One of the greatest benefits that a solid curriculum can provide to students is a thoughtfully connected pathway between different disciplines. Interdisciplinary study has many benefits, including helping students to see their world in a broader way and to find ways to connect their personal interests across different fields of study.
Because of these benefits, many educators are turning to interdisciplinary curriculum approaches as a means to incorporate Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) principles into courses across the disciplines.
Challenges of Interdisciplinary Approaches
While these interdisciplinary approaches come from a great motivation, they are also more difficult to pull together than a traditional curriculum. In particular, interdisciplinary approaches often fall victim to two major issues (as explained by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) that need to be understood and addressed if the approach is to be successful.
- The first is the “Potpourri Approach,” which criticizes interdisciplinary curricula that pull several pieces from many disciplines without fully contextualizing or connecting any of them. Rather than a synthesized course of study, students end up with a bowl of potpourri: several disconnected elements that will never blend together in a way that helps them understand the big picture.
- The second is that interdisciplinary approaches can devolve into a kind of turf war for the instructors collaborating to create them. This “Polarity Issue” can make it difficult for true interdisciplinary approaches because the disciplines begin to be presented as a dichotomy rather than a back-and-forth experience.
Successful STEM/STEAM Integration
With the challenges of interdisciplinary approaches in mind, educators who want to capitalize on the benefits of incorporating STEM/STEAM lessons across the disciplines can be careful to avoid these pitfalls.
First and foremost, interdisciplinary approaches require open and transactional communication between educators from each of the representative fields. In this way, educators can be sure that they are adequately covering the material in a way that makes the connections between the disciplines thorough, accurate, and meaningful.
Secondly, successful STEM/STEAM integration requires a solidly planned overarching curriculum that will allow educators in different fields to understand how and when particular themes and topics will be introduced. It can be confusing to students to see an integrated science lesson in, say, their history class if they have not yet covered that topic in their science class. By having a strongly aligned plan, educators can work together to ensure that students see connections in a way that is relevant and meaningful to their experiences.
Examples of Successful STEM/STEAM Integration
There are many classrooms and schools that are successfully integrating STEM/STEAM learning outcomes into different disciplines. Taking a closer look at these projects can provide inspiration and guidelines.
- High Tech High’s Guidebook– The students of High Tech High in San Diego put together a collaborative guidebook that required the use of science, writing, and humanities in order to create a real, usable final product that is now available to the public.
- E. and Math- This example provides a way to combine math and physical education for elementary students so that they come away from the lesson with both a stronger understanding of mathematics principles and the physical benefits of their P.E. lesson.
- Interdisciplinary Classes– Edgewood Middle School creates a separate class with an overarching question where students are able to meet once a week and work on a long-term project that combines many disciplinary approaches.
Whether you are creating an entirely new curriculum or refreshing your current one, this is an excellent opportunity to consider ways to integrate STEM/STEAM lessons across the disciplines.