Integration Matters at Secondary: A Brain Based Approach to Interdisciplinary Units

    I must Create a System,

Or be enslav ’d by another Man’s.

I will not Reason and Compare,

My business is to Create.  (William Blake)

Bring up the topic of integration at secondary and increasingly faculty admit it can not only be done, but it awakens a spirit of possibility across a school community. The driving force? Mental fuels of serotonin drive teams to discover hidden and unused talents in themselves and in students.

Integration Matters BlogFew “cannot-complaints” linger amidst themes, entry-points, and cross-curriculum initiatives rolled into tasks that enthuse students, parents and faculty.  Teams design and showcase innovations to optimize the brain’s plasticity (ability to change) and thereby fuel a new zest to achieve together – across differences.

Obstacles to Overcome

We often encounter initial obstacles to community- building across differences in upper levels. “Nobody’s in charge,” one man feared. “Learning becomes haphazard,” another AP instructor worried. Nothing is farther from the truth when we craft original products and apply content.

Power Shifts Across Differences

Autonomy grew when volunteers across secondary English, Math, Social Studies and Science, shared leadership at every level. Our deliberate autonomy-shift stokes faculty talents, and passes on to their students, who then facilitate student-run celebrations of innovation to conclude each unit. See how facilitators let go, so that faculty, students and parents took over!

LIGHT – Our School-Wide Theme

We gathered volunteers from each discipline to identify a shared hook, and agreed that Plato’s Cave or LIGHT would integrate all four disciples.

Next, we passed a talking stick to ensure all faculty found openings to propose unique springboards and find support as we shaped our interdisciplinary approach. We offered student-ready brain based tasks to help busy faculty launch our common theme – LIGHT.

Mathematics faculty started on the premise that it’s harder for math. Other faculty disagreed – and before long faculty offered LIGHT-themed tasks. Lessons for rays, angles and lines surfaced. Mathematical laws were related to light and to a proposal for a magnification invention. One teacher showed how photography offered tasks to teach both math and light in symbiotic tasks.

When science faculty led our idea-gathering, we sketched graphic organizers on the board for lessons on the human eye, solar power and mirrors. Several suggested assessment tasks to share between science and math and our team soon began to sizzle in new directions.

English faculty read passages from, “Light a Single Candle” to show how atmosphere and mood relate to light. Students would interact with former colleagues of mine in the high arctic where light goes missing for months at a time. That decision led to suggestions for metaphors commonly used to describe light – and a rhetorical device baseball game was added to the mix.

Social Studies faculty led by firing ideas out faster than we could record them. The Renaissance and enlightenment became foundation to their segment of our unit. We agreed that Social Studies lessons would relate more to teens if they included individual revelations. That led to a shared celebration of innovation plan, and rubrics were created to grade innovations together with intelligence-fair criteria negotiated with students.Brains-integrate

What would awaken that spirit of possibility and build life-changing innovations across your school community?

EllenBrain7 (1)This post illustrates one integrated unit among many Ellen facilitates currently in several countries.  Units include grades  7 through graduate school at university.  Team leadership and complete autonomy is shared in similar ways with all participants, so celebrations of innovation designs differ from team to team.


2 thoughts on “Integration Matters at Secondary: A Brain Based Approach to Interdisciplinary Units

  1. This is really interesting to me, Ellen. I taught middle school for six years before becoming a high school English teacher, and I often miss the team approach that is used at the middle school level! I remember that we had an “Ancient Greece” day and each content area taught a lesson on the designated day that related to the topic. Unfortunately, scheduling logistics often interfere with our teaming efforts in high school, but recently our social studies teachers and English teachers have been trying to find more connections. Thanks for sharing how a school integrated the thematic idea of “light” in your post.

    • Thanks for your kind words Kim. As a system, we are having a tougher time moving to integrate well in upper grades partly because the lecture is still the main tool used to “deliver” facts there. But that’s changing — and it’s brilliant leaders like you who will spark and sustain refreshing changes. My 30 years in learning renewal was the ride of a lifetime!

      Thanks to enthusiasm and talents of students, I even integrate seamlessly now at university classes and even in graduate school where I teach a course called – LEAD INNOVATION WITH THE BRAIN IN MIND. Students love it and we do a celebration of innovation as our final exam — where they showcase the evidence of their entire course work and engage the wider community in their possibilities to solve a problem they addressed. We build the rubric together and it’s a blast!

      Hundreds show up to engage the graduate students — and many of these are family and close friends – who tell me they’ve never been engaged in higher education issues with their child or friend before. It works — and many are showing us how to start in ways that lead us into a new era:-) Hope today’s integration brings you unexpected melodies! Best, Ellen

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