“Stick ’em with the pointy end.” Curriculum Studies, Game of Thrones & the MYP

Quadriga, Mosaic del circ, Museu d'Història de la Ciutat, Girona
Quadriga, Mosaic del circ, Museu d’Història de la Ciutat, Girona, photo by Sebastià Giralt [flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/14485539@N00/3766584039%5D

What is Curriculum?

The image above was used in a stimulus for a set of activities to complete as part of the Bath MA in International Education. It immediately triggered imagery of Game of Thrones, my other holiday project. So much so, that when I was watching some of the episodes of season 1 last night, I couldn’t help but think about some of the characters: what were they learning, why and how? What was their Curriculum?

Coming into the unit, in my role as IB teacher, IBDP Co and incoming MYP Co, I’ve been working on the IB’s description of a curriculum and their curriculum model (From Principles to Practice, 2008):

MYP Curriculum ModelThe MYP comprises a composite curriculum model where each component has equal value. […] Double-headed arrows indicate that developing, implementing and monitoring the school’s written, assessed and taught curriculum is an integrated process whereby each component informs the other two.” (IB, 2008, p.17)


…formal, comprehensive, school-wide document that describes what will be taught in each subject to each age group.”


…based on a criterion-related model that directly links the assessment criteria with the subject-group objectives.”


… equal emphasis is given to methodology and planning teaching and learning.”

Quotes from IB MYP: From Principles to Practice (2008)

Following some of the readings, I was reminded that there are other aspects of curriculum. Kelly (2004) identifies them as the following, and their meanings are pretty apparent:

  • The educational curriculum (elements which satisfy our educational criteria)
  • The total curriculum (the total programme of the institution)
  • The hidden curriculum (learning beyond but as a result of the planned curriculum)
  • The planned vs the received curriculum (planned content/ outcomes vs students’ real experiences)
  • The formal (scheduled) vs informal curriculum (learning in class vs after-school or other activities)
I like also a definition presented in Key Concepts for Understanding Curriculum (Marsh, 2009):
“Curriculum is what the student constructs [from working with computers..]”

The construction of meaning is an important element of authentic education. Where we can tell students a formula or pice of information, do they learn better if they are given the chance to construct it for themselves?

All of this reinforced that on paper, the IB do a good job of delivering a total curriculum that meets many of the definitions above with their MYP framework. It is concept-based and holistic. Assessment criteria emphasise skills over content. Assessment and learning in one subject should be seen as a greater whole. The Learner Profile, Approaches to Learning and Areas of Interaction (Global Contexts) emphasise the importance of the balanced learning experience. There is a clear mission statement for the IBO, which is mirrored closely in the mission statements of many international schools, and helps define what is ‘educational’, what is the ethos and what are the values to be learned.

What must be considered is how this curriculum framework is implemented in the school and the classroom. To what extent is what I am teaching part of the greater whole of the school curriculum? Am I facilitating true learning and meeting the goals of what we see as ‘educational’?

Most importantly, Curriculum is more than just a syllabus

As I worked through these readings and tasks, I started to focus on some areas for investigation. Perhaps I will evaluate the Grade 10 Physics course I teach in terms of being a part of the greater curriculum. Is it more than syllabus and does it achieve its goals?

I then started thinking about the stakeholders in the curriculum. What is most important to them, the students, the teachers, the parents, administrators, university entrance counsellors, employers? Which elements are the most important to them and why? Is it possible to deliver a curriculum that satisfies all at the same time?

Which brings me back to Game of Thrones. All the characters are learning; some more explicitly than others. Some direct their own learning for their own ends, while others have the curriculum imposed upon them for the benefit of a parent, a master or and employer.

[spoilers follow]

What type of curriculum are these characters following ?

Who is directing their learning? Who decides what is ‘educational’ in their curriculum? Who benefits the most? How much of their curriculum is planned, hidden, received?

  • Jon Snow, as he prepares to be a ranger in the Night’s Watch, only to ‘graduate’ and be forced into the role of steward to Thorne.
  • Bran Stark, as he adapts from learning to grow up to be a fighter to a thinker (and rider) after he is paralysed.
  • Daenerys as she evolves from being the subservient sister of Viserys to Kahl Drogo’s queen, independently learning their language, culture and outfoxing her brother (with tutorials from Irri the sex-slave and Jorah Mormont, the slaver).


AryaPointyEndMy favourite learning journey so far has to be Arya Stark, the tomboy younger daughter of Ned Stark, Hand of the Throne. Early in the series we see her miserably following a rigid curriculum set by gender roles and expectations: a syllabus of dressmaking and preparing to be wed. It reminded me of kids stuck in a scripted national curriculum class. Yet she excels as an archer, showing up her brother and rebelling against her situation. It’s not until she is empowered by a sword made specially for her by her older brother that she enjoys the learning process. Once she arrives at King’s Landing she starts on her own differentiated curriculum; on the surface a dance class, but hidden from others a masterclass in swordplay with Syrio.

Here’s nice clip someone’s put together of Arya’s sword-fighting lessons through the first series. What would have been her written curriculum? What about the total, the hidden, the planned and received?

Stick ’em with the pointy end!



  • IB MYP: From Principles to Practice (IB, 2008)
  • Kelly, AV – The Curriculum: Theory and Practice (Kelly, 2004)
  • Marsh, Colin J. – Key Concepts for Understanding Curriculum (Marsh, 2009)
  • Ross, Alistair – Curriculum: Construction and Critique (Ross, 2000)




2 responses to ““Stick ’em with the pointy end.” Curriculum Studies, Game of Thrones & the MYP”

  1. Mariana Martini Avatar
    Mariana Martini

    Dear Stephen,

    Congratulations for this blog!!! I find your musings very interesting and right in target as I am thinking about how to graphically represent the curriculum we teach at our school (or, what we are constructing as it is changing, in spite of many sentamentalists who would like to stick to old ideas.. but that is subejct of whole different conversation). I was brwoing Erin Lyn´s article and it trying to figure out exactly what I would like to show in my written document. Not easy, now that I have moved into the 3-dimensional sphere. Any ideas of how to include (or manyeb, first what to inlcude) AOIs (or context very soon), unit questions, big concepts….. I am quite illiterate when it comes to computer but I woul dloke to go a beyond a simple word document and use a software that may allolw for a 3-D visual.

    I look forward to your ideas on this.


    Mariana Martini

    1. Stephen Avatar

      Hi Mariana,

      Thanks for the comment!

      In my experience so far, although limited, curriculum mapping is something we should look to make as simple and streamlined as possible, especially in the face of resistance to change. I would caution against adding a layer of complexity that will add to your battles if you need to implement curriculum change. It would be great to be able to visualise the connections more clearly though, and I appreciate the idea you have. You could use something like a Prezi to give a demonstration of 3D nature of the planner (it zooms in-and-out and links around), but I wouldn’t expect teachers to work in that medium.

      We’re using ATLAS here which, although ugly, does allow for standardisation and analysis of different dimensions of the planner. They are very responsive to working with coordinators on designing unit planners to suit the school and once it is populated (a place we are still getting to), can be used easily for evaluation and improvement of the curriculum. Managebac has recently started offering mapping and planning, and it looks much more up to date and user-friendly, so might be worth looking into. With the Next Chapter, expect to see a more standardised unit planner to use in school – so don’t worry too much about how you might design your own. I would focus more on how to organise the PD to implement and support change. I would recommend reading “teaching the disciplines” on the OCC, too. It signposts the need for strong disciplinary foundations before making trans-disciplinary connections.

      I hope this is helpful. I’m going to an MYP Next Chapter Subject Specific Seminar soon, and will hopefully know a lot more after that!

      Good luck,


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