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The Power of Connecting

28 November 2014

We know that children learn more effectively when they themselves can make links in and across their learning, and when their learning is motivating, exciting and connected.This is why we adopt an approach that involves a blend of rigorous, discrete subject teaching mixed with effective cross-curricular links and themed learning contexts.

  • Year 3 students at the British International School Shanghai Puxi learning through themed learning

The children are encouraged and guided to make meaningful connections across their learning, and to apply the knowledge and skills learned in one subject to others. This approach is evident across the school but I wanted to highlight what has been happening in Year 3 as it is a great example of how Themed Learning can have a really powerful impact on increasing student engagement and deepening their learning.

This term Year 3 have planned all their learning around the Themed Learning context of Footsteps From The Past and it has completely gripped the attention and imaginations of the children. They have been involved in a mixture of factual learning and hands on practical work which has challenged them to think, to research, to solve problems, to take risks and to reflect – as individuals, but also with many opportunities to work collaboratively in groups.

They have used technology to research and learn lots of scientific facts and language about dinosaurs and then collated, analysed and presented their learning in interesting ways. They have considered and discussed how the dinosaurs came to be extinct and what the world might be like if dinosaurs still roamed the planet today. They have become paleontologists analysing fossils for what they can tell us about the past and then learning the art skills required to make their own fossils using printing and plaster cast modeling. They have studied the physiology and habitats of dinosaurs and then compared and contrasted this knowledge with what we know about humans and other animals.

This cross-curricular approach has also had a dramatic impact on the language and writing skills of the children. After studying the story of Theseus and the Minotaur and looking at picture stimulus, the children were challenged to brainstorm words, phrases and ideas using the model - I see (look), I think (justify), I wonder (question) - and then write descriptive narratives. The language produced has been outstanding as they have pulled in their scientific and historic knowledge and vocabulary to create sentences including wonderful phrases such as his towering body moved like a giant predator stalking his prey……his razor sharp carnivorous incisors were ready to bite…the foul-smelling predator with a hideous grin…This language came naturally to them as they are so engrossed in their Themed Learning that of course they want to use this specialist language in their Literacy tasks too.

The children also demonstrated that although only 8 years old, they can be philosophers as they considered what characteristics a Minotaur would have. With the head of a bull on the body of a man, would he think, feel, act like a human or an animal? How would this differ if his body were reversed? Challenging ideas, deep thinking and fascinating conversations about what it means to be human and the ethics of animal rights!

So from the context of Footsteps from The Past, Year 3 students have had many exciting and stimulating learning experiences, and exploited lots of connections and opportunities to apply learning across different subjects and contexts. Each year group has their own Themed Learning context each term and with careful planning and skillful teaching, our teachers are able to ensure that their classes are excited by their learning and can make meaningful connections across the curriculum.

The Learning Showcases taking place over the coming weeks are a good chance for the students to share with their parents what they have been doing and learning, but in the meantime, make sure that you ask your children all about what they have been studying – they will surprise you with the depth of their knowledge and scope of their learning! Teachers will be sharing with you (and the children) the Themed Learning topics for next term, so maybe you can start to get your child interested in their new topics and learn alongside them.

- Niki Meehan, Head of Primary