“Interdisciplinary: a knowledge view and curriculum approach that consciously applies methodology and language from more than one discipline to examine a central theme, topic, issue, problem, or work.” – Heidi Hayes Jacobs Interdisciplinary Curriculum Design and Implementation (1989)
Andrews 1990 states that “when different professionals, possessing unique knowledge, skills, organisational perspectives, and personal attributes, engage in coordinated problem solving for a common purpose” (cited in Berg-Weger &. Schneider, 1998) interdisciplinary connections are made.
The kind of learning we want our students to experience is that of authentic, active inquiry, that is connected and student-centred. Students enjoy challenges and collaboratively are able to connect all the requirements together for a topic, theme or project. I believe with guidance that students are able to demonstrate problem solving skills and implement their own ideas in solving issues.
Here are some examples of connected learning which happens in our school.
Team-Teaching (aka co-teaching, collaborative teaching, parallel teaching, teaming). Students need to develop social skills in being able to work together with a range of their peers, retaining knowledge and analysing information in order to make sound judgements based on their analysis. These are essential skills students need as they move into Year 9 studies in 2018. Students worked on a theme titled: NZ history – Treasure our Heritage. The topic which the students were to analyse was that of ‘how to read cladograms’. This process involved 3 classes of year 8 students. Class 1 developed a lesson, with a unit plan with success criteria. Once in place, students taught this topic to another class of year 8 students. These students also taught a third group of year 8 students during another session. It proved very successful.
Two of the classes continued to work together on the given theme and were divided into four groups – Group 1: Guided reading, Group 2 Disappearing Cloze, Group 3 Videos & questions, Group 4 Making a Korowai*. Students worked at each station for 20 minutes. *For the Korowai – I was brought in to talk about the preparation and construction of
the cloak, introduced some history, talked about the materials with student input, and even though the students were making the cloak from card, they were able to relate their construction to the real thing. An actual Korowai was brought in for students to use as their inspiration. The students modelled their completed Korowai as a finale to the unit.
When New Zealand was looking at the flag change, a social studies unit was developed that included flag history, flags that had changed in the past (eg Canada), links to civics, and in textiles, the development of what students wanted as a new flag, which was constructed as a pillow cover. They were able to use skills of planning, collaboration, modelling, testing, learning about the sewing machine, layering and so much more.
It was an enjoyable unit which took a term of 10 weeks to complete. The school then used the flags during the cultural week in the school.
According to research from Boyer and Bishop (2004, p.1.) they found that interdisciplinary ‘teaming’ not only had a positive effect on students learning, but also inhibited personal growth. Students learned tolerance for their peers as well as leadership and collaboration skills.
Another example is at Year 13 where students in Food Technology and Business work on a project as part of their business plan and prototype product development. They use time in Business to set up their business, advertising, work on finances and logistics, the launch, while in Food Technology, students are unpacking the given brief (from the business plan) to develop a final brief from which prototypes and a final product will be developed and implemented at a market day or other opportunities to test the feasibility, sustainability, safety & hygiene and ethical, cultural appropriateness of their product.
We work in much the same way with Textiles Fashion & Design, and Art & Design. The same also happens with Business and Technology Multi Materials at year 13. The planning for each of these programmes is carried out in Term 4 the year before, ready for implementation at the start of the following year. Not all students participate in this interdisciplinary connection, but if they choose to develop a food, fashion, multi-materials or digital outcome, it makes sense to them to take advantage of sharing learning through 2 or 3 curriculum areas while at the same time obtaining their NCEA credits, not only for the content area but for literacy and sometimes numeracy. Students who participate will have enrolled in Business & Food Tech or Fashion & Art, so that their combination of subject choices plays a role in the interdisciplinary nature of their learning. Team work is paramount, collaboration is the key, and overall students gain confidence, a sense of ownership and an understanding of the key processes involved. Yes, it takes time to put into place but is well worth it, if students gain knowledge and learnings from it.
Jones (2009) writes that interdisciplinary connections ‘expand student understanding and achievement between all disciplines or enhancing communication skills,’however, ‘it also has disadvantages, such as integration confusion and time-consuming curriculum preparation’. I agree with the time consuming preparations, however once set in place, it only requires modifications leading into the next year and adapting to a new cohort of students. Jones (2009) goes on to conclude that interdisciplinary connections, ‘inhibit many favoured skills that are sought by future colleges and employers.’
In times of change, learners shall inherent the earth while the learned are beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists. – Eric Hoffer
Boyer, Bishop, 2004. “Young Adolescent Voices: Students’ Perceptions of InterdisciplinaryTeaming,” RMLE, v.1. http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/3e/a6/ ef.pdf.
Jones, C.(2009). Interdisciplinary approach – Advantages, disadvantages, and the future benefits of interdisciplinary studies. ESSAI7 (26), 76-81. Retrieved from http://dc.cod.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1121&context=essai
Mathison,S.. & Freeman, M.(1997). The logic of interdisciplinary studies. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, 1997. Retrieved from http://www.albany.edu/cela/reports/mathisonlogic12004.pdf:,
L. M., & Kuban, A. J. . (2015). A Conceptual Model for Interdisciplinary Collaboration. Retrieved from http://acrlog.org/2015/05/14/a-conceptual-model-for-interdisciplinary-collaboration