Teaching Across Subject Boundaries – Favorite Topic

When I was in Primary 7, we had two big topics which I really enjoyed. One of these was World War II, and the other was Australia. I enjoyed these topics hugely because they were very interactive and we as a class were ‘thrown’ into living and experiencing the lives that people relating to each of these topics would live.

My favorite and most memorable lessons from our WWII topic are:

  • Learning about evacuees – my class were the evacuees from the city, and the other P7 class were the families in the countryside that we were being evacuated to. We had to write correspondence letters to our ‘families’ in the other class for around a week, and then at the end of that week we were evacuated out of our classroom and into theirs to carry out the remainder of our lessons with our ‘host families’. I remember distinctly thinking it was a lot of fun for the first hour or so, but then quickly realized that the classroom was too small for us all, and that there weren’t enough resources to go around us all. This was super effective in engaging us to think about the advantages and disadvantages of evacuee children and their host families during the war.
  • VE Day – at the end of the topic, we had an ‘authentic celebration’ to celebrate the end of the war, where we had to dress up in appropriate clothing (thinking about make do and mend!), and we each had to bake something to bring in using rationed ingredients. This was a lot of fun, but still gave us a feel of the difficulties in everyday live and the aftereffects of the war.
  • We had to make our own Anderson Shelters and gas masks – we investigated in small groups how the Anderson shelters were made, and each group had to recreate them as a small model with corrugated iron, and then our teacher tested them out to see if they would withstand a ‘bomb’. We also experimented with different materials to make a gas mask, and our teacher sprayed body spray, and we had to investigate which material wouldn’t let the smell of the body spray through and therefore (in theory) would be the most successful gas mask.

We did second topic on Australia because my P6 teacher moved to Australia and we wanted to know more about where she was moving to. My favorite and most memorable lessons from our Australia topic are:

  • We had to create a character who was British, but was sent to Australia as a convict. We wrote a factfile about our characters, including their name, their crime, character description etc. We then had to write a diary account from the POV of our character from the ship travelling to Australia, and another as they set up their lives in Australia.
  • We did a lot of work about the Great Barrier Reef, what it looked like, the plants and animals there, and where it was located. We also explored its environment and the reasons why it was dying. We had to, in small groups, come up with ways to solve the problem of the erosion of the Great Barrier Reef, and ways to implement this.
  • I also remember doing a solo project about an Australian person where we had to research them and their lives, and then present our findings to the class.

These were my favorite and most memorable lessons from primary school, I think mostly because they gave us the opportunity to do a lot of active and co-operative learning.

King of the World – Are Adults Paying Attention to the Fundamental Needs of Children?

Recently, I have been working closely and regularly with Early Years level children in a non-classroom based setting. The age range of these children is three to seven. All of these children attend a private, fee-paying school in Edinburgh with excellent staff, beautiful grounds, and an abundance of fantastic resources at their disposal. The school is very well equipped, and offers a wide range of learning and teaching opportunities, from one-to-one music lessons and regular Outdoor Learning lessons taking place in a wide variety of the magnificent school grounds, to regular access to iPads and other wonderful new-age technology. Technology is a huge focus of 21st century teaching, and general life nowadays, so it’s great that they have access to these kinds of materials to help further their learning. As an outsider looking in, you’d see that the pupils of this school are getting a magnificent start in life with regards to teaching and learning, which they certainly are, but is there more to child development and overall learning than this? Is technology perhaps getting in the way of a genuine connection between children and the adults in their life?

If you were King or Queen of the world, what would you do? What would you change? This question was asked to the group of children I have been working with during a drama workshop several weeks ago. It was certainly a thought-provoking question for them – and some of the answers still give me a giggle thinking about them now! Five year old Leo* especially loved this question, and came up with a new answer roughly every 20 minutes (usually after he’d been asked to do something!). If you and I lived in this world under Leo’s rule, it would be imperative that your chocolate bar was eaten before anything else at lunchtime, that sandwiches were always cut diagonally instead of down the middle (this one could land you in jail if disobeyed!), and no one would ever, ever, have to wear shoes in the sandpit. Pretty reasonable requests if you ask me! However, more recently he said something that has stayed with me, and plays on my mind a lot when I’m thinking about my own professional practice:

“If I was King of the World, I’d ban phones.”

This statement took me by surprise a bit, as the majority of younger children I know are usually ecstatic when presented with the opportunity to play the latest smartphone game.

“Why would you ban phones, Leo?” I asked him. He looked at me, very seriously, and replied;

“Because whenever Mummy and Daddy bring out their phones, they don’t play. They always look at their phones, and say they’ll play in just a minute, but they never do. I hate phones.”

This short conversation with Leo really broke my heart. We, as adults, view the invention of smartphones and other technology as revolutionary and efficient – which it is, of course it is – however for this five year old child, his parents’ iPhones were just a brick that took away their attention and time. Now, this has stuck with me personally as I think that a lot of us in this increasingly modern world are guilty of being too ‘plugged-in’, myself included. Watching people walk down the street, how many are texting? How often do you mean to read a book, or start that piece of work, or paint a watercolour portrait of your neighbour’s dog, but get sidetracked scrolling through Facebook instead and before you know it two hours have passed, and your window of opportunity to be productive is gone? How often do you send a text, and find yourself getting frustrated when you haven’t received a response after 12 minutes? I know I am guilty of all of these things. How many things, then, do you think we miss on a day-to-day basis because we are glued to our screens?

You might be asking what on Earth any of this has to do with learning and teaching, and I promise I’m getting to that! Recently, I found out that the fine motor skills of children have declined drastically in the last 10-15 years, along with the level of vocabulary and communication skills seen amongst children of a primary school age. Why? Because children are placed in front of screen after screen in their earliest years and during their most crucial developmental stages. Studies have shown that there has been a massive decline in parents reading to their children, or singing nursery rhymes. These things are vital to a child’s early language capabilities and development. “If you don’t use it, you lose it” has never been more true, and it saddens me to think that early childhood conversation falls under that category.

So, with the ever-expanding development of technology, how can we, as teachers, work to ensure that while we are moving with the times and incorporating this technology into our teaching, that we aren’t losing other valuable skills, and that we are truly nurturing and connecting with our pupils? I believe that there should be time set every day within a classroom for the pupils and teacher to just talk. I would encourage parents and families to do the same in their own homes. I understand that every single person leads a busy life, but even half an hour set aside every day to simply talk to one another can greatly benefit a child’s development – along with their emotional wellbeing (and ours!). So I encourage you; sit down, communicate, connect.

Technology is a wonderful tool, and furthers education in so many rich and diverse ways, and also allows us to connect with people from all over the world. Never stop using technology to help you further your practice – or your life, but while you are connecting with people from the other side of the planet, don’t forget to also connect to those sitting right next to you.

On that note, I will leave you with one final thing to think about. A question I know you have been dying to be asked. If you were King or Queen of the World, what would you do? What would you change? Because the thing is, none of us can ‘rule the world’, but we can control our own lives, and work every day to improve them. I am going to start by switching my phone off for a couple of hours. What steps can you take right now to start achieving your goals?


*Leo is a false name.

PYP and CfE – similarities and differences

The Primary Years Programme (PYP) of the IB has a lot of similarities in terms of encouraging self-reliant learning as CfE. There are some slight differences in curricular areas however. The PYP curricular areas are as follows:

  • Language
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Arts
  • Personal, Social, and Physical Education

These curricular areas seem to be a little bit broader than those of CfE, which are:

  • Literacy and Language
  • Numeracy
  • Sciences
  • Social Studies
  • Expressive Arts
  • Health and Wellbeing
  • Technologies
  • Religious and Moral Education

Both PYP and CfE are centred around pupil-led activities and a fairly high degree of student choice. This allows the students to have more of a say in what they want to learn, making their academic learning more applicable to students’ everyday lives and the world they live in, making students more likely to remain engaged in lessons. Both curricula incorporate cross-curricular lessons into learning – for example, a science lesson on the life cycle of a plant can lead into social studies lessons about biodiversity and sustainability, and how we as humans fit into that. This allows students to make and develop their own connections between the lessons they learn in school and the everyday lives that they lead, thus making lessons more relevant and personal to each child.

There are some differences between the two curricula however. For example, in CfE, while technology is worked into lessons where it can be, most schools have set ICT lessons in which the majority of the technology curriculum is taught. PYP, however, incorporates technologies into all the other curricular areas which may help students to be able to understand the uses and relevance of technology to them in their whole life rather than just in an ICT class.  Similarly, CfE has a set core curricular area – RME – in which children explore different religions and cultures, and develop skills which will help them to deal with and answer ethic questions. PYP, again, strives to incorporate this into every curricular area instead of having set lessons set aside specifically for the purpose of religious and moral education.

Overall, I feel that PYP and CfE have more similarities than they do differences. Both curricula strives to prepare their students for future life and future learning, guiding them to be leaders in their own personal learning journey through a wide range of curricular areas, while teachers are learning alongside them. One definite similarity of the two curricula is that learning and teaching is a lifelong journey – after all, you never stop learning!

Which of the IB’s progressive educational trends align with CfE?

Trends in education and they way in which children and young people are taught in schools is constantly evolving, and has changed a fair bit in recent years. Teaching and learning used to be centred around test scores and strict academic ability, with very little flexibility within learning methods to allow children to achieve to the best of their ability. With the introduction of CfE, however, teaching and learning is now much more flexible, with opportunities for each individual child to flourish. There is now much more room for different ways to work, and for healthy debates when it comes to a difference in opinion between students.

The progressive educational trends of the IB are as follows:

  • critical analysis
  • student choice
  • transdisciplinary
  • range of skills-testing
  • constructivism
  • child-centred
  • education of the whole child
  • criterion referenced
  • AV and AL (languages)
  • open-plan rooms
  • multiple perspectives

More than one of these trends align with CfE, for example, CfE is also a very child-centred curriculum, as it focuses on building up each and every single child to become successful learners, effective contributors, confident individuals, and responsible citizens. It also takes into account that children learn from a variety of visual, aural and kinaesthetic teaching. Incorporating all three of these learning styles into it, CfE shows that it has the best standard of achievement for each individual at its heart. Furthermore, entwined within CfE is GIRFEC, meaning that every decision a teacher makes has to consider how each child in their care will benefit from this decision, conveying CfE’s child-centred mission.

Furthermore, most schools employing CfE incorporate a lot of student choice within their lessons. A lot of IDL topics are left open, so that the children can decide what they would like to know more about, and thus what their topic should be. Similarly, unlike in past times, CfE allows for a lot of student discussion and expression, allowing for multiple perspectives to be expressed and accepted.

A lot of CfE schools nowadays have – or are at least trialling – open-plan classrooms. I have taught CfE in both open-plan and closed-plan classrooms, and in my personal experience, I feel that younger children (mainly primary 1 and 2) benefit from having an open-plan classroom. It allows for access to more different people and resources, and makes that introduction to teamwork and sharing all that much easier and comfortable for children at that young age.

Overall, there is clearly an overlap between the educational trends of CfE and the IB curricula. Both are very clearly centred on placing the child in the middle and working around them to allow each child to flourish to the best of their own ability in a variety of different situations.

The IB Learner Profile attributes and the four capacities of CfE

The Scottish Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) has four main capacities, which are as follows:

  • Successful Learners – encouraging students to reach their highest possible standards of personal achievement by being open to new ways of thinking/learning, and to be motivated and enthusiastic about their own learning. Successful Learners are able to use communication, literacy, numeracy and technology skills to aid them in thinking creatively and in making reasoned evaluations both independently and as part of a group.
  • Confident Individuals – encouraging students to have a secure sense of self-respect and a secure set of values and beliefs that they can use to develop their own views of the world and help navigate their own lives within it. Confident Individuals are encouraged to independently take calculated risks and make informed decisions in order for them to have the best emotional, physical and mental wellbeing possible.
  • Responsible Citizens – have respect for others and are encouraged to participate responsibly in social, economic, and political issues. Responsible Citizens are able to recognise and understand different beliefs and cultures, and use this information to help them to better understand about the world they live in. Responsible Citizens are also able to understand complex issues and be able to make informed and rational decisions when faced with ethical issues.
  • Effective Contributors – students are encouraged to have an enterprising mindset, and to approach this with self-sufficiency and resiliency. Effective Contributors can take initiative in a variety of different settings, and are able to communicate and are encouraged to take on a leadership role from time-to-time. They are able to create and develop, and to apply critical thinking in new situations, both independently and when practising teamwork.

Throughout their entire learning career, IB students are encouraged to work on and develop ten particular attributes, known as the IB ‘Learner Profile’, which represents the IB mission statements. The Learner Profile attributes are as follows:

  • Inquirers – encouraging students to be curious, to do adequate research, and to have enthusiasm for their own learning, both independently and within a team.
  • Knowledgeable – developing their conceptual understanding, and drawing in inspiration from both local and global contexts to help further their own knowledge.
  • Thinkers – encouraging students to use critical thinking when approached with complex and/or ethical problems in order to find a tactful way to deal with said problems.
  • Communicators – encouraging students to communicate confidently with their peers and with others around the world, and to be able to listen to and take on board the opinions of other individuals and groups. The IB aims to guide students into communicating effectively in more than one language to encourage barrier-free global communication.
  • Principled – encouraging students to have dignity and respect for justice, being able to act appropriately in accordance with their individual beliefs, and being able to understand the consequences their actions will have on themselves and on their peers.
  • Open-minded – students are open to new ideas and experiences, and are not fixated on doing things any one way. They are able to learn and grow from past experiences and are able to use past failures to help them improve and flourish in the future.
  • Caring – showing sympathy, empathy, and respect to the world around us and those in it, and being able to incorporate the worldviews of others into our own lives ibn order to make the world an easier place to live in for everyone.
  • Risk-takers – encouraging students to be able to evaluate new situations appropriately and take calculated risks to be able to get the most out of their learning experiences. Students are resilient and flexible in the face of change. Students are also encouraged to take calculated risks that are slightly out of their comfort zone in order to be enriched in new experiences that can further their learning.
  • Balanced – encouraging students to recognise the importance of balancing their emotional, physical and mental wellbeing within their learning. Students also recognise that they will be balancing working independently and interdependently with their peers and with the rest of the world
  • Reflective – Students can look back upon their past learning experiences and use these, along with the understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, to better their own learning in future endeavours.

Although the IB and CfE curricula differ somewhat, there is a lot of crossover within the four capacities of CfE and the ten attributes of the IB Learner Profile. For example, the IB idea of encouraging students to become Inquirers and Knowledgeable is similar to the CfE capacity of being a Successful Learner, as all of these things include being able to think critically and openly both individually and within teams to better their own learning. Similarly, the IB idea of being a Communicator relates to being an Effective Contributor, as both encourage students to vocalise their ideas and thoughts and communicate these to their peers, while also taking on board what their peers have to say. The IB ideas of being Principled and Caring links to the CfE capacity of Responsible Citizens, as all three of these are centred around working closely with the rest of the world, and being able to understand and express different cultures and beliefs, while also readily and respectfully tackling social, economic and political issues. Furthermore, within CfE, we have the idea of ‘growth’ and ‘fixed’ midsets, and encouraging students to always have a growth mindset. This similar idea is also conveyed within the IB attribute of being Open-minded, as both ideas teach children to be open to new experiences and strategies of learning. Overall, although there are some differences between the two curricula, it is clear that both CfE and IB have similar missions in encouraging every individual student to utilise their own skillsets and attributes in order to be the best learner that they can be.

How do the IB aims align with the main aims of CfE?

Upon initial research into the International Baccalaureate (IB), it seems very clear to me that the main mission of the programme is to help shape children and young people into caring, respectful, and knowledgeable individuals who will be able to work seamlessly with people from all over the world without barriers such as language or cultural differences. The IB appears to focus greatly on building up skills and attributes that will help students to build strong relationships and work with others – such as ethical reasoning, environmental awareness, and imagination – rather than a heavy focus on academic ability. These attributes come under the term of the ‘Learner Profile’.

The aim of the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is “to help children and young people to gain the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for a life in the 21st century, including skills for learning, life, and work.” For students aged 3-18, CfE is centred around being a flexible and accommodating way of learning and teaching, with the individual needs and requirements of every child, both emotionally and academically, at the heart of it. CfE and the IB curriculum do differ slightly, however the general consensus of both curricula is to aid individual young people’s learning to allow them to have the highest possible opportunity for personal achievement, and to be able to have fruitful learning experiences.

Under the IB term of the ‘Learner Profile’, students are encouraged to become inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced, and reflective. Some of these particular attributes encompass the four main capacities of CfE, for example, IB defines being reflective as thoughtfully considering the world and one’s own ideas and experiences. Working towards understanding our own strengths and weaknesses in order to support our learning and personal development. This is similar to the capacity of ‘successful learners’ within CfE, as to be truly successful in your own learning, you have to be able to reflect on past work, failures and achievements in order to be able to get the most of your learning experience as your progress through it. Similarly, within IB, the terms of ‘inquirers’ and ‘communicators’ are centred around guiding children into being able to think and solve problems individually, and then to communicate these ideas to their peers, while also listening to the ideas of their peers and providing helpful and constructive feedback. These ideas are also a large part of being ‘confident individuals’ and ‘effective contributors’ within CfE. Furthermore, one of the IB’s main aims is to help make the world a better and more peaceful place, doing so by encouraging attributes such as respect and care, also encouraged within CfE’s ‘responsible citizen’ capacity.

When I first read the IB’s mission statement, which included “these programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate, and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right”, I was immediately transported back into my own primary 3 classroom. My teacher had been holding up a book to us, her class. The book had a shiny black hardback cover. She had looked at us, and said “this book is pink.” I still remember the chorus of excitement in the room of seven-year-olds as we all rushed to correct the teacher in her hilarious mistake. “No Miss! That’s black!” we’d said. Instead of correcting herself, the teacher looked at the book again, and confused, repeated “this book is pink”. This went on for several moments until eventually she turned the book around, showing us that although the back cover and the spine of the book was black, the front cover was indeed pink. From the angle she was holding the book, we could only see the black part and she could only see the pink. The teacher then put the book to the side and said to us “you were very quick to correct me, even although you couldn’t see the book from my point of view. While you weren’t wrong in saying that the book was black, neither was I in saying that it was pink. Just because you are right doesn’t mean that someone with a different opinion to you is not.” This was my first real taste of developing an understanding about differences of opinion and how people will often disagree with you but that doesn’t automatically make them wrong. It is incredibly important that children learn from a young age that not everyone is the same, be it how they look/think/act, where they come from, or the cultures they follow, and that no one is wrong just because they have a different opinion to you. Everyone should be able to feel welcomed and included. This is encompassed well in the IB mission statement.

Resource Allocation Input

Recently, our group of MA1 took part in a workshop centred around resource allocation. During this workshop we were split into five groups, and each group was given a resource pack with the intention of using the resources inside to build a support kit for new students starting university. Upon giving us our resource packs, our lecturer asked us to discuss our ideas before opening the envelope. My group – group five – decided to create a student handbook which would contain things like a map of campus, study tips, budgeting tips and other things of that nature, which would allow new students to explore both the social and academic aspects of university. When we did open our envelopes, we found that group one had an abundance of resources in their pack, including coloured paper, coloured pens, pencils, rulers, glue, scissors etc. Group two’s resources were similar, while group three had a little less and group four had even less still. My group, however, had only two sticky notes, a paperclip, and a pencil. Immediately, we noticed that we were at a disadvantage to the other groups, but we tried our best to make the most of what we had.

Our disadvantage seemed only to be emphasised when our lecturer gave his continued support and encouragement to groups one and two, however he tended to ignore the other three groups and made his disdain towards our idea very obvious. When it came time to present our ideas to the room, again groups one and two were met with support, encouragement, and praise. Our lecturer became gradually more disinterested by the presentations as he made his way through the groups, and by the time it was our turn to present he seemed to be paying no attention at all, making our group feel as though not only did we start out with seemingly less than everyone else, but now we weren’t being listened to! Surely this wasn’t a fair way to be treated?

Of course, this was the meaning behind this input: to highlight to us that in our profession we will encounter many different people from an array of different backgrounds, and many of our pupils will come from disadvantaged backgrounds and will may not have all the resources and/or means to be able to achieve their full potential. That we, as teachers, should be encouraging our pupils to work as hard as they can and that their limited resources do not need to stop them from flourishing. Sometimes, education facilities tend to give more support to the students who are doing well and neglecting those who perhaps aren’t doing so well, when in reality it is these students who are more likely to need the support. It is crucial as a teacher to be able and willing to support every child, regardless of their background.

For me personally, a truly eye-opening part of this input was after our lecturer explained the purpose of this input, he asked us all if we had noticed the difference in each groups’ resources and also in his attitudes towards each group. Our group had noticed straight away that we were at a disadvantage, however group one said that they hadn’t noticed at all that they were being given more and treated better until it was explained to them afterwards. Our lecturer went on to explain that often, people in a more privileged position often overlook those who are not. This was something I hadn’t previously thought about in depth and was eye-opening for me to think about.

Overall, this input served as an extremely effective way to let us know how it feels to be at a disadvantage and how to cope with these issues and the attainment gap effectively as teachers.

Welcome to your WordPress eportfolio

Welcome to your ePortfolio. This is where you will document and share your professional thoughts and experiences over the course of your study at the University of Dundee and beyond that when you begin teaching. You have the control over what you want to make public and what you would rather keep on a password protected page.

The ePortfolio in the form of this WordPress blog allows you to pull in material from other digital sources:

You can pull in a YouTube video:

You can pull in a Soundcloud audio track:

You can upload an image or pull one in from Flickr or any other image sharing site.

Teacher, Lorraine Lapthorne conducts her class in the Grade Two room at the Drouin State School, Drouin, Victoria

You can just about pull in anything that you think will add substance and depth to your writing.