Building Interdisciplinary Curriculum: A Complete Guide for Educators

Building Interdisciplinary Curriculum: A Complete Guide for Educators

Milo owner of Notion for Teachers
Milo owner of Notion for Teachers

Article by

Milo Leask

ESL Content Coordinator & Educator

ESL Content Coordinator & Educator

Feb 25, 2024

Feb 25, 2024

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As an educator, you're not just responsible for teaching one subject; you're shaping multidimensional learners who will, in reality, integrate a variety of knowledge and skills. Interdisciplinary teaching, the integration of curriculum and instruction across different subject areas, is a powerful way to demonstrate to students the interconnectedness of knowledge in the real world.

As an educator, you're not just responsible for teaching one subject; you're shaping multidimensional learners who will, in reality, integrate a variety of knowledge and skills. Interdisciplinary teaching, the integration of curriculum and instruction across different subject areas, is a powerful way to demonstrate to students the interconnectedness of knowledge in the real world.

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Table of Contents

Planning Coherent and Engaging Interdisciplinary Lessons

This guide aims to equip you with the necessary steps to craft educational experiences that break the barriers between subjects and engage students in meaningful, coherent learning. From defining objectives to designing lesson structures and assessments, you'll discover an in-depth walk-through of each crucial planning stage.

Step 1: Define Learning Objectives

Before opening books or preparing resources, it's integral to clearly define what students should know and be able to do as a result of the lesson. These can be skill-based, such as the ability to analyze data, or content-based, like understanding the causes of historical events.

To begin:

Identify Key Concepts and Skills

Start by reviewing your curriculum standards and identifying the most critical concepts and skills in each subject that pertain to the topic you have in mind. Think about what knowledge is essential, and what skills students can develop through an interdisciplinary approach.

Align with Curriculum Standards

Ensure that the learning objectives you establish meet specific standards for each subject. This guarantees that your interdisciplinary lesson will not only be engaging but also will contribute to student success on standardized assessments and in future courses.

Your efforts might look like this:

Example Learning Objective: By the end of the lesson, students will be able to explain the causes and consequences of climate change, analyze data illustrating the issue, and develop a persuasive video message advocating for sustainable practices.

In essence, our starting point is a custom-engineered blend of science, social studies, and language arts learning objectives.

Step 2: Choose Relevant Subjects

A successful interdisciplinary lesson should integrate two or more subject areas meaningfully. This doesn't mean that all subject areas have equal weight in the lesson; it simply dictates that each subject contributes something substantive and is connected directly to the stated learning goals.

Here's what you need to do:

Identify Subjects that can be Integrated

Review your learning objectives and consider which subjects can be naturally tied to them. For instance, if your objective includes analyzing historical events, connect it to relevant literature or examine the economic factors of the time within a sociology or math context.

Consider Connections and Overlaps

Look for shared themes or concepts across subjects where they can reinforce or complement each other. Understand the essential content of each subject from which you can draw to support a comprehensive understanding of the topic.

For our climate change lesson, we'll draw on:

  • Science to explain the greenhouse effect

  • Social studies to explore the geopolitical impact of the issue

  • Language arts for persuasive writing and video production

Remember to consult your standards documents for each subject to confirm the points of connection and identify potentially conflicting content that needs to be reconciled.

Step 3: Collaborate with Colleagues

Interdisciplinary teaching excels when educators work in partner or team settings, pooling their expertise to create a richer learning experience.

Your plan should involve:

Working with Other Teachers to Plan Lessons

Reach out to colleagues in the identified subject areas to discuss potential lesson plans. Hosting collaborative meetings or utilizing digital communication platforms can be effective ways to share ideas and co-plan.

Sharing Ideas and Resources

Share lesson examples, instructional materials, activities, and technology tools that can support the interdisciplinary approach. Leverage each other's strengths and expertise to design a comprehensive lesson from multiple viewpoints.

Collaborative tasks may include:

  • The science teacher designed and led the experiment to demonstrate the greenhouse effect

  • The social studies teacher planning discussions on the global response to climate change

  • The language arts teacher helps craft persuasive video scripts

Step 4: Identify Common Themes or Topics

At the heart of successful interdisciplinary lessons is a common theme or topic that will serve as a focal point for the integrated learning experience.

Plan to:

Find Connections Between Subjects

Look for shared concepts, themes, or approaches that can be addressed from multiple angles. This can help students understand the topic more deeply and see how various subjects relate to it.

Determine a Unifying Theme or Topic

Select a unifying theme or topic that is broad enough to accommodate contributions from multiple disciplines but still offers a clear, focused lens through which to explore it.

For our climate change lesson, the theme could be "Human Impact on the Earth" — a broad enough topic to encompass scientific, social, and communication-related aspects, while still providing a clear anchor for learning.

Step 5: Design Lesson Structure

Once the objectives, subjects, and theme are defined, it's time to structure your lesson. This could involve a variety of formats, including project-based learning (PBL), problem-based learning (PBL), or thematic units.

To design the structure, you need to:

Decide on Lesson Format

Choose a format that best suits your interdisciplinary approach and learning objectives. If the goal is to develop skills across multiple areas, a project-based approach may be useful. If there's a complex problem that can be addressed from various perspectives, problem-based learning might be more appropriate. Examples of lesson formats for interdisciplinary teaching:

  1. Thematic Unit: A theme, such as "Environment," is explored through various subjects. For instance, in science, students study ecosystems; in geography, they explore different climates and habitats; in English, they might write essays on conservation.

  2. Project-Based Learning (PBL): Students work on a project that integrates various disciplines. For example, in a project on "Sustainable City Design," students use knowledge from science, mathematics, geography, and art to design a model of a sustainable city.

  3. Problem-Based Learning (PBL): Students are presented with a problem that requires understanding from multiple disciplines to solve. An example could be "Reducing Plastic Waste in Our School," where students use insights from science (to understand why plastic is harmful), social studies (to understand human behavior and attitudes towards recycling), and math (to track and analyze waste quantities).

Establish Clear Learning Outcomes

Create a clear roadmap of what students will do in each phase of the lesson and the expected outcomes. These outcomes should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

For our climate change lesson, a PBL format could involve:

  • A research phase where students collect data on climate change from scientific and social studies perspectives

  • A problem-solving phase focused on developing solutions, such as creating a sustainable community or advocating for policy change

  • A presentation phase where students communicate their findings and recommendations using language arts skills

Step 6: Select Learning Activities and Resources

Your next step is to choose activities and resources that will engage students with the lesson theme while addressing the defined learning objectives.

Here's what you can do:

Choose Activities that Engage Students

Select activities that are hands-on and inquiry-driven to promote active learning and critical thinking. Look for opportunities for group work and discussions that can take advantage of the multiple perspectives brought by the interdisciplinary approach.

Gather Relevant Resources and Materials

Resource gathering involves sourcing scientific data sets, historical artifacts or documents, literature, and multimedia that can support learning across the identified subjects. Leverage both traditional and digital resources to provide a variety of learning materials.

For our climate change lesson, students could:

  • Conduct experiments to see the real-time effects of the greenhouse gas on temperature

  • Analyze historical treaties and economic models related to climate change in context of the past to predict the future

  • Work in literature circles, reading novels about environmental advocacy to inform their persuasive videos

Step 7: Plan Assessment Strategies

Finally, you need to plan how you will assess student learning in an interdisciplinary lesson.

Determine How to Assess Student Learning

Decide on assessment methods that align with the learning objectives and the chosen lesson format. These methods might include written assignments, presentations, experiments, or a combination of these and more.

Align Assessments with Learning Objectives

Ensure that assessments are directly linked to the learning objectives and measure both content knowledge and interdisciplinary skills.

For our climate change lesson, assessments might include:

  • A scientific report analyzing experimental findings

  • A social studies presentation on the economic impacts of environmental protection

  • A language arts rubric evaluating the content of persuasive videos

By setting clear and connected objectives, establishing strong interdisciplinary connections, collaborating with colleagues, structuring lessons effectively, choosing engaging activities, and planning thorough assessments, you can create powerful and meaningful interdisciplinary lessons that leave a lasting impact on your students' education.

Interdisciplinary teaching is a valuable approach to engage students in meaningful and relevant learning experiences. By incorporating multiple subjects and real-world applications, students can see the connection between different disciplines and develop important skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration. As educators, it is our responsibility to provide our students with the knowledge and tools they need to become well-rounded individuals who are prepared for the challenges of the future. With careful planning and intentional integration, interdisciplinary lessons can be a powerful tool for achieving this goal.

Teaching Interdisciplinary Units in Education

Educators today are not just teaching subjects; they are sculpting learners capable of navigating the complexities of the real world. One of the most powerful tools at an educator's disposal for achieving this goal is the interdisciplinary unit. By combining different subjects into a singular thematic unit, students are not just memorizing disconnected facts but are engaging in deep, meaningful, and often more memorable learning experiences.

This comprehensive guide outlines strategies and best practices to craft and execute interdisciplinary units that bring together the richness of various subjects into a unified educational journey. From identifying learning objectives to creating thematic units and designing learning experiences, this guide is a roadmap for educators to design cohesive and impactful interdisciplinary curricula.

Understanding Interdisciplinary Units

Interdisciplinary units are education initiatives that bring together more than one subject area to explore a central theme, problem, or issue. These units seek to replicate the complexities of real-world problems, which do not fit neatly into the confines of a single academic discipline. They provide a platform for students to develop a holistic understanding of a topic, engaging critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity across different subject boundaries.

Interdisciplinary benefits include fostering a broader understanding of a topic, developing critical thinking by engaging in complex problems, and enhancing the relevance of knowledge through real-life connections. It also supports skill development in context, such as research and communication skills, and fosters a more inclusive view of knowledge, mirroring the way the world works beyond the classroom walls.

Identifying Learning Objectives

Before embarking on the journey of creating an interdisciplinary unit, it's crucial to clearly define learning objectives. These objectives should reflect the skills and knowledge that students will gain from the combined study of different subjects.

To determine learning objectives:

  1. Reflect on skills: What skills do you want students to develop? Critical thinking, research skills, problem-solving?

  2. Analyze knowledge: What do you want students to learn and understand about the chosen theme from each contributing subject?

  3. Consider real-world applicability: How will this interdisciplinary study relate to students' real-life experiences? What broader life skills will they develop?

Remember, learning objectives should be clear, specific, and measurable, guiding both teaching and assessment throughout the unit.

Selecting Subject Areas

The selection of subject areas is a pivotal decision in the creation of interdisciplinary units. It shapes the perspectives from which students will approach the central theme and influences the depth and breadth of their learning.

Strategies for selecting subject areas include:

  • Core Curriculum Review: Understand which subjects your students are already studying and which of these can naturally contribute to the chosen theme.

  • Survey Students: If appropriate, involve students in suggesting subject areas that interest them or that they believe have connections to the central theme.

  • Stakeholder Input: Consider input from fellow educators or administrators who might see connections that you haven't yet considered.

  • Balance and Complement: Choose subjects that not only cover different aspects of the theme but also complement each other in terms of their methodologies and content.

Remember that not all subjects need to be represented equally. A successful interdisciplinary unit may focus more on the meaningful integration of key subjects rather than seeking an even distribution.

Finding Common Ground

Finding commonalities between different subject areas and looking for connections is the core of interdisciplinary teaching. When educators delve into their subjects, they often find that these subjects are not as isolated as the traditional academic structure suggests.

Methods for identifying connections include:

  • Core Concept Analysis: Break down the theme into core concepts and analyze how they are addressed in different subjects.

  • Department Dialogues: Facilitate discussions between educators from different departments to share perspectives on the chosen theme and its potential intersection with their subjects.

  • Curriculum Crosswalks: Examine curriculum standards and look for overlaps or complementary knowledge and skills.

By identifying the threads that link subjects, you lay the foundation for a coherent and robust interdisciplinary approach.

Creating a Thematic Unit

The heart of an interdisciplinary unit is its central theme – a compelling topic or question that provides a meaningful framework for learning. The theme should be broad enough to allow for the integration of multiple subjects but offer enough depth to be explored comprehensively.

Steps to develop the central theme are as follows:

  1. Brainstorm Themes: Generate a list of potential themes that can be enriched by the perspectives of multiple subjects.

  2. Research Perspectives: Investigate how each subject can contribute to understanding the theme from different angles.

  3. Evaluate Feasibility: Assess the practicality of each theme in terms of resources, time, and its potential to engage students.

Once you've chosen a theme, ensure that it is communicated clearly to students and that it serves as a beacon to guide them through their interdisciplinary exploration.

Designing Learning Experiences

Interdisciplinary learning experiences should be designed to seamlessly weave together the different subjects in a way that feels natural and meaningful to students. This involves planning activities that draw on the strengths of each subject and help to reinforce learning across the curriculum.

Approaches for incorporating multiple subject areas include:

  • Thematic Research Projects: Assign students to research projects that require the use of skills and concepts from various subjects.

  • Literature Analysis: Use literature to explore the human experience of the theme, incorporating writing, analysis, history, and perhaps even sociology or anthropology.

  • Simulation and Role-Playing: Create simulations or role-playing scenarios that involve elements from different subjects. For example, a historical role-play on a scientific concept.

  • Real-World Problem Solving: Engage students in solving real-world problems which are complex and require a multifaceted approach, often leaning on knowledge from different domains.

The key is to ensure that each learning experience is well-integrated and meaningful, emphasizing the importance of different subjects in addressing the central theme.

Assessment and Evaluation

Assessment in interdisciplinary units can be complex, as it requires evaluating students' understanding across different subjects and their ability to apply that understanding in a cohesive manner. Assessment methods should align with the learning objectives and can take various forms, including:

  • Multifaceted Performance Tasks: Students might complete projects that involve various components, such as research, analysis, and creative production.

  • Rubrics for Integration: Develop rubrics that explicitly assess students' ability to make connections between subjects and apply knowledge from one to the other.

  • Reflective Journals: Use journals to encourage students to reflect on their learning across different subjects and how it relates to the central theme.

Regular collaboration with colleagues is also vital for developing knowledgeable and consistent assessment practices within interdisciplinary units.

Collaborating with Colleagues

Creating an interdisciplinary unit is rarely a solo venture. Effective interdisciplinary education often involves teamwork and collaboration among educators from different subject areas who bring their expertise to the table.

Tips for working with colleagues include:

  • Open Dialogue: Approach colleagues with an open mind and a willingness to listen to their perspectives on the theme and its interdisciplinary potential.

  • Division of Labor: Clearly define roles for each educator involved, making the most of their subject area expertise.

  • Integrated Professional Development: Periodically engage in professional development sessions where all involved educators can share successes and challenges and develop strategies to improve the interdisciplinary approach.

Collaboration not only enriches the unit but also models for students the real-world practice of teamwork and leveraging diverse perspectives to solve complex problems.

Best Practices and Examples

Learning from the experiences of others is a powerful way to improve our approach. Some best practices include:

  • Example Unit: A project on 'Sustainability and the Amazon Rainforest' that integrated science (ecosystems), social studies (geography), and language arts (persuasive writing on deforestation)

  • Regular Reflection: Engaging in regular reflection with students and colleagues to refine elements of the unit for future iterations

  • Flexibility and Iteration: Being flexible and open to making adjustments as the unit progresses, and not being afraid to iterate on the design

  • Community Involvement: Involving community experts or stakeholders related to the theme to provide an authentic context and mentorship

  • Culminating Symposiums or Exhibitions: Organizing a culminating event where students can showcase their learning to peers, parents, and the community

By following these best practices and drawing inspiration from successful examples, educators can ensure that their interdisciplinary units not only meet but exceed the expectations for depth, engagement, and impact.

Designing interdisciplinary units in education is a complex and multi-dimensional task. It requires a deep understanding of the intersections between subjects, a commitment to clear learning objectives, a thematic framework that excites and engages students, and a collaborative approach that leverages the expertise of all involved educators.

Assessment Methods for Interdisciplinary Learning

In the dynamic landscape of education, the walls between subjects are beginning to crumble, making way for a more holistic interdisciplinary approach. But how do educators effectively gauge a student's understanding when their knowledge spans various disciplines? This listicle introduces assessment methods tailored for the multifaceted domain of interdisciplinary learning.

Interdisciplinary learning, where students connect knowledge from different subjects in a meaningful way, is a powerful tool for preparing the next generation for a complex and interconnected world. Yet, such fluidity between disciplines poses a challenge for traditional assessment practices that often silo knowledge. Here, we delve into innovative assessment methods designed to capture the depth and breadth of interdisciplinary understanding.

1. Self-Assessment

Benefits of Self-Assessment

Empowering students with the ability to evaluate their own understanding is a cornerstone of modern education. In an interdisciplinary context, self-assessment fosters self-regulation and metacognition while breaking down the walls of subject-centric thinking.

Examples of Self-Assessment Tools for Interdisciplinary Learning

  • Learning journals where students reflect on how their understanding has evolved after learning a new concept that bridges different subjects.

  • Reflective questionnaires are designed to prompt the student to consider how well they think they have connected and synthesized concepts from different subjects.

2. Peer Assessment

Advantages of Peer Assessment

Peer assessment not only provides an alternative viewpoint but also encourages active engagement and a deeper understanding of diverse perspectives – a crucial aspect of interdisciplinary learning.

How to Implement Peer Assessment in Interdisciplinary Projects

  • Create structured discussion forums where students present their work and peers provide thoughtful feedback.

  • Use 'fishbowl' discussions, where a small group of students is observed by the rest of the class, to share and assess their interdisciplinary projects in real-time.

3. Rubrics

Using Rubrics to Assess Interdisciplinary Learning

Transparent and clear rubrics can guide students in understanding the expectations of their performance and provide educators with a quantifiable measure of interdisciplinary attainment.

Tips for Creating Effective Rubrics

  • Ensure rubrics are aligned with interdisciplinary goals and are not inadvertently favoring one subject's methodology over another.

  • Involve students in the process by collaboratively creating rubrics, which can enhance their ownership of the assessment process.

4. Project-Based Assessments

Benefits of Project-Based Assessments in Interdisciplinary Learning

Projects, especially when they span several subjects, offer students an opportunity to delve deeply into a topic, to see the relevance of their learning across boundaries, and to develop key 21st-century skills such as critical thinking and collaboration.

Examples of Project-Based Assessment Methods

  • Multidisciplinary presentations or exhibitions where students demonstrate their learning through creative, cross-curricular presentations.

  • Problem-based learning presents students with real-world issues that require an interdisciplinary approach to solutions and assessments.

5. Portfolios

Advantages of Portfolios for Interdisciplinary Assessment

Portfolios allow for a more narrative approach to assessment, wherein students curate evidence of their learning journeys, making it apt for interdisciplinary learning that is often characterized by personalization and connection.

Components of a Comprehensive Interdisciplinary Portfolio

  • Include artifacts that demonstrate the application of knowledge across subjects.

  • Reflections on how students have integrated and synthesized learning from different subjects.

6. Performance Assessments

Incorporating Performance Assessments in Interdisciplinary Projects

Performance assessments, when contextualized within interdisciplinary projects, provide a rich, authentic assessment experience that mirrors the complexity of real-world problem-solving, innovation, and creation.

Examples of Performance Assessments for Interdisciplinary Learning

  • Simulations and role-plays that require students to navigate complex scenarios using an interdisciplinary approach.

  • Design challenges that task students with creating solutions that consider social, economic, and environmental implications in addition to subject-based criteria.

In conclusion, as educators embrace the multidimensional challenges and opportunities of interdisciplinary learning, it is critical to adapt assessment methods that do justice to the cross-pollination of ideas and skills that occur. By integrating these innovative assessment tools into their teaching practices, educators can more accurately evaluate student progress across the interdisciplinary spectrum.

Additional Resources

Videos

  1. The Power of Interdisciplinary Learning: (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KGtrsv8G9u0) This TEDxTalk by educator Zaretta Hammond compellingly argues for the transformative power of interdisciplinary learning, showcasing its ability to engage students on deeper levels and prepare them for real-world challenges.

  2. Building Interdisciplinary Units from the Ground Up: (https://www.edutopia.org/article/month-month-guide-interdisciplinary-instruction/) This Edutopia video presents a practical guide to developing interdisciplinary units. It breaks down the process into manageable steps, providing valuable tips for collaboration, content selection, and assessment.

  3. Interdisciplinary Learning in Action: A Middle School Example: (https://www.edutopia.org/article/month-month-guide-interdisciplinary-instruction/) Witness the magic of interdisciplinary learning in action through this video showcasing a middle school unit combining science, literature, and art to explore the theme of water.

Blog Posts

  1. 5 Tips for Designing Engaging Interdisciplinary Units: (https://myips.org/cfi84/cfi-features/) This blog post from the Center for Inquiry in the Schools offers practical tips for planning interdisciplinary units, from identifying central themes to choosing engaging activities and assessments.

  2. Breaking Down the Walls: Creating Interdisciplinary Units That Work: (https://teachbetter.com/blog/leaders-heres-how-to-support-interdisciplinary-unit-planning/) This ASCD blog delves into the challenges and rewards of interdisciplinary learning, providing guidance on navigating common pitfalls and ensuring successful implementation.

  3. Making the Most of Mistakes: Embracing the Messy Beauty of Interdisciplinary Units: (https://www.edutopia.org/article/more-buzzword-making-interdisciplinary-learning-reality/) This insightful Edutopia post encourages educators to embrace the inherent messiness of interdisciplinary learning, highlighting its value in promoting creativity, problem-solving, and resilience.

Web Tools/Resources

  1. Project Zero: Making Thinking Visible: (https://pz.harvard.edu/) Project Zero from Harvard University provides a treasure trove of resources for interdisciplinary learning, including frameworks, curriculum projects, and professional development opportunities.

  2. OpenSciEd: Open Source Science Curriculum: (https://www.openscied.org/) OpenSciEd offers a wealth of high-quality, open-source science curriculum materials aligned with the NGSS, many of which can be easily adapted for interdisciplinary projects.

  3. Genius Hour: (https://www.undercoverclassroom.com/how-to-organize-genius-hour/) Genius Hour encourages students to pursue their passions and delve into self-directed projects, offering an ideal platform for interdisciplinary exploration and student agency.

Planning Coherent and Engaging Interdisciplinary Lessons

This guide aims to equip you with the necessary steps to craft educational experiences that break the barriers between subjects and engage students in meaningful, coherent learning. From defining objectives to designing lesson structures and assessments, you'll discover an in-depth walk-through of each crucial planning stage.

Step 1: Define Learning Objectives

Before opening books or preparing resources, it's integral to clearly define what students should know and be able to do as a result of the lesson. These can be skill-based, such as the ability to analyze data, or content-based, like understanding the causes of historical events.

To begin:

Identify Key Concepts and Skills

Start by reviewing your curriculum standards and identifying the most critical concepts and skills in each subject that pertain to the topic you have in mind. Think about what knowledge is essential, and what skills students can develop through an interdisciplinary approach.

Align with Curriculum Standards

Ensure that the learning objectives you establish meet specific standards for each subject. This guarantees that your interdisciplinary lesson will not only be engaging but also will contribute to student success on standardized assessments and in future courses.

Your efforts might look like this:

Example Learning Objective: By the end of the lesson, students will be able to explain the causes and consequences of climate change, analyze data illustrating the issue, and develop a persuasive video message advocating for sustainable practices.

In essence, our starting point is a custom-engineered blend of science, social studies, and language arts learning objectives.

Step 2: Choose Relevant Subjects

A successful interdisciplinary lesson should integrate two or more subject areas meaningfully. This doesn't mean that all subject areas have equal weight in the lesson; it simply dictates that each subject contributes something substantive and is connected directly to the stated learning goals.

Here's what you need to do:

Identify Subjects that can be Integrated

Review your learning objectives and consider which subjects can be naturally tied to them. For instance, if your objective includes analyzing historical events, connect it to relevant literature or examine the economic factors of the time within a sociology or math context.

Consider Connections and Overlaps

Look for shared themes or concepts across subjects where they can reinforce or complement each other. Understand the essential content of each subject from which you can draw to support a comprehensive understanding of the topic.

For our climate change lesson, we'll draw on:

  • Science to explain the greenhouse effect

  • Social studies to explore the geopolitical impact of the issue

  • Language arts for persuasive writing and video production

Remember to consult your standards documents for each subject to confirm the points of connection and identify potentially conflicting content that needs to be reconciled.

Step 3: Collaborate with Colleagues

Interdisciplinary teaching excels when educators work in partner or team settings, pooling their expertise to create a richer learning experience.

Your plan should involve:

Working with Other Teachers to Plan Lessons

Reach out to colleagues in the identified subject areas to discuss potential lesson plans. Hosting collaborative meetings or utilizing digital communication platforms can be effective ways to share ideas and co-plan.

Sharing Ideas and Resources

Share lesson examples, instructional materials, activities, and technology tools that can support the interdisciplinary approach. Leverage each other's strengths and expertise to design a comprehensive lesson from multiple viewpoints.

Collaborative tasks may include:

  • The science teacher designed and led the experiment to demonstrate the greenhouse effect

  • The social studies teacher planning discussions on the global response to climate change

  • The language arts teacher helps craft persuasive video scripts

Step 4: Identify Common Themes or Topics

At the heart of successful interdisciplinary lessons is a common theme or topic that will serve as a focal point for the integrated learning experience.

Plan to:

Find Connections Between Subjects

Look for shared concepts, themes, or approaches that can be addressed from multiple angles. This can help students understand the topic more deeply and see how various subjects relate to it.

Determine a Unifying Theme or Topic

Select a unifying theme or topic that is broad enough to accommodate contributions from multiple disciplines but still offers a clear, focused lens through which to explore it.

For our climate change lesson, the theme could be "Human Impact on the Earth" — a broad enough topic to encompass scientific, social, and communication-related aspects, while still providing a clear anchor for learning.

Step 5: Design Lesson Structure

Once the objectives, subjects, and theme are defined, it's time to structure your lesson. This could involve a variety of formats, including project-based learning (PBL), problem-based learning (PBL), or thematic units.

To design the structure, you need to:

Decide on Lesson Format

Choose a format that best suits your interdisciplinary approach and learning objectives. If the goal is to develop skills across multiple areas, a project-based approach may be useful. If there's a complex problem that can be addressed from various perspectives, problem-based learning might be more appropriate. Examples of lesson formats for interdisciplinary teaching:

  1. Thematic Unit: A theme, such as "Environment," is explored through various subjects. For instance, in science, students study ecosystems; in geography, they explore different climates and habitats; in English, they might write essays on conservation.

  2. Project-Based Learning (PBL): Students work on a project that integrates various disciplines. For example, in a project on "Sustainable City Design," students use knowledge from science, mathematics, geography, and art to design a model of a sustainable city.

  3. Problem-Based Learning (PBL): Students are presented with a problem that requires understanding from multiple disciplines to solve. An example could be "Reducing Plastic Waste in Our School," where students use insights from science (to understand why plastic is harmful), social studies (to understand human behavior and attitudes towards recycling), and math (to track and analyze waste quantities).

Establish Clear Learning Outcomes

Create a clear roadmap of what students will do in each phase of the lesson and the expected outcomes. These outcomes should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

For our climate change lesson, a PBL format could involve:

  • A research phase where students collect data on climate change from scientific and social studies perspectives

  • A problem-solving phase focused on developing solutions, such as creating a sustainable community or advocating for policy change

  • A presentation phase where students communicate their findings and recommendations using language arts skills

Step 6: Select Learning Activities and Resources

Your next step is to choose activities and resources that will engage students with the lesson theme while addressing the defined learning objectives.

Here's what you can do:

Choose Activities that Engage Students

Select activities that are hands-on and inquiry-driven to promote active learning and critical thinking. Look for opportunities for group work and discussions that can take advantage of the multiple perspectives brought by the interdisciplinary approach.

Gather Relevant Resources and Materials

Resource gathering involves sourcing scientific data sets, historical artifacts or documents, literature, and multimedia that can support learning across the identified subjects. Leverage both traditional and digital resources to provide a variety of learning materials.

For our climate change lesson, students could:

  • Conduct experiments to see the real-time effects of the greenhouse gas on temperature

  • Analyze historical treaties and economic models related to climate change in context of the past to predict the future

  • Work in literature circles, reading novels about environmental advocacy to inform their persuasive videos

Step 7: Plan Assessment Strategies

Finally, you need to plan how you will assess student learning in an interdisciplinary lesson.

Determine How to Assess Student Learning

Decide on assessment methods that align with the learning objectives and the chosen lesson format. These methods might include written assignments, presentations, experiments, or a combination of these and more.

Align Assessments with Learning Objectives

Ensure that assessments are directly linked to the learning objectives and measure both content knowledge and interdisciplinary skills.

For our climate change lesson, assessments might include:

  • A scientific report analyzing experimental findings

  • A social studies presentation on the economic impacts of environmental protection

  • A language arts rubric evaluating the content of persuasive videos

By setting clear and connected objectives, establishing strong interdisciplinary connections, collaborating with colleagues, structuring lessons effectively, choosing engaging activities, and planning thorough assessments, you can create powerful and meaningful interdisciplinary lessons that leave a lasting impact on your students' education.

Interdisciplinary teaching is a valuable approach to engage students in meaningful and relevant learning experiences. By incorporating multiple subjects and real-world applications, students can see the connection between different disciplines and develop important skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration. As educators, it is our responsibility to provide our students with the knowledge and tools they need to become well-rounded individuals who are prepared for the challenges of the future. With careful planning and intentional integration, interdisciplinary lessons can be a powerful tool for achieving this goal.

Teaching Interdisciplinary Units in Education

Educators today are not just teaching subjects; they are sculpting learners capable of navigating the complexities of the real world. One of the most powerful tools at an educator's disposal for achieving this goal is the interdisciplinary unit. By combining different subjects into a singular thematic unit, students are not just memorizing disconnected facts but are engaging in deep, meaningful, and often more memorable learning experiences.

This comprehensive guide outlines strategies and best practices to craft and execute interdisciplinary units that bring together the richness of various subjects into a unified educational journey. From identifying learning objectives to creating thematic units and designing learning experiences, this guide is a roadmap for educators to design cohesive and impactful interdisciplinary curricula.

Understanding Interdisciplinary Units

Interdisciplinary units are education initiatives that bring together more than one subject area to explore a central theme, problem, or issue. These units seek to replicate the complexities of real-world problems, which do not fit neatly into the confines of a single academic discipline. They provide a platform for students to develop a holistic understanding of a topic, engaging critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity across different subject boundaries.

Interdisciplinary benefits include fostering a broader understanding of a topic, developing critical thinking by engaging in complex problems, and enhancing the relevance of knowledge through real-life connections. It also supports skill development in context, such as research and communication skills, and fosters a more inclusive view of knowledge, mirroring the way the world works beyond the classroom walls.

Identifying Learning Objectives

Before embarking on the journey of creating an interdisciplinary unit, it's crucial to clearly define learning objectives. These objectives should reflect the skills and knowledge that students will gain from the combined study of different subjects.

To determine learning objectives:

  1. Reflect on skills: What skills do you want students to develop? Critical thinking, research skills, problem-solving?

  2. Analyze knowledge: What do you want students to learn and understand about the chosen theme from each contributing subject?

  3. Consider real-world applicability: How will this interdisciplinary study relate to students' real-life experiences? What broader life skills will they develop?

Remember, learning objectives should be clear, specific, and measurable, guiding both teaching and assessment throughout the unit.

Selecting Subject Areas

The selection of subject areas is a pivotal decision in the creation of interdisciplinary units. It shapes the perspectives from which students will approach the central theme and influences the depth and breadth of their learning.

Strategies for selecting subject areas include:

  • Core Curriculum Review: Understand which subjects your students are already studying and which of these can naturally contribute to the chosen theme.

  • Survey Students: If appropriate, involve students in suggesting subject areas that interest them or that they believe have connections to the central theme.

  • Stakeholder Input: Consider input from fellow educators or administrators who might see connections that you haven't yet considered.

  • Balance and Complement: Choose subjects that not only cover different aspects of the theme but also complement each other in terms of their methodologies and content.

Remember that not all subjects need to be represented equally. A successful interdisciplinary unit may focus more on the meaningful integration of key subjects rather than seeking an even distribution.

Finding Common Ground

Finding commonalities between different subject areas and looking for connections is the core of interdisciplinary teaching. When educators delve into their subjects, they often find that these subjects are not as isolated as the traditional academic structure suggests.

Methods for identifying connections include:

  • Core Concept Analysis: Break down the theme into core concepts and analyze how they are addressed in different subjects.

  • Department Dialogues: Facilitate discussions between educators from different departments to share perspectives on the chosen theme and its potential intersection with their subjects.

  • Curriculum Crosswalks: Examine curriculum standards and look for overlaps or complementary knowledge and skills.

By identifying the threads that link subjects, you lay the foundation for a coherent and robust interdisciplinary approach.

Creating a Thematic Unit

The heart of an interdisciplinary unit is its central theme – a compelling topic or question that provides a meaningful framework for learning. The theme should be broad enough to allow for the integration of multiple subjects but offer enough depth to be explored comprehensively.

Steps to develop the central theme are as follows:

  1. Brainstorm Themes: Generate a list of potential themes that can be enriched by the perspectives of multiple subjects.

  2. Research Perspectives: Investigate how each subject can contribute to understanding the theme from different angles.

  3. Evaluate Feasibility: Assess the practicality of each theme in terms of resources, time, and its potential to engage students.

Once you've chosen a theme, ensure that it is communicated clearly to students and that it serves as a beacon to guide them through their interdisciplinary exploration.

Designing Learning Experiences

Interdisciplinary learning experiences should be designed to seamlessly weave together the different subjects in a way that feels natural and meaningful to students. This involves planning activities that draw on the strengths of each subject and help to reinforce learning across the curriculum.

Approaches for incorporating multiple subject areas include:

  • Thematic Research Projects: Assign students to research projects that require the use of skills and concepts from various subjects.

  • Literature Analysis: Use literature to explore the human experience of the theme, incorporating writing, analysis, history, and perhaps even sociology or anthropology.

  • Simulation and Role-Playing: Create simulations or role-playing scenarios that involve elements from different subjects. For example, a historical role-play on a scientific concept.

  • Real-World Problem Solving: Engage students in solving real-world problems which are complex and require a multifaceted approach, often leaning on knowledge from different domains.

The key is to ensure that each learning experience is well-integrated and meaningful, emphasizing the importance of different subjects in addressing the central theme.

Assessment and Evaluation

Assessment in interdisciplinary units can be complex, as it requires evaluating students' understanding across different subjects and their ability to apply that understanding in a cohesive manner. Assessment methods should align with the learning objectives and can take various forms, including:

  • Multifaceted Performance Tasks: Students might complete projects that involve various components, such as research, analysis, and creative production.

  • Rubrics for Integration: Develop rubrics that explicitly assess students' ability to make connections between subjects and apply knowledge from one to the other.

  • Reflective Journals: Use journals to encourage students to reflect on their learning across different subjects and how it relates to the central theme.

Regular collaboration with colleagues is also vital for developing knowledgeable and consistent assessment practices within interdisciplinary units.

Collaborating with Colleagues

Creating an interdisciplinary unit is rarely a solo venture. Effective interdisciplinary education often involves teamwork and collaboration among educators from different subject areas who bring their expertise to the table.

Tips for working with colleagues include:

  • Open Dialogue: Approach colleagues with an open mind and a willingness to listen to their perspectives on the theme and its interdisciplinary potential.

  • Division of Labor: Clearly define roles for each educator involved, making the most of their subject area expertise.

  • Integrated Professional Development: Periodically engage in professional development sessions where all involved educators can share successes and challenges and develop strategies to improve the interdisciplinary approach.

Collaboration not only enriches the unit but also models for students the real-world practice of teamwork and leveraging diverse perspectives to solve complex problems.

Best Practices and Examples

Learning from the experiences of others is a powerful way to improve our approach. Some best practices include:

  • Example Unit: A project on 'Sustainability and the Amazon Rainforest' that integrated science (ecosystems), social studies (geography), and language arts (persuasive writing on deforestation)

  • Regular Reflection: Engaging in regular reflection with students and colleagues to refine elements of the unit for future iterations

  • Flexibility and Iteration: Being flexible and open to making adjustments as the unit progresses, and not being afraid to iterate on the design

  • Community Involvement: Involving community experts or stakeholders related to the theme to provide an authentic context and mentorship

  • Culminating Symposiums or Exhibitions: Organizing a culminating event where students can showcase their learning to peers, parents, and the community

By following these best practices and drawing inspiration from successful examples, educators can ensure that their interdisciplinary units not only meet but exceed the expectations for depth, engagement, and impact.

Designing interdisciplinary units in education is a complex and multi-dimensional task. It requires a deep understanding of the intersections between subjects, a commitment to clear learning objectives, a thematic framework that excites and engages students, and a collaborative approach that leverages the expertise of all involved educators.

Assessment Methods for Interdisciplinary Learning

In the dynamic landscape of education, the walls between subjects are beginning to crumble, making way for a more holistic interdisciplinary approach. But how do educators effectively gauge a student's understanding when their knowledge spans various disciplines? This listicle introduces assessment methods tailored for the multifaceted domain of interdisciplinary learning.

Interdisciplinary learning, where students connect knowledge from different subjects in a meaningful way, is a powerful tool for preparing the next generation for a complex and interconnected world. Yet, such fluidity between disciplines poses a challenge for traditional assessment practices that often silo knowledge. Here, we delve into innovative assessment methods designed to capture the depth and breadth of interdisciplinary understanding.

1. Self-Assessment

Benefits of Self-Assessment

Empowering students with the ability to evaluate their own understanding is a cornerstone of modern education. In an interdisciplinary context, self-assessment fosters self-regulation and metacognition while breaking down the walls of subject-centric thinking.

Examples of Self-Assessment Tools for Interdisciplinary Learning

  • Learning journals where students reflect on how their understanding has evolved after learning a new concept that bridges different subjects.

  • Reflective questionnaires are designed to prompt the student to consider how well they think they have connected and synthesized concepts from different subjects.

2. Peer Assessment

Advantages of Peer Assessment

Peer assessment not only provides an alternative viewpoint but also encourages active engagement and a deeper understanding of diverse perspectives – a crucial aspect of interdisciplinary learning.

How to Implement Peer Assessment in Interdisciplinary Projects

  • Create structured discussion forums where students present their work and peers provide thoughtful feedback.

  • Use 'fishbowl' discussions, where a small group of students is observed by the rest of the class, to share and assess their interdisciplinary projects in real-time.

3. Rubrics

Using Rubrics to Assess Interdisciplinary Learning

Transparent and clear rubrics can guide students in understanding the expectations of their performance and provide educators with a quantifiable measure of interdisciplinary attainment.

Tips for Creating Effective Rubrics

  • Ensure rubrics are aligned with interdisciplinary goals and are not inadvertently favoring one subject's methodology over another.

  • Involve students in the process by collaboratively creating rubrics, which can enhance their ownership of the assessment process.

4. Project-Based Assessments

Benefits of Project-Based Assessments in Interdisciplinary Learning

Projects, especially when they span several subjects, offer students an opportunity to delve deeply into a topic, to see the relevance of their learning across boundaries, and to develop key 21st-century skills such as critical thinking and collaboration.

Examples of Project-Based Assessment Methods

  • Multidisciplinary presentations or exhibitions where students demonstrate their learning through creative, cross-curricular presentations.

  • Problem-based learning presents students with real-world issues that require an interdisciplinary approach to solutions and assessments.

5. Portfolios

Advantages of Portfolios for Interdisciplinary Assessment

Portfolios allow for a more narrative approach to assessment, wherein students curate evidence of their learning journeys, making it apt for interdisciplinary learning that is often characterized by personalization and connection.

Components of a Comprehensive Interdisciplinary Portfolio

  • Include artifacts that demonstrate the application of knowledge across subjects.

  • Reflections on how students have integrated and synthesized learning from different subjects.

6. Performance Assessments

Incorporating Performance Assessments in Interdisciplinary Projects

Performance assessments, when contextualized within interdisciplinary projects, provide a rich, authentic assessment experience that mirrors the complexity of real-world problem-solving, innovation, and creation.

Examples of Performance Assessments for Interdisciplinary Learning

  • Simulations and role-plays that require students to navigate complex scenarios using an interdisciplinary approach.

  • Design challenges that task students with creating solutions that consider social, economic, and environmental implications in addition to subject-based criteria.

In conclusion, as educators embrace the multidimensional challenges and opportunities of interdisciplinary learning, it is critical to adapt assessment methods that do justice to the cross-pollination of ideas and skills that occur. By integrating these innovative assessment tools into their teaching practices, educators can more accurately evaluate student progress across the interdisciplinary spectrum.

Additional Resources

Videos

  1. The Power of Interdisciplinary Learning: (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KGtrsv8G9u0) This TEDxTalk by educator Zaretta Hammond compellingly argues for the transformative power of interdisciplinary learning, showcasing its ability to engage students on deeper levels and prepare them for real-world challenges.

  2. Building Interdisciplinary Units from the Ground Up: (https://www.edutopia.org/article/month-month-guide-interdisciplinary-instruction/) This Edutopia video presents a practical guide to developing interdisciplinary units. It breaks down the process into manageable steps, providing valuable tips for collaboration, content selection, and assessment.

  3. Interdisciplinary Learning in Action: A Middle School Example: (https://www.edutopia.org/article/month-month-guide-interdisciplinary-instruction/) Witness the magic of interdisciplinary learning in action through this video showcasing a middle school unit combining science, literature, and art to explore the theme of water.

Blog Posts

  1. 5 Tips for Designing Engaging Interdisciplinary Units: (https://myips.org/cfi84/cfi-features/) This blog post from the Center for Inquiry in the Schools offers practical tips for planning interdisciplinary units, from identifying central themes to choosing engaging activities and assessments.

  2. Breaking Down the Walls: Creating Interdisciplinary Units That Work: (https://teachbetter.com/blog/leaders-heres-how-to-support-interdisciplinary-unit-planning/) This ASCD blog delves into the challenges and rewards of interdisciplinary learning, providing guidance on navigating common pitfalls and ensuring successful implementation.

  3. Making the Most of Mistakes: Embracing the Messy Beauty of Interdisciplinary Units: (https://www.edutopia.org/article/more-buzzword-making-interdisciplinary-learning-reality/) This insightful Edutopia post encourages educators to embrace the inherent messiness of interdisciplinary learning, highlighting its value in promoting creativity, problem-solving, and resilience.

Web Tools/Resources

  1. Project Zero: Making Thinking Visible: (https://pz.harvard.edu/) Project Zero from Harvard University provides a treasure trove of resources for interdisciplinary learning, including frameworks, curriculum projects, and professional development opportunities.

  2. OpenSciEd: Open Source Science Curriculum: (https://www.openscied.org/) OpenSciEd offers a wealth of high-quality, open-source science curriculum materials aligned with the NGSS, many of which can be easily adapted for interdisciplinary projects.

  3. Genius Hour: (https://www.undercoverclassroom.com/how-to-organize-genius-hour/) Genius Hour encourages students to pursue their passions and delve into self-directed projects, offering an ideal platform for interdisciplinary exploration and student agency.

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Professional Development Pack

Professional Development Pack

12 in-depth course for professional development in education.

12 in-depth course for professional development in education.

12 in-depth course for professional development in education.

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Notion templates to simplify administrative tasks and enhance your teaching experience.

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Notion templates to simplify administrative tasks and enhance your teaching experience.

Copyright © 2024 Notion4Teachers. All Rights Reserved.