Considering the term “inter-disciplinary” for the K12 educational sector comes across oddly to many K12 teachers and administrators. K12 people are more likely to view inter-disciplinary courses as belonging to university level independent study majors or maybe something you’d see in high school as an elective at an elite private school.
But I’ll submit that a more inter-disciplinary mindset among teachers from preschool through high school, especially in the K8 sector, would gain enormously by considering its possibilities for younger students. I’m thinking more in terms of how teachers could be collaborating, how synergies should be developing between teacher strengths and interests, and leveraging these talents in ways to enrich the student experience.
I won’t suggest on this page that we toss everything out—all the standards, the different school subjects we have embraced for over a century, all those scope and sequence curricular planning that teachers do. If teachers in the elementary and middle school grades would seek to know what the teachers across the hall and around the corner are up to, there is a greater opportunity to infuse one’s own class with a more integrated approach—making connections; applying skills in one class to better articulate learning in another class; designing projects that can pull from the content in more than one subject area.
There are so many possibilities to offer students the inspiring and motivating tasks of thinking across subjects and linking their relevance. When subject isolation is broken apart, and inter-connectedness is allowed into lessons and projects, students will absorb the meaning, appreciate the subjects, and feel invested in their learning because they are being asked to construct and assemble knowledge from different classrooms which will have the impact of student empowerment.
Teachers need to be risk-takers, and they need to have permission from their supervisors to pull this off. The best way for inter-disciplinary possibilities to take root is for two teachers who either are teaching different subjects or who have different strengths and interests, to look ahead on the school calendar and determine a stretch of time when they will link their lessons somehow in an interdisciplinary way. They may not be teaching the same grouping of students, but the linkage of the subjects for both classes will likely be a novel and joyous experience.
I have seen this happen successfully, and there are as many models as there are teachers who give it a try.
To further the dialogue on this topic of inter-disciplinary approaches for younger children, I invite teachers and admin people to offer suggestions in the box below. In the meantime, I’ll search for examples and begin loading this page with ideas as I pick up the good ones.