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My Thoughts and Opinions on Interdisciplinary Learning

I think interdisciplinary learning can be an effective tool in schools and can provide fantastic learning opportunities for children. For our ‘Developing Effective Teaching and Learning’ module, we have been asked to read 3 pieces of literature and discuss how that correlates to what our understanding of Interdisciplinary learning (IDL) is.

Through this reading, my positive attitude towards the approach was enhanced and I also gathered new knowledge regarding the topic that I previously wasn’t aware of. For example, I never realised the history behind IDL and cross curricular learning and the extent to which it has developed, and this surprised me as I was of the impression it was quite a new approach to learning.

I also did not realise that it has been through a tough journey to be significant in our curriculum. One of the major reports, the ‘Plowden Report’, talked about the disadvantages of separating subjects rigidly, however at the time many schools remained very teacher led, staying away from active learning and IDL. Even when told that they did not have to use rigid subject boundaries, they still opted to do it. This was due to the attention given to league tables.

I was surprised at how much politics impacted the attitudes towards IDL and depending on whoever was in charge at the time, correlated to how much it was used in schools. Attitudes towards IDL have changed dramatically in recent times and it has become more prevalent nowadays especially through Curriculum for Excellence. This reading has increased my understanding of how interdisciplinary learning can be an important learning experience during primary school and can really allow them to make connections between subject boundaries. The examples of literature I have read have strengthened my belief that this type of learning can be more engaging and stimulating for children and really lead to greater child autonomy and control over their learning. There is a key importance for teachers to make the IDL learning relevant to children. This involves teachers improving their knowledge of the children in their classroom, including their interests and hobbies for example. Implementing this into lessons can of course increase engagement and motivation and create a willingness to learn.

My own understanding of the key areas of good interdisciplinary learning have been improved and I have a deeper understanding of what teachers must do to enhance the experience children receive. The teachers must be confident and competent on the subjects they are teaching and IDL requires significant planning beforehand to provide good positive learning. The learning intentions must be clear and discussed with the children. This could even involve getting children participating in the process of creating the learning intentions. It is vital that there is a reason for IDL and it is not just done because the teacher feels they have to.  In order for the learning to be meaningful, there must be new learning and knowledge involved and to do this, it must be enjoyable, but provide a challenge for pupils, which links directly to the Curriculum for Excellence concept of ‘Challenge and Enjoyment’. As with every subject area, there must be progression being shown clearly throughout learning. One of the biggest areas of importance when it comes to IDL is that it must provide opportunities for children to apply their knowledge and learning from subject areas in relevant real life situations. This truly shows how much learning has been done.

A key piece of information I was able to take from the reading by Barnes was that the teacher shouldn’t be just a facilitator and if there is an opportunity to use the children’s questions and answers and turn them into positive learning opportunities to develop their understanding, this should be grabbed by both hands. This is something I hope to transfer to my teaching in the future.

There are of course crucial issues which I have noticed while reading, and these have included the lack of time. Teachers struggle to give children a balanced experience of all the subject areas and adding IDL to the equation can put more stress and pressure on teachers, especially due to the planning which is required. I have discovered, through reading, that this is an issue that has been around for a while as a balanced curriculum was usually not given to children because of time restraints and the prominence of testing in schools and inspections which were given priority. A way to help reduce planning stress and also benefit children’s learning would be getting them fully involved in the process of planning and allowing them to think about their next steps. There is the chance that some children may also learn better in ways that would not work well alongside an IDL approach, so knowing your class and how they learn is of vital importance to teachers when thinking of implementing an IDL approach into your classroom.

My understanding of Cross Curricular Learning and IDL has definitely improved as I did not know that there were various different types of Cross Curricular learning, not just IDL. There are many different approaches to Cross Curricular Learning and they have different aims and strategies that can provide diverse experiences and have differing impacts on children’s learning. Each approach has varying effectiveness, but that may depend the situation, such as the type of pupils, teacher’s attitude and teaching methods etc.

In general, my understanding correlates to the reading I have undertaken, but I now feel as if I have more of a grasp and deeper understanding of what IDL can bring to children’s learning but also know what is important to think about to ensure children receive the best possible learning experience. I would love to implement some IDL in future placements and my career as a teacher as I believe it can really create motivating and stimulating experiences for children to take control of their learning. If used and planned correctly, it can be a powerful tool for learning.

Aw god, not maths…


Most individuals who are training to be primary teachers hear the words maths and  they instantly get an overwhelming feeling of fear and anxiety. There are often many reasons for this, for example:

  • They have had a negative experience of maths at school, mostly due to the teacher they had.
  • They never understood the subject and it didn’t make sense to them.
  • Simply because they didn’t think they were any good at it.

The truth is, these anxieties are not needed. This is because it is our job as educational professionals to encourage children and allow them to enjoy maths. One key stage in this process for children is that they understand exactly what they are doing and the skills involved.

During our first maths input, we discussed some of the myths people have about maths. Two that caught my eye were firstly, some children will tell you ‘ I don’t have a mathematical brain’ when in fact this is far from the truth. Although people will always be confused and wonder ‘when am I ever going to use this again in life’. The answer is all the time. Most things we do in our daily lives are surrounded my maths and problem solving. Some examples are setting our alarm and planning when we need to set it in order to be ready for school. This requires time telling, estimating, planning and problem solving skills. One more example would be simply paying for the bus to school, in this situation, you have to pick out the correct change or notes in order to pay the fare. This clearly uses skills with money.

The other myth that I am choosing to mention is that there is a right way to teach a maths problem. There is most definitely not. When listening to people in the input’s experiences of maths in school, one factor that made an experience positive was that the teacher was open to new ways of solving problems and the negative experiences were because teachers wanted children to do it the teachers way. Teachers will have a much better chance of being successful in helping children’s development skills and enjoyment in maths if they vary the ways in which they teach each topic and ways in which a problem can be solved.

I believe that it is important to allow children to be fully engaged in their learning 100% of the time and one essential way to achieve this is to use a variety of different teaching methods.

In our input, we learned that children can learn maths in three different ways:

  • “Doing Maths”
  • “Talking Maths”
  • “Seeing Maths”

This clearly shows that you can’t expect children to learn by simply filling out worksheets continuously. You have to get children engaged in order to further their skills, understanding and development. Children will respond to this, thus increasing their enjoyment of what they are learning.

Personally my experiences of maths were on the whole very positive. I achieved an “A” in national 5 maths and a “B” in higher maths after about 12 years of studying the subject. In primary school, maths was always very enjoyable, due to the enthusiasm of the teachers and the variety of different resources and methods of teaching which inspired and engaged the whole class. The difference for me, when going into secondary school, was that sometimes I struggled due to the different pace and teaching methods used by secondary teachers. If some children didn’t understand what was being taught, then the teacher would just usually move on. Fortunately for me this was never the case, due to the fact that I would ask if I was stuck as I felt comfortable talking to the teachers. They would always be there and willing to help however they could.


After reading ‘Mathematics Explained for Primary teachers’. 5th Edition by Derek Haylock with Ralph Manning. Published in London by SAGE publications 2014, p.3-33, I was able to broaden my understanding and knowledge of how children can learn strategies in order to carry out addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Of course every child learns differently, however teachers have to realise that children can’t all learn things simply by memorising things taught to them. This all links back to how essential it is to vary teaching techniques and methods of learning. I read about many examples within this chapter of how children make additions and subtractions easier, for example ‘friendly numbers’; e.g. if a child is faced with the sum of 742 – 146 they may find this difficult to get their head around but by using numbers that have a friendlier relationship to each other, the sum can be made easier to understand. Looking at the above sum this would be done by adding four to the first number to make it 746 – 146 which is a much friendlier looking sum with an answer of 600. All the child would have to do now to find the answer to the original question is takeaway four to get 596.     

Everything I am talking about links back to the type of teacher I would like to become and what one of the most important roles is going to be for me as an educational professional. I would like to be the teacher who is going to inspire and engage pupils and to encourage them to enjoy and understand maths as a subject. I believe that it is of vital importance for teachers to realise that every child will learn differently and that some children will need more support. Whilst teaching maths, it is vital to ensure everyone understands what they are learning before moving on and that if someone is struggling then you help them in anyway possible. Being a supportive teacher will really make a big difference and will allow you to consider everyone’s needs in the class.

Overall, we have to show them that maths can be fun and creative and hopefully through placements, people training to be teachers will be able to get over their anxieties and get rid of any negative experiences they had at school, by making their very own positive experiences for children.