Interdisciplinary K-12 Teaching and Learning: Rationale

Interdisciplinary K-12 Teaching and Learning: Rationale

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4065-6.ch001


Educators understand the value of designing curriculum to meet the needs of diverse students (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). Often an approach to creating and implementing learning experiences is initiated through school reform (Stegman, 2014). Theories, best practices and standards lead teachers to create effective curriculum (Keene & Zimmerman, 2007). In this chapter, the authors address the question, Why integrate curriculum? An integrated or interdisciplinary curriculum includes lessons based upon themes, problems, or projects that are student initiated. Through interdisciplinary learning, students make meaningful connections between the content knowledge, skills and practices in multiple disciplines with life experiences, gaining a deeper comprehension of what is studied. Meaning making is critical to the interdisciplinary process and involves knowledge transfer between disciplines (Post, Ellis, Humphreys, & Buggey, 1997). The intent of the authors of this text is to encourage teachers to redesign the K-12 curriculum to include interdisciplinary learning.
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Interdisciplinary K-12 teaching and learning involves purposeful planning for the engagement of students in meaningful and connected experiences. The planning process includes grade-level appropriate and standards-based strategies that focus on content area instruction. Understanding what students should know and be able to demonstrate is a part of curriculum planning. Therefore, recognizing catalysts for interdisciplinary learning and the connections between authentic disciplinary learning goals is central to this approach to curriculum design (Drake & Burns, 2004).

The objectives of this chapter are:

  • Define interdisciplinary K-12 teaching and learning.

  • Identify selected teaching and learning benefits of interdisciplinary curriculum.

  • Recognize the issues of interdisciplinary curriculum and instruction.

  • Examine the rationale in support for interdisciplinary pedagogy.

An element of the interdisciplinary approach is the connection to standards at the national, state or local levels (Drake & Burns, 2004). An interdisciplinary approach to teaching emphasizes students’ learning connected to real world experiences through the incorporation of interrelated concepts, processes and skills. Both teachers and students work together to discover connections among content learning; share cultural, personal and social experiences; acquire in-depth understanding of interrelated issues; and apply successful strategies that benefit their lives. Although connections are made through interdisciplinary teaching and learning, teachers should match pedagogy with best practices in each separate discipline (Jacobs, 1984). For example, in a science lesson students learn through laboratory experiments, which is an effective teaching and learning strategy for the science discipline. In the visual arts curriculum, students may illustrate ideas in a sketchbook. Student artists practice skills and techniques under the guidance of the visual art teacher and demonstrate competency while completing each page of their sketchbooks. Each discipline involves specific content that is discrete or unique to its field. The inherent value of each discipline should be respected and taught accordingly through age appropriate strategies.

Often interdisciplinary curriculum teams are formed at schools consisting of teachers in various disciplines and possibly across grade levels (i.e., Grades 3, 4, and 5 may form an intermediate elementary team). Curriculum teams should also consider input from disciplinary specialists, community members and curriculum supervisors from the school district. Each member of the curriculum team provides key information that ensure the integrity of an interdisciplinary curriculum. With the support of interdisciplinary curriculum teams, teachers effectively organized learning experiences to scaffold based upon prior knowledge, student needs and disciplinary standards (Fogarty, 1991). Scaffolding lessons allows for students to connect what they know to what they are learning and beyond to next steps in the inquiry process (Vygotsky, 1978). The interdisciplinary curriculum team members also ensure that disciplines are taught with integrity and include evidenced based research. If a teacher were planning an interdisciplinary curriculum connecting learning in science and visual arts, he or she may work with the visual art teacher and use a visual art sketchbook as an observation guide complete with notes and illustrations about a topic that provides crossover concepts such as, the human body (studied in both visual art and science courses). The illustrated sketchbook becomes an innovative assessment linking content knowledge to disciplinary practices that capture students’ interests and utilizes individual background knowledge and experiences (schema).

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