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Delivering Science Through Cross Curricular Topics and the Outdoors

In the last 18-month period, our lives, our work, family life and routines have all changed. We have all been shaken in some way or another. We have been united, however in our love for the outdoors. From pensioners to pupils, our green space has been invaluable. It is a place where we have found comfort, joy and safety. The science has said we are safer outside and this has been the guidance for schools too. This lends itself to taking the learning outside for the whole day and using science to engage our pupils. Whether it is to learn about habitats, animals, life cycles, plants or seasonal change, the outdoors can provide bountiful resources, that are free, and on our doorstops, quite literally.

Teaching science outdoors is a great way to learn. It is also fun and memorable We could be investigating who lives in our local space, by closely observing a specific space for an amount of time. Making short notes as Darwin would have done in his notebook, we can then try to identify the minibeast, birds or other animals we see.



Figure 1: Children with learning differences observing closely and being aware of a range of habitats


We could also go on a nature walk and collect seeds, leaves, and twigs. These could be sorted based on a criterion.  They could also be used to make a piece of artwork or collated as a journey stick. These cross curricular links are a way to add more science to your week, with as little stress as possible. Using one hour to teach two subject areas. Children often do not feel that they are working and learning when we are outside, as they are so used to the classroom environment. The freedom of taking the learning outside is something we can all relate too.


Figure 2: Creating a piece of artwork as you walk through a green space


The school timetable is bursting at the seams, it has been for years and now there is the added weight of ‘recovery planning’ and ‘catching up’. Cross curricular planning helps to add in some of the subjects in case they are being neglected or to teach them for a bit longer. It also allows for more time to be spent on subjects. Take for example, burying a broken plant pot or plate and then asking the children to be archaeologists and take part in a school dig. They can then explore patterns, shape, materials, touching upon history, geography science, and be working outdoors.

Creating links between subjects deepens our knowledge of the learning. That is the idea of immersing yourself in a topic for a period of time. Consider any period of history, there were usually inventions and progress that was made. Sometimes the progress or regression can lead to a great discussion: for example, believing that the world was flat. This leads to a debate and then learning about the earth tilting on an axis, Why is there day and night?, and the science around this.  The same can be said for discussions around Evolution, Gravity, and other forces.

Sometimes cross curricular links can be as simple as growing vegetables from seed and then cooking with them.  Here the nurturing, caring and responsibility for one plant, one growing space, can be beneficial to many or to a small group. Those skills around growing, nurturing, caring and feeding are very much based around our PHSE curriculum. Owning a plant, a space, allotment, windowsill, albeit shared, is a huge deal for young and old. Having a space to call yours has been vital these past two summers. It helped us with our sanity through the first National Covid lockdown in 2020. Those key skills of having a responsibility, communicating, working together, sharing, pride and teamwork are all key when growing as well as personal skills for life.




Figure 3: A gardening club working together at lunch time.


Once you start growing, children begin to consider other fruits and seeds, for example, what would happen if we planted the seeds from a pepper? Can I grow a tomato plant from the seeds?  Lots of investigations, data, observation over time - so lots of science. Couple that with the harvested produce and then what to do with it - using the produce for food technology. Part of the design and technology curriculum teaches pupils life skills which can be shared at home and at any age. Making a simple salad or a pumpkin pie, using fresh produce you have grown - how fab! And it’s schoolwork! It is learning, and it is based in the English national curriculum. 



Figure 4: Harvesting produce- happy faces


Science is a core subject. Not news for some people but it is worth remembering. Our children should be aware of the nature around them in the form of trees, plants, habitats, materials and animals. Taking in a science trail around the playground, the perimeter of the school grounds or along the road outside of school, is a way of focusing in on a specific area of science - be it light, materials, sounds, plants or animals. Encouraging children to use their senses, really look and listen. Make notes or try to retain as much as they can. Discussions around why a specific material is used for a bench, for flooring, for the lamppost, for the shed? All these are very valuable conversations and make the pupils aware of their surroundings. There is overlap here with geography and drawing out key features of their locality. Mapping skills and learning about directions and why certain trees and animals live where they live. The learning is very connected.

Learning outdoors is not a new idea. There are numerous websites and lesson plans dedicated to this and even annual Outdoor Classroom days, the next of which is on 4th Nov 2021. Looking at the structure of trees, leaves, taking bark rubbings and creating pieces of art whilst sat outdoors - bliss. Through the art lesson, you can reinforce, revisit and sometimes extend science learning by discussing leaf patterns, trunk sizes, measure tree heights, or the width and age of a tree. Textures and colours can all help create a story or poem and also help with describing the nature around them. Pausing and reflecting on what is around us is a great activity for all ages. Listening to birdsong and seeing different birds and being able to identify them based on their distinguishing features is both great science learning and very good for our wellbeing.



Figure 5: Adults listening to birdsong


Climate change is very much in the news at the moment, with the COP24 summit in Glasgow. In terms of the primary curriculum, climate change does not fall neatly into one subject. It is very much a part of science, geography and PHSE as well. Measuring pollution, whether in sound, air, or water quality can be done using data loggers, water testing kits and diffusion tubes. The collecting and analysing of data also involve mathematical skills. A simple activity like placing sticky back tape in various parts of the school environment and then observing them after a period, allows us to see what pollutants have stuck to it. This is a simple way of showing young children how particles can be carried in the air, and we breathe in that air too. Links can also be made here to recent events reported in the news, like changes in weather patterns in terms of temperature, rainfall, and also variations in the lengths of seasons. Social media and often the news are now more frequently sharing videos of whales, dolphins and other sea life, losing their way and swimming into shallow waters. Where are the whales meant to be going? Where do they live? Why are we seeing more beached whales? Using research from secondary sources or by interviewing zoologists and marine biologists, pupils may want to find the answers to these questions or others of their own.



Figure 6: Measuring PH levels in the river water


In recent times, the world has had a huge focus on science. It has raised the subject to the forefront. It is our job now to keep it at the forefront of our teaching and ensure pupils are exposed to science regularly, making links with other subjects, everyday life, and their local area.  Science is about connecting us with the world around us, and it is a very relevant subject because it is happening all the time. As you read this, your heart is pumping around your body, and you are using one of your senses to read.  Many schools will tell you that they lack resources or have no resources, but the biggest science resource that we have, that is readily available, is the outdoors, and we could be using it weekly if not daily in our teaching and as human beings in our daily life.

All our primary articles have been moved to Tapestry.info. You can read them and lots of other articles there.


Kulvinder Kaur Johal
Kulvinder Johal was awarded a Primary Science Teaching Award in 2012, endorsed by the Royal Society of Biology. As a PSTT fellow, she was involved in the ‘Growing Music‘ project, supported by Carole Sampey and participated in the Early TAPS work. In a wider role, she has been a member of the ASE Primary Science Committee and is currently part of the Science on Stage steering committee. Kulvinder is also part of the Royal Society Partnership Grant committee. She has written for the TES, Primary Science magazine and also helps judge the Teach Primary resource awards. Kulvinder has qualified for a Fellowship of the Chartered College of Teaching (FCCT), SLE qualification and is a Chartered Science Teacher (CSciTeach). In 2019 Kulvinder took on the role of Regional Mentor for London and the South East. This role allows her to work collaboratively with teachers to promote and inspire them to deliver practical primary science, particularly linking science to cross-curricular topics and active learning outdoors.

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