As a PBL Trainer, I have had the opportunity to visit New Tech schools in Albany and Indiana where I have observed student learning in integrated courses. One course, Inventing America at Tech Valley High in Albany, stands out for me where English 11 and U.S. History teachers collaborate on project design and co-teach the curriculum. This course integrates skills and enduring understandings found in both disciplines. For example, one project from this course titled Brave New World asks students to answer the driving question, How does the culture imagined by Huxley in Brave New World compare to modern American culture? Another integrated course that comes to mind is BioLit, where students read science fiction novels and determine how science fiction influences scientific research. In this transdisciplinary approach to integrated, curriculum, teachers organize projects around student questions and concerns, which deepen students’ depth of understanding as well as adaptability to skills needed to succeed in our changing world.
As I walked through the New Tech classrooms, I observed students actively engaged in their learning. Some teams were engaged in a dialogue about a topic related to their project while others were involved in a discussion about how to proceed with the project. Individual students were reading silently while others were researching using the Internet. Teachers were coaching a team through the inquiry process or side-by-side with a single student requiring remediation. Needless to say, student learning in a project-based learning, integrated course looks and feels very different from a traditional, discipline-specific classroom.
In our PBL 101 training, I have seen many integrated projects rich in interdisciplinary content and skills, which is a step in the right direction. However, we believe it is not enough and we are ready to bring this concept to the next level in the form of PBL 102 beginning in July. PBL 102 is a course designed to assist ELA and Social Studies teachers and ELA and Science teachers in developing an integrated, project-based curriculum.
Ben Johnson in his Edutopia web article, Deeper Learning: Why Cross-Curricular Teaching is Essential, outlined requirements for successful course integration:
- It requires projects that engages the heart, mind and body of each student (and teacher)
- It requires enthusiastic teaching partners
- It requires intensive preparation where teachers prepare successful learning experiences that promote deep learning
- It requires teaching partners to create assessments that reflect mastery of learning objectives rather than mere assignment completion
Our PBL 102 trainers will provide guidance in unpacking and analyzing standards, skills, and concepts for each discipline; grouping and sequencing standards; generating enduring understandings; and formulating ideas for projects. During this time, teams will map out projects for the school year and design integrated projects. The intent is to look for connections that make sense and fit nicely, which may mean that some projects concentrate on standards from one content area more than the other does. We believe that an effective and meaningful integrated course incorporates projects that devote time to connecting content areas rather than simply devoting equal time to each content area. Once students create products that synthesize content areas, then they will be forced to examine how those areas connect, realize the significance of the material they are learning, and retain information better. Additionally, PBL 102 will help partners create integrated assessments and grading policies.
Innovative educators concerned with improving student achievement and interested in developing rigorous, relevant, and engaging curriculum realize the question, Why should we integrate courses? is a moot point. Instead, they are ready to explore the answer to the driving question, How can we develop an integrated course of study to ensure meaningful and authentic learning for our students?