Solving the super-learning day Vs time problem.

Super learning days are great. Students have a great time. It’s something different; it puts variety into the curriculum. Often outside speakers are invited in, offering the chance for students to see where careers in STEM might take them, and often that a career in STEM is POSSIBLE for students for certain backgrounds. They are great and should be encouraged.

So I am NOT saying they are a problem; the problem is that they can only happen a few times a year because your time is precious. With the best will in the world, education professionals are busy people, and there is only so much time that you can devote to a time-eating activity like super learning. So often in schools, this is a great start to STEM, but often sadly the end.

So how do you get STEM to work across departments, without taking students off timetable; without trying to get departments to do collaborative planning (a logistical nightmare); without swapping timetables around to get students to do lessons in a certain order?

The answer is to stop looking at it from a Teacher’s point of view. Educators think about timetables, planning, schemes of work and practicality. What do students think about? What they are learning about!

The answer is to give them a pedagogical concept that links the learning that takes place in subject areas and get those teaching them in these subjects to keep referring back to the new learning taking place in the context of this Bridging Concept.

A few years ago I developed this idea with Manchester University and partners across the EU. I’ll explain an example of how it can be used. Think of the Bridging Concept of flow, how heat flows, how water flows, how blood flows in the body. In Maths, Science and other STEM subject lessons students studied what affected the rate of flow experimentally, mathematically, and used computer models and then had to apply this knowledge to varied contexts where flow was applicable – from flooding, to heating a house, to heart attacks.

No timetables were changed, no teachers came off timetable, no students came off timetable. All that happened was that the relevant departments ran the unit at approximately the same time, and always referred to the Bridging Concept.

Some teachers were initially a little uncomfortable about the slightly unusual nature of the work. especially in mathematics, as the ways of working were less familiar. Following completion of the project, staff were very positive about the work and were surprised by how well the students had been able to make links. One teacher commented. "l hadn't expected the students to connect the concepts they saw in subjects without prompting. They explained things such as equilibrium (of heat transfer) using ideas of flow in and out from Maths without me mentioning it."

Students in focus groups said that they found the links easier to recognise when done in separate lessons, rather than more typical styles of interdisciplinary learning such as super-learning days. Teachers found this interesting, as most considered that the links would be less clear to students when studied in separate curriculum areas.

Post by Andrew

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