Curriculum making is like a good professional habit.
It is planning with purpose. In practice, we make the curriculum by creating excellent curriculum artefacts. The word ‘artefact’ derives from the Latin phrase arte factum meaning to ‘skilfully make’.
Geography lessons have a diverse resource ‘ecology’
In curriculum making, artefacts can take any forms. In geography we use a wide variety of materials: text, images, movies, graphs, statistical data, and of course maps. Also, literature, cartoons, newspaper articles and poetry … These are all sources of information. It is through the teacher’s skilled interpretation, selection and development of these artefacts that powerful learning materials can be made.
How we interpret the curriculum determines the teaching and learning materials we select and create. This, in turn, influences the curriculum we make.
What is a curriculum artefact?
A curriculum artefact is a teaching and learning resource which has special significance. More precisely, it is a teaching and learning resource to which we give special significance.
This is what one teacher (Vivian) says:
School teacher, Vivian Bailey
“It seems important to differentiate between a curriculum resource and a curriculum artefact. The difference lies in the significance invested in the artefact by the curriculum maker, and the purpose and goal in using it. One could argue that a resource may have either or both of these. However, many resources tend to have ephemeral uses, whereas a curriculum artefact will be the key or signature material that drives the sequence of lessons: as such it may be referred to frequently as a kind of reference point.” (taken from an online Masters forum, November 2015)
The choice of artefact is important. First, the teacher must be able to see its potential. The teacher will also see how the students may use it.
Margaret Roberts explains that a learning resource has potential when students can use it.
Students “…need to be able to understand, interpret, analyse and critique geographical data presented in different ways: printed text; maps; statistics, graphs; photographs and film. To make sense of geography they need to make connections of all kinds: between existing knowledge and new ideas; between different pieces of information; between different concepts.” (Roberts 2014: 205)
To summarise: the curriculum artefact is the ‘key’ to a series of lessons on a topic or theme. It provides the data that students can observe, interrogate, analyse and develop in some way.
Using curriculum artefacts
The teacher applies a geographical perspective to the selected resource. The teacher thinks about how the learner will encounter the resource. The teacher also thinks about what to ‘do’ with the resource (how to teach with it). These are three pillars of curriculum making (geography, learner, teaching approach) described in the model.
This is what another teacher (Donald) says:
“… Roberts (2014) points out that disciplinary knowledge cannot simply be transmitted to students. If students are to gain access to potentially powerful ways of thinking, to think as a geographer thinks, then they have to engage with geographical knowledge. In other words, students need to struggle with problems and develop the means of coming to conclusions.” (taken from an online Masters forum, November 2015)
Lecturer, Donald MacKeen (teacher of geography to 16-19 year olds with Asperger’s)
Margaret Roberts (2003, 2013) emphasises the importance of four stages of learning geography through enquiry. This can be applied to any topic.
- Creating a ‘need to know’: arousing curiosity and raising questions
- Selecting an appropriate source of geographical data
- Making sense of that data – describing, analyzing, communicating
- Reflecting and posing new questions.
Stage 2 in this sequence is usually where the ‘curriculum artefact’ is vital. The geographical ‘data’ can be very obvious (an atlas say) or less obvious (from an Irish folk song, for example).
It is important that the artefact is well-chosen. But remember, it doesn’t just ‘exist’ waiting to be discovered. The teacher makes the chosen resource into a curriculum artefact by recognising its potential.
The following case studies show practical examples of some geography curriculum artefacts.
Case Study 1 “Kilkelly”
The slides introduce a curriculum artefact workshop activity.
It shows how a resource can be given special significance. The learning resource used here is an Irish folk song.
We make it into a curriculum artefact when we use it as a highly productive source of data for investigating the geographical topic of International Migration.
If this workshop is used with student teachers or colleagues it will take around one hour.
The curriculum artefact in this case study is an Irish folk song called ‘Kilkelly’. It can be accessed at:
It is important to realise that the Kilkelly song portrays real events. There is more information on the family history here: The Hunt family and Kilkelly.
Case study 2 “The man who fell to Earth”
This curriculum artefact can also be used to teach international migration. It is described on the Geographical Association website. Whilst “Kilkelly” provides historical ‘distance’, this example is from the present day.