Integrated Curriculum

Discussions on the benefits and difficulties with an integrated or interdisciplinary approach to teaching in Ontario. 

This week’s readings and videos explored and explained integrated curriculum. Multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches are three commons ways to design. In Meeting Standards Through Integrated Curriculum, by Drake, S and Burns, R. (2004), each of the three approaches are discussed and thoroughly compared. These integrated approaches seem to be very successful. The model of learning hopes to build 21st century learning skills such as collaboration, communication and use of technology. Some other success measures include increased effort by students, better retention of material, fewer discipline problems and lower absenteeism. Academic scores also increased. For example, the article states a study of an interdisciplinary program Learning Through The Arts revealed students showed an increase in math scores. Drake & Burns (2004) also point out that although different, all three approaches exist on a continuum and are usually used by educators who wish to engage all their students in learning in the most authentic way.

All of the evidence of benefits, as real as they are, seem come from notes taken by educators or assessors. This video from Edutopia offers a fresh insight into the benefits of the integrated curriculum.

The students are demonstrating improvements, but also noticing the changes themselves. For example, one girl said, “If you’re in different classes, you might forget because your mind is focused on another class, but when it’s all together you can just focus on one thing…”. Her idea of the boundary between subject areas is blurring, resulting in a peace of mind and increased focus. Assessment as learning indicates students need to be self-aware and metacognitive of their changes in learning. As a future educator, I think it is important to get the researcher’s perspective and insight to the positive benefits of different approaches, but equally as important to hear the student’s perspective as well.

Lastly, these resources suggest integrated approaches are necessary to prepare our students for the real world. If educators have trouble buying into this idea or think it is too difficult, it is quite shocking. I think their is a value in realizing that in order to develop an integrated curriculum for our students, we are using the very skills we wish they would build. As 21st century employees, teachers need to collaborate, self-regulate, problem solve, communicate skillfully and use technology to create integrated curriculums with success.

Integrated learning is an essential part to our classroom planning and organization, especially if we want to engage students with relevant and useful inquiry-based explorations.

This week, explored the cross-curricular integration opportunities in groups. This assignment highlighted two important things for me. First, a group of educators can find connections and create lesson ideas much easier than just one educator alone. This is an important mindset to take to the field of teaching – using collaboration to extend our ideas and save time. Second, there is a multitude of ways to integrate cross-curricular expectations into one assignment – it isn’t that hard to find them. To me, more integration equals less time spent on an individual expectation. After all the other benefits of integration, this one just highlights effective use of class time to explore the necessary expectations.

This is the outline created by our class (used with permission):

One example of an integrated approach that I particularly find interesting and useful is the mix of social studies and math curriculums. In the class example above, we talked about the big idea of an Olympic ceremony to study the grade 6 topic: People and environments – Canada’s interactions with the global community. I think this is an excellent opportunity to introduce mathematical areas of numeracy and data management. Students could explore the proportions of participating athletes or the resources necessary to accommodate the full attendance. They could also find appropriate representations of different data, such as the demographics at the presentation or the environmental impacts of the ceremonies. If the educator was to take this even further, they could accommodate the financial literacy aspect – which is definitely underdeveloped and under-explored. For example, students should be expected to create a budget and set costs for concessions.

A simplified example like this demonstrates how an integrated approach can be used to study and support social studies.


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