Sunday, 16 October 2016

Interdisciplinary teaching and learning - fabulous or fantasy?

This is going to be the blog post that causes me the most difficulty, in terms of trying to find a positive, when really I want to throw my hands up and run away. I love the idea of interdisciplinary teaching, and the benefits that accompany this pedagogy, BUT I am also a realist. In senior Science subjects, it is uncommon even for collaboration between Biology, Physics and Chemistry on assessments, so crossing departmental boundaries presents even more of a problem. It seems we are a cliquey bunch...

This map shows connections I can see potentially happening. I've kept it limited to the other departments within the school; there are plenty of places connections can be made outside of the school, and as I described in a previous post, I have connections with all sorts of teachers, all over the world.

One area for potential development that I can see is with Social Sciences. In Science and especially Biology, there are several Socio-Scientific issues that are tackled. (EfS also falls under Science and has lots of crossover potential as well). Mathison and Freeman (1997) describe the Science, Technology, Society model of collaboration as a prime example of what can be achieved. Issues such as Global Warming and energy use could fall across several subjects - it is not uncommon to hear "we learned that in Social Science" in class. There are also several topics that are Science but also have ethical implications. Animal testing, cloning, stem cells, GE food, Xenotransplantation and even some of the Medical Science ideas cross over easily into Social Sciences.

Clearly, this is not going to be a quick and easy "we'll do this, you do that" kind of collaboration. In fact, while the advantages to cross - collaboration are many, there are equally many roadblocks that will prevent a project taking off. In fact, as Macleod - Mulligan and Kubon (2015) state "it can be difficult to begin or sustain such a partnership". An additional issue they note (and one which will really put paid to interdisciplinary learning) is the connection that the collaborating departments have to work through - time. They describe having one-hour meetings every week to discuss and track the collaboration, which would have teachers running for the hills. Who has an hour to spare each week? Squabbles about budgeting could shut this idea down quickly as well... Jones (2009) identifies time and curriculum integration as problematic as well. It seems this is going to take some thinking through.

The Junior Science scheme lends itself best to being used to set up some sort of collaborative venture, using something like Problem - Based Learning (PBL). It would have to be carefully planned and carried out, though, to ensure one department was not dominating proceedings, and so that equal importance was placed on each section of the learning. Budget holders will need to be placated to ensure equality of costings for materials used. The biggest issue of inter - disciplinary collaboration is the students themselves. Our students are in core classes in Year 9 making collaboration easier, but after that, not all students are taking the same subjects, or at the same time, meaning this will need a great deal of careful planning.


Jones, C.(2009). Interdisciplinary approach - Advantages, disadvantages, and the future benefits of interdisciplinary studies. ESSAI7 (26), 76-81. Retrieved from

Mathison, S., & Freeman, M. (1997). The logic of interdisciplinary studies. In Journal of Development Studies. Chicago.

MacLeod-Mulligan, L., & Kuban, A. . (2015, May). A Conceptual Model for Interdisciplinary Collaboration.