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EDUcullen: Pirate School!

What sounds most interesting?

  • Working out at the gym.
  • Training to be a pirate.
pirate woman

Thanks to the new HR policies, the crew almost missed their island because Terry was nervous about shouting “Land ho!”

Taking a course in piratry (not a word) sounds like one of those gimmicky ideas from a fringe university – but not in this case. You can earn a certificate in swashbuckling from none other than the esteemed MIT. (Sound familiar? Good memory: it is the school where a struggling Matt Damon worked as a janitor before getting discovered by Hollywood!)

To qualify as a high-seas scoundrel, you need to complete four physical education courses – fencing, pistolry, archery and sailing.

Sound awesome? Yes, but individually those lessons likely lack interest to you. Combine them with creativity and your topics have a fantastic HOOK. (Good one, me.) Pirate humour is im-PARROT-ive. (Ugh. I’m claiming the editor planted that one.)

My point: Would your children love going to school if they were training to be an “Olympian” or planning a “Mission to the Moon”?


What’s a pirate’s favourite planet? It be MARRRRRRRS.

They might be more excited – if teachers had more time to focus on cross-curricular lessons.

What is that? Instead of teaching subjects separately, you combine them on a theme or project.

The first time I tried this was a Grade 3 unit on early settlers. I intertwined social studies, language arts, visual arts and math. Students… were apoplectic. “Why are we doing MATH during ART TIME?!”

School subjects have been segregated forever. But don’t they relate? Think about the measurement you learn in math class. Is it important in preparing liquids for science? Useful for drawing in visual arts? Invaluable for determining the winner of the cow patty shot put? (I went to a rural school.)

Educational psychologist and awesome-name owner Lauren B. Resnick wrote in an essay, “In contrast to learning skills in isolation, when students participate in interdisciplinary experiences they see the value of what they are learning and become more actively engaged.”

I totally agree. (If I didn’t, I wouldn’t haven included her quote.)

For example, staging a puppet show unites a language arts “fables & folklore” unit, visual arts and drama. In this large lesson, my Grade 3s weren’t just looking at scoring “10 out of 10” on a test; they were developing expertise in tasks and resolving problems (such as eliminating a character from a play because they decided they didn’t have time to make the extra puppet).

They also received independence to enjoy their topic instead of being instructed to “finish questions 1-5.” (If a student didn’t feel like constructing the puppet that period, they could rehearse lines for the show or finish the good copy of their corresponding story.)


The puppets that language arts made.

Sounds great and fun to run but why don’t cross-curricular lessons occur more often in schools? Well, timetables aren’t negotiable, it takes a lot of planning and creativity, and it’s not always easy to get other teachers to see eyepatch to eyepatch on this. (Pirate jokes finished in the fourth paragraph? Sorry.)

Despite the above challenges, disgraced Olympic sprinter-turned-high school principal, consultant, author and learning coach, Ben Johnson, supports cross-curricular teaching. He states that “deeper learning requires that groups of teachers pool their talents, resources, time, and efforts” to connect the content areas. (He offers teachers several ideas in his post on Edutopia.)

Sorry, I just looked at his photo – he’s a very different Ben Johnson. Definitely not the one who lost a race to two horses but outran a stock car in Prince Edward Island back in ’98.

You could run web searches to read more about cross-curricular teaching but I suggest joining some Twitter chats and groups (such as #edchat) for fast learning. Twitter chats help you find other teachers who can provide expert opinions and resources ranging from high school to kinderGARRRRt–okay, done, I’m done.

pumpkin patch

What kind of patch do pirates wear at Halloween? Pumpkin.


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2 comments on “EDUcullen: Pirate School!

  1. Mr.j
    January 16, 2014

    Great post Pete!!
    Just when I thought my pirate dream was over…;)

  2. FrogmanHK
    January 16, 2014

    Great blog! I totally agree about subject integration and teacher collaboration within schools. One of my most memorable lessons was teaching a class of grade 7’s(about 12years old) English creative writing skills. I knew that they were learning about Ferdinand Magellan in history so I asked them to be a sailor on his ship and use what they knew about his voyages to create a piece of creative writing. It was amazing to see the motivation and confidence come through in their work because it was a topic that was adventurous, interesting and familiar to them.
    I use similair techniques when teaching science and geography. I always say to them that nothing in life is done in isolation, so why should we learn in isolation.

    By the way, did someone say pirate?

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This entry was posted on January 16, 2014 by in Uncategorized.

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