Writing an Integrated Curriculum

This week, I decided to reflect a bit on the process of writing up an integrated unit plan, as I have been attempting to do so with the class I’m student teaching in. This week’s reading was about how to go about planning the integrated curriculum, but I’m finding that with everything that is required by district, state, and school, this is much more challenging than I’d initially thought. Aside from finding the common thread running through numerous different curricula, the work is put on the teachers to teach core subjects in a way that relates to that common theme. For example, in math, we are teaching adding and subtracting mixed numbers, as well as multiplying unit fractions by whole numbers. I can give my students themed problems to solve, but the math itself doesn’t seem to lend itself very well to an integrated curriculum. The topics do not show up organically, but are instead forced into the theme. In this, I am not sure if it is still in the spirit of the integrated curriculum.

In addition, I am concerned with the time constraints of writing an integrated curriculum. Considering all of the standards teachers need to address, especially in grades 3 and up, it seems almost impossible to write or create an integrated curriculum. I am student teaching in 4th grade, and most of what we are working on in class is geared toward the students doing well on the SBAC exams. I have heard the time after the SBAC referred to as the time “when teaching becomes fun again”. It is sad to me that standardized testing could have such an effect on whether or not teachers create an integrated curriculum. I am curious as to whether these topics can be addressed easily. Will the standards truly have such a strong impact on integrated curriculum?

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Incorporating Technology for an Integrated Curriculum

Imagine you are in the arctic, watching baby penguins toddle around. You turn your head and spot a seal slipping across the ice! A familiar voice explains that the seal is using its fins to propel itself across the ice to move faster. You are in awe at this frozen wonderland, but you are toasty warm. An arrow appears in your vision, directing your attention to a tiny iceberg…that is actually a mountain of ice below the surface. This is the magic of virtual reality in the classroom.

This past week, while at a STEM expo in Enumclaw, I had the chance to experience Google Cardboard. They are inexpensive viewing glasses that attach to a smartphone (not so inexpensive) and allow students to look around and experience places they may never have the chance to visit, and certainly couldn’t go to on a field trip! Meanwhile, their teacher has access to information in order to provide the “tour” feel, and can direct attention to places of particular interest in the students’ fields of vision. She can also pause the “field trip” if things are getting a little too rough.

I wanted to talk about this for my blog post this week, because I think that the possibilities to include this kind of technology into an integrated curriculum are endless. The teachers can include any place in the world into their classroom at the touch of a button. With a little bit of added innovation, students can relive the journey of Lewis and Clark while listening to the narrative written by Lewis himself. They can explore and ask questions, and make connections to their lives and other knowledge with the experience right in front of them. One of the lessons I am planning for my 4th grade class is about the Ozette dig, where the Native American village of Ozette was discovered buried along the Washington coast. Washington State University has a virtual tour on their website to show students what it was like to be there. This is a supplemental lesson in their curriculum, meant to augment the reading they’ll be doing for social studies. I will be doing this lesson with the students, and while photos on the internet open up a lot of possibilities, think that a true virtual field trip could expand on that learning and excitement. With the ability to actually be in the place they are reading about, the students would be able to construct the knowledge for themselves rather than acquire it from a secondary source.

Comparing and Contrasting for Critical Thinking

During my student teaching internship, and later as a new teacher, one of my primary goals is to encourage my students to be thinking critically about all of their work, regardless of the subject. In class on Monday, we discussed different methods of mapping comparing and contrasting ideas. While I am familiar with Venn diagrams, the double bubble map was new to me. It is similar to Venn diagrams in that it has a place to show common or unique qualities in two or more ideas, but I think that it allows for a bit more freedom of thought, since you aren’t limited to the space of a Venn diagram.

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Double Bubble Concept Map

Humans are comparing things almost as soon as they are born, when they learn to distinguish between mother and not-mother. We set objects against each other and identify what is the same and what is different, and in doing so are able to assimilate and accommodate new information more readily. The double bubble map is a way to record this thinking, and organize it in a way so that we can see how things relate to others in our texts, our work, and our lives. In an elementary classroom following the journey of Lewis and Clark, a double bubble map might be useful in comparing then and now. This could then lead to further activities, such as math-related concepts (what would a budget for a trip in our class look like?) or science concepts (how would we measure miles if we didn’t have a GPS?). In my classroom, I hope to use the double bubble map, among many other types of concept maps, to help my students organize their thinking and then take that information and apply it to new situations.

Integrating Curriculum in line with Standards

Our topic for this class has centered around integrating curriculum in the classroom. This has been a theme during the course of our program, especially in our methods classes. In order to have enough time during the day or week for all of the subjects we need to cover, it makes sense. It also makes sense to teach students in a way that is more authentic, since divided subject areas are unique to the school setting. However, this can be a challenge when the Common Core standards center around literacy and math for elementary students (and science for older students). I know many teachers who focus heavily on the tested subjects, especially when school funding relies on student performance. How can I justify spending extra time on social studies and science when these don’t “matter” with regards to school funding? How can I justify not spending time on these subjects? This is why I like the idea of an integrated curriculum, where tested and non-tested subjects are mixed in a way that allows for teaching the standards but also including the content and skills students should be learning to become good citizens. Drake and Burns (2004) describe an example that I think perfectly encapsulates the integrated curriculum: in it, a Virginia teacher asked her students to make choices about what they wanted to learn, but in order to justify these choices, they had to defend them with the state standards. In this way, not only do the students get to decide what they are learning (creating more interest and engagement in the subject), but they learn the standards and also practice forming an argument and providing evidence to justify it. This is a standard in and of itself, for math and science.

Drake, S., and Burns, R. (2004). Meeting standards through integrated curriculum. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Project Based Learning and Integrated Curriculum

One of the main goals in education is to help students not only reach their full potential academically, but to teach them how to be good citizens in their communities, countries, and world. To accomplish this in my classroom, I believe that using an integrated curriculum where connections are made between all subjects, tested and non-tested. Ellis

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Figure 1: Multidisciplinary Approach

and Stuen (1998) suggest using thematic teaching. In thematic teaching, all subjects are centered around a central theme, in a multidisciplinary (figure 1), interdisciplinary (figure 2), or transdiciplinary (figure 3) approach (Drake and Burns, 2004). In a multidisciplinary approach, there is a central theme and each of the disciplines (math, science, music, PE, history, drama, literacy, etc.) each relate to this theme. In an interdisciplinary approach, the disciplines are connected to each other but still taught separately. Teachers find the common learnings in each discipline to help students forge these connections.

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Figure 2: Interdisciplinary Approach

The approach that I would like to use, the transdisciplinary approach, is organized around student questions and concerns. It focuses on the theme as an end goal, where the disciplines are used as a way to achieve that end learning. Project-Based Learning (PBL) is a good example of a transdisciplinary approach. The theme in a PBL unit might be designing a better parking lot for the school after a fender bender during pick-up hours. In this service-learning type project, students would need to use math, science, literacy, and social skills (among others) to plan and present a new design. Meanwhile they would be implementing these skills in an authentic, real-life situation that will have real results, and afterward would reflect on the process and the effect of their work. In this type of work, students are the producers of knowledge rather than consumers. They see a problem, think of a solution, and produce the work involved to make that solution happen. The teachers are guides as the students ask questions that become the center of the curriculum. During this process, teachers can incorporate many subjects into their project as they come up, allowing for implicit prac

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Figure 3: Transdisciplinary Approach

tice of each of the subject areas. Something that I would have to keep in mind if I were to use PBL in my classroom, though, is that it can’t take up the entire day, as I would need to explicitly teach subjects. This might be where the multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary approaches come in. I can still connect these subjects (for example, literacy or math) to our project or to each other, but will need to make sure my students have the basic tools they will need to use for their project.

I think a combination of these three types of integrated curriculum, adjusted based on the class and the learners in it, will help me teach students to use their academic skills outside the classroom and work toward becoming citizens of their communities and world. Realistically, though I like PBL learning and actually went to a PBL high school, it may not be something I can tackle in my first year without experience first. I hope to be able to integrate my curriculum in other ways using a central theme, and perhaps have smaller projects related to that theme. In this way I will bring PBL and integrated curriculum into my classroom.

Drake, S., and Burns, R. (2004). Meeting standards through integrated curriculum. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Ellis, A., Stuen, C. (1998). The interdisciplinary curriculum. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.

Demonstrating Respect and Welcoming Students

5.1 Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport

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Figure 1

The learning environment is vital to classroom success in so many ways. To me, 5.1 means that teachers have created a classroom that is welcoming and friendly, often demonstrating caring and respect for each student as an individual. This also means that students are respectful to the teacher, as it goes both ways. During my Professional Issues class, my group and I discussed what it takes for the teacher to create this type of learning environment, as shown in Figure 1. This discussion was based on readings and prior discourse in class and through our group blog. It shows that I am building an understanding of what it means for teachers to create an environment of respect and rapport, and am constantly questioning and trying to learn from reflection and the reflection of others. It also allows for accommodating new ideas and integrating them into my personal philosophy of education. Because of this, I feel that I am more confident in my ability to create a welcoming environment for all students, and I can learn from others’ mistakes. While it will not stop me from making my own mistakes, I feel that by reflecting on the work of my mentor teacher and the readings from this class I can establish a learning environment that has respect for both teacher and students. This will only benefit my

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Figure 2

students and myself. As my work thus far has been all in theory, I think that next steps will be to speak with more teachers on this subject, then use my new knowledge to implement strategies in the classroom to build rapport. One of these ideas might be from my mentor teacher, shown in Figure 2. She had “positive thoughts” for each student to choose and carry to their desk every day, letting them pick which one they wanted to focus on. Even small ideas such as this can be implemented easily and inexpensively, and are steps toward my goal of an environment of respect and rapport.

Religion and Morals in the Classroom

During my reading of Taking Religion Seriously Across the Curriculum, I was most interested in the portion of chapter two that discussed “natural inclusion” of religion into the regular curriculum, or in other words, discussing religion whenever it naturally comes up. Though the article pointed out many difficulties of this—namely that most people don’t see the connection between the subject they teach and religion, even if they are themselves religions—I think it is an important idea. Historically, religion played a big part in the development of our country and culture, and the world. Almost every single war had some sort of religious influence, for example (think Crusades or the Iraq war—two quick and obvious examples, one from history and one current). Our own pledge of allegiance contains the hotly debated phrase “under God” and is often spoken by teachers and students with no thought to what it actually means or why that phrase is in the pledge in the first place. The concept of zero comes from Muslim mathematician Al’Khwarizmi, whose name is where we get algorithm from, and who wrote the first book of algebra (called Al-Jabr). All of these are examples of places where religion comes up or is mentioned, and all are places where we as teachers could include religion in our normal curriculum. When teaching preschool, one of the things I tried to do was to include every major religious holiday in my curriculum, and we celebrated them all and learned about them. I also tried to use examples of multicultural people and dress types in the materials I created, which included traditional or religious garb for some of the images I used. This continuous exposure for the kids was intended to be a way to help them understand that there are many other cultures and religions out there aside from their own (and I had a pretty multicultural class, which helped with that understanding), and that regardless of someone else’s beliefs these differences are both normal and worthy of respect. I was in 6th grade when the 9/11 attacks occurred, and I’d had no idea that there was even another religion besides Christianity and Judaism. It was so far from my own cultural upbringing that I did not understand what Islam was, and I was fearful of the clothing worn by Muslims and contributed to the cultural fear and hatred that still prevails. I think that had I been given opportunities as a child to understand Islam (which I learned about later in middle school, at which point it was a little late in my opinion), or any other religion that I was not familiar with, I would have been far more accepting as a young adult and even now as a teacher-to-be. Because of this experience, I think that it is my job to find these instances of religion in the classroom whenever I can and explain the connection between my subject matter and its religious background (and though history isn’t the only place religion shows up, it’s the most obvious…I think it’s also my job to figure out how religion relates to current topics too!).

Another place religion shows up in education is the teaching of values, which we have discussed a lot in this course. Many values that are upheld by the US are also commonly thought of as religions values, such as honesty, kindness, respect for others, their lives, and their possessions, etc. These are also found in the Ten Commandments (thou shalt not steal, murder, covet) and in the Sermon on the Mount (Blessed are the humble, the pure in heart, the peacemakers). In Islam, generosity is valued, as is the preservation of life and family (among other things). When teaching these values in school—which many people agree is necessary, including myself—we can make these connections between the value, different religions they might be seen in or come from, and how it can affect ourselves and others. Having students discuss the why of the value might help them to understand the true value of practicing it in their lives.

Nord, W. A., Haynes, C. C. (1998). Taking religion seriously across the curriculum. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/198190.aspx