When my students take the GED Ready Test for Social Studies or Science, I hand them a calculator. Their first response is, “Why do I need a calculator for the Social Studies/Science test?” I explain to them that there is Mathematics in Social Studies and Science. Inevitably, they say “That’s dumb.” Therein lies the biggest challenge in interdisciplinary projects.
Education has done a disservice to students by separating learning into disciplinary courses. In real life, scientists, engineers, archaeologists – anyone and everyone – uses skills learned in all courses in an interconnected way. Students, however, if they have never been exposed to this, don’t see that connection (this helps explains why students in Algebra have trouble conceiving letters as numbers). Once students begin working on interdisciplinary projects, they will begin to make those connections (a relief for the Math teacher who tires of the question, ‘why do I need to know this?’). If students are exposed at an earlier age to this process, it will be more natural for them as they age. The longer the delay, the harder it will be to reshape their ways of thinking what is a Math/English/Social Studies/Science class.
A second challenge is from educators themselves who may have never taught this way before. Like the students, you are taking them out of their comfort zone and they may resist. As a Math teacher, I can teach about numbers, but when it comes to English, I don’t teach too “good”. But, in an interdisciplinary approach, I don’t have to teach English. I will work with a team providing the students with the mathematical education they need to successfully complete the project. Working with fellow teachers, especially those outside our field, can be another new and rewarding experience. As a team member, you will be designing and implementing a curriculum together. You will have peers to discuss ideas with (similar to most business environments) and develop a stronger plan. An added benefit is that the students will see teachers working together, modeling how to collaborate.
Currently, my school is not a traditional one. We do not have courses like a high school. When it comes to academic education, we are focused on basic skills and credit recovery or high school equivalency. I am the only GED teacher. I am responsible for educating my students in all four GED subjects. Our high school diploma programs are through established online diploma programs. We don’t have any say in curriculum. In order to implement an interdisciplinary approach, it would require a radical change in thinking at our administrative level – something that I don’t foresee happening. Unfortunately, our students, many who have been failed by the traditional approach to teaching, would benefit greatly from an interdisciplinary curriculum. They are in dire need of 21st century skills in collaboration and communication and yet we focus on getting them to pass the GED (or obtained their diploma) just so we can meet our quotas.