It's a slam dunk for cross-curricular work
Driving back from a professional development session on cross- curricular working, Kris Lucas and Graeme Watson, probationers at Balfron High, did something unusual. They decided to put what they had just heard into practice.
There were some obstacles. They had to persuade their headteacher, Val Corry, that what they were proposing was a good idea and get their heads of departments on board. There were timetabling issues and set learning outcomes to be achieved that term. But probably the trickiest was how to create an activity that spanned their subjects. One taught PE, the other design and technology. Not the most natural of bed-fellows. "The challenge was how to create the link," says Mr Lucas.
They called on the help of Helen Sneddon, a principal teacher from Callander Primary who has been seconded full-time to Stirling's Curriculum for Excellence team for three years. She showed them examples of how Stirling envisaged cross-curricular projects, then got together with them twice to help develop their programme and even paid cover for Mr Lucas to attend the council's Mysteries Inc presentation at Dunblane Hydro earlier this year, so that he could see how others schools presented their projects. With her backing, they identified a class that they both taught and the focus of the programme.
Mr Watson was about to take his second-year class through a block on basketball. "This is a difficult class and there are behaviour issues," he says. "Four of the pupils were consistently on attainment sheets and there are several others who cause behaviour difficulties."
He planned to teach the sport in a co-operative way, with pupils allocated roles which would continue into design and technology, where they would design and produce a brochure for each of the teams.
"Helen gave us a framework to use but it was very complicated. We needed to simplify it so that it would work with our subjects," adds Mr Lucas.
"We had to think about everything before starting, from learning objectives to evaluation processes," says Mr Watson. "Initially, I picked the teams based on sporting ability so that they were evenly matched, but when I showed it to Kris he said it wouldn't work in his class. So we had to sit down and think how to team up the different pupils so it worked for both subjects."
They seem to have got it right. When the pupils talk about the project, their first comment is about the teams and how well they worked together. "It was good the way they mixed us all up," says Steven Forbes, 13, who was the coach of the Black Bulls, one of the four teams. He was named man of the match by his team.
Annika Little, The Markers' coach, agrees: "Normally, you try and go with your friends, but that means your team might not be very good. We all seemed to be better mixed this time."
Once the teams were chosen, each of the four members was given a job: captain, scout, statistics manager and coach. The captain had to lead the team and keep them motivated; the coach led the warm-up, devised tactics and decided who would be substitutes and when; the scout studied the other teams to find out their strengths and weaknesses and the statistics manager gathered data and recorded it in the form of tables and charts.
The aim was to get pupils working collaboratively to build team spirit, encourage independent learning, promote a sense of responsibility and increase confidence. The youngsters responded positively.
"PE was never one of my favourite subjects and I normally tried to get out of it," admits Natasha Garifalou, 14, statistics manager for The Markers. "But when the two subjects came together, I realised that if I didn't take part I'd be letting my team down. In the end, I really enjoyed both subjects and took part in PE."
Besides their active roles in the teams, each pupil also had to write and design a page for their brochure. "With cross-curricular projects, we are also supposed to include literacy and maths, and this did that," says Mr Lucas. "It would have been great to get the English and the maths departments involved; the writing of the match reports would have made a good English homework task, but we felt that would make the project too big and, possibly, unwieldy at this stage. Maybe it could happen next time."
The project culminated in the class giving three assemblies to the first, second and third years. Awards were presented to key contributors at the second-year assembly. "We did a PowerPoint demonstration which we wrote and presented," says Annika. "That helped build our confidence."
Since the assemblies, other classes have been asking to do similar activities and the school is considering what other subjects could benefit. "The pupils were very enthusiastic and it was impressive to see the standard they reached in such a short time in basketball and in the software package they were using," says Val Corry.
"They saw relevance in what they were doing. All the other principles of A Curriculum for Excellence were also evident. The presentation at several assemblies highlighted and developed the confidence gained. There was a real sense of achievement."
Mr Lucas and Mr Watson are not the only teachers working collaboratively across the curriculum at Balfron. All the same, Mrs Corry is planning to build on their project and use what has been learnt to develop further links across the school.
Sadly for the two probationers, they won't be at Balfron to see the programme embedded further, as Mr Lucas is moving to a new school and Mr Watson is going travelling for a year. But when they go, they will leave behind a class which has become the envy of their peers and improved its standing in the eyes of other teachers.
The pupils who were on behaviour sheets have been written up much less often since the project, and even Natasha has continued to participate in some of the PE classes.