Finding out the facts

Way back before Christmas, I was talking to someone about the introduction of the New Curriculum and all the new topics I was going to have to read up about. “That’s stupid,” she said, “how are teachers meant to know everything they’ve got to teach if the topics are being changed?” A good point, but as I said to her, remarkably few primary teachers actually come into the job with a broad enough knowledge to teach all subjects straight away. Take me, for example. I did well at secondary school: I listened to my teachers, worked hard and left very happy with my grades. The same can (mostly) be said of college and university. But my subject knowledge of history and geography reached its peak when I took my GCSEs all those years ago. When I think back to what was then (and possibly still is!) called “humanities”, I can think of very few times where my historical or geographical knowledge was being improved. My humanities course work consisted of me writing essays on what life was like during “the war”: an exceptionally important historical topic, but it couldn’t have been taught that well as I couldn’t even tell you which war. My work was basically Forrest Gump’s time in Vietnam regurgitated as a soldier’s diary. There was another essay on animal testing and one “topical” one on how TV violence influence the behaviour of children. All very interesting, but it didn’t help me to know where the countries of the world are or when important historical events took place.
As someone who considers herself to be fairly intelligent, I’m actually ashamed of my historical and geographical knowledge. I think the secondary school system failed people of my generation by not teaching us about the world around us. So when I saw the content of the new curriculum, I was both enthused (mostly by the geography, it has to be said) and bewildered. I was going to have to do some learning myself. When I discovered I was going to be in year 4, I dutifully went out and bought books on the Romans, Anglo Saxons and Vikings. All of which are still unread in my cupboard at school. The time finally came today for me to plan the work on the Romans, and a slight panic set in. I’ve taught the Romans once before: it was a long time ago and I probably didn’t do it very well. I’ve been to Caerleon a few times, and managed to blag my way around by sneaking peeks at the guide books and hastily reading the signs in the museum. I convinced children I knew what I was talking about, but there was always that little nagging fear that I was going to be caught out getting it all wrong. It reminds me of the time, back in the day, when I was confined to a pod on the London Eye with a rather large group of over excited year sixes who needed distracting, so I pointed out all the landmarks they could see. But actually I completely made it all up. I left the pod in one piece, as did the children, but they have probably wandered around London since then making complete fools of themselves sharing “fascinating facts” about the sights which are completely untrue.
Anyway, back to the Romans. As I sat staring (one eyed!) at my laptop screen this morning, I did what any self-preserving teacher did: I googled “new curriculum Romans year 4” and hoped. After a couple of false starts, I stumbled across the keystagehistory website. It looked promising, but then I spotted the sign in box. Not so good: it looked so hopeful that I was sure there would be a subscription involved. There was, but then a little lightbulb pinged on… An email from the history coordinator, way back last year, saying she had subscribed to an amazing website. Could I be that lucky? Yes, it seems, I could. As I signed into the site, I could actually feel myself getting more and more enthusiastic about teaching the Romans. The lesson plans and the resources are fantastic- inspired ideas! I can’t wait to get started next week. If it weren’t for websites such as keystagehistory and The Hamilton Trust, teachers’ lives would be far harder. I’ve learned more of the essential information this morning than I ever would have done trawling the net on my own, and I’ve got reliable sources of information if I need to answer the children’s questions. More importantly, that feeling of dread and fear that I had this morning has been transformed, in a very short space of time, into enthusiasm and excitement. I’m not professing to being an instant expert- far from it- but I know enough for what I need to teach. Some of the activities involve the children researching, so we will be discovering the rest together.
There are a lot of free websites out there promising to help save you time and provide resources, and there are a lot of expensive ones that don’t give you what you need. But some are worth every penny, and I shall be campaigning to have our subscriptions renewed next year!



4 thoughts on “Finding out the facts

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