Sunday, March 22, 2015

Stop teaching subjects at school

What?!?!? I can hear the responses and head smacks now. Just because the Finns are doing it doesn't mean everyone else in the world can or should do it. Yes, I hear those arguments. Those who have implemented IB well in their schools are shrugging their shoulders and thinking that ain't no thing. It's not that IB students don't learn math and science as subject areas, but it is the way they learn about math and science which is PBL writ large.

I love the idea of not teaching subjects once kids reach a particular competency level and I think it's a powerful move forward.

I've seen elementary school teachers do amazing work at teaching their young students how to read and write, how to do math, and do so in wonderfully intracurricular ways. The agendas on their walls don't say "science" or "math," they say "learning centers" and "reading circle." Maybe the book being read and discussed in reading circle is a Magic Schoolbus book. The students aren't learning to differentiate subjects: they are just learning.

The moment we insisted that we have certain subject areas, we taught students there is little or no room for English in math or science; that there is little or no room for math or science or social studies or the arts in literature.

I know that we cannot eliminate subject areas completely and I know that most middle and high school content area teachers have chosen to teach their content areas because that is where their passion lies. Perhaps the easiest solution for most US schools is to implement PBL, and integrate edtech and approaches to makerspaces that enable students to work more freely, creatively, and constructively across content areas yet still enable teachers to draw from their passions to support student learning.

I'm working with a K-8 school in which the middle school teachers are working collaboratively to support student development across the content areas. It's a new initiative for them and they're taking small steps to figure out how best to do what they want to do and with their student population, but they're cautiously optimistic about how well it might be working. Yes, the qualifiers are deliberate because they want to get to the end of the school year to see how it all plays out for their students.

The teachers have learned that an approach to integrated learning is rather messy. The kids are learning that math doesn't stop when they leave the math classroom; that math can be a part of other subject areas. The teachers and students are discovering that integrated learning isn't a tidy graph or chart or even a Venn diagram because true integrated learning can be a bit messy.

Even if US schools cannot or will not completely blur the lines between subject areas, I suspect many teachers are already working cross-curricularly. It's not just co-teaching, but co-planning to provide opportunities for social studies, math, and science to be integrated in relevant and engaging ways with each other as well as with literature, reading and writing, and yes, even the arts and the oft-ignored PE.

My head is spinning with the possibilities.

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