I consider myself extremely lucky.
I have managed to combine a career in education with one in the performing arts. I have been a Head of Science and a Director of Music. Seeing education and learning from these two perspectives has really opened my eyes to the power and potential of a balanced and inter-connecting enquiry-based curriculum… compared to the damage that can be done through the current polemic based largely on the acquisition of knowledge into “silos” of academic subject-related content.
My music teaching benefited hugely from my experiences trying to introduce the first NC framework in Science in the eighties. Despite being an unworkable and over-prescriptive behemoth, it really did give me an understanding of the power of a well designed spiral curriculum, with knowledge and skills progressively building on knowledge and skills. Likewise, I tried to introduce as much creativity as I could into my science lessons.
I have always been concerned about problem solving in the school context. Most exercises, aimed at of course passing exams, are “closed” activities… variations on 1+1=2… even up to the highest routine cognitive activities within A-level Maths or Physics.
Real life seldom presents such order and predictability.
Within Music, “composition in context” is a form of open problem solving (for example, creating a sound track for a silent video clip). This is a great example of 1 (compose soundtrack) + 1 (for a video clip) = anything you want it to be.
So in Science lessons, I did my best to create space for free thinking and creativity.
Two small examples: One day, one of the Year 10 students described how a carrier bag fell apart in the supermarket car park, and the chaos that ensued. This was the cue for two weeks of experiment design, investigation and exploration: “Which supermarket made the toughest carrier bags?” “How do we know?” “How could we test an hypothesis?” “What are the variables?” “How can we control the variables?”
On another occasion, in the period of revision leading up to the Year 11 final exams, we decided to design and create a range of active games to help the kinaesthetic learners in the group. It was absolutely wonderful seeing a group of 16 year olds from a challenging multi-cultural inner-city community, boys and girls, running around doing timed multiple choice science tests by trying to knock down skittles labelled A, B, C, D and E with footballs, hoops and hooks…. magic!
The creative element of both these activities, in a scientific context, involved setting problems without known answers. I had no idea what experiments the learners would come up with, given the limited range of science equipment available in the average school lab. I had no idea what games the Year 11 would come up with. But in devising the games, selecting the questions to revise and agreeing the answers, a lot of learning was happening, albeit obliquely. In devising the experiments, we also encountered and reflected upon materials, elasticity and forces (although, for health and safety reasons, revolving 1 kg weights above your head on strips of plastic, faster and faster, until the plastic snapped did not get passed the scrutiny commission!).
There are rich rewards open to teachers and learners who work together, across the subject divides, to create new learning opportunities, drawing from their own subject knowledge and experiences, but open to the possibilities presented by other disciplines.
The 21st century is being defined not by the accumulation of knowledge, but by the creation of new knowledge. The geek and the artiste must unite!