After three colleagues and I presented a mock grant application in our graduate class this evening, which focused on "Innovation Through Technology and Interdisciplinary Studies," I really spent some time thinking about the value of interdisciplinary work, especially at the high school level. Accordingly, I decided to do some further reading on the topic.
Michael Streich, a teacher, historian, and experienced traveler, wrote a short and well-thought-out article on Suite101.com. The benefits to the teachers involved are notable:
Collaborative teaching exercises enrich the curriculum and allow teachers to share in a meaningful experience, bringing together diverse expertise and enhancing collegial respect.
The benefits of interdisciplinary work to students are even more important. Shelly Blake-Plock (AKA TeachPaperless) wrote a blog post in February about improvisation in the classroom. He explained that sometimes the kids, when permitted to go on a tangent every now and then, come up with better ideas than we, as teachers, could have ever imagined when we were writing up our lesson plans the night before. When we let the kids do this, interdisciplinary connections happen naturally. He argues that improvising while teaching shouldn't be thought of as scary uncharted territory:
Rather, improvising puts you on the hot seat; it lifts the energy level and immediacy of your class discussions; and, with the use of immediately accessible Internet resources, it demonstrates to the students in an authentic and representational way the power of history, the natural interdisciplinary quality of comparative analysis, and the value of being able to access and distinguish valid and documented support for one's position in a discussion.
As usual, Will Richardson is a forward thinker. In a blog post from way back in 2006, he contends that he wants his legacy and value in the world to be based on the work that he has done in collaboration with others, not based on his expertise in a certain area as proven by the letters he has accumulated after his name.
My point here is to talk about how this relates to the whole teacher as learner discussion in that we are now living in a world where collective intelligence is becoming more powerful and relevant to being a learner, but we’re educating our kids in classrooms still under this idea of experts at the front of the room. ...You can believe me or not…your choice. But you can believe me based on my track record and my participation as a learner in the community, not simply based on the letters after my name or the diplomas on my wall.
These are the opinions of only three well-respected educators, but I agree. Interdisciplinary education is important because we are preparing our students for a world with complex issues that require a multi-perspective approach. Without showing them how the different areas of study relate to one another, we are not meeting the needs of our 21st Century learners.