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- Our world is complex, and the factors that contribute to problems and solutions are multi-faceted. When students are able to make connections across subject groups they are building neural networks between disparate areas of knowledge, concepts and skills. These webs of interconnections can support the critical and creative thinking that is needed to navigate the complexities of our modern world. Formal interdisciplinary units provide students with opportunities to practice explicitly weighing the strengths and limitations of each subject/discipline’s perspective, and intentionally selecting knowledge and skills from different subjects/disciplines in order to understand and take action to address complex issues, challenges and problems.
- Borrowing from other subjects:
- In single-subject units, teachers can use singular aspects of knowledge, understanding and/or skills from other subjects in specific unit plans (example: perspective drawing from visual arts used in a design unit)
- Disciplinary threads:
- In single-subject units, teachers can use specific forms of knowledge, understanding and/or skills from other subjects throughout the curriculum. (example: methods of data representation and analysis from mathematics used in a sciences unit)
- Formal interdisciplinary units,:
- Teachers of two or more subjects or disciplines can collaboratively plan and implement a formal interdisciplinary unit.
"This structure of clearly distinguishing the disciplinary and interdisciplinary learning engagements can support students in the metacognitive process of considering how we come to know, understand and take action on a topic, issue or problem. Each discipline provides a unique way of approaching, communicating about and acting on a topic, issue or problem, and when those ways are combined, a synthesized, more holistic approach can be developed. Making this process explicit is one of the main purposes of interdisciplinary learning in the MYP. Students can practise consciously combining the perspectives of multiple disciplines in order to develop new approaches to thinking, communicating and problem-solving." -Interdisciplinary teaching and learning in the MYP
- Disciplinary learning provides students with opportunities to develop specialized understanding and skills grounded in the distinct perspectives of separate subject-groups and disciplines.
- Interdisciplinary learning supports students in making connections between subject-based perspectives, and in developing 'new understanding, create products or address real-world issues in ways that would have been unlikely through a single approach' (Interdisciplinary teaching and learning in the MYP).
Usually this will be the case. In order to fully experience 'interdisciplinary' thinking and action, students need to experience substantive disciplinary learning processes in both/all of the subjects/disciplines participating in an IDU, and then explicitly synthesize that learning during the class times of the participating subjects/disciplines.
However, a unique scenario, such as an off-timetable, extended immersion experience involving a group of students or an entire year level, could be a highly effective format for 'formal' interdisciplinary learning. The students could experience disciplinary learning in the subjects/disciplines involved, even if they are not enrolled in those courses during the regular schedule, and then they could synthesize their disciplinary learning and develop impactful products and/or outcomes.
A year-level service-as-action retreat could be an excellent example of this. Keep in mind, however, that the requirement of distinct disciplinary and interdisciplinary learning needs to be maintained in order to align with the intentions of a 'formal' interdisciplinary unit. If these processes cannot be ensured, it would be best to keep the activity as a meaningful service as action experience, and not incorporate the 'formal' aspects of interdisciplinary teaching and learning.