03 SES 11 A, Curriculum Enactment in Secondary Education
The ‘PBL Goes to University’ project built on research undertaken by Leat and Thomas on Community Curriculum Making (Leat & Thomas, 2016). This research focussed on primary and secondary school pupils undertaking projects and enquiries using community assets (resources, issues, places, people and organisations), which were planned and conducted with community members and accommodated pupil curiosity, creativity and responsibility. This aligns with both a curriculum as process model, which sees education as development (Kelly, 2009) and a society and problem centred curriculum (McKernan, 2008).
In April 2019, the Research Centre for Learning and Teaching (CfLaT) at Newcastle University received funding from the Edge Foundation to enable the development of curriculum projects with schools that have authentic, real-world links with universities, employers and community organisations. So far, we have worked with almost thirty schools and colleges, helping to embed PBL into their curriculum and empowering teachers to think about teaching their subject in a different way, incorporating visits to campus and places of interest, and outreach sessions by academics, students and employers. Cross-curricular themes mean teachers and students develop team-working and communication skills and develop social and cultural capital. The work also draws inspiration from Dewey and from the Ohio Model of School Improvement which seeks to break down barriers between in school and out-of-school learning (Anderson-Butcher et al. 2008) and from the Royal Society of Arts Area Based Curriculum programme in Peterborough, England (Thomas, 2012). There is a social justice theme to this work, with the aim to address issues of inequality and its associated impacts (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2012).
The PBL projects were devised and developed collaboratively by the university team and partners and documented by the university team on a project website, alongside resources to support practitioners.
Projects have three key areas: an “entry event” to inspire and introduce; a series of PBL sessions embedded into the curriculum, often incorporating visits from external providers or to university or local employers; and a final “showcase” where students can share their learning and present their work to invited guests (Patton & Robin, 2012) .
We therefore set out to answer the following questions:
- What do teachers find difficult in planning divergent elements of the curriculum such as PBL?
- How can teachers be supported in planning and embedding PBL in the secondary curriculum which involves working with external partners such as higher education, further education, employers and community organisations?
Data was collected using post-project feedback questionnaires, planning documents and observations. Semi-structured interviews were also conducted with a sample of the teachers and external partners involved in the project. These were analysed using a thematic analysis approach, a technique for synthesizing qualitative data through coding (Boyatzis, 2009).
The findings show that teachers require internal (school) and external (partner) support to plan a successful project, as the divergent elements may not be acknowledged or considered of value by their school leaders or colleagues. Networks of contacts must be made, and this may require specific external support to connect schools with partners from diverse fields. Training in planning skills is required, along with the resources needed to launch an engaging entry event, host a showcase in which students feel their work is valued and recognised as important, and evaluate the students’ learning in a way which is valid and meaningful.
In summary, a coherent and connected approach from all partners in the process is needed in order for PBL to be sustainably embedded.
Working with teachers from all sectors and external partners required different approaches to the PBL process, with differing levels of support. Motivation, abilities and experience impact on how the PBL process is planned and implemented. We set out to answer the following questions: • What do teachers find difficult in planning divergent elements of the curriculum such as PBL? • How can teachers be supported in planning and embedding PBL in the secondary curriculum which involves working with external partners such as higher education, further education, employers and community organisations? Data was collected using post-project feedback questionnaires, planning documents and observations, and semi-structured interviews were conducted with a sample of the teachers and external partners involved in the project. These were analysed using a thematic analysis approach, a technique for synthesizing qualitative data through coding (Boyatzis, 2009). This heuristic, cyclical method “leads you from the data to the idea, and from the idea to all the data pertaining to that idea” (Richards & Morse, 2007, p. 137, in Saldana, 2008). Transcribed interview data was coded using an iterative review method. Key data points were extracted from each interview and were synthesised into themes. This method proved to be an effective approach to explore the impact of social interactions and experiences on the redesigning of the curriculum. These qualitative findings were cross-referenced with a small sample of structured interviews with teachers from four case studies undertaken by an external evaluator who analysed this interview data using the qualitative data analysis software: Quirkos. Drawing on illustrative examples from across the data, we explore the affordances necessary to develop successful cross-curricular projects and external partnership working, as well as the challenges that were identified which may hinder teachers in their development of PBL in the curriculum. The findings show that teachers require internal (school) and external support when planning a PBL project, as the divergent elements may not be acknowledged or considered of value by their school leaders or colleagues. Networks of contacts must be made, and this may require specific external support to connect schools with partners from diverse fields. Training in planning skills is required, along with the resources needed to launch an engaging entry event, host a showcase in which students feel their work is valued and recognised as important, and evaluate the students’ learning in a way which is valid and meaningful.
Throughout this project, we have encountered teachers with differing levels of motivation, skills and experience in delivering PBL, and as a result, the level of support which we as researchers have been required to give has also differed. In many cases we are supporting the teachers in the initial planning process ensuring that the essential principles of PBL are included and developed e.g. an entry event, an audience, subject/topic content and showcase. Often this type of learning is being implemented in the school for the first time, and therefore a rigorous planning and development process is vital if PBL is to be sustainable, reusable and suitable for context. Taking time with the brokerage and planning process resulted in projects and resources that are of a high quality. We have now developed templates and protocols that will support teachers in planning a project and a support guide with resources and links to networks of contacts. In addition, regular CPD sessions are needed for teachers to meet others involved in the PBL process and establish links. This of course relies on the support of senior leaders and management, and an openness to embrace divergent curriculum methods which accommodate pupil curiosity, creativity and responsibility. In summary, the data reveals that the myriad of challenges that teachers face can be overcome, but effective support and brokerage is imperative. A coherent and connected approach from all partners in the process is needed in order for PBL to be sustainably embedded, along with a willingness from all partners to work together in the common goal of creating a more community-oriented curriculum in which pupils are given opportunities to do and make things, meet people and go places.
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