If the interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning has been around for decades, why have we not embraced it? And what’s the goal? Mathison and Freeman (1997) said that the goal is to help students synthesise discrete information and connect knowledge to everyday needs, applying learning methods to real life situations. To do this, connected curriculums have strong global interests and are organised around global issues. Fast forward to the 21stcentury and that is exactly what is demanded by our workplace. We want people who can think critically and problem solve, can communicate and are independent, and that are creative innovators.
I have two near-future goals. In collaboration with two teachers on the South Island of New Zealand, I set up a website called Breaking Silos. It’s simple really. A website where teachers from all disciplines can post resources, with the aim of finding links between disciplines. In a discussion with a maths colleague, we found a strong link between Year 12 maths and Year 12 carpentry. There is also a strong correlation between statistics and essay writing which needs developing. Unfortunately, a resource like this only really gains impetus when teachers are talking to each other about it, even if it’s only on Twitter. So, it’s still in its infancy. My near-future goal is to really push this idea of a shared resource-bank forward. I think it would be beneficial to both staff and students if we were aware of how connected our curriculum actually is.
To help facilitate these sorts of discussions we have set up Professional Learning Groups (PLGs) which are interdisciplinary. We spent some quality time together on call-back days and regularly meet. We have also set up Google Classrooms where teachers can post resources, pose questions and flip meetings. Interestingly, I have found that the staff that are quiet in the meetings are the most vocal on-line. Reminiscent of students? We do not have interdisciplinary studies at the school. But we have started to combine pedagogical approaches and, through Ako Orewa, we have a shared language of learning.
The challenges we face are that there can be “integration confusion.” In addition to an increasingly challenging workload, to effectively combine curriculums will take time and effort. It will also take a huge change in mind set to get college specialist teachers to “transcend disciplines towards a more interconnected vision of the universe” (Mathison and Freeman, 1997). But we have started the conversation. We are also in the process of introducing spirals of inquiry into our PLGs which will help facilitate these ideas. The more we combine pedagogical approaches with the goal of helping students synthesise discrete information, the more effective we will be.
My other near-future goal revolves around the Community of Learning: Kāhui Ako (CoL) we have established between the college and schools in the district. Fogarty’s 1991 model which looks at “Fragmented” to “Networked” springs to mind. For so long we have taught in our individual silos in colleges. But even greater than that, we have these whole ecosystems of schools that are in close proximity to each other, but never the twain shall meet. With our Communities of Learning we have an exciting network of avenues to find out what strategies work. To ask why it is that some teachers are having more success than others. We can finally tap into and develop expertise, not only in our own sphere of influence. But in our case across six primary, middle and high schools.
I have no doubt that the task is a complex one. But if the only thing we get right at the outset of this CoL is to see beyond our own expertise to the “empathetic horizon” and we start to cross pollinate our ideas, we would have started the move from “fragmented” to “networked.”
And if the students develop interdisciplinary pathways which leads to “independent confident individuals who learn how to learn” we would’ve made a start at crossing boundaries and making connections (Duerr,2008).
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
Ross Institute. (2015, July 5). Ross Spiral Curriculum: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Science. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHZhkB0FJik
Thomas McDonaghGroup. ( 2011, May 13). Interdisciplinarity and Innovation Education. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDdNzftkIpA