Increasing school engagement through theme-based curriculum

Year: 2013

Author: Mestan, Kemran, Harvey, Andrew

Type of paper: Refereed paper

This paper reports on an evaluation of a distinctive university-school partnership program, Curriculum Bridges. Curriculum Bridges aims to develop the enthusiasm and capacity of students from disadvantaged schools in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). These objectives are sought by developing a theme in the curriculum across subjects in years 10, 11 and 12. In the pilot phase, the curricula of English, Maths and Biology were linked together through the theme of ‘understanding and curing disease'. These curricula were developed by the school teachers, who received training in the ‘backward design' approach. The model also integrates university outreach activities and excursions into the curriculum.
UniBridges was originally implemented in three schools in 2011 and is ongoing. The program is informed by the research of Teese and Polesel, which revealed that students from disadvantaged schools often lack access to, and under-perform in, STEM-related subjects. Research also highlights that some combinations of school subjects are more likely to lead to higher education, particularly combinations with at least one major theme. Our evaluation found that UniBridges has increased student engagement and participation in STEM fields. However, the aims of the program could be advanced by adjusting various elements, such as expanding teacher professional development, especially in regard to curriculum design. The findings from this evaluation can be used to assist in replicating the program in other disadvantaged schools.