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The Power of Connecting Learning Between Disciplines

Written by Barclay Lelievre, Deputy Head of School and Director of Teaching & Learning at SCIS Hongqiao 

One of the downsides of progressing through education is an increasing tendency towards the siloing of knowledge and skills into different disciplines and subjects. In fact, the word “subject” comes from the Latin word “bring under”, in essence constructing an umbrella under which we sometimes arbitrarily place certain approaches, knowledge, and ways of thinking.  

If you think back to when you were younger, you might remember a more holistic approach to learning where you were able to explore and find all kinds of connections naturally between things you were learning.  

The International Baccalaureate (IB) recognizes the power of making connections between ideas and concepts across different disciplines and students who learn this way can take the knowledge and skills they’ve learned in one discipline and connect it to their learning in other subjects. They see how this approach can not only deepen the impact of the learning experience but can have the effect of creating new knowledge – something that could not be achieved by looking at a problem or an idea from only one frame of disciplinary reference.  

As such, the IB Middle Years Program (MYP) makes schools responsible for engaging students in at least one collaboratively planned unit – a so-called Interdisciplinary Unit or IDU – that involves at least two subjects, in each of the five years of the program.  

As you may know, every year we carve out a very valuable week of instructional time to have students engage in interdisciplinary learning. These are often project-based and involve really interesting subject connections as the disciplinary grounding for interdisciplinary learning.  

Students are then assessed against a set of IDU Rubrics (scaled up, as with all subjects, in expectations and depth from Year 1 to Year 5) and this appears on a student’s report card at the end of the final reporting period in June.  

But these IDUs would not be anything without the weeks and months of preparation that goes into planning them. Teachers work in subject and grade-level teams to support and foster connections and interdisciplinary learning.  

In Grade 10, students are inquired into the nature of leadership to create a website to consolidate their understanding of their current or future style of leadership by making connections between Physical and Health Education (PHE) (leadership) and Individuals and Societies (historical leaders).  

In Grade 9, students are arranged into service-oriented interdisciplinary learning between IAS and the Arts, engaging with JEDI (Justice, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) Issues and creating a graphic novel/comic to share their message.  

Grade 8 students experience a Science/PHE IDU that analyzes sports performance using the scientific method and created videos to coach and improve their skills.  

Math and Design students in Grade 7 are focused on the testing of logic puzzles using mathematical knowledge and skills in design.  

And finally, Grade 6 students are inquired into the concept of identity by reading children’s books in their mother tongue along with an artistic interpretation of the book to Lower School students as a means of sharing their culture and highlighting the importance of the books.  

MYP Week and the IDUs that were carried out were highly successful, and it cemented our belief in the power of interdisciplinary learning in encouraging mental flexibility, collaboration and communication, problem-solving skills, deeper understanding, and the cultivation of interdisciplinary thinking habits.  

It also prepares our students for graduate and professional studies and for inspiring careers in new and emerging fields. 

SCIS. Connecting Learning.

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