Topic planning in a cross-curricular framework

In a three-part series, Teacher is exploring how staff at a Queensland school have developed and implemented a cross-curricular framework. In this second instalment, Deputy Principal and Curriculum Manager Leanne Chesterfield shares examples of topic planning.

When Leanne Chesterfield and her team first started planning their own units of work the priority was to deliver it within the existing multi-age class structure at Kimberley Park Primary School (KPPS).

They wanted to teach one inquiry or topic that covered two or more year levels of curriculum. The starting point was to develop units based on four Science strands – Biological, Chemical, Earth and Space, and Physical Sciences – teaching one strand each term and embedding the remaining aspects of the Science curriculum within these units.

Staff representatives were chosen for each of the strands and Chesterfield worked with them to develop ‘the big ideas' for a two year, whole school Science plan. ‘Once we had this in play and began to consider developing two year plans for other subjects was [the point at which] we realised that we could link some of the other learning areas together through similar topics,' she recalls.

Building on Science foundations

‘Our current whole school curriculum framework is built on a foundation of those four strands of Science. Other staff members were the representatives for other subject areas and as I pulled them offline to plan units of work we would brainstorm generalisations about that Science unit of work and then analyse the learning area they were responsible for to identify any content that matched.'

It was something of a fork in the road moment. After discussing the next steps with staff teams and the KPPS Committee for School Improvement the decision was taken to start fitting other subjects into the Science framework, rather than create individual two-year frameworks for each subject.

‘Simultaneously … I was auditing Australian Curriculum syllabus documents for all of the learning areas to ensure we were maintaining curriculum integrity across a two year cycle, sometimes shuffling units of work.' As she mapped out the two year framework on a staffroom whiteboard it was clear that some or all of the subjects could be taught under a single umbrella topic.

The educator tells Teacher the whiteboard was a key part of the planning – more and more subject links kept being added – and printed copies of Australian Curriculum syllabus documents were annotated and highlighted to keep track of what was being taught across the two-year cycle. ‘When I was working with some staff to map the subject they were manager of their cohort for, we printed copies of the content descriptions and placed them on a printed copy of the draft two-year plan.'

A topic example

The educator explains the units have been designed to emphasise skills and the content provides staff with the context to each thing like fair testing and historical inquiry. Each unit works towards an end point – such as a response to an inquiry question. Chesterfield says they're definitely not just a ‘lovely collection of activities on a topic'.

One of the units in the Earth and Space Sciences strand is Saving Planet Earth. Chesterfield explains some of the subject links and activities:

‘In Science, students identified and investigated natural, managed and constructed features of environments and familiar landscapes, identifying the natural resources used in these different places with a particular focus on soil and erosion. Obviously, there is a direct link here to Geography with students investigating geographical features of places, this time focusing in on forests and treed areas with students then proposing actions they could take to care for resources or a place important to them.

‘Technology had an emphasis on Design & Technology this term, with students completing a Repurposing Project (ideas for repurposing a common household waste item, such as plastic bottles, and designing and creating a new product).

‘To link to English, students have read and compared a range of text types (for example narratives, poetry, informative texts or persuasive texts) based on the topic of Saving Planet Earth and then experimented with writing and responding to topics across a range of genres. They presented a piece of writing in an Author's Café and wrote a call to action (“I wrote this piece because …; I would like people to … because …”). Our Arts unit of work was a drama unit with students exploring the use of dramatic action to persuade. This also linked in to their Author's Café presentation.'

With each new planning cycle, the school leader works with subject managers to offer initial pointers and weave in curriculum demands and developed aligned assessments. She says teachers across the school are excited to work with the new format and have bounced ideas off each other, and have been clever and creative with their planning.

Stay tuned: In the final part of this series, we'll be exploring some of the logistical challenges and solutions Chesterfield and her colleagues have faced in implementing a cross-curricular approach and the impact on staff and students.

When topic planning with your staff, do you make time for the 'big ideas'? In what ways does this strengthen the way content is delivered to students?

For Leanne Chesterfield and her staff, their whiteboard was a key part of their planning. How do you use your physical environment to assist with your planning and discussions?