Dr. Gereboff's Head Notes
I bet that most of you learned about graphs in mathematics or a statistics class. You studied negative and positive integers in a mathematics class, and the relationship of the earth, sun and weather patterns in a science class. Most likely, you covered the locations of countries and continents in a social studies class. I would assume that none of these different pieces of information were taught at the same time. While you ultimately learned all of these items, for some of you that “ah ha” moment of how these might be meaningful connections came as late as college. Many might have had no clue why it might be interesting or important to know these things – and you might still have difficulty in remembering locations around the world.
Research supports the notion that learning is strengthened when connections are made between previous knowledge and new learning (i.e. Judy Willis, Ignite, 2006). Willis notes that interconnected knowledge strengthens neural pathways supporting sustained learning rather than fleeting memorization. To maximize this, teaching should connect new learning to student’s prior knowledge, and make connections across different subject areas. This interdisciplinary approach to learning runs through the Common Core standards that our school adopted last year and was a part of our teaching prior to Common Core.
Yesterday, I observed a terrific example of how this concept defines learning at our school. Third grade recently completed a unit that connects mathematics with science and social studies. Students studied weather patterns (part of the earth science standards for 3rd grade) in different parts of the world. They noticed that some areas had daily temperatures in negative digits and others in positive. The class studied different ways to account for these weather patterns in terms of the positioning of the sun and the relationship of particular cities to the earth’s axis. They tracked daily temperatures, wind patterns, and precipitation for the month of January and graphed their results. Students produced bar graphs, line graphs and pictographs for their cities under study. Finally, they predicted what the weather pattern in that city might be at this same point in time next year. In twelve months, they will see how accurate these predictions were.
Just a few years ago, each of the parts of this lesson would have typically been taught in a more fragmented way – the graphs and negative numbers as part of a mathematics lesson, the location of the different countries belonging to social studies, and the weather patterns might have been covered in science class. Teaching in a connected way not only facilitates the strengthening of neural pathways, but also engages students by helping them see how knowledge is actually produced and used – something that they will need to do throughout their careers.
Wornick, we carry the connections one step further by using an overall curricula design model called Understanding by Design. In this, all learning is connected to an “enduring understanding” – something that will link the present learning to something they will see again in other aspects of their life at different points in time. The enduring understanding for the particular weather unit was that “the analysis of patterns of change facilitates the making of predictions.” Students will see this again in their analysis of novels, in future science experiments, history classes, and long beyond their time at Wornick.
Stop by and visit our bulletin boards to see some of the latest products of our interdisciplinary teaching.
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