Navigating the challenges of cross-curricular

Over the last few weeks, we've been exploring how staff at a Queensland school have developed and implemented a cross-curricular framework. In two previous articles, Deputy Principal and Curriculum Manager Leanne Chesterfield explained how staff approached the task and shared examples of topic planning. In this final instalment, she talks about some of the logistical challenges and the impact of the new approach.

The cross-curricular framework at Kimberley Park Primary School (KPPS) is built on a foundation of four Science strands – Biological, Chemical, Earth and Space and Physical Sciences – and subjects are taught under a single umbrella topic.

Chesterfield says creating the whole school framework was a complex process with ‘layers of logistics' to navigate. ‘Our biggest issue was with communication – because everybody is responsible for teaching every subject, we needed to get our lines of communication sorted to get alignment of curriculum sorted.

‘Getting everyone on the same page about the demands of the curriculum framework was also a challenge. Many high schools use textbooks and that helps align their teaching, we don't and subsequently had a bit of “choose your own adventure” happening at times, or folk who were a bit lost. We also have several classes with part-time teachers and this made communication that bit more tricky.'

The Prep to Year 6 school in Queensland has around 900 students and more than 60 teaching staff, so sharing the related topic resources – including additional links, activity sheets and PowerPoints – offered up another challenge. Prior to the new framework, the school was using the state education department's OneSchool online platform. Chesterfield says staff tried sending everything by email, but they soon found they were ‘drowning' in them, and making sure everyone was on the right list and in the loop also proved difficult. So, they looked for an alternative.

‘Originally, we dabbled with Microsoft's OneNote but because we couldn't use an online version (due to department security considerations) it wasn't always up to date and you could only update while on campus and connected to the school server. At the start of this year, we transitioned to an online webpage platform provided by Education Queensland (edStudio).'

Collaboration has been a key word for KPPS throughout the development and implementation of the new framework and this is the case with the digital platform. Subject managers are ultimately responsible for maintaining the pages but team members can add resources and notes. ‘For example, if a team member finds a great activity that fits the topic, they can upload it to that page. As well as the unit plans, these pages now also contain suggested texts, links to great websites, copies of notes to parents (excursions and so on), supporting printable resources and YouTube clips.'

Chesterfield says the team approach to topic planning and development has also been critical to the framework's success – giving staff a sense of ownership rather than imposing change. Individual subject managers, appointed for each strand, work with their teams to develop and refine the planning.

The ‘when' to teach a particular strand (taking into account the seasons and weather) was also a logistical consideration. ‘For example, Biological Sciences units work much better in Terms 1 and 4 when the weather is warmer; Earth and Space Sciences work better for us in south-east Queensland in Term 3, when there's less chance of cloud and more variety of weather types.'

As for the benefits? Talking to the educator about the new approach, the word ‘excitement' crops up often. She says teachers are excited by the topics, creating themed displays and learning stations, and planning in additional activities such as dress-up days, learning celebrations and presentations.

They're also keen to share their resources and ideas, and provide feedback about how things are going. ‘Teachers are engaged with the Australian Curriculum and have a sound sense of the big ideas of what they are teaching each term and the key ideas that need to be taught for different subjects in their sector. We have less confusion about what is to be taught each term.'

All classes in each age cohort (the school uses a multi-age class structure) are teaching a common, topic, inquiry-based curriculum. Chesterfield adds KPPS is using aligned assessment tasks which, in turn, has allowed for aligned moderation and a common language and expectations for feedback and parent reporting. ‘[This has] provided consistency in priorities and big ideas from class to class as well as a developmental progression from Prep to Year 6.'

She says students, too, appear to be more engaged and excited about their learning and teachers have observed them making connections in their learning more quickly. The school continues to analyse impact through a variety of data – one early win has been an improvement in Science results. In Semester 1, 2013, 75 per cent of students achieved a C or above in Science; by Semester 2, 2014 that had increased to 86 per cent. Increased student engagement also appears to have reduced behaviour management issues. ‘There were an average of 1.63 [behaviour] incidents per day in Term 1 this year, compared to an average of 3.66 for the same period last year.'

Finally, as someone who's been there and done it Chesterfield says, when developing and implementing a whole school framework, it's important to remember it's not an instant change. ‘I think having patience and understanding that development of something like this takes time is critical to its success.'

How are ‘big ideas’ developed throughout your curriculum framework? Is there a progression?

When planning do you take into account your local context, such as the climate and seasons?

Think about a unit of work you’re currently teaching – is this the best time of year to teach it? If you moved it to another term, would it open up additional learning opportunities?