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Planning an Interdisciplinary Unit with High School Staff Paul Hewitt

Unlike the early elementary grades where all or most subjects are taught in one classroom, high schools departmentalize the curriculum. An Interdisciplinary Unit, which involves at least one teacher from another discipline, has to articulate well with the existing curriculum. Before starting to design something, ask yourself what the benefits would be if students could focus on the unit in more than one discipline? What is the desired student outcome? A casual brainstorming session with a teacher in another department may give you some ideas for a starting point.

A writing component can produce wonderful results in any discipline. If teachers are willing to move from traditional forms of assessment, writing activities can be integrated as authentic assessments in math, science, social studies, art, music, or physical education. What you're looking for in an interdisciplinary unit, is a way to incorporate the skills developed in another department into student performance in your class.

Will you be able to include all of the students in one of your courses with those taking a single course in another department? Do all the students take a common science, math, English, or social studies course at the same time? This cross-curricular connection is important if a unit of study is to be inclusive. Get to know the curriculum. If the courses fall into place, the next step is to find a common thread in the curricula. Is there a thematic unit that both could teach at the same time?

  • Do Freshman English students read any multicultural literature?
    • Do Freshman Social Studies students study regions of the world?
  • Are Freshman Physical Science students assigned a challenging set of readings?
    • Do Freshman English students study non-fiction literature?
  • Do Sophomore American History students study the holocaust?
    • Are Sophomore English students expected to write a research paper, or do they read The Diary of Anne Frank?
  • Do math students learn how to work with statistics or measurements in a certain math course?
    • When do students in English learn to incorporate statistics or numbers in their informative papers?
  • Does the Government course expect students to learn about contemporary issues?
    • When does the English Department practice civic writing?

It may require a change in sequence to make the curriculum fit the assignment you have in mind. You'll need to set a clear timeline for both departments. And all the parties have to buy in to make it work. Share the expected outcomes or rubrics before the project starts. But once it is in place, you will have opened a door. The isolation of high school teachers and curricula is all too common. Perhaps a new generation of teachers can make a difference.

 

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