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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Deeply Connected, Part Two: Preparing for the Journey

Stephen Hurley

Grade Eight Teacher, Group Moderator, Facilitator/teacher arts@newman

This is the second part of a two-part entry. Read part one.

The school year doesn't officially begin for another twelve hours, but already, a couple of things about our plan to introduce students to an interdisciplinary program have made themselves quite clear.

First, planning a program that attempts to make connections between traditional subject areas is a complex task. Discovering the connective tissue that is going to make this work has required me to dig deeper than had been necessary for me previously.

Second, the traditional resources I've used for planning -- textbooks, curriculum documents, and educational Web sites -- have given way to a new and exciting set of tools. I've turned to educational journals, magazines, and resource books used by practitioners in a variety of professions as well as a wide array of online videos, songs, and podcasts that cover topics as diverse as screenwriting, cellular biology, and political science.

I have found myself returning to several books time and time again as I've prepared to begin this year. These are books that, for me, support the need to think about our schools in a different way. I hope readers of this post will be able to understand why I find these books exciting foundational pieces even though they are not specifically about interdisciplinary approaches to school:

So, what have you been reading that has led you to think about your teaching practice in a different way? Do you have any plans to shift your approach to the way that you plan curriculum for the coming year? Please share your thoughts.

Stephen Hurley

Grade Eight Teacher, Group Moderator, Facilitator/teacher arts@newman
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Karen Greene's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The idea of integrating the arts into the curriculum has interested me for years. I teach the visual arts in elementary school. I always look towards the regular curriculum to find connections for my art lessons. I confess that part of the reason I integrate is to insure that my program is "valued" and "secure". Face it, art is expensive, and we are not directly tested on state standardized tests. But because I integrate, I can argue that I support the entire curriculum. As we are switching to performance-based standards in our state curriculum, the need for integration seems even greater. This year, our school is concentrating on the idea of Math throughout our lives. The specialists have become valuable resources for project ideas using music, art, PE, and technology to apply math and work towards an enduring understanding of the concepts. It is not as fully integrated as your school situation, but it is a start. It takes a lot of coordination and planning but the students are starting to make the connections.

Raegan Hritz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In my daughter's school, the principal has recently created a protocol for when substitutes are not available. Her plan is to "absorb" that classroom into other classes. I don't know the exact logistics, but I'm guessing 5-10 students will go into one classroom, another 5-10 in a different classroom, etc. She has asked all teachers to create a work packet that will travel with these students to work on throughout that day (again, when a sub is not available). I have serious concerns about this policy. Not only will these students be "lost" for the day in a different teachers classroom, with a whole new schedule, but what learning will take place completing worksheet after worksheet? These students will also disrupt the other classrooms that they are entering. The classroom teacher also now has 5 -10 other students (of which they know nothing about) they have to monitor. In my opinion, special teachers (music, art, library, PE) should be pulled into these classrooms where subs are not available. I would love some input.

Ms. T. Clark's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi, my name is Tiffany and I primarily teach 5th grade math and science classes. I too, agree that integrating the curriculum is important, and I find the practice to be beneficial to both students and teachers. I think it's a great way to revisit skills previously taught in other grades and/or earlier in the year, and a great way to utilize class time more effectively. For example, let's say that I taught my students how to create graphs earlier in the year, but now want to provide some additional review. Then perhaps I can address the skill again when my students are conducting an experiment in science and are being asked to collect data. I can integrate math by having them graph their information. I think it provides for a more meaningful experience for students and it makes the lesson more relevant. Another benefit for me as a teacher is that if I know well in advance the skills/standards I'm teaching for the year then I can develop long range plans that address those concepts at the same time. By doing so, I'm maximizing my time, and I can then utilize any extra time to focus on other student deficiencies.

Presently, I think integrating would be beneficial for my students as they're trying to complete there social studies research project. The project is usually assigned in social studies class, and is left up to this teacher to provide assistance. Well, my grade level is departmentalized, and it makes things a little more difficult. My students have to be able to read information, write a report, graph data, review historical events, and use the computer and other resources. What better way to get all the teachers involved across the different content areas. Students could really see the "big picture" of how all the content areas combine to complete the common goal of producing a finished product.

Ms. T. Clark's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach in the DeKalb County Shool System in Stone Mountain, GA., and my school district is also concentrating more on math instruction and teacher delivery. As a district, we did not perform well on the state test this past spring. As a result, the district has made some big changes to move our students forward. As with any school district, teachers are being held more accountable for their students performance, and the district in turn is providing teachers with additional training to help increase student achievement. Some of the things that we're being trained on and required to do is to integrate reading and writing more effectively. Our students are being required to journal daily to explain their math answers and reasoning. As the teacher, I'm also required to implement the Geogia Performance Task for students to then complete in order to assess their understanding of the subject matter. In the end, I think the increased emphasis will better for all those involved.

Johanna Greene's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Raegan,
I think this is absolutely outrageous. I am only a first year teacher, so I don't have a lot of experience in a classroom of my own. However, while I was still in college I would substitute. Firstly, I cannot even comprehend not having substitutes available. I know sometimes it is hard to find them, but I feel as if it always ends up ok in the end.

Secondly, I think it is the most ridiculous idea I've ever heard to have a classroom of students go to several different classrooms throughout the day. You're absolutely right when you say that the students will not benefit at all from doing worksheets all day in a different classroom. The students will be looking around the new classroom, at the new teacher and other students. Also, nothing tells a student that they are wasting their time more than a packet of worksheets.

Finally, it is horrible to have another classroom teacher deal with an extra 5-10 students who she doesn't know or really have any relationship with. You are absolutely right in the way you feel. I think if this were to happen in my school, teacher's aids would be shifted differently throughout the day.

Susan Reed's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree whole heartedly that integrating the curriculum benefits both teachers & students. It is an essential part of the constant review required to make all the seemingly disjointed pieces of our numerous curricula stick. I too use examples such as the graphing while completing a science experiment. I find that students make those connections in a way they don't otherwise make. I never hear, "When are we ever going to need to know this?" I feel the students see their work as valid and substantial when different content is integrated within one project. I have fought to keep our science fair going at times beacause it takes such a large amount of instructional time. Integrated into the science fair process is language arts, math, science, and visual arts. Who could ask for a richer experience? Life doesn't happen one subject at a time...why do our schools still operate this way?

Lisa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is most important to set the tone of a sense of urgency when preparing for state standardized tests. I teach 4th and 5th grade Language Arts in Detroit, Michigan. Along with every other teacher responsible for administering standardized tests, I feel the pressure around testing time. The writing portion on the state standardized test is very intense and it takes some very intense training and preperation. At times it can become very frustrating when teachng writing because each individual student writes differently. However, teachers are held accountable when students don't perform. In an effort to ensure success with our students at my school, we are implementing Writing, Reading and Math workshops. The students in grades 4-8 participate in the week long workshops where intense training and practice take place. In my writing class we are reviewing basic paragraph structure and learning all the skills necessary to perform excellent on the test. State Standadized tests are here to stay. As educators we have to do what it takes to prepare our students for success.

Janida Yancy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You are right. Students should not be sent to several classrooms with a packet to complete if a substitute is not available. First, this procedure will interrupt the learning environment in the other classrooms. The students may enter the classroom thinking this is an opportunity to have the day off by playing, talking, or passing notes to their friends. Second, it is not fair to the other teachers. They may have to stop instruction to handle a unruly child.

In my school, we have several paraprofessionals who are able to take turns throughout the day following the classroom teachers' substitute lesson plans. This way students are still allowed to follow their regular schedule and complete the teacher directed lessons.

Janida Yancy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Yes, as educators we must do everything possible to prepare our students for the various standardized test. We all feel the pressure around standardized test time. I am always wondering if there was something else I could have done to prepare my students. One program we are using to prepare our students for the Georgia Writing Assessment Test is the Writing to Win program by Dr. Combs. This ia a student friendly program that give students several opportunities to practice the various writing genres. Dr. Combs has visited our system several time to personally train teachers and have gone into the classrooms to demonstrate several of his strategies. It is a great writing program!

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