Eight Lessons I learnt about Curriculum Design from Wasjig puzzles

As an educator and avid puzzle fun, the holidays bring a wave of excitement. Free time to read, relax and (of course) complete the holiday Wasjig.

For the uninitiated, a Wasjig puzzle quite simply asks the puzzler not to create the image on the box, but to use their imagination to think what a person from the box image might be seeing. I love them. I own far too many and as I was completing one over the Easter holiday I saw some parallels with curriculum design…

Sort out your pieces

Puzzle pieces sorted into piles
I like organising the pieces into piles

There are many different ways to approach any puzzle but some sorting is important. Whether you sort by edges, colours or shapes, organising your pieces is one of the keys to success. When we look at curriculum we need to “sort the pieces”; identifying the substantive knowledge and the skills needed to gain this (disciplinary knowledge). We need to ensure not only coverage of the National Curriculum for each age group but that it reflects the school community and enables it to flourish.

Build the frame first

It’s generally agreed by puzzlers that your best strategy in completing a puzzle is to build the border first. This is super easy if you’ve organised your pieces! In curriculum design having the framework in place is important before you start filling in lots of detail. How does your curriculum work horizontally across a year (e.g. what journey do Year 3 take in their History) and vertically (e.g. how do we see progression in learning about plants in Science across the school). Map out those key knowledge blocks and when they’ll be encountered and you’ll have a clear framework to get started.

Look for the easy wins

Sometimes, in a puzzle, there is a key block of text or obvious character among the pieces which when put together early really helps with the puzzle. In the same way, your curriculum will have key elements that can get slotted straight in. For example, if you have a great tool or scheme you are using you can map those elements quickly.

Keep the big picture in mind

When puzzling, I can get so focused on one area, I miss what is happening elsewhere in the puzzle. It’s only when I pull back, that I see how elements fit together. It’s important when designing a curriculum to keep that big picture in mind. How does your curriculum relate to your school vision? What are the threads that run through it? Do you have coverage of all the skills for your subject? Is the knowledge building sequentially (both during each year and over the years)? Does it represent modern Britain and your school community?

Progress can be tough

Some people find the start of a Wasjig tough; for me, it is usually towards the end when left with a large block of colour and many pieces that don’t seem to fit together. Curriculum design isn’t always easy, it can be tough to get off the ground or you can be left wondering how on earth you can ensure vocabulary progress is clear across the theme of conflict in your curriculum. Like puzzles, it can also be fun. Every subject I’ve led has been fascinating to discover more about and I do believe that the breakthroughs made in the design stage help children to make breakthroughs in class.

You’ll find surprising links

One of the biggest joys with a Wasjig is finding that an element you created suddenly fits in a different place or in another already built area. You’ll suddenly realise there are links you didn’t realise were there when planning your curriculum and making these links explicit can help children to learn. Understanding the larger themes at play in History (conflict, movement, technological development, lifestyles etc.) and mapping those helped develop our curriculum as well as giving children instant links between different periods.

Other people really help

My partner is great at puzzling because she sees things I totally miss. She is great at putting in faces and facial features that I would leave to the end. In curriculum design, getting the views of others is key. Not only can others spot things you may have missed but the creativity and experience in the classroom of a wide range of practitioners will build a curriculum that works across the school community. Those colleagues will also help when progress is tough!

The finish line

completed Wasjig puzzle
The completed Wasjig (close up, so I don’t spoil the design for the puzzlers among you)

It is so satisfying to finish a Wasjig puzzle – the glow can last for days! However, whereas the end of a puzzle is completing it, when you finish piecing together a curriculum that is only the start. Finishing a curriculum outline is madly exciting and fulfilling, but it is dangerous to think of it as being completed. A curriculum is a living, breathing document. Whilst the Wasjig is getting put away in a cupboard to gather dust, your curriculum should be ready to react to it being taught in your school community, ready to edit, improve and tweak to maximise its impact.

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