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  1. 1. Breaking Down the Subject Boundaries<br />Jonathan Elliott<br />
  2. 2. The story so far…<br />Last February – Assistant Head & MYP coordinator at a small state funded international school in southern Norway – the title of my brief introduction was…<br />”more by accident than design”<br />The message was that I evolved into a school leader rather than chose at any point to be one<br />
  3. 3. Arendal International School 2010<br />
  4. 4. From August 2011MYP coordinator and Head of Middle SchoolBritish International School, Phuket, Thailand<br />
  5. 5. What is the backgroundof my project?<br />BIS Phuket…first impressions<br />Traditional British School struggling to move forwards (3rd post holder in 3 years – not a popular position or programme)<br />Strong subject teachers who enjoyed the safe ground found in preparing students to pass exams in their subjects<br />Over 50 teachers teaching students in Years 7 to 9 – fragmented learning experience that lacks any consistency and coherence<br />Physical environment simply strengthens the ‘faculty’ system<br />Teachers do not talk ‘learning’ beyond the faculty barriers<br />
  6. 6. Interdisciplinary focus<br />I was uneasy about the subject divides for 2 reasons<br />The programme I coordinate (and believe in) the MYP has as one of its 3 Fundamental Concepts – HOLISTIC LEARNING - so I had to do something<br />Clearly the subject boundaries are human constructs and it is important that students and teachers are able to see the bigger picture. Howard Gardner (5 minds for the future) – the synthesizing mind<br />
  7. 7. The synthesizing mind<br />Gardner quotes Murray Gell-Mann: “the mind most at premium in the 21st Century will be the mind that can synthesize well.”<br />He goes on to say, “Perhaps the most ambitious form of synthesis is interdisciplinary work. Two disciples should not merely be juxtaposed, they should be genuinely integrated. Such an integration should yield understanding that could not have been achieved solely within either of the parent disciplines. “ <br />
  8. 8. The IB MYP expectation…<br />
  9. 9. The IB MYP definition of interdisciplinary teaching and learning is that it is…<br />…the process by which students come <br />to understand bodies of knowledge and <br />modes of thinking from two or more <br />disciplines or subject groups and integrate <br />them to create a new understanding.<br />
  10. 10. What I didn’t want<br />Having taught within the MYP framework for 7 years I was concerned that interdisciplinary work, too often became project work and learning was not enhanced, but rather suffered – content, skills and understanding become watered down. As Gardner says, “In the rush towards interdisciplinary gold, one runs the risk of integrations that are premature and undisciplined”<br />So I did some further research to examine the most effective ways that interdisciplinary work can be managed in order to enhance learning.<br />
  11. 11. Next step…reading…a clear rationale for interdisciplinary learning<br />“Connecting curriculum in the interdisciplinary approach is an efficient way to help teachers deal with knowledge that grows at exponential proportions (the knowledge society). A unit of study that uses the interdisciplinary approach enables teachers to teach the whole student and make links between disciplines. One goal for this approach is to give students a more relevant, less fragmented, and stimulating experience.”<br />Hayes Jacobs, H (1989). Interdisciplinary curriculum: Design and implementation. Alexandria, VA: ASDC<br />
  12. 12. …further rationale<br />When done well, interdisciplinary learning eliminates the fragmentation and the learning of isolated skills. It allows students to access a particular theme from different entry points as they work with a range of sources of information and perspectives; it also allows teachers to better differentiate instruction and create more interesting and rich methods of assessment.<br />Research has demonstrated that interdisciplinary teaching can increase students' motivation for learning as well as their level of active engagement. In contrast to learning skills in isolation, when students participate in interdisciplinary learning they recognize the value of what they are learning and become more involved in it.<br />Furthermore, studies show that students learn more when they apply a variety of skills to what they are studying and when they interact with their classmates, teachers, and members of the community.<br />Interdisciplinary learningn.d., The Center for Ecoliteracy, <>.<br />
  13. 13. …just a couple more for the doubters!<br />Schools and teachers benefit in a variety of ways when teachers work together. A small but growing body of evidence suggests a positive relationship between teacher collaboration and student achievement.<br /><br />In schools where teachers work collaboratively, students can sense the program coherence and a consistency of expectations, which may explain the improved behavior and achievement.<br /><br />
  14. 14. A definition<br />
  15. 15. The way forward at BIS<br />Having persuaded myself, I had to do what I perceived as the difficult challenge of getting others to share in these values and goals.<br />Subject teachers and heads of faculty – leave the comfort zone<br />School senior managers – new mind set (learning centered) - Implications on staffing, timetable and school infrastructure<br />Parents – <br />"Educate me for my future, not your past“<br />21st Century Teaching & Learning Initiativen.d., UWCSEA, <><br />
  16. 16. Teacher Survey Results<br />
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  23. 23. Year 7 Cross subject map<br />Following the survey Heads of Faculty worked together to create cross subject maps <br />
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  25. 25. Meeting of Year 7 to 9 teachers<br />Looked at some theory and rationale for interdisciplinary work<br />Presented Results of the Survey<br />Worked through my ‘guide to interdisciplinary planning’ and the associated paperwork<br />Looked for, and developed,<br /> interdisciplinary possibilities<br />
  26. 26. What is our goal?<br />To improve understanding<br />
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  31. 31. A checklist for successful interdisciplinary work<br /><ul><li>Is the learning purposeful – does it enrich students understanding or respond to a need that can not be met through a single subject or discipline?
  32. 32. Is the learning grounded in the subject - are the expectations of the students framed in subject objectives for the unit?
  33. 33. Is the learning integrative – are the different subjects enabling the students to achieve a deeper understanding of the topic, an understanding that would have been impossible through single subject perspectives</li></li></ul><li>What form should interdisciplinary work take?<br />As long as the 3 items from the checklist are considered and <br />the form completed, interdisciplinary work can be as big or as <br />small as you wish.<br />From… “borrowing” knowledge, skills or concepts from another subject to enrich student understanding of the subject you teach<br />Through… “weaving” an interdisciplinary thread throughout a unit you’re teaching<br />To…dedicating a sizeable unit of work to an interdisciplinary approach<br />
  34. 34. The paperwork…<br />The multifaceted question addresses aspects of study that can be productively explored through 2 or more subjects. It should give it purpose & direction; and we should aim to make it relevant, feasible and framed to encourage inquiry.<br />e.g. “Why is it important to lower our carbon footprint, and what can we do about it?<br />or<br />“How do historical monuments influence building styles of today, and what might their influence be in the future?”<br />
  35. 35. Activity 3: <br />In your subject area group look through the units <br />taught by other departments during Year 7, (and possibly in Years 8 & 9 t00). <br />Identify one or two that may potentially allow some <br />interdisciplinary opportunities and work with those <br />other subjects to complete an interdisciplinary <br />planner.<br />Remember…Is the learning purposeful ?Is the learning grounded in the subject?Is the learning integrative?<br />
  36. 36. Overheard…<br />“Let’s try it”<br />“How can they make puppets in DT without a play/product at the end?”<br />“We can shift our units around, it’ll make more sense to everyone!”<br />“Why don’t we work with PE on that?”<br />“Can we have more meetings like this, its so much more useful than normal Wednesday afternoons!”<br />
  37. 37. Collaborative planning – some results<br />Some selected units taught so far (or coming soon)…<br />How do stories transform? <br />English Language A and Performing Arts Year 7<br />How can we reduce our energy consumption at school?<br />Science and Technology Year 7<br />Do patterns have rules?<br />Maths and Visual Art Year 8<br />Do we all respire in the same way?<br />Physical Education and Science Year 8<br /><ul><li>How can we measure the human impact on the environment of, and what are the differing perspectives on, conservation</li></ul>Science and Humanities Year 9<br />
  38. 38. Whilst this was going on…<br />Meetings with the Head of Secondary and SLT on 3 other issues that have arisen as part of this process:<br />Staffing – Part of the difficulty in getting people together for productive collaborative planning time is the number of teachers involved – over 40 for example teach year 8 (4 classes). This is because many teachers have a strong desire to teach all sectors of the school, the MYP is seen as a section with many challenges (my interpretation), heads of faculty in the past had totally freedom on how to deploy their staff<br />The physical internal structure of the school designed around the faculty system <br />The timetable and building in time for collaborative planning (see staff survey result)<br />
  39. 39. Results of these issues (1)<br />Staffing:<br />Some teachers have expressed an interest in teaching in fewer years (a benefit for them) in more than one subject (for example one of our PE teachers will be delivering Year 7 science next year)<br />Recruiting teachers who are able (and willing) to teach more than one subject (for example we have recruited an English teacher who also enjoys teaching Humanities)<br />Recruiting teachers who express a genuine interest (and possibly experience) in interdisciplinary teaching (our new head of performing arts has already delivered units with History and English departments)<br />
  40. 40. Results of these issues (2)<br />Physical School Organisation<br />The school owner has agreed to invest a large sum of money in updating the main teaching building (now 15 years old) and has employed an architect who has just (last week) undertaken a preliminary visit to the school. One aspect of this will be the development of Year group(s) areas within the school where they will be based for some of their lessons<br />
  41. 41. Results of these issues (3)<br />Timetable and Collaborative planning opportunities<br />The school day has been shortened providing additional planning time between the end of school for students and staff leaving time<br />Staff will be expected to do only 1 ‘activity’ as opposed to the 2 currently demanded, thus freeing up an additional after school slot for amongst other things collaborative planning (on a regular basis)<br />
  42. 42. Presentations to parents & primary Years teachers<br />
  43. 43. Interdisciplinary Work & Student Learning<br />Looking back to the very start of our 1st asynchronised online discussion, when faced with searching for a shared definition of learning, I would like to return to a couple of posts by Trevor where he very successfully synthesises our contributions!<br />“…after reading the insightful comments so far I would like to define learning as the value added.”<br />“A good working definition containing the three key elements, different types of learning, making connections and ability to use it. I think this definition helps emphasis the holistic nature of learning.”<br />
  44. 44. Last words<br />What is 21st century curriculum?<br />Twenty-first century curriculum has certain critical attributes.  It is interdisciplinary, project-based, and research-driven.  It is connected to the community – local, state, national and global.<br />
  45. 45. “Kids also must learn to think across disciplines, since that's where most new breakthroughs are made. It's interdisciplinary combinations--design and technology, mathematics and art--"that produce YouTube and Google," says Thomas Friedman, the best-selling author of The World Is Flat.”,9171,1568480-2,00.html#ixzz16kZK2RX0<br />
  46. 46. Success?<br />Students learning is becoming less fragmented and this interdisciplinary work increases motivation (Resnick, 1989) and improves learning (Thaiss, 1986)<br />Established a process the importance of which is shared <br />Teachers are talking about learning<br />Teachers are talking with others outside their subject areas<br />Established myself a leader who is learning centered and who listens to the concerns of teachers and acts upon legitimate concerns<br />
  47. 47. Concerns<br />Maintaining the momentum – if I do not continue to drive it, I do not expect it would continue – have teachers really ‘bought into it’?<br />Interdisciplinary work is still a bit of an ‘add-on’, and not an integral part of the culture <br />
  48. 48. For discussion<br />How do we get meaningful interdisciplinary work with modern foreign languages who are in the early stages of language acquisition?<br />How far should we stray from physical subject areas and teacher single subject specialisms?<br />How can interdisciplinary work become more integrated into the culture of a school?<br />