In 2011, on a rainy January afternoon, I had the honour of sharing the stage with my childhood hero – Sir David Attenborough. It was the Association for Science Education’s annual conference. It was held at Reading University. Sir David had been invited to talk about how important it was for children to have a respect and fascination for the natural world. His message to the assembled audience of teachers and lecturers was very clear:
“Our children will ultimately be the ones that will decide the fate of this planet. If they don’t understand how it works, how will they protect it? And, if they don’t understand the importance of it, why would they want to protect it?”
For my part, I had been invited, as a Bristol-based primary school teacher, to talk about how I had been using natural history film clips in my classroom to inspire learning and to help children become intrigued and excited by the natural world.
Almost 20 years have passed since I first used a natural history clip in my teaching. It was a maths lesson on measurement. It was a Year 4 class. The clip was from Blue Planet and it featured Sir David Attenborough reeling off incredible facts about the size of a mighty blue whale as it breached the surface of the ocean. Wide-eyed and open-mouthed, I can vividly recall the children being captivated by the film footage. I can also remember how eager they were to engage in the whale-related maths challenges that followed. Ever since, I have been using similar clips (from ground-breaking BBC series such as Blue Planet, Life and Planet Earth) across the length and breadth of the primary curriculum. The clips are like little nuggets of gold. The children are immediately gripped by the audio-visual content, their attention is held and their enthusiasm for learning is ignited.
With such a vast and ever-growing digital archive of BBC Natural History film clips to choose from, bringing the outside in and exposing children to the wonders of natural world is now at the fingertips of all educators.
Creating the Natural Curriculum
Determined that teachers utilise the BBC natural history archive to its full potential, I approached the Educational Recording Agency (ERA) with the idea of creating a website. (ERA licences the use of broadcast recordings for non-commercial educational use.) The idea being that the website would combine captivating NH clips with high quality lessons that were linked to the National Curriculum for England and Wales. Initially, animal-themed grammar lessons would feature on the site. It was a project that the Educational Recording Agency were keen to be a part of from the outset, and, through their financial and technical support, our website was launched in March 2020.
Since its launch, the Natural Curriculum’s grammar lessons have reached out to thousands of teachers and tens of thousands of children across the UK. During lockdown periods, where remote learning became the norm, the Natural Curriculum showed young people what our incredible planet had to offer, bringing the outside world into the limited spaces that they were occupying. The wondrous animals and far-reaching landscapes particularly appealed to children living in cities, and to those children who had not had the opportunity to explore much of the natural world beyond their own home.
It is important to note that the Natural Curriculum has been a truly collaborative effort. Many dedicated teachers from Bristol and around the country have either written lessons for the site or have given invaluable feedback on it.
Despite being a relative newcomer on the educational resource scene, the Natural Curriculum has already won several prestigious awards: it was recently named a 4* Winner at the Teach Primary Awards. This followed awards earlier in the year, when the Natural Curriculum won both of its categories at the prestigious 2021 Education Resources Awards ceremony.
As it continues to branch out into different subjects and topic areas, the Natural Curriculum is a beast that will not be tamed. As more animals become threatened with extinction and landscapes become degraded, the Natural Curriculum will show children why they must do their very best to engage with the natural world and take their own steps to safeguard it.
They must not follow the same path that those before them have trodden.
David Millington is the creator of the Natural Curriculum. He is currently working as a Year 3 teacher at Cotham Gardens Primary School in Bristol. The school is in the process of developing an exciting climate change curriculum with the support of a co-operative working group that includes the voices of children, staff, parents and carers, senior leaders and governors.
If you would like to contact David about the Natural Curriculum, please email firstname.lastname@example.org