This blogpost is a summary of how I teach within an interdisciplinary learning environment, what the benefits and challenges are, and some goals I have regarding where to next? (This has been well-documented by other HPSS teachers, but I am summarising for my MindLab course!)
Every time I speak to friends working within the 'real life' science sector, and when I reflect on my own experience working in industry, the consensus is that the real skills required are in problem-solving, generating creative solutions by drawing on multiple experiences, asking questions and taking answers from other areas of not only science, but other areas of research also.
As a brief example, my work in the lab routinely involved researching methods other labs had used (general research skills, interpreting the science), figuring out how I could apply their methods to the equipment and resources I had available (analysing, mathematical calculations, critical thinking), physically constructing equipment (technology, design process in iterations of equipment), gathering data and analysing it (mathematical calculations, scientific interpretations of data), checking and collating work (collaboration with colleagues, communication), evidencing and documenting (writing, considering application of data, testing hypotheses)... just to name a few. Most of these do not include the rote learning of factual pieces of science information - information required could be hunted out; it was the skills of being able to do something with the information that were more important.
So, teaching and learning within an interdisciplinary school means that not only do we combine learning areas, and teach through context rather than knowledge-based topics, but also that we have critically evaluated how all the learning areas fit together, and the common language that comes from that. Because all teachers across all learning areas are using common language, and we do not 'silo' subjects, no student has ever questioned why we learn skills that are not directly science-related; they don't pigeon-hole their skills and understanding. This alone is huge, as it means they have a larger range of learning tools to draw from in a given situation.
We also use a common theme for each term for our year 9&10 students - this also helps to cement the connections between learning areas, and to explicitly show students how different learning areas approach the same concept or theme.
The challenges so far have been in sometimes finding obvious connections between some learning areas, but in turn this has lead to a deeper search for connections, and often a more authentic one. To be honest, I struggle to find too many challenges that are not able to be overcome. We still support our own learning areas by meeting regularly and discussing how we are doing things, but for the most part we automatically find connections and inspiration outside of our learning areas - including our offices which are a combination of learning area teachers.
Some of my goals this year are to further expand the connections I make to external experts - using people in industry and universities to expose our students to an even wider range of the application of ideas. I have done this in the past, either bringing experts into school, taking our kids outside of school or skyping guest presenters; I hope to do this on a larger scale this year.
Overall, I have learned more about how students experience school, and the fact that most schools have completely different expectations on students within every class they attend during the day - by isolating our subjects, we reinforce to students that learning is compartmentalised, and not transferrable. By combining learning areas and teaching cross-curricula skills, we teach that learning is applicable across the board, and encourage creativity and problem-solving (in my humble opinion!)