Teaching pupils to think like Da Vinci could help tackle climate crisis, Scottish researchers say

Teaching schoolchildren to think like Leonardo Da Vinci could help them to tackle the climate crisis, researchers have suggested.

Educationalists from Cambridge University and Edinburgh University say children would benefit from science and the arts being taught together instead of in subject silos.

They say this could be done around themes such as climate change or food security.

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A picture of Leonardo Da Vinci, an Italian polymath of the High Renaissance who was active as a painter, draughtsman, theorist, engineer, scientist, sculptor and architect.

The model draws inspiration from Renaissance polymaths like Da Vinci, who worked across disciplinary boundaries in pursuit of deeper knowledge.

An academic paper, published in the journal Curriculum Perspectives, cites a case study at an Aberdeen primary school, where children showed a deeper understanding of food security and environmental protection issues after learning to grow food in their school grounds.

Pam Burnard, professor of arts, creativities and education at the University of Cambridge, said: “If we look at the amazing designs that Da Vinci produced, it’s clear he was combining different disciplines to advance knowledge and solve problems.

“We need to encourage children to think in a similar way because tomorrow’s adults will have to problem-solve differently due to the existential crises they will face: especially those of climate, sustainability, and the precarity of life on Earth.”

Dr Laura Colucci-Gray, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Education and Sport, said: “The nature of these problems calls for a radically different approach to knowledge.

“We are proposing a move from the idea of a curriculum as something children are just ‘given’ to a curriculum ‘in-the-making’, in response to transformations that will define their lives.”

In their alternative model, researchers suggest giving schools greater freedom to determine how to meet general study targets set by the curriculum.

Teachers and leadership teams would make collective decisions and share practices about how to engage pupils with unifying, cross-curricular themes, such as environmental sustainability.

Any attempt to reimagine education along transdisciplinary lines, with subjects being taught together, would require children’s attainment to be measured differently, the researchers noted.

Prof Burnard said: “It would require a system of testing which measures how children are internalising ideas and what they are expressing – not just what they know.

“That may be an uncomfortable idea for some, but it is the sort of radical thinking we need if education is going to prepare young people for the future.”

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