Secondary schools in New Zealand are typically divided into faculties or departments. These are a way to aggregate similar learning areas into management areas. One of the worrying things about having such a system is the danger of creating silos. As there is only a finite amount of curriculum time available there is competition between faculty areas. Competition can sometimes mean that what is in the best interest of the student is ignored over what is best for the faculty.
At my last school the structure was different. There were no faculties, just departments. This increased the number of managers but reduced the number of silos.
Even so, I have not experienced true interdisciplinary education. Sure, I have discussed with other staff how they are teaching certain concepts, e.g. graph drawing in Maths, plate tectonics in Geography. But this does not equate to true interdisciplinary teaching, as discussed by Jones (2010).
Perhaps the most exciting way to integrate the curriculum is the Ross Spiral Curriculum. This fully integrates all subjects in (to me) an amazing way.
An interactive version of the Ross Spiral Curriculum can be viewed here. This, to me, is the dream curriculum [Could it be implemented at the new school? Would it work? Would we have to also have primaries and the intermediate school teaching the same curriculum? Would it would in our isolated region (no close university or varieties of industry)?]
For the moment any changes to our curriculum would have to be incremental. However, in my faculty we are about to embark on a curriculum review of the science junior curriculum. I think it would make sense to see if we can try an interdisciplinary approach as part of that review.
Of course, there will be issues. The first is that I don’t know what the other subjects are doing at the same time as we are teaching juniors. Thinking about it, that is a big problem in the school. How can we move away from silos if there isn’t a central record of what is being taught? It would be great to have one plan of what is being taught.
Another issue is that not all subject areas at MBC have the same curriculum time. Some faculties will see students just for a term. They then have the next batch of students where they teach the same content. Obviously if the academic year does not match, then we cannot be integrated.
Even though these are challenges that are large enough to be a concern (if they were not, al secondary schools would be teaching integrated studies as a matter of course), it does not mean that this will not be worth doing.
Based on the issue of academic timetabling, this means that I have only a few options open to me to try and carry out an integrated program. English, Maths. Maths would have to be dropped as they have full setting (whereas science is mixed ability) and they teach different topics to those sets, which leaves me with English.
So, my next step will be to discuss with the HoF Languages possible ways we can integrate our programme. This will also involve my assistant HoF who is currently carrying out a Royal Society NZ scholarship looking at changing the junior curriculum.
A big barrier to getting such integration to work is our current workplace. Mulligan and Kuban (2015) indicate that regular meetings need to take place to enable a project to work. Time is at a premium and we are already using a lot preparing for the move to the new site. We will need to ensure that there is plenty of time available to meet to plan as well as reflect on what is working and what is not.
Ultimately, though, the main goal should be to better integrate the whole curriculum and have ready for the new co-located school. Maybe our effort should be focussed on that?
Jones, C. (2010). Interdisciplinary approach-advantages, disadvantages, and the future benefits of interdisciplinary studies. ESSAI, 7(1), 26.
Mulligan, L. M., & Kuban, A. J. . (2015). A Conceptual Model for Interdisciplinary Collaboration. Retrieved from http://acrlog.org/2015/05/14/a-conceptual-model-for-interdisciplinary-collaboration