Ripples & Reflections

"Learning is about living, and as such is lifelong." Elkjaer.

Taking on the Challenges of Interdisciplinary Learning


Here’s a quick post of some work we’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks. Now that the foundations of MYP: Next Chapter are bedded in, with teachers using the guides, working well with the assessment criteria and coming up with some interesting inquiries, it’s time to tackle interdisciplinary units (IDU’s).

Although the school had some (nominally) IDU’s before, these tended towards more thematic connections; the publication of the IB’s”Fostering interdisciplinary teaching and learning in the MYP guide demands a higher level of sophistication and planning, as well as the use of a separate set of assessment criteria. In the interim period before MYP:NC, we disconnected a few IDU’s to focus on strengthening disciplinary practices, so that when we re-connected, they would be stronger and more authentic to those involved. As a result, more teachers are asking for ways to connect, some of the IDU ideas are evolving and becoming more adventurous and a keen group of teachers have attended (or are about to attend) IDU workshops.

The challenge as coordinator? How to manage and encourage this, whilst ensuring the energy remains in the connections without being diminished by the perceived added burden of a new planner, criteria and restrictions. My solution (for now) is to take on the formal documentation of the new IDU’s and build some support resources, so that the teachers can get on with it. In this prototyping year for the new IDU’s there will be plenty to test and evaluate. One of the key differences in this approach compared to our normal unit planning is that I manage the IDU ATLAS planners: while teachers discuss and plan together, I observe, question and clarify and record the results into the planner. The planner itself won’t be ‘complete’ until at least the second cycle through as we reflect and tinker, but at least we get to test the unit in ‘beta mode’ and see how it grows.

I’ve tried to capture the flow of the IDU in this poster, the purpose being a visual supplement to the IDU guide that will help us through the process clearly. As usual, it’s made in GoogleDrawings, so that I can embed, refine and include links where needed. I’d love to read your feedback in the comments below or on Twitter.

IDU Planning Poster Taylor

IDU Planning Flow-Chart for CA; an attempt to make the IDU guide more visual and quick-reference and to create a flow that will work for our busy teachers.


Postscript: A Workflow for Managing IDU Reflections

Collecting reliable and useful IDU assessment information and data can be a beast, but here’s a system we tried, with some success. Still a work in progress, though.

It’s based on capturing key questions in google forms, so that teachers can sort and view easily and work together on assessment. It also uses AutoCrat to share the students’ own data back to them as a GoogleDoc, to be used on their blogs.

It took some setting up, but in our experiment of assessing the IDU, it worked well enough and reduced the burden of reflection on students (after a really cool, active project).


Footnote: The Evidence for Interdisciplinary Learning

As part of putting this together, I got sucked into the rabbit-hole of references and evidence. Aside from being enjoyable and challenging, IDU’s can help students’ reflective skills, put learning into authentic contexts and help us address those oh-so-tricky-to-teach transfer skills. If you’re interested, here is a hyperlinked version of the references section from “Fostering interdisciplinary teaching and learning in the MYP“. It might save you some time. 

[Links added by Stephen]
Beane, JA. 1995. “Introduction: What is a coherent curriculum?” In JA Beane (ed) Toward A Coherent Curriculum. Alexandria, Virginia, USA. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Pp 1–14.

Boix-Mansilla, V. 2010. MYP guide to interdisciplinary teaching and learning. Cardiff, UK. IB Publishing.

Boix Mansilla, Verónica & Gardner, Howard (2008). Disciplining the mind. Educational Leadership, 65(5), 14-19. [added from Harvard PZ]

Boix-Mansilla, V and Gardner, H. 2007. “From teaching globalization to nurturing global consciousness”. In M Suárez-Orozco (ed),Learning in the Global Era: International Perspectives on Globalization and Education. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, USA. University of California Press. Pp 47–66.

Boix-Mansilla, V, Miller, WC and Gardner, H. 2000. “On disciplinary lenses and interdisciplinary work.” In S Wineburg and P Grossman (eds), Interdisciplinary Curriculum: Challenges to Implementation. New York, New York, USA. Teachers College Press. Pp 17–38.

Choi, BCK and Pak, A. 2006. “Multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity in health research, services, education and policy: 1. Definitions, objectives, and evidence of effectiveness”. Clinical and Investigative Medicine. Vol 29, number 6. Pp 351–364.

Daly, K, Brown, G and McGowan, C. 2012. Curriculum integration in the IB Middle Years Programme: Literature Review. Cardiff, UK. IB Publishing.

Erickson, L. 2006. Concept- Based Curriculum and Instruction for the Thinking Classroom. Thousand Oaks, California, USA. Corwin Press. [IB Position Paper summary here]

International Baccalaureate. 2010. The Primary Years Programme as a model of transdisciplinary learning. Cardiff, UK. IB Publishing.

Rényi J. 2000. “Hunting the quark: Interdisciplinary curriculum in public schools”. In S Wineburg and P Grossman (eds), Interdisciplinary Curriculum: Challenges to Implementation. New York, New York, USA. Teachers College Press. Pp 40–53.

Wineburg, S. and Grossman, P (eds). 2000. Interdisciplinary Curriculum: Challenges to Implementation. New York, New York, USA. Teachers College Press.

Other interesting resources: 


Author: Stephen

Director of Learning & MYP Coordinator at Canadian Academy, Kobe, Japan. Formerly MYP HS Science & IBDP Bio teacher and missing it terribly. Twitterist (@sjtylr), dad and bloggerer.

5 thoughts on “Taking on the Challenges of Interdisciplinary Learning

  1. Thank you for sharing your labours down that rabbit hole Stephen!
    #murphy’s law – the one I wanted to read requires I pay a subscription to access it

  2. Stephen, I love the graphic for IDU! Very helpful!!. I wondered though about what you had written for criterion B. When I look at the objective it talks about synthesizing understanding. So I think that goes back to the statement of inquiry and the interdisciplinary understanding that we want students to walk away with at the end of the unit. I wonder if the focus on students “leaving new things” can lead to keeping things on a more facial level instead of conceptual?

    • Hi Julie – thanks for the comment! Perhaps I need to word that part more appropriately; the intention with B being the synthesis of new ideas, knowledge or perspectives that could only have come through the connection (and not in isolation). Thanks for the feedback!

      • Hi Stephen,
        Nice! The replacement wording you suggest above aligns well with the BQC feedback re: the purpose of integration and criterion B: “synthesis of new ideas, knowledge or perspectives that could only have come through the connection (and not in isolation).

        We’ve found that thoroughly defining the purpose of integration can be a critical step that is often overlooked. And the key to that explanation is clearly defining how specific, substantive perspectives and content from each subject will contribute to the integrated understanding, and also how students will synthesize those perspectives to demonstrate an understanding that would not have been possible through one subject alone.

        Thanks for all your insight and very practical posts!

      • Thanks Diane! Great to have your comment here.

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