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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Section Four: Experiences


One strength of this implementation guide is that the information and questions are drawn directly from the experiences of educators at a wide range of schools. Each educator who contributed did so based on their personal experience and insights gleaned from implementing interdisciplinary and thematic approaches. Some of our number focused heavily on the principles of the Basic School. Others emphasized the thinking processes and habits described in the Dimensions of Learning. Curriculum directors paid attention to the Coherent Curriculum; elementary teachers adopted the core commonalities; high school staff crafted performance assessments. All of us learned more from our attempts, and from each other than we did from any of our books. Just as the models predicted, we learned more deeply by doing than we ever could have in seminars and workshops. As learners who have begun a journey together, we invite you to start down the same path toward interdisciplinary learning. Since we are still learning ourselves, we offer three types of thoughts, strategies and examples in this section that may serve as trail markers to help you along your trail.

� Strategies for Building and Sustaining Implementation Teams.
� General Insights From Participating Schools.
� Practical Steps For Implementing Interdisciplinary and Thematic Approaches.
Man walking and facing a choice of paths

When asked how they formed and supported teams, participating schools had a variety of responses:

  • "To learn about interdisciplinary curriculum a team of five staff members was sent to learn about interdisciplinary curriculum at four workshops over a period of two years. The members of the team included a teacher from each section of the school and one administrator."
  • "When hiring the MS principal looked for teachers who had experience in teaching, had experience teaching with this methodology and were willing or demonstrated that they could work in a teams."
  • "We selected two Master Program courses that were taught on our campus to support our change process. They were creative problem solving and facilitation skills."
  • "We have begun a culture of team work by establishing the need for group norms in our committees throughout the school. Some meetings are debriefed for what went well and how they could be improved."
  • "An interdisciplinary course is being piloted in the Middle School. The two teachers who are involved have been supported by a team that includes the Principal, Director of Curriculum and Staff Development, and the coordinators of the respective subject areas. The teachers were given daily planning time together. The team meets on a regular basis."
  • "A consultant motivated the Curriculum Planning Committee about the importance of an integrated unit. This committee was also shown what an integrated unit looked like. Some staff members have learned about Dimensions of Learning and this has motivated us toward learning how this fits into integrated learning.

Obstacles to Implementation

When asked what slowed them down or held them back, our participants contributed the following:

  • "A major limitation is finding time to meet. We planned a few meeting times. We do our work independently and then meet to discuss points of convergence."
  • "Since the school is working on a long range planning process we decided to wait until integration fits logically into the process and not overwhelm the staff for the moment. Pilot programs were initiated. Their progress is shared with the team."
  • "The consolidation of our curriculum process proceeded slowly at first while we were forming committees and reviewing research. However, this has paid off so that it isn�t viewed as trendy."
  • "My first thought of interdisciplinary curriculum was how were we going to implement it; since we did not have a current curriculum to begin with how were we expected to integrate subjects when most teachers did not know what they where going to teach one quarter to the next? I thought it would be a lot of work and that some teachers would not agree and that would make it difficult to integrate."
  • "Until now there have only been proposals to make connections within an area. We need to look for interdisciplinary connections and avoid the repetition of themes. Having integrated subject areas, students learn much more about a specific unit."
  • "Combining subjects can be helpful for some people. Others may think that learning the same thing more than one at a time is not very useful. People have different ideas depending how fast they learn things."

Teacher Insights

When asked to summarize their experience with the interdisciplinary approaches, teachers shared the following:

  • "I thought it was a good idea because this method can broaden your knowledge as a teacher. I think everybody should read the book on interdisciplinary thematic approach."
  • "I saw this put to work and it amazed me, how engaged children worked, and how much they seemed to enjoy the entire process. I also saw the freedom teachers had to create interesting units that they could enjoy themselves; as a result, they seemed more enthusiastic about implementing them. I felt like this was something I wanted to do myself."
  • "I think that my teaching is of better quality because it is focused in a more sensitive way to the needs of the students in our modern world."
  • "I have only positive thoughts because it is good that the school of is interested in new and modern ideas that can help improve the quality of education and preparation of our students."
  • "Having integrated subject areas, students learn much more about a specific unit. They are able to bring back their past knowledge and experiences and apply them in class."

Students� Perspectives

When asked what they thought about learning in an interdisciplinary fashion, students shared the following:

  • "When subjects are combined, for example Spanish and language arts in the marketing business, I work better because we have more time to work and it is in a different perspective. Working on combined subjects makes it easier to understand and learn. In the semester evaluations, the combined subjects made it easer to do the project because it was one theme, not doing different things for each subject."
  • "I like it because you really understand the theme. Integrating subjects give you a better perspective of the theme. If you see the use of the theme from different subjects you get more information and practice using it in different ways."
  • "I like that we can really understand the topic because you have explained to us in many different ways by different people. I dislike that we cannot learn new things in different classes because we are learning the same things."
  • "I like the idea of combining subjects in projects because we learn many things at once without even knowing you are doing it, and we have fun. Last year we made a science project that included many subjects. We didn�t even know they where there. Now we discovered we learned: math, science, history, reading and language arts."
  • "I think it is a super idea for students through middle school and even up to grades 10 and 11. As the subject areas become more specific and complicated, integration is more difficult. Its also difficult in the upper grades because the content is so very new and we are just learning it."

Connections We Made�
Connections are the core of interdisciplinary learning. Some of the kinds of connections that were made during our project are reported here.

  • "We spend a day planning our disciplinary unit. Last year we planned the science fair as a sixth grade team. This year we are planning a social fair as in interdisciplinary curriculum and we are doing the science fair again."

  • "In HS the subjects are very advanced. Therefore, it�s important to look for natural connections within the subjects that are required by law. For example, a project between Colombian Social Studies, Spanish and Computers was planned, as well as another between Colombian Social Studies and Science."
  • "Due to an incident in our school related to alcohol and cigarettes, we started a unit on addictions, which included activities in all subject matters that dealt with these very interesting themes for the students. We had a conference given by a doctor and a former drug and alcohol addict, as one of the activities."

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