George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

Deeply Connected, Part One: Interdisciplinary Teaching in the arts@newman Program

September 18, 2008

"The highly structured school with its fixed timetable, isolated subject areas, centralized curriculum, and authoritarian nature is giving way to a new order that places less stress on mechanical rote learning and greater importance on the discovery and exploration of concepts and impressions."

These words come from the editorial pages of our local daily newspaper, the Toronto Star. Before you get too excited and start to tear up your lesson plans and daybooks, though, I should tell you that the editorial is dated September 3, 1968, almost exactly forty years ago.

The idea of interdisciplinary teaching is not new. In fact, in every generation throughout the history of public education on this continent, progressive voices have called for a school system that encourages, and seeks to nurture, deep, connected learning.

Last September, I embarked on a journey grounded in two very strong principles. The arts@newman program (read my first post about the program here) is committed to providing students with a curriculum that is arts based and integrated. In the first year of the program, I found myself "foregrounding" the arts-based aspect of the program. I was part of a team in grades 7-8 with a strongly established rotary schedule in which different teachers taught science, history, geography, visual arts, and physical education as separate subjects. I was able to plan my arts-based curriculum only around math, language, and music.

At the end of last year, I asked if I could gather all subject areas under the arts@newman umbrella, which would allow us to concentrate on the vision of curriculum integration this year.

For me, the real beauty of interdisciplinary learning (and teaching) lies in the understanding that we live in an integrated world. The problems and challenges we deal with outside the walls of our schools require us to draw on knowledge that cuts across a number of subject areas. Our proficiency and efficiency as learners outside the school environment is often dependent on our ability to bring several perspectives to bear on any given situation.

I invite you to join me this year as I embark on this second leg of the arts@newman journey. Over the next several months, I will share the excitement, frustration, and challenges associated with attempting to bring about the vision of a deeply connected set of learning experiences for our students.

Sometime in the very near future, I would love to be able to hold up a passage from an editorial that's similar to the one that opened this entry and declare, "This is happening here and now!"

Please share your thoughts about integrated studies, and read my next post on this topic.

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