Whether you are a parent, a tutor, or a classroom teacher, you have most likely wondered at some point or another how to give your kids a fun, exciting project that furthers their learning at the same time. A theory floating around in the education world known as ‘interdisciplinary learning’ can be a great way to engage your kids in a meaningful way. Keep reading to decode this educational buzzword and see what it actually looks like in reality.
What is interdisciplinary learning?
Myra Strober explains this term by thinking about a meal: if you have peas on a plate, this can be likened to a discipline of learning. If you add carrots onto the plate, you now have two disciplines, which can be labeled ‘multidisciplinary.’ But ‘interdisciplinary’ in this analogy would be if you then mixed the peas and carrots together to make a salad. Rather than being isolated, these two ‘disciplines’ have been integrated together to make something new. Through this lens, we can view interdisciplinary learning as an approach that integrates multiple disciplines to solve a problem.
Why is interdisciplinary learning important?
Real-world problems are interdisciplinary
Think about any big problem in the world. Chances are, the entire problem is not ‘I need to solve this specific type of math equation.’ Rather, a problem could potentially be related to poverty, sustainability, or transporting goods to a remote community (perhaps even all three). These types of problems require many different disciplines to come together in order to form a solution.
Interdisciplinary learning gets kids to focus on learning life skills
Interdisciplinary learning focuses learning on life skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, innovation, and problem-solving. This leads to what Carleton College calls “significant learning.” It can be very valuable, since the skills acquired are found in various subjects or streams of study, and are designed to get students to apply what they’ve learned in new contexts.
How to approach an interdisciplinary learning project
- Know your students and pick a topic, or set of topics, that intrigue them.
- Choose a big question to get your kids thinking critically, and with the view to solving a problem. They should have to bring in skills and knowledge from various subjects and experiences to solve this problem.
- Have your kids develop essential questions – what do they wonder about this topic? How can THEY form their own project to be able to understand this problem better? (Check out prodigy game for plenty of examples on this)
- Design your project. According to the Galileo Network, students must know 3 things: why are we doing this? What should I know before we begin to tackle this problem? What is the one big thing I should know at the end of this? Everything in between is open for innovation and creativity, but these three main points should be planned for before the project starts.
The internet is full of great ideas for interdisciplinary projects, so definitely check out Google or Pinterest for inspiration. Here is an example from High Tech High to get you going, and another from Amy Singh (which is great to view if you are working with an individual learner). Enjoy exploring different problems with your kids and see where their creativity takes them!
Interdisciplinary projects are versatile enough to apply in almost any teaching setting
Whether you are looking for an interdisciplinary project to do with your kids over the holidays, searching for a way to engage your tutoring group, or trying to plan a unit for your class at school, using an interdisciplinary approach is highly beneficial. Since they are designed to be based on real-life problems, they can fit in with any age group, given the project matches their current contexts.