Changing the map – crossing boundaries.

As part of the New Zealand curriculum the principle of coherence means that we should be aiming to create opportunities that make links for our students across our learning areas and as teachers work together to plan and implement cross curricula units.coherence

Fig 1:

By working in an interdisciplinary fashion we can open students eyes to a wider view, to look through many lenses and to foster innovation in our children (Thomas McDonagh Group, 2011).  Innovation is important for our growth as a society and working together to find solutions helps to achieve this.

Next year as a result of our school’s curriculum review an outcome has been the creation of an enrichment program. This is an opportunity for our junior students (year 9 & 10) to choose interdisciplinary subjects that defy our traditional pigeon holes that have been our subject silos (where I have lived comfortably for the last fourteen years).


When I heard they were looking for volunteers to teach one of the courses I jumped from the launching pad of my comfort zone. It was perfect timing, full of  fresh perspectives from the Mindlab, I was looking for a space where the true expression of these ideas could be given their wings. Within my subject area I was able to apply some of the teaching from the course; but what could be achieved with a blank slate, unhindered, unfettered and free to explore possibilities? One of the exciting chances offered by this enrichment program is delivering it with two colleagues from different departments, bringing to bear their experiences from Health & P.E, and English to add to my Science background.

As we start the planning for the course we bring three opinions, viewpoints and backgrounds together. After reading The logic of interdisciplinary studies (1997) by Mathison and Freeman where interdisciplinary, integrated, and integrative approaches to teaching are compared, I would suggest our approach to the “Drive” topic we are creating is an integrated approach rather than interdisciplinary.


Though both share higher order thinking skills, motivation and cognition, we are taking a guided approach rather than authoritative, and valuing inquiry rather than content coverage. An aspect of the integrative approach that will be a factor in our course is citizenship where we hope to use opportunities to discuss digital citizenship in terms of online feedback to others.

My initial understanding was that all these words meant the same thing and I would have thrown thematic units into the mix as well. However, they are all different and at the core of integrated units are the students, negotiating their learning, with teachers scaffolding and guiding them. By negotiating students gain ownership, are motivated and more enthusiastic about their learning. Some of the challenges highlighted by Fraser, Aitken & Whyte, in their book Connecting Curriculum, Linking Learning (2013) were;

  • the messy process of inquiry.
  • the challenge of trying something new and unknown.
  • a lack of knowledge about integrated learning and how it should be applied.

drive plan

Part of the planing for our Drive unit for 2018, focusing on reflection, feedback and self directed inquiry where students choose a new skill and plan their learning, we have used the metaphor of a journey.

My knowledge and understanding as well as my confidence that our planning will be more successful have increased as a result of the readings for this blog. It was perfect timing and has helped shape our thinking. Having two of us involved in the Mindlab course working on the development of our “Drive” unit has been beneficial because we are both on the same page. We are excited, problems look like opportunities and each challenge is a chance to try something new.

We believe the benefits will outweigh any disadvantages and we look forward to seeing if the positive outcomes of increased motivation, reflection, enhanced collaborative skills and critical thinking (Fraser, Aitken, Whyte, 2013) might be the result of our new course.


One of the student templates we are working on for our Drive unit for 2018.


Fraser, D., Aitken, V. and Whyte, B. (2013)Connecting curriculum, linking learning. Wellington: NZCER.

Mathison,S.. & Freeman, M.(1997). The logic of interdisciplinary studies. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, 1997. Retrieved from (2017). Coherence / Principles / Kia ora – NZ Curriculum Online. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Nov. 2017].

ThomasMcDonaghGroup. ( 2011, May 13). Interdisciplinarity and Innovation Education.. Retrieved from


One thought on “Changing the map – crossing boundaries.

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  1. Interdisciplinary Learning (IL) links to the neuroplasticity principle of brain augmentation. A common sense approach to brain growth proposes that the more links you create to a piece of knowledge, the easier it is to remember. Using the cross-curricular pedagogical approach where learning is linked to other contexts and grounded in the real world (a historical perspective for example) would mean that the learning is far more likely to be cemented in long-term memory. These links too would reinforce the learning’s significance and add to its relevance. Cross-curricular units enable a more in-depth perspective than present education prescribes. The sterile reproduction of content leads to the practical view that educationalists live in “ivory towers” or silos. Thanks Paul for your food for thought. I too will enjoy the challenge of constructing an enrichment course that inspires the year 9 students at Waimea College. It is interesting that of the four teachers from Waimea taking the Mindlab course, 3 of us are writing new enrichment courses for 2018. Your DRIVE enrichment course title reminds me of a quote from Robert Frost “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” . Drive on my friend.

    Marcus Swain


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