I was really thrilled last year when Northern Learning Trust asked me to develop a series of workshops that linked numeracy and literacy targets at Key Stage 2 (upper primary) with sustainability.
What a fascinating challenge it has proved to be. My background is very much within the environmental and sustainability area and all the in-school teaching I have done has been within subject areas such as biology, science or geography. So the first challenge was to get to grips with the current literacy and numeracy targets that young people need to learn about from Year 3 to Year 6.
There is a lot in there and much of it really does lend itself to practical application - counting, measuring, collecting real information about something and then using it, carrying out eco-surveys as a basis for an eco-campaign in the school or community are just a few examples.
Then came the fun of trying to ensure that the workshops really did meet the things that teachers were looking for. To help with this, I have been out piloting the workshops with schools around the region which has been incredibly enjoyable and rewarding.
There has been a huge enthusiasm from the young people I have worked with for this kind of practical learning and for the topics they have studied. It has been great to see how children as young as 8 can work in teams, discuss issues and problems and come to solutions with their group or class.
I discovered that using real data can be problematic for younger children as the resulting numbers are not always so easy to add or multiply with. From this, we realised that in order to use real data in a workshop, plenty of time needs to be provided to allow all students within the class to get to grips with using the data as then it will have a greater impact on them.
At one school the students carried out an experiment using timing, measuring, addition, averages and multiplication and found that a dripping tap could waste 2 - 3 litres of water in one day. Dripping taps were considered to be a problem in the school and in their action plan, the students proposed to tell the rest of the school about the problem and encourage everyone to turn off taps properly and report broken taps. A great example of using maths skills to find out about an issue and literacy skills to tell others about the problem and a way of solving it.
The pilots are now over and the final workshops nearing completion. So a big thank you to all the schools who took part, they have really ensured that these workshops will help illustrate how real-life, relevant and practical topcis such as energy saving, habitat creation, water saving, litter or biodiversity can also support and emphasise the value of curriculum targets in maths and literacy.