Four years ago we began to design a curriculum that would achieve depth of learning, we called it The DEEP Curriculum – Designed for Challenge, Experiential, Environmental Immersion and Projects are REAL. There are many other components which make our curriculum, I have been very careful not to label it as one thing more than another, as I believe once you do that it places limitations on what you can achieve.
A great deal of thought was put into the design and structure, much more than we could fit into a nifty acronym. (see end of blog) I wanted to develop a structure which would allow depth of learning, and in doing that the focus on fewer things in greater depth was our mantra. In allowing the teachers to focus on specific aspects of learning and thinking, then building this up over the year we hoped that memorable teaching would lead to memorable learning. The ultimate goal is that children gain more and more knowledge in a great way and remember it.
What is progress?
Knowing more than what you knew before and remembering it.
REAL projects are embedded into our curriculum and at the point of planning “significant content” is where we think carefully about the knowledge they will gain. I have blogged previously about our curriculum and there is more detail about its design in there. For this blog I wanted demonstrate how our design is enabling children to learn new stuff, think deeply and remember – in a great way. In addition to that I wanted to show that you can have a knowledge rich curriculum and project based learning working in harmony.
In a nutshell we start off the year with two projects which focus deeply on one aspect of learning. For example the first project focuses on history objectives and big concepts. However, the beauty of project based learning is the incidental learning, you can’t study Ancient Egypt without doing a bit of geography – it’s just that is not the main focus. Then over the year the projects focus on different aspects of learning whilst also layering up for repetition and consolidation.
In organising it in this way we can better manage what our children are thinking and how deeply. The design regulates cognitive load over time, with the aim of enhancing long term memory.
So to answer the question…
Last week I decided to test out if our curriculum works – have they gained knowledge, have they remembered it and have they applied their learning since then. It wasn’t the most scientific of experiments but it did give me an insight into learning over time for this group of children.
The present Y6 were asked about a piece of learning they did exactly two years ago. In September 2016, the then Y4 class were involved in a project called – “Should there be one ruler over one land?” Through this project they would learn about Ancient Egypt, more specifically about the leadership of the Pharaohs and the big concepts of monarchy as opposed to democracy. The project outcome was a live debate to answer the question. Of course during this project they then looked at other leaders to compare, they discussed why they were learning what they were learning – learning from mistakes, how change occurs, connections and contrasts, similarity, difference and significance.
It was a fantastic project, the children were so engaged, interested and opinionated. I have written a small one page blog on this previously.
Before lunch I popped into Y6 and said I would come and work with them for an hour on the work they did on Ancient Egypt in Y4 – some very blank face stared back at me, this didn’t fill me with confidence!
Now, what I wasn’t going to do was sit them in rows and under test conditions set them a series of questions – what I wanted was high challenge – low threat. I wasn’t out to trip anyone up, or make them feel stupid because they couldn’t remember. I began by talking about long term memory and then I mentioned the project name and the key experience to Bristol Museum and the light bulbs started to flutter.
I asked them to get into groups and posed about ten questions on the board. They then started to discuss and bounce around answers… lots of ‘oh yes’ and ‘do you remembers’.
The initial questions were quite basic:
Where is Egypt?
How long ago was the Ancient Egyptian Civilisation?
Name the main River?
Why did they settle by the river?
What was the one of the main jobs of the Ancient Egyptians?
What were the pyramids?
Can you name any Pharaohs – and facts?
All groups answered these questions quite quickly and then started adding facts as children within the groups triggered one another’s memories. About gods, cats being sacred, mummification …
Next we had a discussion where I posed some bigger questions and they started to recall things from their debate:
How did the Pharaohs lead?
What did they achieve?
How were the average people treated?
What were the strengths and weaknesses of the Monarchy rule?
What did you learn about leadership and rulers?
Why do you think we wanted you to learn about this?
There followed a really good discussion, it was exciting. The questions were, as a class, answered really well. Admittedly not everyone answered everything. We had a fascinating conversation about who built the pyramids – about 30% believed they were slaves.
Child A – “But I think there are now theories that disprove this and that they weren’t actually slaves.”
They discussed that even though there may not have been slaves they worked incredibly hard and died young.
Child B – “They would bury the workers next to the pyramid.”
Child C – “I was told at the museum that they would have their toes cut off if they didn’t work”
Discussion then followed about reliability of information and sources.
Then I mentioned the work RAP (the Y4 teacher told me to) and spontaneous rapping from the whole class and fits of giggles ensued…
We have a leader in the uk,
Her name is Theresa May
She is a leader not a dictator,
She doesn’t rule our lives so we don’t hate her!
Very topical I know! ( this was written by them two years ago)
We talked about democracy and what this meant – Filip stood up with his hand in the air and shouted FREEDOM OF SPEECH across the classroom. Hilarious! They mentioned Hitler and Barack Obama. I ended up staying for longer than an hour.
All in all they had remembered a great deal. All credit to thier wonderful teachers and teaching partners.
I know this small snap shot doesn’t justify or qualify the success of the whole school curriculum, but it does go a long way in demonstrating memorable teaching and learning – over time.
Our curriculum is rich in…