Teachers and curriculum leaders, when was the last time you looked at the Directions for Learning, the so-called front end of the NZ Curriculum? It includes the Vision, Values, Key Competencies, and Principles.
Under Principles, one item is called Coherence. NZ Curriculum Online has a whole section on it at http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/Principles/Coherence
Coherence has three parts; Connections, Transitions, and Pathways. I am going to concentrate on Connections and use examples from the project I work in LEARNZ.
Connections within a learning area
Connections are defined in this instance as: links within and across learning areas.
How do you make connections within a learning area? As well as other techniques, I believe many teachers already use first-rate questioning skills during class discussions that make such connections explicit for students. That may often take place in summary sessions towards the end of “topics”.
However, it would also be useful to start building such connections right through a “unit”. This may be achieved by presenting similar information at different times in different ways. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles provide a framework whereby students can learn by watching, listening, reading, and demonstrating their learning (see my blog about UDL).
Using connections through a topic
Consider a topic such as transport. Although as teachers you may want to make your own content, do you really have the time and will it be current, New Zealand-based, organised for an education audience, pitched at the level of your students and embody 21st century pedgogy?
If you use a LEARNZ field trip (like Smart Motorways), much of such “heavy lifting” has been done. As far as connections go, they happen during the journey. So, in the early stages of learning, a student could view a photo of an electronic variable message sign (VMS) on a motorway and read a caption about it. Perhaps the photo is projected and all the class can see it on a big screen. Maybe everyone has questions about it. They could find some of the answers in one of the web pages about it (Features of a Smart Motorway) and complete an interactive activity about it. Further down the track during the three days of the LEARNZ field trip, during a live web conference, students may put their questions about the VMS directly to an expert and have them answered. They can see and hear what has been asked by other students from their class and by students from other schools. Teachers can enter students’ arising questions in a chat pod to be answered straight away. All can see related visuals and text summaries of answers. In a photo diary created on location, students may see another image of a VSM that may have more detail or a different message for a different context, which may spark further inquiry. Students may watch a video where an operator shows how messages are changed and why. In another video, an engineer shows how the huge gantries are built to support VMSs. A software engineer may explain the whole smart motorway as a technological system. An interview with a manager could highlight the “So what?”, the social effects of a smart motorway.
LEARNZ has a Creative Commons licence so students can copy content into their own creations to demonstrate their learning. On a LEARNZ field trip, partly because students are presented with information more than once but in different ways, teachers often tell us that they are suprised by how much their students have learned (what teachers say).
Making connections across learning areas
How do you make connections across learning areas? Structurally, because of subject specialisation, this is innately more difficult in secondary schools than in the primary sector. It can be achieved, though, and at high school my children have taken part in a combined Science and Social Studies field trip to a local lake. The two departments obviously collaborated to make this happen. Primary schools are organised differently, whereby curriculum-wide collaborative planning can happen more easily, such as in syndicates.
Many schools tell us that they include a LEARNZ field trip in their planning as part of a wider study, and they make the connections themselves across learning areas, and with higher levels of the NZ Curriculum. Integration with the Key Competencies is often cited. A transport study could encompass the whole curriculum and the possibilities are endless.
Teachers also tell us they use a LEARNZ field trip as a stand-alone unit. A school may want to use Smart Motoways to widen access to the technology learning area by staff and students. In taking part, students are exposed to content that simultaneously has relevance to the social studies learning area and also integrates with the higher levels of the NZC as well as literacy and numeracy. Connections across learning areas and with higher levels of the NZC are explicit in some cases and implicit in others.
A practical way to bring coherence into and across learning areas
If you are a leader, maybe you are in a postion to drive coherence through fostering collaboration between teachers when they are planning. If you are a teacher, maybe you could scaffold your fellow team members into improving connections within and across learning areas by going on a LEARNZ virtual field trip. This could be a practical way to bring the coherence curriculum principle to life.
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