With the roll out of the Creative Curriculum within the United Kingdom, giving teachers and administrators the opportunity to be more flexible in the delivery of core teaching programmes, new opportunities have emerged to motivate and enthuse young people, particularly when it comes to the science subjects. After all, one of the key aims of this new development is to help young people, in fact students of all ages from reception/foundation right up to key stage four, gain the capacity for original ideas and actions. In effect, to help students learn about science, the environment and other related science subjects such as mathematics; through personal exploration and enquiry.
The Creative Curriculum and the Teaching of Science Subjects
In our experience, as teachers the creative curriculum has allowed us to act as facilitators to learning, we have found that the greater flexibility in being able to teach core subjects and national curriculum principles has been a very positive experience both for those teachers delivering the lessons and also for the pupils.
Being more creative has led to the abandonment of many of the older lesson plans and schemes of work we had. Others have been modified and adapted to make them work within the context of having greater teaching freedoms. In particular, being able to introduce new term topics such as a study of dinosaurs has brought real benefits to the delivery of the teaching programmes.
Whilst we accept that modifying existing lesson plans, topics and schemes of work made more work at the beginning of this new teaching style, the outcomes have more than made up for this with a more motivated and enthusiastic group of students, who do, genuinely seem to be able to apply key skills and demonstrate learning.
Why Choose Dinosaurs?
The choice of a study of dinosaurs and indeed other prehistoric animals as part of a themed topic for a term or part of a school term is a really good idea in our opinion. Firstly, most children go through a phase of being fascinated with these prehistoric creatures, this will ensure a willingness to participate in the lessons and activities. Secondly, dinosaurs these days are rarely out of the media what with television shows, cartoons and films so most children are very aware of them and already have some knowledge. Perhaps, most importantly of all, the subject of dinosaurs or to be more precise a study of the Order of reptiles known as the Dinosauria provides enormous scope for developing a range of exciting lesson plans across a range of subject areas.
Subject areas that can be covered include the sciences, mathematics and geography but also with some creative thinking, areas of teaching as diverse as music, physical education and dance. For example, utilising the subject of dinosaurs for a term topic gives teachers the opportunity to explore themes such as changing environments and extinction. When delivering such a scheme of work we have incorporated many different subject areas all loosely based around the mass extinction event that occurred sixty-five million years ago that led to the death of the dinosaurs. Science areas can be covered by exploring the possible reasons for the extinction event, the breaking down of food webs, the impact of volcanoes and changing climates. This can permit teachers to explore current themes and issues related to subject areas such as global warming and the impact of human population growth on the planet. By being creative, the extinction motif can be applied in other subject areas such as composing a piece of music to reflect change and the death of a whole group of prehistoric animals. This enables teachers to tap into other learning styles of the pupils. With music and movement in mind, we have helped create dance classes where pupils try to interpret the death of the dinosaurs through creative dance and other performance works.
Most children have some knowledge of dinosaurs, indeed, in our experience there is usually at least one very knowledgeable person in the class, perhaps a budding young palaeontologist that can be relied upon to help enthuse and inform on the subject area. When wanting to encourage independent learning we hung a washing line complete with pegs across the classroom. We then asked the pupils (in this case key stage two students), to think of questions about dinosaurs and write them on a piece of paper with their name on them. We then examined the questions that had come out and grouped them (another useful exercise involving word association and spatial awareness). Once the question areas were grouped, teams were selected and each team given the task of researching a question and reporting on their findings to the rest of the class. This encouraged independent problem solving and research using a range of resources and then each team made a presentation to their class mates and wrote up their findings for display on the “resources wall” that we had created to help theme up the room for the dinosaur topic.
As teachers, we found the delivery of a topic associated with dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals a joy to teach and found our own curiosity and interest ignited. There were certainly many key benefits for putting dinosaurs into the classroom, a summary of the benefits we found are listed below:
1). Pupils were more involved in their learning and took greater responsibility for their learning. There was a real sense of ownership when being taught this subject. For example, the sense of pride when designing their own prehistoric animal, working out where it lived, what it ate and what name it should have.
2). Students were more enthusiastic about the subject areas and there was greater motivation. For instance, exploring the concept of averages with a key stage 3 class using some dinosaur footprints to make a trackway and measuring the average distance between steps.
3). As teachers, we too were more motivated and enthusiastic about the subject area of dinosaurs. It was a “fun” aspect of the curriculum and it was more rewarding and personally satisfying to see how the children responded to the more creative teaching methods employed.
4). Greater parental involvement. One benefit of teaching about dinosaurs that was not foreseen was the greater interest shown by parents and guardians. Adults too, also seem to have a fascination with dinosaurs, we encouraged the children talk about dinosaurs with their parents and guardians when at home and we saw a marked improvement in the attitude of many parents towards teaching when they began to see how creative we were in delivering teaching plans and programmes. One thing we would recommend is to have an “open afternoon” permitting the pupils to show off their work and studies involving dinosaurs. We set up a “mini- museum” that showcased the work and the experiments the children had done. This was very well received by the parents and guardians that attended.
Bringing dinosaurs into schools is certainly recommended. It enables teachers and educationalists to tap into the enthusiasm of the pupils, it motivates learning and provides a rich environment for developing lessons and learning. We even learnt a few things ourselves – would definitely recommend.
by Mike Walley