Chapter 2: Understanding the world through disciplinary adnd interdisciplinary study
Globally competent students demonstrate these four competencies:
1 - They investigate the world beyond their immediate environment
2 - They recognize their own perspective, others' perspectives and their origins
3 - They communicate effectively with diverse audiences
4 - They take action to improve conditions
The "disciplines" or subject areas like math, ELA, science, were created by societies to help us make sense of the word. It takes an interdisciplinary approach, using two or more of the disciplines, to solve problems.
An interdisciplinary approach is:
- Purposeful, and impossible to study without multiple disciplines
- Grounded in disciplines, or employs big ideas and concepts from 2 or more disciplines
- Integrative, in that the disciplines are integrated to create deeper understanding
- Thoughful, causing students to reflect about their own practices
When you learn to be globally competent, it doesn't mean you know everything there is to know about the word. It means you are building a foundation by studying one particular concept in an interdisciplinary fashion with purpose, grounded in disciplines, integrated and thoughtfully. It is easy to align Common Core Standards with global competence as the standards are flexible. The integrated projects using real questions will involve higher order skills that the CCSS demands.
There was an overview of two projects.
- Preschoolers in Italy were discussing the possibilities for communicating with a young friend without using the internet. After much exploration and deliberation, they decided to send a fax.
- Tenth graders in Massachussetts were given the task of convincing their peers that a Reebok plant should be built in a city in China. Participants researched the economic, human, and environmental impacts before presenting their case. Some students recognized how warped things could be if they used only one perspective. Others took a look at the items in their house and realized how many were manufactured in places they were unfamiliar with.
The preschool project was strongly based on collaboration. They revised their ideas based on others' input and realized that each person had different strengths so they needed each other to do the work.
I work in a high school, so I will focus on the tenth grade project.
The Reebok project followed the four precepts of an interdisciplinary approach. By studying a real-life issue, there was true purpose. The problem required information from three disciplines (economic, social, scientific) so it was both grounded in the disciplines and truly integrative. If only one angle had been covered, say social (human rights), the classmates that decided whether or not the company should move to China would likely have decided differently. In order to present well, students needed to reflect on their perspective, the perspectives of those organizations they were representing, and the players who would be deciding the fate of the company move.
While reading this section, I was trying to picture Abbott Tech students tackling this project. Due to the fact that they spend 50% of their school year learning a trade, the disciplines are very compartmentalized because they are so strapped for time. One of our schoolwide SLO's is to improve reading comprehension and vocabulary. Non-ELA teachers were annoyed that they had to teach English skills. They felt it would take too much time. Before Christmas, one of the trade areas was highlighted in our systemwide newsletter because they have started a student-produced newsletter for their shop. It improves vocabulary, writing skills, and communication with parents. This gives me hope.
Last year, some honors Social Studies students prepared a debate. Both teams researched their position and postured like lawyers as they stated their case. Though it wasn't as polished as the Reebok project sounded, and maybe not as interdisciplinary (I don't remember because I wasn't watching for that!), but it was a current topic and the students were really engaged. A number of the students asked me to come and watch. There were debate judges and classmates volunteered to come. It was fun to watch one of the "pests" bloom in front of an audience and state his case with confidence.
Science classes study GMO's every year. It would be exciting to help them take that to another level. I was listening to NPR this evening and Germans are arguing over whether or not to import US meat. The topic is real! I heard recently from a department head that SBAC will be testing website evaluation and MLA skills. This would be an excellent way for me to collaborate with the science department.