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Integrated Curriculum in a Standards-Based World
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Integrated Curriculum in a Standards-Based World



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  • 1. What is integrated curriculum?Integrated curriculum has been around for a long time and has had manydifferent names. It is a sophisticated interdisciplinary unit that goes beyondcommon parallel units (studying the Industrial Revolution in SS while readingA Christmas Carol in language arts) because it fuses all subject areas, student-centered learning, service learning, and problem-based learning whilegiving students the opportunity to let their choices drive the curriculum. Thefollowing are links to others’ definitions of integrated curriculum: Integrated-Curriculum%C2%A2.aspx, this instructional model is endorsed by the National MiddleSchool Association in its formal statement about integrated curriculum ashaving benefits that both meet and exceed national, state, and localstandards. ration/tabid/282/Default.aspxHow is integrated curriculum different from what I already do withinterdisciplinary units?What makes integrated curriculum different is that it is completely student-centered. Students decide what to study, how to study it, how to present whatthey learn, and what to do with what they learn. Integrated curriculumcompletely differentiates instruction for each child in your classroom, nomatter the level of his or her functioning. (We have used this model todifferentiate instruction for children ranging from students taking the NCExtend 2 to those identified as gifted and everything in between, literally inthe same classroom.) Furthermore, integrated curriculum naturally mimicsthe human problem-solving process that people use in real life instead ofartificially compartmentalizing problems into discreet academic areas as wetend to do in school. Rarely in real life does a problem occur that can besolved using a single academic discipline. Reality is more complicated. Forexample, my furnace is inefficient and I have decided that I need a secondaryheat source for my house. I will get on the internet and research various typesof products. I will weigh the benefits of propane versus electric fireplacesand look at the merits of pellet stoves. I will have to figure out how muchpollution is involved because I don’t want byproducts causing breathingproblems for my children. I will have to decide how expensive each unit is aswell as the operating costs for each. Furthermore, which option will best meet
  • 2. my needs in the area in which I live? I will talk to sales representatives,people who use various types of heating, and decide what price point makesme feel comfortable. Then, I will shop for the best deal when I purchase theitem of my choice as well as when I have it installed. In doing so, I havecovered math, science, social studies, and language arts. The method that Ihave used to solve this problem, because I have internalized the problemsolving process, provides for maximum understanding and a feeling ofsatisfaction because I have made the best decision for myself and my family.From a teacher’s perspective, integrated curriculum is powerful because itempowers students to take control of their own learning while giving them thetools to be successful in the classroom and in life. The process involvesproblem solving, time management, goal setting, and metacognition as wellas a myriad of other skills. For individuals who look for data and provenresults, it is research-based and endorsed by the Association for Middle LevelEducation (formerly the National Middle School Association). Best of all, whenintegrated curriculum works it results in students who are self-motivated andeager to learn without sacrificing test scores.The ProcessWhen students use their own interests to drive the curriculum, it meansmaximum engagement in the classroom. What motivates each child isdifferent. 1. Start with student questions…anything they have ever wondered about. Take down their questions without judgment. (Students may need some help rewording their questions as we add them to a class and/or team list of questions.) This part of the process may take a part of several class periods, but is essential in piquing student interest and in laying the foundation for the integrated curriculum process. 2. With student help, decide what questions merit academic study. Only keep questions that cannot be answered with yes/no or through a simple internet search. Teachers guide the process, but students vote and defend choices, helping decide criteria that will determine what stays and having a voice in the final outcome. 3. Each student decides from the revised list what he or she would like to study. (At various times, students either work independently or in fluid groups formed by similar interests.) 4. Decide on a theme of study. We find it easy to either look at an area of the world or a particular important event and focus student questions toward studying that theme. This is the part that students may or may not have a say, and you might not want to reveal this aspect until you reveal the following step to students. 5. Here’s the hard part…the Standard Course of Study (SCOS). We give students color-coded copies of the math, science, social studies, and language arts SCOS and help them to word things in kid-friendly
  • 3. language. We teach them what the SCOS is, help them to understand that these are the standards to which teachers and students are held accountable, and we then help them to tie their topics to each SCOS in some way. This also involves tweaking their initial questions to apply to each SCOS, and perhaps even looking at the standards for other academic disciplines as well such as art, music, health, or other exploratory classes. For example, if a student wants to study baseball, he or she may need to look at whether or not baseball is popular in other areas of the world – why or why not?-as part of the social studies curriculum. In science, they might look at forces as they study what can affect pitch velocity and bat speed. In math, they might calculate the percent of change in pitch velocity caused by humidity levels. Language arts would be the research process in which they find sources and work together to read and comprehend these sources as well as the presentation of what they have learned. This might need to be expanded as students research their questions because what they learn often sparks more questions. They might also want to look at what is so mystical about baseball that it sparks so many Hollywood movies, and whether or not there are other sports that have a similar impact in other areas of the world. Once students and teachers understand how to make connections between the disciplines, the only limits are individuals’ creativity and the ability to find information about a topic.6. Research. A. Common baseline of knowledge. In order to provide an anchor for scaffolding and a context in which to frame learning, it is important that all students share a common baseline of knowledge on which to build their individual experiences. For example, when studying WWII, students might have a guest speaker who was a soldier during the war, a video segment that provides information about differences on the European and Pacific fronts, a simulation in which students must decide in a given situation whether or not to use nuclear weapons, or even a buffet of MREs in which students learn first hand about the hardships of basic survival on the front lines. • Teacher-generated resources. These can be handled in individual classes or as an entire team. Each teacher uses resources that relate to his or her area of expertise and relates that expertise to the general theme of the unit of study. This may look more like parallel interdisciplinary units within each classroom at this point, or it may be the use of multiple types of resources within one classroom. It also may involve instructional practices such as Socratic seminars, debates, simulations, and problem-based learning modules.
  • 4. • Student-generated resources. Depending on the topic, students brainstorm possible resources within the community. For example, if we have decided to focus student interest through the context of looking at Africa, we might have students brainstorm a list of resources such as people they know who have visited Africa, and then assign responsibilities to contact those individuals to see who would be willing to share their experiences with students. These resources may be used by the entire class, or just by a group or individual who is focusing on a particular area of study. Sometimes students have access to other resource materials as well and do not mind sharing personal books and materials with other students, though we caution students about the hazards of loaning out their personal property.B. Individual Research. The most important resource that we have found is not one of the usual sources for curriculum, because standard curriculum rarely encompasses what students would like to study, but the internet. Therefore, learning to do academic quality research is paramount to the integrated curriculum process. • iSeek – We do not allow students to use Google or other unfiltered search engines. Instead, we direct them to use iSeek, which is accessible at and which filters out much of the blog, biased .com, and inappropriate content. There is a tab on the iSeek search bar termed “education” which further filters content. iSeek searches can also yield content on government databases and various other sources that unfiltered search engines with thousands of hits rarely find with clarity. • NC WiseOwl – Schools who have access to this software will find it to be rich with resources that can be used in academic research. • EBSCOhost – We usually require that one source come from the EBSCOhost database. EBSCOhost is the world’s most used reference resource and provides experience with research materials that they will use later in their academic studies. Because many of the EBSCOhost articles are held in peer-reviewed journals and are written at higher reading levels, EBSCO is a rich source for students with higher reading levels while providing a unique problem-solving opportunity for students as they learn to tackle difficult texts together. EBSCOhost can be accessed through the Other Databases tab in NC WiseOwl’s Middle School Research Zone. Students must
  • 5. be schooled in using keyword searches as well as how to filter results by full text and language, however. • APA/MLA citations – As students find viable resources, we require them to create citations for those sources using APA style, as APA is much more widely used in various academic disciplines after high school. However, some districts teach only MLA style. We expose students to both so that they will be able find the resources to help them use either if called upon to do so later in their academic career. • Citation Maker/Citation Machine ( Citation Maker, accessible from NC WiseOwl, will allow students to create either APA or MLA citations for their resources. If you cannot access NC WiseOwl, you can use Citation Machine from any computer as an aid to create citations. There are many other sources citation creation available on the internet as well. • Understanding the research – When students come to us they have rarely had experience reading longer academic nonfiction pieces nor have they had to do academic quality research. We use literature circles and/or paired reading using the process of summarizing each paragraph, making connections to self/other texts/real world, and using various tactics to handle difficult vocabulary.C. Presentations • Once students have found out what they wanted to learn and have tied it to the various SCOS, we have students brainstorm how best to teach what they have learned to others. As a team, we decide on the criteria for a successful presentation and create a rubric using democratic processes that best embodies how to evaluate the criteria. • In pairs or small groups, students practice their presentations for one another, critiquing their peers using the criteria they voted upon. This allows each student to recognize strengths and weaknesses as well as giving students who are ill-prepared or who have not done sufficient research to see weaknesses while there is still time to fix problems. • Before presenting, students complete a self-evaluation and/or group evaluation, part of which is deciding what grade they believe that they deserve based upon their work and why.
  • 6. D. Accountability • Students create quizzes, assignments, questions about the important parts of their own presentations so that other students focus during each presentation and so they can evaluate themselves using more objective criteria once their presentation is over. This is a part of the process that we have piloted that, while not part of any of the models that we have researched, has become a pivotal learning tool within our classrooms. • Item analysis of created assignment. Students score the quizzes they have given and then conduct an item analysis of the material. For many students, this is an eye-opening experience because they are generally incredulous at other students’ scores. Looking at reasons for the differences between their expectations and reality can provide a unique opportunity for examining learning within the classroom from a different perspective. It frequently results in better behaviors, both socially and academically, for many students. • Students use the data they have generated as well as their final grades and item analyses as they revisit their original self-evaluation, analyzing reasons for discrepancies, and to set goals for next assignment.E. What am I going to do with what I have learned? • Learning doesn’t take place within a vacuum, but so often students never connect what they learn in a classroom to the real world. Integrated curriculum provides many opportunities for service-based learning (community service, real-world applications of individual ideas, team community outreach activities, fundraising for charitable causes, etc.) because doing something with what they have learned is a natural outcome of the integrated curriculum process. • Doing something real with their learning helps students to internalize the reasons for what they have learned as well as internalizing the learning itself. Students have learned by researching, by teaching, and now learn by doing. • The learning doesn’t stop in the classroom. Students become excited about learning when they have the opportunity to apply what they know and they want to teach other people about it. Conversations with friends in the hallway often involve updates on new things they have learned or new ways they have thought about to help others.
  • 7. Problem-Solving • “Not my problem” – when encountering a problem, teachers must step back and give kids the opportunity to solve their own problems, which is antithetical to the process that most of us use. One example of how we let students solve their own problems is through having the class brainstorm possible solutions to a problem we were having, i.e., it was getting too loud when we were working in groups. We took everyone’s suggestions, helped them to analyze the problems inherent in the solutions they encountered, especially when these solutions placed responsibility on the teachers rather than the students, and then had students create criteria to illustrate whether or not their idea was working. They created a system of checks and balances, electing a group leader who was responsible for certain jobs. The group evaluated the leader each day and the leader evaluated group members. Students brainstormed the criteria for success as well as the rubrics. This system worked for the group of students who created the system but did not work later with other groups of students. We believe it is because students buy into solutions of their own creation. The rubrics created by students are labeled as Appendix Item A. • Concerns about watering down content. Some teachers are concerned that integrating curriculum waters down academic content. In our experience, it is just the opposite. Rigor is the cornerstone of integrated curriculum and the integrated curriculum process encourages depth rather than breadth within the curriculum. Therefore, as students learn how to fold in various academic disciplines within a unit of study, the curriculum becomes much more rigorous. Student interest drives the process, so students tend to research on their own. We sometimes have to stay late after school because students have so many questions and because they want extra time at school to work. • My classroom time is sacred. Integrated curriculum doesn’t allow for sacred cows and will take some adjusting for everyone. However, scheduling is up to the teacher and to the team. You can spend as much or as little time as you would like. Unlike many of the other demands placed upon the instructional time of middle grades teachers, integrated curriculum is not a black hole of instructional
  • 8. time with little return. Instead, as you become more adept at integrating you will become a better teacher because you can make more pertinent connections within and between disciplines. Furthermore, making connections is a literacy skill that many of the academic disciplines focus upon under the newly adopted Common Core/Essential Standards model.• Integrated curriculum is an organic process. You can’t have rigid pre-conceived notions about what the process and/or product should be because you must allow for student and colleague input.• As the teacher, you can’t be in control of everything. Your colleagues and your students must also have ownership. You must empower everyone in the process to have ownership and cannot superimpose your own ideas over that of others or it invalidates the democratic processes that are an inherent part of integrated curriculum and which are core values that we are trying to instill in students as stakeholders within a democracy. Teachers gradually, with guidance, allow themselves to facilitate learning rather than to direct it.• What worked before may not work this time. The curriculum and process continually change based upon the children and their needs. What the kids come up with will vary from group to group and within groups. Encouraging student ownership develops a more intrinsic motivation for learning and a desire to be successful, sometimes in students who have not experienced much academic success. For students who are usually successful in the classroom, it provides a challenge because integrated curriculum is an entirely different process than that to which they are accustomed. There may be growing pains for each group and for teachers, but the results are worth it.• Kids must have a voice or you invalidate the reason why integrated curriculum works. If curricula and instructional methods are teacher directed and not student directed, you take away student motivation to learn. If student voice is not an integral part of the process then you do not truly have integrated curriculum.
  • 9. LogisticsScheduling possibilities with 2, 3, and 4 person teams: 1. For a 2 person team, if there is a classroom large enough to have a team meeting then the possibilities are endless. Almost every day, we spend some amount of time together in a classroom team teaching the skills necessary for research or providing a common baseline of knowledge on the present topic. We sometimes spend parts of our regular class time clarifying points for Team Time. We have Socratic Seminars for small groups or even for our entire team in the theater, host team activities such as a Victorian Banquet in the home-economics room, use the theater for guest speakers, and we have even incorporated having students teach others teams in our grade level on how to conduct student-led Socratic seminars. The possibilities are endless as long as there are individuals willing to be flexible. 2. 3 person and 4 person teams require more flexibility. If you have a 3 person team and you have an area large enough to accommodate all students, you can team teach the skills and baseline knowledge. If not, you may have to compartmentalize your class sessions to accommodate for common knowledge and skills. It helps if you can have periodic team meetings where students share their ideas or have a different audience than their regular classmates. For your team time, two teachers could be team teaching as an enrichment activity while a third teacher remediates in a different room. For a 4 person team, dividing into 2 groups with two sets of team teachers makes sense. You could have team time on A-day/B-day schedules in which students visit one group of teachers one day and the other group of teachers the next. 3. If you get stuck on scheduling, let the kids have a voice in how to make it happen. They can usually work out logistics if given the opportunity. Regardless of your situation, if you have a desire to make it happen then it will happen. If not, it won’t.Incorporating the MathWith parallel units, making math relevant to the topic studied can be astruggle. However, within integrated curriculum students actually apply themath that they learn in class. As the process continues and students begin tobuy in, they begin to find links to the math for themselves and becomeexcited when they learn that math is part of everything. Within the math class,it is easy to incorporate student research and to manipulate data that studentshave found so that your individual class becomes student directed as well.Furthermore, what you do in Team Time tends to show up again in the regularmath class because students love it when they can show the math teacher howthey have made connections. Incorporating the math actually is not as difficultas tying in the science or the social studies if a student’s topic leans more towardone than the other.
  • 10. Vision for the Future • Technology – As we have more access to technology, we envision incorporating podcasts, etc. that allow students to show parents and community members what they are learning at school and to incorporate learning into a community-based concept. • Developing a math-based integrated curriculum website using student research data (statistics they have found, etc.) to share with like- minded teachers. • Incorporating community issues and creating units of study that benefit the local community and beyond, building a network of 21st century learners who are capable of enacting change within their local environments.Links to Research Reading:Alexander, W., Carr, D., & McAvory, K. (2006). Student Oriented Curriculum. National Middle School Association.Websites that Incorporate - This website has world instruments and ensembles thatstudents can read about and listen to.NIU World Music Instrument Collection - This site has a world map that you can click on to seeand hear world instrumentsUnited streaming also has short videos on the history and making of African DrumsGaggle Tube is also a great resource for finding world instrument performances.
  • 11. Appendix A – Student generated rubricsRubric generated so that the elected group leader could evaluate each group member.Group Work Behavior Rubric Student Name __________________ Date _______________ Graded by _________________________Directions: Circle only one for each behavior. For behaviors marked as sometimes or rarely, evaluator should explain. evaluator explain. Individual Behaviors Time On Task – do your own work; uses time wisely; not playing around *All of the time * Most of the time * Sometimes *Rarely Volume – use appropriate inside voice; only people in your group can understand what is said *All of the time * Most of the time * Sometimes *Rarely Research (when applicable) – says on appropriate websites; uses time and resources wisely Group Interactions Does own work - no “piggybacking” on others’ efforts *All of the time * Most of the time * Sometimes *Rarely Communicates effectively with others *All of the time * Most of the time * Sometimes *Rarely Helps others *All of the time * Most of the time * Sometimes *Rarely Positive Attitude – encourages others and their participation, shares spotlight, doesn’t reject *All of the time * Most of the time * Sometimes *Rarely
  • 12. Rubric generated in the system of checks and balances to evaluate the group leader. Each day the personwho evaluated the leader would change so that everyone had the opportunity to evaluate and to minimizeopportunities for retributive evaluations.Group Leader Behavior Rubric Student Name __________________ Date _______________ Graded by _________________________Directions: Circle only one for each behavior. For behaviors marked as sometimes or rarely, evaluator should explain. evaluator explain. Individual Behaviors Does Not Abuse Power or Position – is fair and does not retaliate against group members. *All of the time *Most of the time *Sometimes *Rarely Time On Task – keeps members on task; does not play around *All of the time * Most of the time * Sometimes *Rarely Volume – use appropriate inside voice; only people in your group can understand what is said *All of the time * Most of the time * Sometimes *Rarely Respectful – is mindful of others and their feelings, even when correcting misbehaviors *All of the time * Most of the time * Sometimes *Rarely Group Interactions Does own work - no “piggybacking” on others’ efforts *All of the time * Most of the time * Sometimes *Rarely Communicates effectively with others *All of the time * Most of the time * Sometimes *Rarely Helps others *All of the time * Most of the time * Sometimes *Rarely Positive Attitude – encourages others and their participation, shares spotlight, doesn’t reject *All of the time * Most of the time * Sometimes *Rarely
  • 13. Appendix B – Exploring the Relationship between Integrated Curriculum and the NC Teacher Evaluation Instrument Adopting integrated curriculum is an excellent means of attainingaccomplished and distinguished marks on your evaluations. Circled andhighlighted are sample behaviors that the implementation of integratedcurriculum have produced within our classrooms as well as in our professionallives.
  • 14. Appendix C – Exploring Integrated Curriculum’s Relationship to the Common Core and Essential Standards How does integrated curriculum relate to the Common Core andEssential Standards? Looking at the objectives for the four core academicsubject areas, one realizes that there are many possibilities for curriculumoverlap. Furthermore, literacy standards adopted through ELA CommonCore standards that have yet to be applied to the Essential Standards dictatethat subject area teachers will be responsible for teaching how to read andanalyze informational texts common to their academic discipline as well asother literacy standards that apply to writing, visual literacy, and to oralpresentations. There is a section in the middle school ELA common coredocument entitled “Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies,Science, and Technical Subjects” which specifically outlinesreading/literacy and writing standards to be taught and mastered withinthese subject areas. Yet these literacy standards to be applied outside of theELA classroom are to supplement, not supplant, stated subject areaobjectives. Curriculum integration offers a solution because it allows teachersto teach to their strengths without taking away from their proscribedcurriculum. If one examines the various standards collectively, furthermore, it isapparent that the standards of the disparate disciplines are designed tocorrelate. An even more overt example is that the unit design templateendorsed by NCDPI for social studies contains the 5 strands but adds a 6th forteachers to plan for connections to other disciplines. The following are copies of each academic discipline’s Common Coreor Essential Standards, highlighted so that key words or phrases that relate toother disciplines are apparent. On some copies, we have further delineatedspecific interdisciplinary connections.