Trans-disciplinary Learning

Trans-disciplinary learning begins with a problem (not the discipline) and then brings to bear the scope of knowledge needed from any and all disciplines (Meeth 1978).

Three General Approaches to Integration

What exactly is integrated curriculum? Although little distinction is sometimes made between multi-, inter- and trans-disciplinary inquiry, many would argue that there is a significant difference - particularly for older students. In its simplest conception, it is about making connections. What kind of connections? Across disciplines? To real life? Are the connections skill-based or knowledge-based? The essential difference between the three approaches is the perceived degree of separation that existed between subject areas and what is driving the connections. Trans-disciplinary approaches which most closely connects to the intent of PBL learning, involve multiple disciplines and the space between the disciplines with the possibility of new perspectives 'beyond' those discrete disciplines.

Multi-disciplinary: For example, the community’s local river system would be the unifying idea or theme, but the English teacher would link it to Language Arts by studying river vocabulary and teaching students how to do a research report - maybe have a book study related to the theme like A River Runs Through It. The science teacher might teach children about the life systems that exist in the river or conduct a pollution study of local water, while the Social Studies teacher might help students research the local history and peoples who used the river for food and transport.

Figure 1.4. Comparing and Contrasting the Three Approaches to Integration

Organizing Center
  • Standards and concepts of the disciplines connected around a theme
  • Disciplines connected by common concepts and skills
  • Real-life context
  • Student questions
Conception of Knowledge
  • Knowledge best learned through the structure of the disciplines
  • A right answer
  • One truth
  • Knowledge considered to be socially constructed
  • Many right answers
  • All knowledge interconnected and interdependent
  • Many right answers
  • Knowledge considered to be indeterminate and ambiguous beyond the descrete disciplines
Role of Disciplines
  • Procedures of discipline considered most important
  • Distinct skills and concepts of discipline taught
  • Interdisciplinary skills and concepts stressed
  • Disciplines identified if desired, but real-life context emphasized
Role of Teacher
  • Facilitator
  • Specialist
  • Facilitator
  • Specialist/generalist
  • Coplanner
  • Colearner
  • Generalist/specialist
Starting Place
  • Disciplinary standards and-procedures
  • Interdisciplinary bridge
  • Student questions and concerns
  • Real-world context
Degree of Integration
  • Moderate
  • Medium/intense
  • Paradigm shift
  • Discipline-based
  • Interdisciplinary skills/concepts stressed
  • Interdisciplinary skills/concepts stressed
  • Concepts and essential understandings across disciplines
  • Concepts and essential understandings across disciplines
  • Concepts and essential understandings across disciplines
  • Disciplinary skills as the focal point
  • Interdisciplinary skills also included
  • Interdisciplinary skills as the focal point
  • Disciplinary skills also included
  • Interdisciplinary skills and disciplinary skills applied in a real-life context
  • Democratic values
  • Character education
  • Habits of mind
  • Life skills (e.g., teamwork, self-responsibility)
Planning Process
  • Backward design
  • Standards-based
  • Alignment of instruction, standards, and assessment
  • Constructivist approach
  • Inquiry
  • Experiential learning
  • Personal relevance
  • Student choice
  • Differentiated instruction
  • Balance of traditional and authentic assessments
  • Culminating activity that integrates disciplines taught