Interdisciplinary Planning: Connected Content

Posted by Dan Alba on April 30, 2014

We all know our experience in the world is not detached or separated into departments or subject matters. In fact, depending where we are and what we are doing, we often see the connections and intersections between historical knowledge, human behavior, psychology, literature, science, math and technology. This realization often brings into question why many of our schools are designed and structured around separate departments with separate curriculum where teachers meet within their disciplines to discuss or plan subject matter lessons.

Because engagement and relevancy is key to student academic success, many teachers turn to interdisciplinary or integrated curricula to add meaning and deeper understanding of the world students experience daily in their personal lives. (See footnote.)

Recently separate grade level teacher teams from Animo Jackie Robinson, Social justice Leadership Academy, Roosevelt and Legacy High school have met at our Facing History and Ourselves Los Angeles office to develop engaging interdisciplinary units with their school colleagues focusing on Facing History's case studies, resources, materials and technology. They came out with units for 10th grade that incorporate the Holocaust case study, biology lessons on eugenics, art projects, and inspiring writing.

Are you looking to build interdisciplinary connections? Here's what made it a successful process for these schools:

  1. The entire grade level team of teachers met together to begin the process of becoming more familiar with one another and with a clear understanding of our goals.
  2. Each teacher shared with colleagues his/her overall goals, identified content themes/topic and the skill sets they wish their students to learn and practice.
  3. We then discussed as a group the grade level class culture and identified general dispositions, needs and growth opportunities for that specific student population.
  4. Through our group conversations, "big" questions emerged for consideration as overarching essential questions based on what the group learned from one another. Some example questions include: "What is my place and role in society?" and "What do/can I do in times of injustice?"
  5. Teachers begin to discuss the connected opportunities for particular lessons or units where art, history, science, math and English intersect. Essential questions invited new sub-questions for consideration and the possible lesson activities that bring together all the disciplines in a Facing History and Ourselves interdisciplinary student experience.

Facing History Students in class projectWhy would teachers consider interdisciplinary teaching? Although this process takes time, requiring teachers to meet, share, listen and learn from each other, it also generates new, exciting, connected and relevant student engaged classroom experiences.

Where can this lead?

At Dozier-Libby Medical High School, in Antioch, California - one of the Northern California members of Facing History's Innovative Schools Network - seniors explore issues related to the Health and Social Science fields in an interdisciplinary year long course called Medical Ethics. Moral dilemmas created or intensified by advances in medical technology with historical, current and emerging ethical issues related to both domestic and global health are carefully examined and assessed. One integrated project intersects the disciplines of Physics, Medical Ethics, English and Government to explore the essential question "What does it mean to design "better humans" and do we want to?"

Please share your thoughts, questions and insights.

Footnote: "Engaging students and helping them to develop knowledge, insights, problem solving skills, self-confidence, self-efficacy, and a passion for learning are common goals that educators bring to the classroom, and interdisciplinary instruction and exploration promotes realization of these objectives. Repko (2009) asserts that interdisciplinary instruction fosters advances in cognitive ability and other educational researchers (Kavaloski 1979, Newell 1990, Field et al. 1994, Vess 2009) have identified a number of distinct educational benefits of interdisciplinary learning including gains in the ability to: recognize bias, think critically, tolerate ambiguity, acknowledge and appreciate ethical concerns." From: http://serc.carleton.edu/econ/interdisciplinary/why.html

Topics: Critical Thinking, Teaching Strategy

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