Course Meta-Reflection

Throughout this course, we have discussed the possibilities of an integrated curriculum and its effects on student learning. I have been interested in the idea, but have felt that while it would be beneficial to students, it is a challenge for teachers to create and implement an integrated curriculum. In my internship, I have had opportunities to explore some of these possibilities, and while I still am unsure about whether creating such a curriculum is practical as far as time goes for teachers, I think that it is something I’d like to try in my own teaching.

While teaching the lessons I wrote for this class in my internship, I was able to see first-hand student growth and learning. Students were noticeably engaged and still talk about the lessons, even identifying the shapes we learned in our art lesson in other art forms. Had I been given an opportunity to, I think that our unit on Pacific Northwest Coast peoples would have been benefited from a field trip to Burke Museum. Students could have seen and experienced far more than my photos of the art and their own drawings, making their learning experiential and engaging. Tomorrow, they will be given the opportunity to read about the early plateau people, and we will be connecting this learning to our measurement unit in math. They will measure a length of our playground and calculate how many times they would need to walk its length in order to walk a mile so they can experience for themselves how far a mile is. This is in connection with a people who walked for miles each day.

During this course, I have reflected on the complexities and difficulties of creating an integrated curriculum in my classroom, especially with the Common Core State Standards and the SBAC standardized testing coming up. At times I have felt that it is too challenging, especially for my first year in teaching, and at other times I feel that it is the only way to really teach kids. I am curious about whether a hybrid of “regular” teaching along with teaching integrated units-that is, integrating them as often as I can but not necessarily always-would work. Perhaps this is what I shall try. For now, I am excited about our combination math and social studies lesson tomorrow, and will hope for the best.


Student-Centered Project Based Learning

When I was in high school, my classes were all oriented around a theme (which changed every quarter), which we used as a focus for all of our learning. Even in subjects like math and literacy, our learning was focused on a theme (the environment, inventions, commerce, etc.). We designed projects according to these themes, and connected our learning across all subjects. Without realizing it, I had gone to a school with an integrated curriculum, which was reached through project-based learning (PBL).

I didn’t realize it at the time (in fact, I didn’t realize it until I started taking classes about PBL and integrated curriculum) mainly because no one ever told me that this was what we were doing. I didn’t know what standards were or that I was supposed to meet them, I didn’t understand the work my teachers put into integrating our curriculum, and I didn’t understand the purpose of it. I just floated through, not really knowing or caring why I was being taught the way I was. Reflecting on this, I think that one of the things that could have made my learning more powerful was if I had known what the standards were that I was trying to meet, and if I had been able to help design some of the themes and curricula myself (or collaboratively with my class).

Newsome Park Elementary School in Virginia had some success with this type of model, where students help design the work they will be involved in. They designed a curriculum that “blends authentic, real-world experiences with rigorous academic study” (Drake and Burns, 2004), but to do so the teachers guided the students to a shared learning experience through a three-phase process. Phase one is for planning, two is for fieldwork, and three is for sharing the learning. Students were involved in all three aspects of these phases, allowing for a more enriching learning experience, even in elementary school! Students and teachers alike reflected on the experience and they found that it was a positive experience for everyone, despite the extra time it took on the teachers’ parts. I think that despite the time, it could be incredibly beneficial to everyone to incorporate students into the planning process and to include them in their own learning. The PBL part of my high school stopped after only 6 years of operation, mainly because the teachers were burnt out from all the extra time it took (among other things). Hopefully, with students involved, that would lower the likelihood of something similar happening in other PBL schools.

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

Using Standards to Write an Integrated Curriculum

The reading this week addressed many of the concerns I had when I was writing for last week’s blog post. I had wondered about how to find a common thread and plan for an integrated curriculum, especially with regard to the standards and the SBAC. One of the suggestions  in our textbook was to first find a common thread running through the standards (Drake and Burns, 2004). In their example, the teachers found that many of the standards across multiple subjects promoted similar research skills, and they were able to apply these to their theme, which was medieval times. I am now wondering if this can be applied to any grade and any theme.

They also suggested presenting the curriculum as a whole, but addressing each subject area separately for report card grading. For example, though they may be writing about how the people of the time were similar or different from the people of our time, and were learning research skills to do so, the writing itself is what the teachers would score for report cards. Their evaluation was an engaging and fun medieval fair that other classes were also invited to, and was something the students knew would be happening at the beginning of the unit.

What’s interesting to me is that academically, the students did very well, achieving standard or above standard across the board. They were learning both the content that the teachers thought was important, as well as the skills that were a part of standards. The students were also given chances to reflect on the work and show their higher-order thinking skills. Although the teachers were locked into their standards, they were in fact able to create an integrated curriculum that worked incredibly well for their students. I’d like to see one in action, especially one that uses Washington state standards.

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?

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.

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


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.


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


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.