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Interdisciplinary learning and teaching

Ian Holden talks about the interdisciplinary learning and teaching achieved through his rainforest project.

Probationer Teacher, Forthview Primary School, Edinburgh

On starting my probation year I was very excited by the challenge that lay ahead, and one of the aspects of my job I was most looking forward to was interdisciplinary learning and teaching. In Building the Curriculum 3 (Scottish Executive, 2008) interdisciplinary comprises one of the four contexts for learning. It had certainly been a big focus during my PGDE, with assignments and presentations as well as final placements geared up to deepening our understanding of this potentially more holistic teaching and learning experience.

During my probation year I was to teach four main topics to my P5 class, one each term. The topics were Developing North Edinburgh (where my school is based), The Romans, The Rainforest (photographs of classroom displays accompany this article) and our current topic; The Human Body. Although slightly over-whelmed at first when planning each topic I have always tried to avoid the temptation to draw superficial links from a key theme to other areas of the curriculum simply because they cross subject lines.

Rainforest topic

For the rainforest topic I started with just two disciplines; social studies and science. However logical and authentic connections did emerge during the topic and resulted in strongly linked learning in other areas of the curriculum; including the expressive arts, mathematics and technologies. ICT was clearly used throughout to enhance learning and literacy based skills were prevalent too.

Photograph 1

The first photograph you can see is of our classroom door which we decorated with leaves and frogs, following learning about amphibians that inhabit the rainforest and in order to try and achieve the children’s aim of turning our room into a rainforest.

Photograph 2

The second photograph is of the children’s excellent artwork, which further supported the goal of giving the room a rainforest feel. We found out about the various persons who lived in the rainforest in the twenty first century. Inspired by the indigenous people of the rainforest we created the brightly decorated faces, which were stuck to the wall in a 3-D way, with leaves all around and a few trees, to try and give the impression of the people peering out at us through the forest.

Photograph 3

The third photograph shows a display created to highlight some of the children’s learning. In social studies the children had found out where the world’s tropical rainforests were located and how in each there are certain layers which support different animals. You will see that we did not have space for all of the world’s tropical rainforests but did split the wall vertically into three different rainforests and divided it horizontally to highlight the different layers. The children used what they had learned and their reading comprehension skills to colour and cut out various rainforest animals and then place them in the right continent and layer, a task which necessitated collaboration between pupils. We also decided to use our learning on symmetry in maths to create colourful butterflies and further enhance our display, as well as have the children use their ICT skills and type up further information which is displayed on the wall and was also shown in other parts of the classroom.

At the end of the topic we had a performance of understanding in the form of an open morning where children’s friends and families were invited in to the classroom, allowing the pupils to illustrate the depth and breadth of the their learning to others as well as me their teacher.