Interdisciplinary?

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The faculties and subjects at MBC. Potential links with junior science (year 9 & 10) are represented by dashed lines

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?

References

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

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Delta

    I agree with a lot of what you have said in this blog. I think interdisciplinary education would be a dream. It would be extremely helpful for the students as they can then see why they need to learn a particular skill. It would also be good for the teacher to see how things work in other areas.
    We are just embarking on a school curriculum review. I asked my house class to get in groups and brainstorm what they think they should be learning at school. the results showed that interdisciplinary education was what they wanted without them knowing anything about it. It would be interesting to do the same activity with our parents and community.

  2. It’s interesting because primary schools have been doing this sort of thing over a long time. This is partly because often the teacher was teaching all of the subjects, of course.

    I wonder then, with your curriculum review, do you think that the students are possibly recollecting the way they worked at primary? And whether the parents & community response would be based on recollection or an understanding of how best to learn in the modern world?

    Very thought provoking…

  3. Hi
    I had a discussion with the students about this, this week. They were the ones that brought up that they did enjoy the way things were done at primary school as it made sense doing things around a theme and so all curriculum areas worked around that. some of my year 13’s said how they were enjoying that the English, Health and Biology Departments had been working together. they had done a project in Health, that they then studied the biological system behind it. The reports that they wrote for these two subjects they then took to a higher degree and reworked them for English. So the flow on was there. So what would be helpful when we do this review with the teachers is see where they can see the connections.
    I think the parents and community would look at their own work situations and feel that they do not learn material in isolation and would look back at their interdiscipinlany education of primary school.

  4. Hi Elliot,
    I enjoyed reading this – you have a way with words that makes a complex topic seem much easier to understand!
    I also love the idea of a interdisciplinary curriculum – having been a primary school teacher it makes sense to me to integrate as much as possible, but I can understand how as a secondary school teacher you are even more limited by the structure of a traditional school. Timetables, bells, assessments – need I say more?
    But it is possible – if schools like High Tech High and Ross can do it – surely we can do it in NZ with our curriculum that is designed for open and innovative thinking?

    • I agree, Rachael. It might seem difficult (maybe even impossible without a billionaire’s money) but that should not stop us trying.

      Clare Amos (Assistant Principal at Hobsonville Point) seems to have taken this to heart. She’s starting a brand new school that seems to be based around these ideas. Shame it’s in Auckland! It’ll definitely be worth watching, though 🙂

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