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Welcome to Interdisciplinary Learning in Your Classroom. Start with the Explanation section to gain a good understanding of the CONCEPT of interdisciplinary learning. Then go on to Demonstration, where we move from CONCEPT to CLASSROOM!

For the purposes of this workshop, our interdisciplinary expert, Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs, Ed.D., has recommended that instead of going to the Exploration section after Demonstration, participants should proceed to the Implementation section. After Implementation, complete the workshop with Exploration.
Introduction to our expert: Heidi Hayes Jacobs, Ed.D.
  What is interdisciplinary learning?
What are the roots of interdisciplinary learning, and how has it evolved over time?
How might interdisciplinary learning affect you, your colleagues, and your students?

Introduction to our expert: Heidi Hayes Jacobs, Ed.D.

Heidi Hayes Jacobs, Ed. D.
In this workshop, we have worked closely with interdisciplinary learning expert Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs. Dr. Jacobs is an education consultant who works internationally with schools, districts, companies, and not-for profit groups, K-12, on curriculum reform, instructional strategies to encourage critical thinking, and strategic planning. She has written two books: INTERDISCIPLINARY DESIGN AND IMPLEMENTATION and MAPPING THE BIG PICTURE: INTEGRATING CURRICULUM AND ASSESSMENT K-12. You can find out more about Heidi Hayes Jacobs by viewing our Experts Bio section.

What is interdisciplinary learning?

Interdisciplinary learning is one of many ways to learn over the course of a curriculum. When educators consider their curricular objectives and students' needs, they may choose interdisciplinary learning to deliver part or all of the content they will present. This method can help bring students to a new awareness of the meaningful connections that exist among the disciplines.

For example, a teacher might choose to design an interdisciplinary unit entitled "Reality and Illusion" and use the phrase "seeing is believing" as an organizing center1. Students would then spend the next several weeks exploring topics covering a range of disciplines, such as optical illusions, patterns, probability, and folklore and other literature. The following essay question could be given as a culminating assessment of their learning:


There is an old saying, "Seeing is believing." Do you agree with this statement? Justify your opinion.

learncenter With this interdisciplinary approach, the students would synthesize their learning in responding to the essay question by pulling evidence from multiple disciplines. They could respond in a variety of ways, such as making a comparison of the relative truth of folktales and probability equations or having a discussion of the history of optical illusions over time.

what do you think?
learning_cycle This is an example of an interdisciplinary unit, which takes a look at an organizing center from the perspectives of multiple disciplines at the same time in order to encourage students to discover transcendent themes. As interdisciplinary expert Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs explains, "the goal is to create an interdisciplinary unit between two (or three, or four . . .) disciplines using common and central questions that we don't just hope will show our students the connections -- but that we know will illuminate them." A series of essential questions2 frames the process of interdisciplinary learning, and assessment goals align with these essential questions. You will learn more about forming organizing centers and essential questions later in the workshop.


In order to define interdisciplinary learning thoroughly, we must understand that it is one of many approaches to designing and teaching a curriculum. For an interdisciplinary unit to be effective, it must be designed properly. A curriculum begins as a preformatted package of required elements and recommendations for learning for a specific grade level, semester, or year. A good curriculum expands on this guide, becoming a blueprint for learning that an educator designs and plans in real time with the needs of real-world students in mind. Most curricula are firmly rooted in the discipline fields3 and have a three-part structure, consisting in equal measures of:

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Heidi Hayes Jacobs stresses the importance of content, skills, and assessment.

  • the topics, issues, themes or problems that become subjects of learning.

skills and thinking processes
  • developmentally appropriate benchmarks for students' learning, such as critical thinking, reading comprehension, analysis, math skills, etc.
  • products that demonstrate skills and thinking processes, such as essays, productions, recitals, projects, note-taking and in-class participation, etc.

A curriculum that is interdisciplinary presents content, skills and thinking processes, and assessments through exploring connections among the disciplines.

image In this workshop you will take the role of a curriculum designer as you develop a blueprint for revising your existing curriculum along interdisciplinary lines. You will begin by learning about the history of interdisciplinary learning and how it might affect you in your school setting. You will have the opportunity to participate in discussion forums on topics related to interdisciplinary learning and implementation. In the "Demonstration" section, you will have the chance to view video clips of interdisciplinary learning in action, and we will take you through sample interdisciplinary units that our content experts have created. In "Implementation," you will go through a step-by-step guide to creating your own interdisciplinary unit. In the final section you will visit, "Exploration," you will take a closer look at interdisciplinary learning with our expert, Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs, Ed.D. You will take the unit you have created to the next level by considering some issues that could arise as you use your interdisciplinary blueprint in your classroom or school.

Workshop: Interdisciplinary Learning in Your Classroom
Explanation | Demonstration | Exploration | Implementation | Get Credit

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