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Integrated Curriculum in a Standards-Based World

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  • 1. What is integrated curriculum?Integrated curriculum has been around for a long time and has had manydifferent names. It is a sophisticated interdisciplinary unit that goes beyondcommon parallel units (studying the Industrial Revolution in SS while readingA Christmas Carol in language arts) because it fuses all subject areas, student-centered learning, service learning, and problem-based learning whilegiving students the opportunity to let their choices drive the curriculum. Thefollowing are links to others definitions of integrated curriculum: http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/103011/chapters/What-Is- Integrated-Curriculum%C2%A2.aspx http://www.archeworks.org/projects/tcsp/ic_guide_p2.htmlFurthermore, this instructional model is endorsed by the National MiddleSchool Association in its formal statement about integrated curriculum ashaving benefits that both meet and exceed national, state, and localstandards. http://www.amle.org/AboutNMSA/PositionStatements/CurriculumInteg ration/tabid/282/Default.aspxHow is integrated curriculum different from what I already do withinterdisciplinary units?What makes integrated curriculum different is that it is completely student-centered. Students decide what to study, how to study it, how to present whatthey learn, and what to do with what they learn. Integrated curriculumcompletely differentiates instruction for each child in your classroom, nomatter the level of his or her functioning. (We have used this model todifferentiate instruction for children ranging from students taking the NCExtend 2 to those identified as gifted and everything in between, literally inthe same classroom.) Furthermore, integrated curriculum naturally mimicsthe human problem-solving process that people use in real life instead ofartificially compartmentalizing problems into discreet academic areas as wetend to do in school. Rarely in real life does a problem occur that can besolved using a single academic discipline. Reality is more complicated. Forexample, my furnace is inefficient and I have decided that I need a secondaryheat source for my house. I will get on the internet and research various typesof products. I will weigh the benefits of propane versus electric fireplacesand look at the merits of pellet stoves. I will have to figure out how muchpollution is involved because I dont want byproducts causing breathingproblems for my children. I will have to decide how expensive each unit is aswell as the operating costs for each. Furthermore, which option will best meet
  • 2. my needs in the area in which I live? I will talk to sales representatives,people who use various types of heating, and decide what price point makesme feel comfortable. Then, I will shop for the best deal when I purchase theitem of my choice as well as when I have it installed. In doing so, I havecovered math, science, social studies, and language arts. The method that Ihave used to solve this problem, because I have internalized the problemsolving process, provides for maximum understanding and a feeling ofsatisfaction because I have made the best decision for myself and my family.From a teachers perspective, integrated curriculum is powerful because itempowers students to take control of their own learning while giving them thetools to be successful in the classroom and in life. The process involvesproblem solving, time management, goal setting, and metacognition as wellas a myriad of other skills. For individuals who look for data and provenresults, it is research-based and endorsed by the Association for Middle LevelEducation (formerly the National Middle School Association). Best of all, whenintegrated curriculum works it results in students who are self-motivated andeager to learn without sacrificing test scores.The ProcessWhen students use their own interests to drive the curriculum, it meansmaximum engagement in the classroom. What motivates each child isdifferent. 1. Start with student questionsanything they have ever wondered about. Take down their questions without judgment. (Students may need some help rewording their questions as we add them to a class and/or team list of questions.) This part of the process may take a part of several class periods, but is essential in piquing student interest and in laying the foundation for the integrated curriculum process. 2. With student help, decide what questions merit academic study. Only keep questions that cannot be answered with yes/no or through a simple internet search. Teachers guide the process, but students vote and defend choices, helping decide criteria that will determine what stays and having a voice in the final outcome. 3. Each student decides from the revised list what he or she would like to study. (At various times, students either work independently or in fluid groups formed by similar interests.) 4. Decide on a theme of study. We find it easy to either look at an area of the world or a particular important event and focus student questions toward studying that theme. This is the part that students may or may not have a say, and you might not want to reveal this aspect until you reveal the following step to students. 5. Heres the hard partthe Standard Course of Study (SCOS). We give students color-coded copies of the math, science, social studies, and language arts SCOS and help them to word things in kid-friendly
  • 3. language. We teach them what the SCOS is, help them to understand that these are the standards to which teachers and students are held accountable, and we then help them to tie their topics to each SCOS in some way. This also involves tweaking their initial questions to apply to each SCOS, and perhaps even looking at the standards for other academic disciplines as well such as art, music, health, or other exploratory classes. For example, if a student wants to study baseball, he or she may need to look at whether or not baseball is popular in other areas of the world why or why not?-as part of the social studies curriculum. In science, they might look at forces as they study what can affect pitch velocity and bat speed. In math, they might calculate the percent of change in pitch velocity caused by humidity levels. Language arts would be the research process in which they find sources and work together to read and comprehend these sources as well as the presentation of what they have learned. This might need to be expanded as students research their questions because what they learn often sparks more questions. They might also want to look at what is so mystical about baseball that it sparks so many Hollywood movies, and whether or not there are other sports that have a similar impact in other areas of the world. Once students and teachers understand how to make connections between the disciplines, the only limits are individuals creativity and the ability to find information about a topic.6. Research. A. Common baseline of knowledge. In order to provide an anchor for scaffolding and a context in which to frame learning, it is important that all students share a common baseline of knowledge on which to build their individual experiences. For example, when studying WWII, students might have a guest speaker who was a soldier during the war, a video segment that provides information about differences on the European and Pacific fronts, a simulation in which students must decide in a given situation whether or not to use nuclear weapons, or even a buffet of MREs in which students learn first hand about the hardships of basic survival on the front lines. Teacher-generated resources. These can be handled in individual classes or as an entire team. Each teacher uses resources that relate to his or her area of expertise and relates that expertise to the general theme of the unit of study. This may look more like parallel interdisciplinary units within each classroom at this point, or it may be the use of multiple types of resources within one classroom. It also may involve instructional practices such as Socratic seminars, debates, simulations, and problem-based learning modules.
  • 4. Student-generated resources. Depending on the topic, students brainstorm possible resources within the community. For example, if we have decided to focus student interest through the context of looking at Africa, we might have students brainstorm a list of resources such as people they know who have visited Africa, and then assign responsibilities to contact those individuals to see who would be willing to share their experiences with students. These resources may be used by the entire class, or just by a group or individual who is focusing on a particular area of study. Sometimes students have access to other resource materials as well and do not mind sharing personal books and materials with other students, though we caution students about the hazards of loaning out their personal property.B. Individual Research. The most important resource that we have found is not one of the usual sources for curriculum, because standard curriculu

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