Interdisciplinary Units: Perhaps Not Dead After All!

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“As a retired teacher who spent years in interdisciplinary themes that tied subject areas together, I thought I’d be dead and buried before I saw in print anyone touting that approach as good for both teachers and students when test scores have been the Sword of Damocles for some years now! I would add that brain research in learning and memory supports this way of organizing teaching.” Comment on article entitled “Interdisciplinary Lessons in a Time of Testing” on the Education Week” Teacher site (http://tinyurl.com/interdisciplinary123)

Anthony Colucci, a National Board-certified teacher who coordinates and teaches the gifted-student program at four elementary schools in Central Florida, wrote that interdisciplinary units are an efficient and effective way to address the multiple standards that teachers must teach and students must master. He states in the article,  “Carefully crafted interdisciplinary lessons can help us recover valuable instructional time. For instance, embedded in most language arts standards are numerous opportunities to address research, presentation, and technological skills standards. The same can be said for social studies and science content.”   He makes three major points in favor of interdisciplinary units:

  • They allow teachers to collaborate in ways that allow them to present  valuable content and address multiple standards.
  • Interdisciplinary units (IDUs) engage students.
  • These units tend to be more hands-on and relevant to students.

The comments on this article are also worth reading and reflecting upon.

Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American astronaut, spoke about integrating the sciences and arts at a 2002 Ted Conference.  Learning to integrate disciplines is a valuable 21st century skill: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Vy0ncmUvU

Over the years teams from across Maine have presented fantastic units at the MAMLE Annual Conference.  Some have been history based and others science or language arts based.  Many also included the arts and other exploratory subjects such as health or tech ed. The presenters usually remarked that student interest and work habits  increased dramatically during these units.  Recently, there has been a dearth of presentations focused on interdisciplinary units at MAMLE, NELMS, and NMSA as the presentation topics have shifted to strategies for raising test scores.

Isn’t is a shame that a curriculum approach which engages children and teaches them critical and creative thinking has been abandoned in many schools for test preparation?  One can only hope, as the former teacher who commented on Mr. Colluci’s article mused, that we all will not be dead and buried before the value of interdisciplinary units is rediscovered.

Below are some resources on interdisciplinary units:

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