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Integrating Interdisciplinary thinking and understanding in MYP

By Saba Husain,
MYP Coordinator 

If I aim to plan my next solo trek efficiently, I should be capable of synthesizing knowledge from Geography, Human nutrition, Health Sciences, Ergonomics and Scientific forestry to make interdisciplinary connections instantaneously. Otherwise, my survival is at stake! This VUCA age is also all about survival. Jobs are increasingly becoming interdisciplinary in nature and thus the need of integrating interdisciplinary teaching purposefully in education is becoming important.

Interdisciplinary teaching has been discussed among scholars and practitioners in education with varied definitions since the 70s. 

Jacobs(8) defines interdisciplinary teaching as a knowledge view and curriculum approach that consciously applies methodology and language from more than one discipline to examine a central theme, issue, topic or experience.This definition is the closest to what I have experienced as an IB MYP educator striving to integrate interdisciplinary teaching. It’s important to note that the definition gives emphasis to the word ‘consciously’ and that’s where we educators make a significant difference on how authentically we integrate interdisciplinary teaching.

Klein & Newell(3) specify that many educators do not self-identify as integrationists or inter-disciplinarians. They define themselves as subject-discipline specialists. Moreover, inter-disciplinarity has not been professionalized the way that most academic disciplines and school subjects have. While IB has provided explicit guidance on how to foster and practise interdisciplinary teaching, its important for us as educators to understand how WE can integrate interdisciplinary thinking and understanding to be able to plan and teach well.

There can be many ways but my typology is based on the definition by Jacobs (1989) though it may be compatible with many other definitions.

1. Think contextually: Embedding disciplines within a framework of time, culture and personal experience helps in humanizing knowledge. Contextual interdisciplinary thinking paves us to think through the lens of metaphysics, epistemology and history. This helps us understand the linkages in different knowledge systems through their ways of knowing.

2. Think conceptually: Identifying main concepts within disciplines is all about pattern seeking. When our mind can identify patterns from different disciplinary vocabularies, you have a rhythm that’s syncing up a melodious tune of a concept. Here, we move from bulky disciplinary jargons to a level of abstraction that is quantifiable with empirical data and has a dimension to become a concept.

3. Orienting around real life: Here, we focus on thinking of a solution to a critical problem we observed, experienced or identified. In order to resolve it, we engage in bringing interdisciplinary tools and design thinking to ideate an outcome/prototype.

These three motors of integrating interdisciplinary thinking not only provide teachers with a simplistic model but help them move beyond the regular paradigm of integrating interdisciplinary teaching and learning. We need authentic interdisciplinary teaching and not just checkboxes in unit planners and therefore it's integral for us as educators to develop simple yet effective interdisciplinary thinking models to bring proficiency in our teaching.

Works cited
Jacobs,H.H. “Interdisciplinary curriculum: Design and implementation”.Alexandria,VA, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development,1989.
Klein,Julie, and Newell,William. “Strategies for Using Interdisciplinary Resources Across K-16”. Issues in integrative Studies,No.22,pp. 139 - 160,2002