As we enter a first grade classroom, we see students engaged in a read aloud of one of their favorite barnyard storybooks as the class monitor holds up the book, and the teacher and students slowly and safely imitate the sounds and movements of each of the animals on the pages with their hands and faces as the book is read.  In a second grade classroom, we see students engaged in a Spelling competition where all 24 students are separated into two distinct rows, and are being asked to not only spell the word that their team is given, but to also count the number of syllables in each word given for two points gained for their team.  In another third grade classroom, the teacher is conducting a lesson on different types of butterflies, and not only has the students identify and label the different characteristics of each of the butterflies, but also measure their wingspans and learn about their basic circulatory and digestive systems. And finally, in a combined fourth and fifth grade integrative co-teaching lesson, one teacher presents a lesson on different types of angles, while the other teacher has the students physically imitate the angles with their hands and bodies, to represent the differences in each. 

What does each of these lessons have in common?  Pick the best choice below: 

  1. They represent different types of learning strategies throughout one subject. 
  2. They represent interdisciplinary learning strategies throughout multiple subject areas. 
  3. They represent departmentalized learning, where only one subject is taught by a teacher. 

Although these strategies do represent different types of learning strategies, it is not only throughout one subject, and these strategies also do not specifically represent departmentalized learning, as you would find more often in a junior high school, where one subject is taught by each teacher.  No, the best choice for this question is response B in that these strategies represent interdisciplinary learning approaches throughout multiple subject areas, including Reading/ELA, Physical Education and Health, Math and Science.  What is interdisciplinary learning, and what does it look like in the general education classroom?  

Interdisciplinary learning is when students are engaged in learning about a topic and how it spans across different subject areas, such as when students learn about prehistoric animals and beasts, and are not only reading about the different characteristics of the animals (ELA/Reading connection), but are also involved in learning about what prehistoric era they lived in (Social Studies), the kinds of foods they ate (Health and Nutrition connection), the average heights of carnivorous, meat-eating animals (Math connection), or studying temperature and other climate or global changes that led to their extinction (Science connection). These are all ways in which students participate in interdisciplinary learning, and engaging students in this type of learning helps them to better synthesize information across various subject fields, and build upon their critical thinking skills as they explore connections amongst subjects.  

Next, we will learn about how teachers can integrate interdisciplinary learning into a classroom unit, and work with other teachers to develop a unit of study that integrates multiple subject areas.