George Lucas Educational Foundation

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Hood River Middle School

Grades 6-8 | Hood River, OR

Collaborative Planning: Integrating Curricula Across Subjects

Hood River Middle School collaborates on projects across subjects to make learning relevant, connected, and engaging.
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Collaborative Planning: Integrating Curriculum Across Subjects (Transcript)

Adam: Couple of little brief things. We have the agenda over there. Some things we wanted to bring up, and we only got half-an-hour, so do our best to use our time efficiently.

Brent: When teachers talk to each other, teachers learn from each other. There's so many great ideas that our teachers come up with that engage kids, get kids to think outside of the box that I'm just amazed at what we can accomplish when we work together.

Brent: Individuals create great ideas, but really to move schools forward, I believe that everyone needs to be together and in dialoguing with each other, and creating a conversation about how to best serve students.

Adam: I feel really fortunate that at our school, we have grade level prep, which means that every day all of the sixth grade teachers are able to discuss various topics whether that be student concerns we have, or how to better integrate curriculum.

Adam: Here is what is-- remains of the weather balloon. We're really excited. This actually pretty much everything, minus the balloon itself.

Teachers: Oh! [laughter]

Teacher: That looks good.

Adam: Last year, an engineering teacher and myself thought it'd be really great to have a sort of science-engineering crossover project where we launched a high-altitude weather balloon way up into the stratosphere, with the intention of getting some unique data to help reinforce sixth grade topics of watershed studies and whatnot.

Students: Three, two, one, blast! [cheering]

Adam: And here is the tree it landed on somewhere in the Klickitat.

Student: Yeah.

Adam: It went somewhere in-between. And that's what we're going to try to show...

Student: Yeah.

Adam: everyone using this data that everyone's pawing through.

Adam: I definitely had a pretty clear idea in mind of what I wanted to do upon retrieving our weather balloon, and it was great to bring the topic to the rest of the team to find out how we could connect it to language arts and other content areas.

Adam: Yesterday, we were able to make a crossover connection to math. I was having students actually looking through the data. And I was trying to rack my brain about how we might make more of a robust like language arts connection. That's not my strength. I was wondering if you guys had any ideas.

Teacher: You could also do a really cool imagination piece with the travel of that, too.

Teacher: I agree the picture was traced on top of it would tell the story.

Teacher: But I think it's a great way to bring in the scientific writing, too. I mean, you could do both. You could take them both at this time.

Teacher: You could do the same type of writing for both of them. One would be scientific writing. And one would be creative writing, and basically we're inspired by one single experience, and how could you look at it from both perspectives?

Adam: That'd be cool!

Brent: You have to provide the structure for collaboration; that's essential. You can't have collaboration if teachers don't have time to collaborate and so by tweaking a Master Schedule, you can provide opportunities for collaboration. That collaboration leads to great things.

Anne Marie: Because of that common prep time, it allows every team to plan field trips that allow them to figure out, "How do we related the curriculum within the different subject areas?"

Anne Marie: So we remember we went on a field trip. That was gathering data for helping the kids understand science based on where we live, and our unique geology in The Gorge.

Angie: When the science teachers decided to do this geology unit on land formations, we saw the opportunity as language arts teachers to bring the idea of the legends that explain these into reading and language arts so they could write a legend and then perform it.

Angie: Then they could choose to work alone or in partners, or in a group. And they've done skits an storybooks, and comic strips, and puppet shows, and iMovies.

Teacher: Awesome, are those recorded somewhere that we could watch, or are they...

Diesel: We took a trip, and it was meant to be for science, and then in this class, we're writing like legends about Beacon Rock and Wahclella Falls, and like how Hood River Gorge came to be.

Anne Marie: The effect for the kids is they hear common messages. Rather than it being discreet classrooms and subjects and teachers and classes. They see it all relating together.

Adam: It is incredibly important to allow teachers to collaborate and work together. Not only to enrich the learning of all their students, but ourselves as professionals.

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At Hood River Middle School, school leaders create time for teachers to collaborate within and across content areas on projects. This has many benefits, including:

  • Teachers can leverage resources, ideas, and learning opportunities.
  • Students make connections between subjects.
  • It communicates a common message across classrooms, showing students that their teachers are aware of what they're learning in other classes.
  • It keeps teachers on the same page in terms of not assigning too much homework on any given night or scheduling tests on the same day.

"When teachers talk to each other, teachers learn from each other," says Brent Emmons, Hood River Middle School's principal. “There are so many great ideas that our teachers come up with that engage kids and get kids to think outside the box. I'm just amazed at what we can accomplish when we work together.”

How It's Done

For Principals

Step 1: Schedule time for collaborative planning.

"You have to provide the structure for collaboration; that's essential,” states Emmons. “You can't have collaboration if teachers don't have time to collaborate."

Hood River’s grade-level teachers benefit from:

  • Daily common preparation time and lunches
  • A required weekly meeting for collaboration

The daily prep time creates a scheduled opportunity for informal collaboration, but given teachers' workload, that time isn't always used for collaboration. The weekly required meeting ensures that they collaborate.

"In the education world, there isn't a lot of attention that is traditionally paid to the master schedule," says Emmons. “The schedule is the bones of a school, and that's what we hang curriculum after; that's what you actually provide for a culture of a school. By tweaking a master schedule, you can provide opportunities for collaboration.”


Hood River Middle School's seventh-grade master schedule on a grid, outlining period one through six on the top row and the name of the seventh-grade teachers on the column going down. Period three and lunch show common, grade-level preparation times.

Tip for Principals: As a principal, you need to encourage and recognize your teachers for collaborating. To create an atmosphere where your teachers feel encouraged to try new things -- in addition to time -- it's also important to provide them with a budget, advises Emmons.

Related: See how another K-8 school redesigned their schedule for prep time.

Step 2: Define the budget for collaborative planning.

Teachers at Hood River come together on more robust cross-curricular activities rooted in their community, ranging from field trips to the Columbia River Gorge to launching a weather balloon into the Earth's atmosphere. Bringing these projects to life requires funding for resources. Emmons created an internal grant funded by parent and community donations to support teacher projects and collaboration -- the Hood River Middle School (HRMS) Building Grant.

"I use parent fundraising and donations to fund classroom grants from teachers,” explains Emmons. “I believe it encourages innovation and allows families to see the direct benefit to student learning that donations and fundraising provides for the kids of our community."

For teachers to apply, the funding needs to benefit the kids directly and cannot go toward staff development. The project also needs to be aligned with Common Core. Teams can request up to $1,000, and individuals can request up to $400. For 2015-2016, the school will distribute $4,000 through this grant.

To apply, teachers fill out the HRMS Building Grant application, including their name or team member names, the subjects and grades that will be taught, the title of their project, and the project description and budget. They also answer the following statements and questions:

  • Describe how the funds will be spent.
  • Describe the project timeline.
  • Clearly state the learning objectives.
  • Explain what the project will accomplish and how it will be evaluated.
  • Discuss any anticipated obstacles.
  • How many students will benefit from the short- and long-term of this project?

Their review application committee consists of Principal Emmons, parent volunteers, and Vice Principal Ocean Kuykendall.

For Teachers

Step 1: Start by finding one collaborative partner.

Adam Smith, a Hood River sixth-grade math, science, and language arts teacher, came across a video online called "Hello Kitty Goes to Space," showing a seventh-grade student launching a high-altitude weather balloon into the atmosphere and capturing data while in flight. After seeing that video, he knew that he wanted to adapt this project for his classroom and make it a collaborative effort across content areas. He reached out to sixth-grade engineering teacher, Rebekah Rottenberg, who was just as excited to bring this project to life.

"Having that one other team member that was fired up about collaborating created enough inertia to get this project started," says Smith.

Step 2: Get resources.

Whether you're planning a large or small collaborative project, you'll need funding and resources. Once Smith and Rottenberg partnered together, they created a budget and submitted a Hood River Middle School Building Grant application. They received funding for a flight computer, the balloon, helium, and a few GoPros to capture the footage of the balloon in flight.

Tips on Getting Funding: If there aren't internal grants available at your school, here's a list of grants, contests, and classroom resources that may be a fit for you, and nine online resources that you can use to raise money for your collaborative project.

Step 3: Share your idea with your grade-level team.

"We had a clear idea in mind of what we wanted to do upon retrieving our weather balloon," recalls Smith. Reinforcing sixth-grade topics like watershed, atmospheric science, engineering design, and scientific inquiry were part of their plan. "It was great to bring the topic to the rest of the team to find out how we could connect it to language arts and other content areas."

During one of their grade-level meetings, the language arts teachers brainstormed a way to connect the journey of the balloon to both creative and scientific writing by having their students write about that single experience from different perspectives.

"The beauty of the weather balloon project is that it's something captivating that provides many points of entry,” says Smith, “whether you're a student in an engineering class working on how to build a structure that's going to survive a fall from several thousand meters, or if you're in a science classroom trying to ask good scientific inquiry questions that could be tested, or if you're in language arts and you want to write a creative piece about what the balloon's journey might be."

Step 4: Continue to update your team at grade-level meetings.

Collaborative projects aren't planned in the span of a single meeting. They evolve over time. Laura Haspela, a Hood River seventh-grade science teacher, and her colleague Anne Marie Untalan, who teaches seventh-grade science and math, brainstormed over the summer about a grade-wide field trip to Fossil, Oregon, where their students could dig -- knowing that archeology interested their students -- and focus on the geology of that area.

When they shared this idea with their grade-level prep team, they realized it was unfeasible. "It ended up that we had a limited budget," says Untalan. They brainstormed together, and instead decided to go to the Columbia River Gorge.

They developed their curriculum over time. In their first meeting, they realized that they could connect the Gorge to reading class by studying local legends. At their following meeting, both language arts teachers expanded on the idea of legends, deciding that kids could write their own legend. "That brought in social studies talking about how people back in the olden days -- before science explained why these things existed -- made up these legends to explain why things existed," says Angie Adkins, a Hood River seventh-grade language arts teacher. In language arts, they later came up with the idea for their students to present their legends through skits, storybooks, comic strips, puppet shows, and iMovies. Their curriculum continued to develop over time as they shared ideas during their grade-level meetings.

Related: Watch how Haspela connected geology to the Gorge field trip in this student-made video.

Step 5: Use informal spaces for collaboration.

Time in between classes is great for quick, informal conversations. While passing a colleague in the hallway, Smith will often say, "I have this great thing I want to try today. If it works out for me, I'll let you know. You should try it out tomorrow, and then we can see where we can go from there.'"

These on-the-fly, organic discussions are great for encouraging flexibility and adapting practices easily and quickly, but with a lack of time, it's not always possible. To ensure grade-level collaboration, grade-level meetings are necessary. Those meetings need to be scheduled, and that time needs to be protected.

"Because of that common prep time, it allows every team to figure out how to make the curriculum more real for students," says Untalan. "Those collaborative conversations were starting on the bus ride back home after the Columbia River Gorge field trip because the kids are on board. They're excited; they're enthusiastic; and they were commenting about all they had learned."

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Tom Swanson's picture
Tom Swanson
I love games of all kinds, going outside, and animals. I work at foundry10.

Is there anything in particular you look to bring them in on? What tends to be exciting for the industry folks around you about working with teachers?

Brent Emmons's picture
Brent Emmons
Hood River Middle School Principal

STEM Fields are the obvious choice and we do use a lot of scientists and engineers. We also use folks chefs, authors, and counselors.

KudosWall's picture
Your child’s proudest moments. Now in one place.

Great Article! Colloboration and also teaching the practical application of what you are learning is very important.

Tiffani Jones's picture

Thank you so much for this article. I particularly like the emphasis you placed on the master schedule. My school's schedule is not conducive to collaborative planning. With some members of my department preferring to arrive early, others preferring to stay late, morning meetings several times a week, and tutoring during the lunch period, there's no time left for collaboration (especially when you add that many of us are teaching three or more different courses). We have asked our administration for a common planning time, but the general response is that it's impossible. Do you have any tips for how teachers can encourage administrators to create more time in the master schedule for collaboration?

Brent Emmons's picture
Brent Emmons
Hood River Middle School Principal

The common prep period requires a school to move from departmentalism to a grade level schedule. This really depends on the type of staffing resources you have at the school. It may be "impossible" depending upon what the school district allocates your principal. This is the hard part. Elementary schools typically have common prep time but it can be hard when you are in middle school. The key in middle school is to have all of the kids with "specialist" teachers for one period. When the kids are all in PE, STEM, Band, World Languages, etc. then time is freed for a common prep.

Chelsea B's picture

I feel that the students within this school benefit greatly because of the collaboration between their teachers of multiple content areas. When everyone is willing and able to collaborate, the students receive an education that is focused on their learning the same concept or topic through multiple domains. This is important in my opinion because it gives them an opportunity to see many different aspects of one topic that they may not see if they are only focusing on it in science class, math class, etc. Overall, I loved this video and recommend it to any teacher or school that is trying to implement this into their curriculum.

David Loertscher's picture
David Loertscher
Professor, San Jose State University

There is an empty chair in the video during the teacher planning. May I suggest filling it with the kind of teacher librarian who is an information and tech expert and who would almost anything to attend the partner. In the elementary school where there are scheduled classes, let the scheduled class have self-directed learning time or making while the TL and the team are in the corner planning. It is one of the best ways to start turning the traditional boring library into a great learning commons.

Judi Moreillon's picture
Judi Moreillon
Literacies and Libraries Consultant

David took the words out of my mouth. School librarians/teacher librarians/library media specialists are educators who must collaborate in order to integrate the resources of the library and the librarian's expertise into the classroom curriculum. Collaborative planning can lead to coteaching and provides job-embedded reciprocal mentorship for the educators involved. (In addition to meeting during contract hours, educators can use online tools to plan all or part of their instruction.) Principals who have experience with effective classroom-library collaborative partnerships know school librarians can be the heart of the school:

Judi Moreillon's picture
Judi Moreillon
Literacies and Libraries Consultant

Thank you for not including school librarians in your list of "specialists." School librarians (assuming you have them in your district) should be coplanning with teachers. It is essential that school librarians are at the table and active participants in curriculum/instructional conversations.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

David, that's a great suggestion. Librarians and teacher-librarians make for powerful collaboration partners. Love it.

There are couple of posts here that you made find of interest:

21st-Century Libraries: The Learning Commons

Librarians' Changing Roles Can Inspire School Communities


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