Friday, September 3, 2021

Potatoes to plastic: Cross curricular opportunities

In the third and final post in this series linked to CIEC's latest free resource Potatoes to plastic, Jane Winter explains how it can be used to make meaningful cross curricular links.

The OFSTED report, Maintaining Curiosity, confirmed what experienced teachers already knew, it can be beneficial to both subjects when meaningful cross curricular links are made. However, it is important to do this in a way that values both subjects rather than using one as little more than a vehicle for the other.  In English lessons the teacher should be concentrating on English learning objectives and in science upon science learning objectives. One of my pet hates is when schools, with the very best of intentions, insist that writing has to be as good in other subjects as it is in English. We don't need Vygotsky's zone of proximal development theory to tell us that children are able to do more with support than they are able to do independently. The level of writing in an English lesson is achieved because of skilled teacher support which is not available in a lesson where the teacher's energy is focused on other skills.  Having said that, I have seen great writing about science which has been done in a subsequent English lesson, the children's writing benefiting from an inspirational science experience.
It is important to give children the support that they might need with English during science lessons, but this should not be at the expense of good quality science teaching.

With the value of cross curricular approaches in mind Potatoes to plastic has suggestions for a series of lessons which can be used for English teaching.  They are designed so that the teacher concentrates upon the English learning objectives, and is not trying to juggle too many plates at once.  However, the content is likely to raise children's science capital as it is based upon the biographies of six of the scientists currently working in the award winning Green Chemistry department at the University of York.  Although the focus of the lesson is on reading and writing children learn about the range of exciting jobs that the scientists do, and also find out that scientists are 'normal' people, just like you or I with families and hobbies beyond science.

When reading about real scientists in an English lesson children learn that scientists are normal people with a range of activities and hobbies, from making lego models with their children to enjoying skiing.

The final section of this free publication concentrates upon the range of other solutions to the problem of waste that scientists have developed, from extracting citronella from orange peel to turning cocoa husks into paper bags.  There are a set of downloadable playing cards which can be used for a range of games including 'Memory pairs', 'Old Fossil' and 'Go Recycle' which highlight science solutions to environmental problems.  These could be used as an activity during a science or environmental day.  Alternatively, the link and game instructions could be shared with families so that the cards could be used at home.

The previous two blog posts in this series are still available.  You can find the one about extracting starch from potato peel here, and the one about making bio-plastic from potato peel here.  If you use any of the activities we would love to hear how you get on.  It is feedback from teachers like you that helps us to know what we are doing right and how we can get even better in the future!  
Full instructions for the English activities and the card games as well as how to turn potato peel into bio-plastic are included in this free to download publication

This is what one teacher had to say after using this resource with their class.

Our current topic is all about Endangered Species and a large part of this has been around the dangers of plastics in the oceans and different habitats; so this lesson in particular was a great experience for cross-curricular discussions, the content of which were deep and enriched. In addition to this, the vocabulary resources that accompanied the investigation were a fantastic tool to help deepen the children's understanding and allowed them to speak freely, scientifically and accurately about the processes they were undertaking. Both pupil and teacher thoroughly enjoyed the lesson.


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