Interdisciplinary CurriculumDesign and Implementation Summary of Chapters 1 to 3 Prepared by Fadi Sukkari
IntroductionThis book describes a variety of curriculumintegration options ranging fromconcurrent teaching of related subjects tofusion of curriculum focus to residentialstudy focusing on daily living.A step-by-step approach is presented,proceeding from selecting an organizingcenter to a scope and sequence ofguiding questions to a matrix of activitiesfor developing integrated units of study.
Distinction is made between curriculum-content and metacurriculum - thoselearning skills helpful in acquiring thecurriculum content and developing thecapacity to think and learn independently.These chapters illuminate the value ofhigher-order thinking and learning skills andprovide a vehicle for their integration intocurriculum.
I- The Growing Need for Interdisciplinary Curriculum Content
Students frequently complain that schoolis irrelevant to the larger world:The school day division is commonlyperceived as arbitrary and the subjectareas as separate bodies of knowledgewith little relationship to one another.
According to Elvin “Nature does not confrontus for three quarters of an hour only withflowers and in the next only with animals. Itis possible, however, to sit and pick up theflowers for three-quarters of an hour andlearn a great deal.”The problem is that in school we do notconsider both perspectives as necessarycomponents of education, so planninginterdisciplinary courses frequently lackspower.
Two problems in content selection often plaguecourses:1.The Potpourri ProblemMany units, being a sampling of knowledgefrom disparate disciplines, interdisciplinarydesign lacks inherent scope and sequence, sodevelopers must design a content scope andsequence for any unit.2.The Polarity ProblemOne of the problems of interdisciplinarity is thatof polarity which results in a lack of clarity, andreal tensions among teachers as some feelhighly threatened when new views arepromoted.
To resolve these problems, effectiveinterdisciplinarity must meet two criteria:a- having carefully conceived designfeatures: a scope and sequence, acognitive taxonomy to encourage thinkingskills, behavioral indicators of attitudinalchange, and a solid evaluation scheme.b- using both discipline-field-based andinterdisciplinary experiences for students inthe curriculum.
Designers also have to avoid wrestling withthe conflicts resulting from interdisciplinarywork and should take time to reflect onsome fundamental questions.This chapter tackles these questions inorder to (1) establish the need forinterdisciplinary possibilities, (2) define theterms used in the field, and (3) present aset of assumptions to guide effectivepractice.
I.1.1. The Growth of KnowledgeKnowledge is exponentially growing, puttingpressure on curriculum designers pertainingto what should be taught. New laws alsorequire the curricula to cover new areas ortopics such as AIDS.These critical topics add pressure to theschool schedule, while, over the last century,the length of the school day has stayedbasically about the same.
I.1.2. Fragmented SchedulesSchools divide time into blocks to parcel outspecific responsibilities and to maintainaccountability.A good means of assessing a school day isto follow one student through the day: eighttimes a day, students change classes everyforty minutes and rush for five minutes toanother setting, subject, instructor, and setof classemates.
I.1.3. Relevance of the CurriculumIncreasingly, students drop out every yearbecause of the irrelevance of their coursework to their lives out of school. Most oftheir instruction is based on textbooks usedin isolation from its applications. Thefragmentation of the day compounds thedilemma.Thus, schools need to create learningexperiences that periodically demonstratethe relationship of the disciplines.
Add to this the ignorance of the schoolpopulation and the lack of cultural literacy.There should be a body of knowledge,which deals with the basics of culture:history and arts, although this might lead topolarity problems.Yet, polarity could be avoided by creatingactive linkages between these fields ofknowledge.
I.1.4. Societys Response to FragmentationPeople cannot be trained in specializations andthen cope with the multifaceted nature of theirwork, so highly specialized schools are providingcourses from other majors.Although, we live in a specialized world, wemay draw from the range of fields to betterserve our specific fields. The renewed trend inschools toward interdisciplinarity will helpstudents better integrate strategies from theirstudies into the larger world.
I.2. Definitions that Clarify PracticeWe need to unify curriculum terminologyamong teachers, to reach some agreementon the meanings of the words used todescribe the plan that emerges from thedesign efforts and to avoid confusion.The following are some terms whosedefinitions attempt at illustrating the shadesof nuance between conceptions ofknowledge.
a- Discipline Field: A teachable knowledgewith its own background of education, trainingprocedures, methods, and content areas: “…each discipline asks different questions and isa form of knowledge with distinctcharacteristics. Within each form are uniqueconcepts that have tests to validate theirtruth.”The emphasis on discipline-field curriculumrests on instructional effectiveness, inherentconceptual cohesion, and socially sanctionedcommunity base.
b- Interdisciplinary: an approach thatapplies methodology from more than onediscipline to examine a central theme.In contrast to a discipline-field view ofknowledge, interdisciplinarity stresseslinkages. Meeth (1978) notes that, “… theemphasis is on deliberately identifying therelationship between disciplines.” It is aholistic approach concerned with the ideal ofunity, that nurtures a different perspective,with focus on life experience.
c- Cross-disciplinary: Viewing onediscipline from the perspective of another.d- Multidisciplinary: The juxtaposition ofseveral disciplines focused on one problemwith no direct attempt to integrate (Piaget1972, Meeth 1978).e- Pluri-disciplinary: The juxtaposition ofdisciplines assumed to be more or lessrelated.
f- Transdisciplinary: beyond the scope ofthe disciplines; that is, to start with aproblem and put forward knowledge fromthe disciplines (Meeth 1978).Decisions regarding the curriculum shouldbe made with a consensus as to the kindof discipline-field emphasis that will occur;otherwise, there is will be tendency towardthe confusion of the potpourri.
I-3- Support for an Interdisciplinary CurriculumThe work of the curriculum developer, is likethat of architects: they might faceunexpected events that oblige them to adapttheir plans. They are responsible for choicesthat reflect a cohesive and lasting quality inthe educational experience they areattempting to build.The following beliefs and assumptions are tobe taken into account when creating one’sstatement of philosophy for interdisciplinarywork.
1- To fully benefit from interdisciplinarystudies Students should have a range ofcurriculum experiences that reflect both adiscipline-field and an interdisciplinaryorientation, in order to acquire a solidgrounding in the various disciplines thatinterdisciplinarity attempts to bridge(Jacobs and Borland 1986).
2. To avoid the potpourri problem, teachersshould be active curriculum designers anddetermine the nature and degree ofintegration and the scope and sequence ofstudy.They should be empowered to work asdesigners to shape and to edit thecurriculum according to the studentsneeds.
3- Curriculum making is a creative solution to a problem; hence, interdisciplinary curriculum should only beused to face the problems of fragmentation, relevance, and growth of knowledge. 4- Curriculum making should not be viewed as a covert activity. The interdisciplinary course should be presented to all members of the school community. Parents should also be well- informed so that they feel less suspicious.
5- As early as pre-school, students should tackle epistemological issues such as "What is knowledge and How can we present it in theschools?" (Jacobs and Borland 1986). Relevance begins with the rationale for educational choices affecting the school life of the student. 6- Interdisciplinary experiences provide an opportunity for a more relevant, less fragmented, and stimulating experience for students. A well-designed curriculum leads students to breakwith the traditional view of knowledge and foster a range of perspectives that serve them in the larger world.
7- Students should be involved in the development of interdisciplinary courses since their interest in the units is often enhanced by their involvement in the planning process (Jacobs and Borland 1986).By understanding the need for curriculumintegration programs, clarifying theterminology to be used, and articulating a setof guiding assumptions, solid and lastingdesigns will emerge.
II- Design Optionsfor an Integrated Curriculum by Heidi Hayes Jacobs
School administrators tend today to thinkof content design as one of two options:either discipline field specialization orinterdisciplinary integration.Polarity should be avoided for a long-termcurriculum design. This chapter tacklesthe issue of continuum of design optionsthat explain the choices of programplanning.
II.1.1. Discipline-Based Content Design a- Characteristics: A traditional approachwith no attempt for integration. In secondary programs, these general academic areas break down into more specific fields. There are some variations of block scheduling and the way the week is programmed; nevertheless, knowledge ispresented in separate fields without attempt to show relationship among them.
b- Advantages: It is the most widespread format, to which students, teachers, and parents are used. It is efficient because courses of study are available in each field through all grades, and curricula, andsupplementary materials exist for each field. Focusing on each discipline providesstudents with specialized skills in each field, especially that specialized training gives teachers greater depth of knowledge.
c- Disadvantages:- The fragmenting effect on the student’s whomust move from one subject/space toanother.- Teachers plan activities according toallotted time rather than to students’ needs inrelation to the content.-It does not reflect the reality of life outsideschool. Students do not learn how theperspective of one discipline relates toanother.
II.1.2. Parallel Discipline Designsa- Characteristics: Teachers sequencetheir lessons in parallel to the same area inother disciplines. The content itself does notchange, only the order in which it appears.The goal is a simultaneous effect asstudents relate the studies in one subjectwith the others. Teachers working in aparallel fashion are simply resequencingtheir existing curriculum in the hope thatstudents will find the implicit linkages.
b- Advantages: It is a concurrent teachingof related subjects; teachers are notchanging the design of the curriculumexcept for one variable: the time of year inwhich it is taught, so a chronological coursesuch as history cannot be resequenced.c- Disadvantages: Missed opportunities fordeliberate, in-depth integration. To adegree, students are still studying conceptsin isolation and must uncover forthemselves the relationships among fieldsof knowledge.
II.1.3. Complementary Discipline Units orCoursesa- Characteristics: Suggests that certainrelated disciplines be brought together in aformal unit to investigate a theme or issue.Here the focus stays on the prescribedscope and sequence of each discipline. It ispossible to design units that bring togethertwo disciplines of seemingly differentcharacters, as long as the questions shedlight on and complement one another(Ethics in Science).
b- Advantages: It requires less effort than aninterdisciplinary unit. Given the links betweenfields of knowledge, the design process iseasier. When working in team, teachers oftenare more comfortable working in relateddisciplines and even some publishers havestarted packaging complementary courses.c- Disadvantages: Any curriculum design thatbrings change in schedules, and costs moneyfor staff training can prompt resistance.Students will need to reconsider their traditionalview of knowledge. If teachers are willing towrestle with this kind of resistance fromstudents, the challenge can be rewarding.
II.1.4. Interdisciplinary Units/Coursesa- Characteristics: In this design, periodicunits deliberately bring together the fullrange of disciplines in the school’scurriculum.The designers attempt to use a full array ofdiscipline-based perspectives. The units areof specific duration: a few days, or asemester. This option does not claim toreplace the discipline-field approach; rather,they are mutually supportive.
b- Advantages: It fosters a comprehensive stimulating experience for students. Teachers can plan their interdisciplinary work around themes and issues thatemerge from their curricula. Scheduling can be adapted to the school setting and teachers’ needs. In short, units can be flexibly designed to fit any time constraint. c- Disadvantages: It requires effort and change and is generally flawed by the “potpourri” approach. There are steps that can enable designers to create well orchestrated programs, yet this entails lots of funds, time, and planners’ energy.
II.1.5. Integrated-Day Modela- Characteristics: A full-day programbased primarily on problems emerging fromthe student’s world. The emphasis is on anorganic approach to classroom life thatfocuses the curriculum on the student’squestions and interests rather than oncontent determined by a school syllabus.
b- Advantages: It is a natural day duringwhich time is structured according to the needsof the students, rather than institutionaldemands. Motivation is high because theareas of study are directly linked to thestudents’ lives.c- Disadvantages: It entails hard work byteachers since it is not based on an existingcurriculum. The classroom managementrequires specific training. There are noassurances that basic core curriculumrequirements will be met, for older students.
II.1.6. Complete Programa- Characteristics: The most extreme formof interdisciplinary work, based on thestudents’ life on campus. Students live inthe school environment and create thecurriculum out of their day-to-day lives.Perhaps A.S. Neil’s Summerhill is the mostwidely known example of such anapproach. It is a totally integrated programwhere the student’s life is synonymous withschool.
b- Advantages: It is the most integratedprogram in which the life of the student is thefocus for the school. Students reported feelingempowered by a sense of independence andself-direction in contrast with the dependencyfostered in more traditional approaches.c- Disadvantages: It is a radical approach tointegration that requires the commitment offamilies and school. Being residential,adolescents rather than young children wouldbe involved. There is no guarantee thatstudents be exposed to standard curriculum.
II.2. Factors to Considerwhen Selecting an Option
The continuum of options allows to choose thedesign that best suits a school’s situation.1- The flexibility of the schedule to encouragerearranging the subjects, time being valuable ineducation.2- Support from the staff who should beenthusiastic about integration, motivation beingthe key to success provided that change comesgradually. Starting with parallel planning wouldbe a good start.3- The nature of the curriculumrequirements, since curricula vary in terms ofhow subjects are presented and depend on theflexibility in the institution’s philosophy.
Institutions using a combination of options thatmeet the students’ needs manifest greatersuccess. A possibility might be to group in oneafternoon an integrated social studies unit thenschedule on the next day a reading program thatsupports that integrated unit.Other institutions might teach certain subjects in acomplementary fashion while keeping other areasdiscipline-based. Yet, ownership is widespreadhere.High school is usually the most rigid institutionwith strict schedules and graduation requirements.Only elective courses in such schools reflect theinterdisciplinary orientation. Time constraints willalways be a hindrance to such options.
ConclusionWe tried to study the available options forintegration:-To avoid the trap of polarity, we mustconsider the feasibility of changes in aninstitution’s system.- The continuum of options has proved ahelpful tool if the planners are ready toweigh their options carefully.-It is important that they diagnose the needsand prescribe the combination that bestsuits the students and institution’s needs.
III- Intellectual and Practical Criteriafor Successful Curriculum Integration by David B. Ackerman
This chapter aims at providing a frameworkfor curriculum developers deliberating overwhether to adopt a curriculum integrationapproach for some portion of theirinstructional program. The frameworkconsists of two questions and some criteriathat can be used to answer them:- Does it make intellectual sense tointegrate certain parts of the curriculum?- Does it make practical sense, all thingsconsidered?
To answer these questions, curriculumdevelopers need to test the interdisciplinaryoption against a set of conditions or criteria,among which is that knowledge gained in onesubject strengthens the understanding ofconcepts in other subjects. Among possiblepragmatic criteria are the anticipated attitudesof key individuals – teachers, parents, andthe principal – toward what may be regardedas an atypical organization. Yet, it is notalways sensible to interconnect disparatepieces of the curriculum.
III.1. Intellectual CriteriaWe saw in Chapter 1, in the case of thepotpourri problem, that students are offered asampling of related experiences from differentdisciplines, but are not guided to see howthese chunks of knowledge are coherent.With the polarity problem, curriculum designersadopt an antidisciplinary attitude overlookingvital discipline-based concepts. Beforeproducing a curriculum, the developers need totake into account four criteria that are a seriesof tests that guide the team’s deliberation.
III.1.1. Validity within the DisciplinesOne or more subject among the proposedinterdisciplinary themes might not berelevant to the school’s program over agiven period of time. However, each subjectshould devote a portion of time to theinterdisciplinary project. Validity within thedisciplines requires teachers from eachdiscipline to verify that the identifiedconcepts are related to their subjects.
III.1.2. Validity for the DisciplinesSome concepts might be relevant to two ormore subjects, so it would be wiser not tointegrate them in the same multidisciplinaryunit. By comparing a concept from onesubject to an analogous one from the other,the student will have the chance to learnthese two concepts better. This leads us tothe concept of evidence.
(1) Science teachers talk to their students aboutthe empirical data that underlie textbookknowledge; (2) History teachers acknowledge theimportance of archival records; (3) Languageteachers urge their class for textual evidence; and(4) Geometry teachers ask their students“Beginning with this axiom what can we prove?”The discipline-centered approach takes littlenotice of the evidence in the curricula of thesefour subjects. Students should be able to compareand contrast the nature of evidence across thecurriculum. There is a belief that students mightbetter grasp the distinctive features of knowledgethanks to a mere juxtaposition of the perspectivesof the different disciplines.
The discipline-centered approach takes littlenotice of the evidence in the curricula ofthese four subjects.Students should be able to compare andcontrast the nature of evidence across thecurriculum.There is a belief that students might bettergrasp the distinctive features of knowledgethanks to a mere juxtaposition of theperspectives of the different disciplines.
III.1.3. Validity beyond the DisciplinesValid curriculum integration assembles anumber of parts from different subjects for abetter learning. An integrated curriculumhas besides the disciplinary parts a hub towhich it is connected: we call it hereevidence.Power will derive from the interplay ofdisciplines in an attempt to illuminatecomplex phenomena. Students learn theusual concepts but also get ametaconceptual bonus, a kind of cross-cutting idea that may be of great value.
III.1.4. Contribution to Greater OutcomesInterdisciplinary education shapes the learners’overall approach to knowledge, fostering a moreflexible thinking, and a better understanding oftheir own limitations. Designers shall look forwardto build into their instructional plans explicitidentification, modeling, and discussion of thedesired habits of mind, to apply concepts beyondthe scope of the course. Before adopting aninterdisciplinary curriculum, it is legitimate toassess its potential contribution to thedevelopment of the desirable intellectualdevelopment of the students.
III-2- Practical Criteria III.2.1. Nuts and Bolts The three essential practical considerations are: time, budget, and schedule. a- Time is important because designers need to conduct research, to write new tests or modify the existing ones. Time is also needed for communication and coordination among colleagues during and after planning.b- To support all this, budget is needed. Designing material from scratch is a very expensive option when commercial materials are not available. c- The schedule is an important factor. Teachers and students should be available for each other as required by the design of the course.
III.2.2. Political SupportPolitical support is essential becauseinterdisciplinary education is not thetraditional way of doing things in schools.Sometimes, hostile colleagues mightdiscourage designers through peerpressure. Parents may also prevent theirown children from participating ininterdisciplinary programs.A determined support-building effort isneeded to launch a program especiallythrough community and political support.
III.2.3. Personal ConcernWhen teachers decide to venture into theinterdisciplinary realm, they should expect alot of pressure and anxiety because ofresistance from others. Being involved in aninterdisciplinary team, might be highlyrewarding and bring about a lot ofstimulation; yet, it could be a source ofvexation if the others feel that their territoryis compromised.
ConclusionCurriculum integration has high rhetoricalappeal and presents a lot of challenges,especially when seen as the counterpart ofsubject-based curricula. The intellectualand practical criteria presented in thischapter can be used as a series of tests forcross-disciplinary considerations, and torevise the ideas that have some potential.With its promise to unify knowledge andmodes of understanding, interdisciplinaryeducation presents the summit ofcurriculum development.
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