In the classroom: a video journey
Here, we examine how interdisciplinary learning is practiced at the classroom level by individual teachers and a number of schools around the country.
Larry Satchwell and Susie Bullock teach elementary school. Their teamwork spans two disciplines: mathematics and physical education. In this video, students practice their paddleball skills while keeping track of the number of times they can hit the ball. Later, they use the numbers in math class to develop graphing skills. Collaboration gives these teachers the chance to pursue an interdisciplinary goal and makes learning fun for all involved.
In this video, Heidi Hayes Jacobs describes how a teacher planning an interdisciplinary unit for first graders engages them in creating the unit. Using "snow" as the organizing center, the teacher asks for students' input to define the essential questions. Incorporating students into the planning process can be a delight for them and for teachers, as students will often ask questions that teachers would never think of -- and vice versa.
In this clip, Tim O'Keefe's third graders use science, English, and math in an integrated field study.
After a field trip to a forest, the kids write the connections they have made between what they learned on the trip to their classroom plant study.
Students from Putnam Vocational Technical High School in Springfield, Massachusetts used what they learned in shop, math, and journalism class to complete the restoration of a historic landmark. The integration of these disciplines in this renovation project allows them to apply their learning to a real-world situation. Here, the students generate ideas for future school and community service projects that have connections to different academic subjects and present their ideas to their teachers.
|In the following video, a teacher reflects on how interdisciplinary learning has encouraged her students to develop more complex understandings of the discipline fields and how they relate to one another.
In a class team-taught by math and social sciences teachers, students work with computation techniques from ancient Egypt and compare them to modern mathematics. In this video, we see students talking about ancient math in its historical context. They reflect on the past and comment on the present and the meaning of "modernity."
In schools: some online examples
The following Web sites provide some examples of interdisciplinary work. We have presented a range of resources for you to explore, from the local, district/state, and national levels.
Plano Independent School District, Plano, Texas
The Plano Independent School District has an impressive site that serves as a directory for its schools' resources.
The Decorah Middle School, Decorah, Iowa
The Decorah Middle School's comprehensive Web site provides a good look at the school's integrated middle school units.
Bloomfield Hills Schools, Bloomfield, Michigan
Bloomfield Hills Schools has consistently been known as a "lighthouse district" in the state of Michigan and throughout the country. The district's mission is to enable learners to become architects of their futures, building on a foundation of scholarship, citizenship, service, and integrity. The URL (above) is the Bloomfield Hills resources directory, an extensive library of teachers' learning development activities. It includes a large, searchable section on interdisciplinary skills.
Cohasset Public Schools, Cohasset, Massachusetts
The Cohasset Public Schools' Web site, started in 1996, is devoted to interdisciplinary, integrated, and thematic instruction. The site represents the work of teams of teachers planning interdisciplinary units for their middle school classrooms. It also has an excellent, annotated list of articles and other resources about interdisciplinary learning.
Park Forest Middle School, State College, Pennsylvania
This Web site, created by a team of teachers who work together at the Park Forest Middle School in State College to create interdisciplinary units, is a good example of how teams of teachers can represent their ideas online and get feedback from other interdisciplinary teams around the nation.
Jakarta International School, Indonesia
The Jakarta International School (JIS), Indonesia, is a middle school with an interdisciplinary mission. Students are each assigned to an interdisciplinary learning community. The Web site is fairly low-tech but provides some good examples of interdisciplinary learning and shows a foreign school using interdisciplinary curricula.
Illinois Math and Science Academy, Aurora, Illinois
The Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) is a learning enterprise that builds the capacity of students, teachers, and policy makers to improve and transform mathematics and science teaching and learning. IMSA's residential educational program serves Illinois students in grades 10-12 talented in mathematics and science; its professional development center serves schools, educational systems, teachers, and students in Illinois and beyond.
The Web site provides impressive resources and a searchable database; a search for "interdisciplinary" brings up interesting resources, both lesson units and articles.
Nathan Hale High School, Seattle, Washington
Founded in 1963, the Nathan Hale High School, an urban, public high school located in Seattle, is a member of Ted Sizer's Coalition of Essential Schools of Brown University. The school offers an interdisciplinary four-year humanities program, an interesting example of interdisciplinary learning integrated into a school's structure and mission.
Multicultural Education Department (MED), Palm Beach County School District
This is the Palm Beach County School District's Multicultural Education Department (MED) Web site. The MED's mission is to serve its diverse community of learners in Palm Beach County, Florida, through multicultural programs. The site contains excellent examples of interdisciplinary units, focusing mostly on language arts, arts, and social studies.
Latin America Interdisciplinary Unit
Maria Perunic and Regina McLean created this Web site on Latin America for the middle school grades as part of their "Interdisciplinary Curriculum: Design and Implementation" course at Teachers College, Columbia University. Maria is a fifth grade teacher at the Sousa School and Regina is the Technology Staff Developer for Elementary Schools in the Port Washington School District, New York. The site provides a beautiful example of an online interdisciplinary unit that other teachers can use. In the classroom, it would take ten weeks to complete.
What do interdisciplinary units look like?
To write an interdisciplinary unit, experts often begin by assessing the student population that the unit will serve. Next, they identify the discipline fields that will be involved. Then, they propose draft titles and develop a concept wheel, a visual tool that helps to determine the unit's organizing center and essential questions. You will be able to download a template to use that demonstrates this process in detail later in the workshop.
In this workshop we will provide a guide for designing interdisciplinary units that is meant to be used and adapted to each educator's own style. In the following elementary, middle, and high school level interdisciplinary units, three different educators incorporate the essential components of interdisciplinary design while presenting their individual unit plans.
Elementary unit: "Community Treasures"
Teacher Cindy Gaston wrote this integrated language arts and social studies unit entitled "Community Treasures" for her third graders in 1997. Mrs. Gaston has been a student of Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs, and she used many of Dr. Jacobs's guidelines to develop this unit, adapting the standard template as needed.
Middle school unit: "Make Every Cent Count!"
Anna Chan Rekate, currently a high school teacher and one of our content experts, wrote an interdisciplinary unit for her middle school students called "Make Every Cent Count!" Using Anna's unit, our designers have created an activity tool based on the concept wheel, a critical aspect of designing an interdisciplinary unit. The activity will give you an idea how to progress from looking at each discipline involved in your unit separately to drafting lines of inquiry that will drive the unit as a whole.
|Click here to see our interdisciplinary animation. |
High school lesson plan: "Finding Science in AN AMERICAN CHILDHOOD by Annie Dillard"
Amy Benjamin developed this English/science integrated lesson for her high school students. Amy is an English teacher, writer, and educational consultant specializing in literacy education across the curriculum.
Now that you have had the opportunity to see some examples of interdisciplinary learning, we ask that you defer the "Exploration" section and move directly to "Implementation." There, we will sketch out each step in developing interdisciplinary units, and you will have the chance to develop your own.