how to...

8th January 2016 at 00:00
Making links between subjects encourages students to open their minds and see real-world meaning in what they’re learning. Here’s how to do it

Cross-curricular projects can be an enriching educational experience in secondary school. By establishing connections between different subject areas, students can be trained out of “compartmentalising” their learning.

Here are some useful tips to help you spot interesting links between subjects and turn these into meaningful classroom activities.

1 Spotting links through a ‘cross-curricular speed dating’ event

One simple and effective way of spotting some initial links between curriculum areas is to construct a cross-curricular speed dating event for your colleagues.

Arrange a room with two chairs on either side of each desk. Divide the staff into groups of six teachers, with no single group containing two members of the same department. Each group can then be arranged into three pairs around three desks. Then simply rotate one place in a “musical chairs” style over five rounds of 10 minutes each.

Each pair of teachers has to identify at least one key topic, and one key skill, that overlap between their subjects. They then write their findings down. It’s useful to set up a Google spreadsheet that all pairs can put their notes into. The results provide a rich mine of inspiration to be shared with all staff.

2 Start small – involve two teachers from different departments

With some interesting links now identified, each department should aim to set up at least one pairing to put an idea into action. Departments should work closely to develop a joint activity, lesson or unit of study that as a team you think will benefit students.

This does not necessarily have to be a new topic and the two lessons don’t even have to happen at the same time or even in the same part of the year. What is important is that the teachers involved will highlight the crosscurricular nature of the task when it occurs.

A few examples from my own history lessons include the geography department providing a CSI-style investigation of a “History Mystery” surrounding the death of Otzi the Iceman (Year 7); the music department studying slave songs and the roots of blues music alongside my study of the slave trade (Year 8); the English department tying their study of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to my study of Jack the Ripper (Year 9); and the sports department providing a history of the Olympics which I then tie in with the Berlin “Nazi Olympics” of 1936.

3 Grow big – involve several departments for an off-timetable event

A successful cross-curricular project can develop over several years into something that involves a large range of subject teachers. That may initially seem a logistical nightmare and very time-consuming, but if you have got steps 1 and 2 right, you will be surprised how simply things can fall into place.

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Here are two examples of how it has worked in schools I have taught in.

1 A local treasure hunt

A “scavenger hunt” around the locality of the school is a superb team-building exercise for older students and costs nothing to set up, regardless of the area in which you live. I used Google Maps to identify 10 key places around the city, all within walking distance, and we then created a series of questions that guides students from place to place. For example: “Go to the gardens nearby, which are named after the French Resistance leader during the Second World War, who later became president”.

Once there, the students have to answer a question, the answer to which can be found by looking around: “The garden has a statue of a famous poet from the area. What is his name?”. Content should take all subjects into consideration. The potential for crossover with geography are obvious (especially if the clues require map skills) but also many other subjects. Art galleries, theatres, businesses and monuments provide endless possibilities.

The treasure hunt should have a strict time limit – that way, an element of urgency is built into the event.

2 An off-timetable experience

Here at the International School of Toulouse, we have several projects that grew to encompass so many subjects that we now take an entire year group off-timetable for two days to work on it.

For example, Year 8 students investigate the question, “What was the most important development of the Renaissance?” On day one, students are organised into teams that work through a series of specialist lessons (for example, geography, science, art, ICT, maths, music). In each lesson, the teacher addresses two key questions: “What changed during the Renaissance in this subject?” and “Why did these changes take place?”

The next day, each group has two hours to produce a presentation linking the subjects together in a chain of cause and effect to conclude which development was most important.

Finally, the groups deliver their presentations to the school principal, who judges the overall winner. In addition, each team “peer-assesses” itself to determine who contributed most.

The “Renaissance Event” has proven so popular that we have adapted the format to create a Year 12 induction event for the International Baccalaureate. Teachers involved in the event provide a one-hour lesson exploring the positive and negative legacies of the Second World War in relation to their subject. Event co-ordinators then help each team of students tie these various lessons together in an overall thesis, which forms the basis not only of a group presentation, but also an individual essay marked according to a strict rubric. The results are recorded in the student reporting system as a baseline assessment.

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