Shining light on LifeSchool 360
In T-shirt, shorts and trainers, Greg Harvey is an unusual sight in front of the classroom as he helps his S1 pupils with their geometry and first-year science knowledge, and shows them how to connect wires to a light bulb.
What to outsiders may, at first glance, look like a spontaneous "please take" for a colleague is part of a cross-curricular project that has had a lasting effect on teachers and staff at St Joseph's Academy in Kilmarnock.
The PE teacher is showing his pupils how to build "quiz boxes" which have written questions on them, where each answer corresponds to an electric switch. A bulb lights up if the button next to the correct answer is pressed.
Last summer, the school introduced LifeSchool 360 (LS360) for its S1 year group, two double periods of inter-disciplinary learning embedded in the timetable. Over S1, S2 and S3, they will work on projects and complete tasks around eight broad topics.
The topics - Horizons, Discovery, Power, Thought, Identity, The Globe, Connections, Relationships - were agreed in a lengthy consultation process with all staff and are purposefully vague to allow specialist teachers to contribute and pupils to pitch in with their own ideas.
Teams of about seven teachers from a variety of subject areas have taken charge of each theme and bring their expertise and personal passions into the tasks.
Head Alan Ward says the vision behind LS360 is to bridge the gap between primary and secondary: "We are trying to educate them in the broadest possible sense.
"At the end of this, our young people will recognise they have a set of skills that they have developed. What we are doing here is making the connection between seemingly disparate parts of their education."
A list of 10 transferable skills has been agreed, which teachers hope the children will attain through LS360; posters of them cover the doors and walls of the school.
Currently, the pupils are working on "Power", with tasks relating to renewable power, political power and the abuse of power, but also touching upon the power of love and of celebrity, explains depute head Ben Davis. Current affairs are spontaneously introduced into the lesson plans.
Pupils first learn about the chosen topic and then carry out a task as a group or prepare presentations which can involve creating displays, acting out a play or submitting a written piece of work to demonstrate their understanding.
"When we look back at our school days, LS360 is what we will remember," says Luke (S1). The tasks were exciting, he explains, and did not require them to sit in silence.
Luke was able to use his creativity when presenting his work on the power of love. "We did a play. We were three boys; my mum happened to have a wig, so I brought it in and dressed up as a girl," he says.
Classmate Rebekah adds: "We are learning different group skills and how to present in front of people. The teachers give us an idea but we can adapt it."
In their weekly personal planning time, the pupils have just started writing diaries to reflect on the week.
Biology and chemistry teacher Maria Denheen devised the quiz box task. She says: "It's fun and I can see that they are improving in a way that they might not have had a chance to."
Although she is comfortable with the task, she realises it may come less easily to her colleagues from other specialist backgrounds. So to help them, they spent their lunchbreak the day before building their own boxes so that they would be able to teach how to do it.
Greg Harvey, the PE teacher, says he does not feel phased by the challenge: "I personally enjoy it, I could do a whole day of LS360."
With each theme including a variety of tasks, all the teachers find themselves outside their comfort zone at some point. Ms Denheen confesses that she has found meeting really high standards in literacy "maybe the most challenging" because she doesn't teach that way in science.
But she says challenging herself has enriched the LS360 experience: "It keeps it fresh. I appreciate the difficulties the children have with it. We are all in it together, it brings you a bit closer to the kids' learning."
All the teachers agree that LS360 has not been without challenges. "It's not easy, but a lot of people have a vision for this school," says Ms Denheen. "We want to be the best we can be and we realise we need to start in first year."
LS360 - HOW IT WORKS
- Two double periods per week;
- one of those periods is spent on personal planning time;
- eight broad themes: Horizons, Discovery, Power, Thought, Identity, The Globe, Connections, and Relationships;
- three themes are taught in S1, three in S2, two in S3;
- teams of seven teachers from a range of subject areas work out plans for each theme;
- about 30 periods are to be spent on each theme, though this is flexible;
- literacy, numeracy and health and well-being are a focus in every theme;
- Ten transferable skills form part of target learning outcomes throughout LS360: communicating; collaborating; listening; creating; leading; reflecting; enquiring; observing; organising and problem solving;
- pupils research topics relating to the themes and present results to their colleagues.