Information, advice and guidance
What are super-curricular activities - and how can your students use them?
Super-curricular activities can include anything your students do outside of the curriculum related to the subject(s) they are interested in. But how can students access these opportunities; and how can you support them?
Super-curricular (or supra-curricular) activities are all about students engaging with a subject on their own terms. Podcasts, books, documentary series, online courses, challenges, extension problems (for example on sites such as Isaac Physics), YouTube videos, articles and blog posts – all of these ‘count’ as super-curricular engagement, where students are exploring their subject outside of the curriculum. Examples of activities pursued by students I’ve known have ranged from listening to the BBC Radio 4 series ‘In Our Time’ while working at a Saturday cleaning job, to completing the UKMT maths challenges each year, to studying an online course on the climate and history of the Earth. These activities can be hugely influential in a student’s exploration of what they would like to study – and are increasingly important in the university application process.
Why they matter
Most importantly, super-curricular engagement encourages self-reflection and research, which can help students identify what it is that really interests them. Were they thinking of applying to Law, but notice that they find themselves engrossed in mythologies and ancient history? Or maybe they aren’t sure what to study, but are drawn to logic puzzles and getting their teeth into a good ‘problem’? This process can help students find new subjects that don’t exist at school, and introduce them to new elements and angles to pre-existing curiosities.
Beyond this, engagement with super-curriculars is also sought after by universities for a number of reasons. In the application process, they can be a springboard for discussion of academic curiosity, interest and understanding within the personal statement (and other elements, such as interviews). Super-curriculars are a way of evidencing and developing these skills and attributes, which teachers have long been aware that universities look out for. Ultimately, characteristics like academic curiosity and understanding are also skills that students will need at university; by getting into the habit of persevering with a problem, or following up references, your students will be better prepared for study beyond school.
Are super-curriculars a barrier to access?
Teachers and students are already often over-stretched; and access to resources such as extra-curriculars are uneven. So, one might ask, are super-curriculars just another hoop to jump through? Arguably, they are the opposite. For example, podcasts or articles can be downloaded to listen to or read on the journey to school; MOOCs and other online resources are plentiful and usually free; and even things like lectures, which before the pandemic one might have had to go to in person, are now increasingly held and recorded online. This is not to say accessing super-curriculars will be as equally easy or accessible for all students, but the resources are out there – and with the right signposting and support, your students should be able to make the most of the super-curricular landscape, standing them in good stead for schoolwork, the application process, and university.
How can I support my students?
As well as encouraging students to take up super-curriculars – and being supportive of engagement across many media types – teachers can also play a big part in signposting students to resources and help them to engage critically. Key websites which you may wish to have a look out for include Cambridge’s HE+, InsideUni (which is a student run ‘resource hub’, linking to many other sites), and OxPlore. Additionally, you may want to highlight opportunities like essay competitions and facilitate school-based challenges such as the Chemistry or Maths Challenges.
It's not just about the ‘doing’ though, or students ticking off books on a reading list – it’s about critical engagement, thinking, and finding a unique path through the material. Where possible, challenge your students to explore further; use references in your lessons which they can follow up; and encourage critical thinking structures relevant to your subject. All of this will help your students to make the most of the super-curriculars they are accessing.
Super-curriculars don’t have to be super confusing. Hopefully, both you and your students will find them a useful tool not only for university applications, but for exploring subjects, thinking critically, and enjoying engaging with the material that is out there.
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