The Impact of Content-Based Interdisciplinary Units

(Note: This article is a sequel to our last article. Click here to read that one.)

The planning involved in creating concept-based interdisciplinary units is intense, so why would you bother? It may sound great in theory, but in practice, is it actually worth the work? This is a question I have asked myself on those late nights strewn with plans, but when I think of the fruit it has produced in the classroom I persist through the process. If you are finding yourself asking that same question without the fruit before you, let me share for a moment a real-life example that may help you stay the path.

One of our first-grade units is called the pattern of life. This unit encompasses learning about national and local symbols, where people work, how we use money, addition and subtraction basics, and how living things use patterns and practices to survive. It sounds like a lot to cover, and honestly if we focused on each standard one by one there is no way we could have mastered even a fraction of this material, but instead we combined the disciplines to create activities that the students would not soon forget.

In kindergarten, the students had walked around the neighborhood interviewing local businessmen and women about their jobs. So, with this experience under their belts, we took it one step further in first grade. We asked people to come speak to the students about their jobs and learned about the interview process, writing questions, and taking turns speaking. Then we made the step over to finance. Students were connecting that the work people do not only completes a good or service for the community but also provides an income for the worker’s family. How should that money be spent? If you have ever asked a child what they would do with $20, you are aware that they believe money will go much farther than it can in reality. So, armed with a budget we headed to the local supermarket to plan a class party.

Each student was in a small team, and they had planned a party for the class. Now they had to go to the store and put a price to each item they wanted to purchase for the party. With pencils and clipboards in hand, the students soon realized that their dreams of an extravagant party would not fit within their tight budget. Upon reflection back in the classroom, we were able to talk about how the adults in their lives work very hard to provide for them. The value of a dollar, or in this case a peso, came clearly into view. The students voted on the party they wanted most, and we were able to purchase those items within the budget and enjoy a class party, planned by them, later that week.

As we worked through this section of the unit, we had a few driving questions that integrated faith into the conversation. The questions were as follows:

  • What does God say about money? 
  • How can a budget help us to have integrity?
  • How has God uniquely created living things to meet their needs?

These target questions opened up doors to discovery and conversation about tithing, paying for needed expenses, and the value of working with integrity. These conversations among young children are priceless – especially when some of them will not hear this message in any other place. The final section of this unit was to focus on how people and animals meet their needs through biomimicry. It beautifully demonstrated once again that striving for striving’s sake is not biblical. As the Lord has provided for the flowers in the field and the birds of the air, so He provides for us.

This “Pattern of Life” unit was packed with math, science, writing, planning, and field trips, but the moments sitting in a circle around the carpet were the sweetest. Those were moments of candid conversation. I wish I could say that it was all innocent and endearing, but I had students whose lives were riddled with difficulty and knowledge too great for their little minds to process. Through this hands-on exploration of life in the classroom I heard their stories and wiped their tears. I answered big God-questions and checked off boxes on their report cards. In short, I set up a classroom of discovery and went on a journey with my students that none of us would easily forget.

Is the intense work of planning concept-based interdisciplinary units worth it? Absolutely! These units bring lessons and standards to life and allow students to see the connections throughout subjects that are often taught separately. Through them, students can explore big ideas that will impact not only their walk with God, but also how they live and relate to others.

Jessica Moulding
Head of School
Arbor Christian Academy, Dominican Republic

Photo Credits:
Community. Arbor Christian Academy, 2019
Visiting the Neighborhood. Arbor Christian Academy, 2018.
Field Trip. FATEB Kinshasa Academy, 2017.