For the better part of a century, educational theorists have been advocating for a more integrated and less “siloed” approach to learning. As American philosopher John Dewey pointed out during the Progressive Era, “We do not have a series of stratified earths, one of which is mathematical, another physical, another historical, and so on. All studies grow out of relations in the one great common world.”
Ralph Tyler, a major figure in 20th-century American education, described integration of subject areas as “the horizontal relationship of curriculum experiences,” and he considered such connections to be essential for student learning. His thinking was informed by his work on the landmark Eight-Year Study, which followed students from 30 secondary schools during the 1930s. Researchers found that students were well-served by high schools that organized content not by isolated subjects but around overarching themes that connected disciplines.
Heidi Hayes Jacobs, whose most recent book is Curriculum 21: Essential Education for a Changing World, has been making the case for interdisciplinary-curriculum design for more than two decades.
We simply do not function in a world where problems are discipline specific in regimented time blocks,” noted Jacobs in the 1989 publication Interdisciplinary Curriculum: Design and Implementation.
“The Logic of Interdisciplinary Studies,” a 1997 paper by Sandra Mathison and Melissa Freeman. The authors found a number of benefits for learners, including acquisition of life skills such as cooperation and problem solving, greater motivation and academic achievement, better attitudes toward learning, and opportunities for more meaningful relationships between students and teachers. What’s more, they found that integrated studies provides a sensible way to learn about a world of rapidly expanding and changing information.
“Standards are not simply individual tasks that students must perform separately in each discipline,” they argue.
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