjects.

So why is cross-curricular work so rare? Some teachers cite organisational problems: "our timetables are incompatible;" "our classes are setted differently;" "there aren't the resources." Others confess to "territorial" or workload problems: "I don't want maths to become just another service subject;" "I just haven't got time."

There appear to be three main ways of organising cross-curricular work: o Departments working in a fully integrated way This is the most ambitious approach as it normally involves suspending the normal school timetable. One school did this with three groups of students for two days.

After an initial introduction by a local manufacturer of springs, students investigated their stretching properties (with science and maths teachers), then designed and made "springy" artefacts (with design and technology teachers).

Outcomes included a pinball machine, some weighing scales, a bird table and some chest ex-panders!

o Departments working in sequence One department starts a project then hands over the result to another for follow-up work. In one school, for example, a project about designing "pop up" cards began in mathematics lessons with an exploration of the 3-dimensional geometry involved. The designs were then further developed and modified in technology.

o Departments working in parallel Departments deal simultaneously with different parts of a common project. At some stage, these are integrated to form a single whole.

The following accounts give more vivid descriptions of what is possible. The first documents the growing enthusiasm of two teachers as they begin collaborating. The second illustrates how a much more complex project involving seven departments was organised.

Designing board games:a project with two departments This was a co-operative effort between two teachers in a Nottingham secondary school: "The idea for the project came about during an informal chat between myself (a maths teacher) and a design specialist at the school. I had acquired a 'Design a Board Game' resource pack and was considering its use with Year 7 students.

"We decided to let 'maths' concentrate on theoretical aspects, the fairness of games and the geometry of board layouts, while 'design and technology' would focus on practical and aesthetic aspects such as the use of materials and colour. We planned to spend about four weeks within the normal timetable.

"We began with maths. Students were asked to play five games containing deliberate faults (for example unfair games, poorly drawn boards) with the intention that this would make them more aware of possible pitfalls in game design. These games also exemplified a variety of different designs (using squares, equilateral triangles, hexagons, spirals), equipment that might be used (dice, playing cards etc) and the skillchance dimension. It was hoped that this would give the students a wider range of experience to draw on.

"The D and T department joined in after this initial exploration. In groups, students brainstormed ideas about a game they would make themselves. Much of the work which followed consisted of group 'negotiation'. Each group produced a prototype of a game. This was evaluated by other groups.

"During the final 'polishing' stage, we allowed students to choose where they worked. It was quite common, for instance, to find some in the maths room being helped to draw accurate hexagons, some in the D and T area making board designs, some using the IT room for word-processing rules, and some visiting the science area to design circuits for buzzers.

"Some students wanted to phot -photocopy items from other games. I suggested that they rang the manufacturers to obtain permission. This was a stroke of luck. Waddingtons were very interested in the work going on and offered to look at the best 20 games, and give them 'serious consideration' for potential manufacture. This caused great excitement among the students.

"At the end of the project, the games from the whole year group were displayed, and students played and evaluated each others' games.

"The project as a whole was tremendously successful with students and staff alike, with motivation being unparalleled in our experience. When we repeat the project, we would like to extend the activity into such areas as advertising and marketing, and possibly mass-production."

Designing soft toys: a project involving seven departments Teachers from a secondary school in Burton on Trent embarked on a nine-week project with Year 7 classes, again within the normal school timetable. The following table shows how each department joined in at an appropriate stage.

Weeks 1-7: design technology (six hours in total) Design and make soft toys for the under-fives (glove puppets, mobiles and so on).

Weeks 2-9: English (eight hours) Produce a short video to advertise the product. This involves creating an advertising agency, doing market research, constructing a story board, scripting and filming.

Weeks 4-6: mathematics (nine hours) Package the item. Evaluate costs of materials, profit and loss, create a database containing information on main competitors, locations, prices and so on.

Weeks 7-8, humanities (two hours) Deal with manufacturingselling the product; for example cost of raw materials, transport, location of competitors, optimum location of sales outlet (using the database from maths).

Weeks 7-9: music (three hours) Examine types of music used in advertisements; create music for the video.

Weeks 8-9: modern languages (two hours) Translate the advertisement for overseas sales. Prepare and enact a video script.

I attended the final presentation where all the students gathered in a room, surrounded by their products. They took turns to "sell" their product through demonstrations and videos. It was a wonderful experience. Not everything went well. The humanities work seemed rather theoretical compared with work going on in other subjects; and there was evidence that this was the least enjoyable part.

Most of the comments from students were very encouraging: "I thought the project sounded really exciting at first and it was. I thought it was interesting how all the subjects linked together," one said Malcolm Swan is a lecturer in education at Nottingham University Resources mentioned are: o Springy things inc. at Oulder Hill Community School, Rochdale by R Dallow et al, MAP cross-disciplinary case study No 1, mechanics in action project, University of Manchester (1989) o Be a Paper Engineer, numeracy through problem solving module, Shell Centre for Mathematical Education, University of Nottingham NG7 2RD o Design a Board Game, numeracy through problem solving module, Shell Centre for Mathematical Education, University of Nottingham NG7 2RD

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