The Benefits of Interdisciplinary Learning and Summer Pre-College Programs
The Importance of Exploring Interdisciplinary Connections
I have been fortunate to find a career that appropriately matched my personality along with my desire to make the world a better place by making teenagers feel that what they do matters. As a secondary math teacher, one of the many challenges I faced was thinking about what I could do to help my high school students achieve their future career goals given our global society, the significance of interdisciplinary learning, and the technological advances that have not even been developed yet! I decided to ask the experts for some advice.
I attended a career job fair and spoke with many corporate representatives and asked them for the qualities they most desired in their future employees. The answer that came up the most was an individual’s ability to take in large amounts of information like a sponge and make big picture connections. They also thought that what candidates did with their time during summer breaks in high school and college, since it was a large amount of time, also influenced their decisions to offer someone a position in their company. Attending and/or working at summer educational programs demonstrated to recruiters that you were willing to devote time and energy into an area that you would like to learn more about – yes, the sponge model was born!!
How to be a Cross-Curricular Sponge
In order to promote learning outside of the curriculum, I decided that the only way to replicate this corporate sponge model was creating interdisciplinary lessons. When I shared these lessons with my colleagues that would help students make sense of their world across disciplines, I was met with an enthusiastic “well that makes sense” and off we ran to explore ways that mathematics connected to everything!
Interdisciplinary Opportunities with Math and Science
My first stop was an obvious one. I team taught algebra with a physical science teacher. The awesome part about this move was the incredible hands-on lab experiences that provided my students with lots of data and information to make informed conjectures. We took it a step further and challenged the science class to a cardboard boat race across the Olympic sized school pool. The idea was to build a vessel out of boxes and duct tape that could fit the most students in it and make it down and back a lane without sinking. It was extremely comical! There were also lots of mathematical calculations involved that made such a difference in my students’ understanding and appreciation of the practical application of math.
In addition, the activity prompted their interest in finding summer educational programs that had similar types of projects and competitions. Robotics was popular along with engineering-based camps. I would use whatever they learned in the summer to personalize their learning experiences and challenge my new students to improve upon a design or idea.
Many years later, one of my former students contacted me from her office at a well known company and said she was promoted to a team leader on a project, after only being there for two months, due to her ability to think outside the box!! We laughed about how her winning cardboard boat must have made this all possible. She actually said it did help her, because it prompted her to attend a summer educational camp that was based on STEM subjects and these helped her to be able to communicate purposeful ideas towards a tangible outcome. Yeah for cross-curricular collaboration!
Interdisciplinary Learning Opportunities with Math and Art
Another fun approach to interdisciplinary studies was when I team taught with an art teacher. I am absolutely not artistic, but I do love and appreciate the craft. This class was designed for those who did not do well in math but excelled in art. The art teacher and I were able to take her Designing with Materials class and match my geometry curriculum to her units of study. It was really fun to make all of these interesting art pieces that we used to calculate surface area and volume. My creations were used to show the students what not to make, but at least the students saw me not give up and had lots to laugh about!
Some students from this class attended a summer educational program in art and told me that the person who ran the program interviewed them because he heard how these students were telling their instructor about how they used their art work in a math class. These students were elated to share their stories and later on found careers in advertisement where they continue to receive praise for their big picture ideas.
Interdisciplinary Learning with Math and Social Science
My favorite Interdisciplinary project was when my senior math class collaborated with a senior government class. We investigated many different ways that data influenced the passage of old and new laws. It was a lot of fun and sparked numerous students to look at law as a profession and other careers in a new way.
One student is now a sports medical doctor and excelled in this area due to his high ability in math and seeing the big picture. He really enjoyed our cross-curricular approach to understanding difficult concepts and looked for a major that would use many different skill sets.
All in all, students thoroughly enjoyed our cross-curricular class and used many of our lessons to help them explore the interconnectedness of the topics they were studying. I also benefitted from this cross-curricular project and became best friends with the government teacher!! We continue to work on educational projects to this day and discuss best practices.
Imagine what can happen to you!
Interdisciplinary Summer Educational Programs
The STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) field is a great way to start exploring the cross-curricular approach to education and selecting summer educational programs. You can find more information about all of this on our website’s STEM page.
Enjoy your big picture creations and may this be the start of a career path that will make you love interdisciplinary studies the way I do!