Saturday, 25 June 2016

Making connections across learning areas - messy and engaging.

Interdisciplinary connections between subject areas might seem innovative and new as seen in Hobsonville Point Secondary School but it is something primary school teachers have been experimenting with for years. The only way to fit everything in, at a depth that makes learning purposeful and interesting, is to mix it all up together like it happens in life!

But how do we define Interdisciplinary teaching? Mathison and Freeman (1997) suggest the purpose is to enhance learning by having two or more subjects work in together to help make the connections. They suggest that the interdisciplimnary approach is more teacher driven, an intergrate approach is inquiry driven and the intergrative approach is about sharing student and teacher ideas to co-construct the curriculum. The basis of all of these approaches is to make connections between learning areas and apply skills across different contexts.

Interdisciplinary connection map:

My interdisciplinary connection map is totally different from those of other Mindlab students because I have focussed on aspects I am so passionate about that they seep into everything I do as a teacher.

I love utilizing digital technologies for learning to scaffold student success. They allow students to create and share their learning as digital citizens with an understanding of the strengths and challenges involved in working ‘online’.

Being the Enviro School lead teacher has a huge impact on how I do everything. The five guiding principles are that of empowering students to take action for real change, teaching and learning for sustainability, honouring Māori perspectives, respecting the diversity of people and cultures and developing the skills in our students that will nurture both people and nature as a sustainable community. These Enviroschool principles tie in with my passion for Te Reo, raranga (flax weaving), Māori tikanga and empowering students to be independent change-makers.

My focus is to develop independence in learning and developing the Key Competencies so my students have the necessary skills for participating in the challenges of the 21st Century.  A key component of this is self reflection, unpacking the metacognition behind their learning which will help them develop as a self directed learner. (Ministry of Education 2016)

Topmost in my mind is the way the Feuerstein Method has changed my teaching. I focus on unpacking - cognitive functions into manageable chunks, mediate learning by asking those challenging questions that help students identify effective strategies, while making connections from learning to other contexts and the real world. I believe that every student is modifiable and feel that it is my responsibility to give them the skills they need to grow. (Feuerstein 2010)

Finally, I strive to make learning engaging, for a purpose and social. We co-create learning as we struggle with an inquiry or problem based learning which requires us to use all of our skills and make connections across the curriculum areas.

Identify two of the potential connections from your map as your near future goals:
In the challenge of fitting everything onto the page in my map, I forgot to mention the possible future steps.....

1. Make closer links with the Marae and local Māori community. I hope to return to studying raranga (flax weaving) in 2017, which will continue to build my relationships within tthe Māori community, but also need to look at ways to make my teaching even more culturally responsive. One way is to take more of an active role in my local marae so that I can build relationships and incorporate these into my classroom.

2. Unpack the effect of Feuerstein amongst our learners. This will take the form of carrying out my research project, supporting new other teachers from the school in their training and developing a bank of resources that can be used in implementing this amazing method. This will also require further training over the next few years, so that I can teach the full range of enrichment tasks within our school Dynamic Thinking programme, while also embedding the approach across the curriculum with the aim of providing Equity for all’. (Ministry of Education 2016, NEG 2).

The beneifts of making connections:

Feuerstein states that teaching specific cognitive functions should be done repeatedly and in isolation so it can then be embedded in a task. His key focus is to always make those connections between the strategy and where in the world it was being used. This is fine for an intense cognitive function programme but I believe that it is more motivating if the 'need' for learning arises from an authentic learning opportunity. This results in....

  • clear connections being made between subjects, strategies and encourages application into new contexts
  • more complex and challenging isssues can be unpacked - in depth rather than superficial 'coverage'
  • collaboration as a focus, using creativity, communication, problem solving and critical thinking to socially co-construct knowledge
  • authentic lines of inquiry engage and inspire students
  • student interest and voice leads the direction of inquiry or problem soving challenge
  • learning being fresh and interesting because it is driven by student interests

The challenges of interdisciplinary connections:

Uncertainity of planning:
These issues tend to sit with the teacher. Are they prepared to 'back-plan' or cope with the uncertainty of not having the planning completed for the term? Relying on student imput takes the control away from the teacher and requires flexibility. 

Curriculum hour blocks:

The other current issue I can see in primary school is moving away from specific subject blocks. While we might be using reading or writing to support the inquiry or project based leawrning - why do we need to separate the day into 1 hour sections? Breaking down these barriers is fine in a single cell classroom but how do you manage three teachers and 90 students in the mix?

Tracking and assessment:

If the subject blocks are removed and we focus on 'Integrated Learning' how do you check that each subject recieves an appropriate amount of time, track the learning in separate subjects and keep it sorted in your own mind? How then do you explain this to parents who are set in the traditional apporach of hour blocks?

It is obvious that real life does not fit into small clearly labelled sections but is messy and skills from one part of life are always applied to other areas. This is the life we are preparing our students to thrive in. Lets give them the skills they need!


Feuerstein, R., Feuerstein, R. S., & Falik, L. H. (2010). Beyond smarter: Mediated learning and the brain's capacity for change. New York: Teachers College Press. 

Hipkins, R., Bolstad, R., Boyd, S., & McDowall, S. (2014). Key competencies for the future. New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) Press.

Lacoe Edu (2014, Oct 24) Interdisciplinary Learning [video file]. Retrieved from
Ministiry of Education, Key Competencies. 26.6.16 uploaded. 
TEDx Talks (2001, April 6). TEDxBYU - David Wiley - An interdisciplinary path to innovation. [video file].Retrieved from 


  1. Hi I loved your mindmap. It is clear that Environschools and Feuerstein is very close to your heart. I was interested in your thoughts around removing the subject silos and time limits in primary schools. This is the same challenge I have in my school, the lack of flexibility with time and access to resources. It makes it challenging to undertake new ideas or redesign units of work when you are working in a traditional system of one hour blocks. They also move into a system in Year 11 that has compartmentalised information even with a subject into standards and their parents have an expectation that they will be taught in a similar way up to Year 11 . Multiply this by 90 students sounds like this might become even more of a challenge!! is your school looking at any serious timetable overhauls???

    1. Not any serious overhalls but we work as a team of two and could make some big changes just between the two of us. We are limited by needing 3 1hr sessions of Feuerstein in the week that are separate sessions.

      We are struggling with developing independence in our students and this next term will be focussed on building independent learners so we can give them lots more choice. We are looking at developing SOLO based levels that come with corresponding levels of choice e.g. working in the library, planning your timetable for the day....
      I'll let you know how it goes. :)

  2. Hi Allana. I agree with your statement about it being easier to move away from subject blocks when teaching in a single-cell, like I do. As we are moving towards co-teaching arrangements next year in our school, I think we'll be facing the challenges that you raise about having timetable flexibility with more teachers and students in the mix together. Actually all of the challenges you mention will be things we need to address, so thanks for highlighting them!

  3. Hi Allana,
    Wow - lots of food for thought in this post. First of all, I too loved your diagram. It showed such clarity in your thinking and a clear direction for where you want to head. I was particularly inspired by your mention of the Feuerstein method. This is something I am not too familiar with, but after reading your post I really want to learn more about it! I'll follow your reference that you sited - but would also be keen to catch up for a coffee at some stage to learn more :)

  4. Mandy - Feuerstein is an amazing programme that ont only supplies a range of enrighment activities but a whole belief system about that fact that all children are modifiable. Given the chance and the right experiences, we can make a difference to everyone.

    I love that this programme has changed the way I teach and has given me permission to do the most amazing and exciting things to teach a strategy or cognitive function - like building marble runs to identify errors before you set the marble off.

    It also makes you focus on using the correct language of learning like - planning behaviour, testing your hypothesis, not being impulsive or increasing your mental field (ability to hold information in your head). When we unpack and use this language, it allows the teacher to pinpoint the issue and students start using it too. Knowing the word 'impulsivity' and having unpacked the language using embedding activities gives students a deep understanding and allows them to begin to apply this knowledge to other parts of their learning.

    Definately something to check out if you want to impact those kids that have all the amazing ideas but just can't get them on paper or can't organize themselves out of a box!


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