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Let’s talk about being Transdisciplinary

February 1, 2014

Transdisciplinary Learning is a key phrase now in many schools. How can we  make an authentic ‘link’ to what we are doing in subject X to subject Y?  Sometimes in a unit it’s hard to make authentic inquiries and get them to ‘fit’.  We some times push it to fit. Sometimes we don’t even consider the way it fits and make stand along units. Science units are my passion. I love how students can live,breath science.  Inquiry at its best. Inquiry needs not to be topical.  Sometimes we spend too much time as a PYP school ‘hashing’ out a central  idea.  In fact how nice or challenging would it be NOT to have a central idea at all but have the kids come up with their own.

But,  I am hoping next year we will keep our Central Idea – Scientific thinking leads to understanding of our world

Lines of Inquiry:

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  • The nature of scientific thinking (Form)

  • Sound made in different ways (Change)

  • How scientific thinking helps us understand our world. (Function)







The central idea is broad enough for specialists to connect to (thanks @whatedsaid and @kassandraboyd for your help on the planning of this unit and your guidance and feedback). Shows the power of the PLN. Its about the learner not about the people teaching it.

I love these lines of inquiry.  Perfect? Nope. But so far we are learning. These fit and drive the unit along. In the images above, you can see how we integrated scientific thinking into physical education. The kids made note of the materials, procedures, hypotheses, tested the hypothesis and had time or reflection.  Briefly, we wanted to know if the bean bag went farther from a standing position or a running position and went through the scientific inquiry process to find out. Are we practising skills? Indeed we are,  We had powerful provocations with images and videos showing the difference between shot put an javelin throwers. We analysed body movements.  Important ones at that. Ones that perhaps are not that explicit in other PYP transdiciplinary themes because they just doing themselves to scientific inquiry.  We went through the scientific inquiry process. 

More specialists links learning through scientific inquiry in this unit:

  • Music- experiments and inquiry into different pitches, volume – using  the scientific inquiry process
  • Library – focusing on research skills helping Ss to understand how to find information for their experience AND cite their work.

Its been a great unit. I hope it doesn’t go back to a topic or them bit stays open for kids to really explore in scientific inquiry.

I love the PYP but think we need to be more explicit with scientific thinking skills. These skills may not be explicit in other units.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. February 2, 2014 12:25 am

    I love the dialogue about a transdisciplinary curriculum framework and what it actually means in practice. What exactly is the difference between transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary and does it even matter? I think it does: being transdisciplinary is what makes the PYP what it s – after all we don’t break real life down into neat areas divided into subject disciplines. How can something that’s been neatly boxed into social studies, or maths, or science be truly authentic if those other real-life complexities aren’t allowed to get in the way? Jay knows that I don’t like this central idea … but I still think the Grade 1 students are learning and making deep, meaningful connections across the subject areas. I simply think the central idea needs to be ‘meatier’ and a little more explicitly allow the students to explore significant and relevant knowledge – knowledge that is scientific (it is after all a ‘How the world works’ unit) but that also cuts across the disciplines. I know that Jay is a truly inquiry teacher because we can disagree and still both be committed to inquiry-based learning and teaching with all its complexities and ambiguities. I’m looking forward to more dialogue next week!

    • February 2, 2014 6:41 pm

      Jason, I did some thinking. I’m not a scientist but you mentioned throwing beanbags and also music. I don’t know what your other activities are but one scientific concept that could link the two would be that we need energy to do work. Even for music, we need some sort of input of energy to make the sound waves. Maybe this a bit too much for Grade 1 (sound waves being invisible) but it is an Essential Understanding in science and I think it could work depending how you spoke about it.

      The concept of needing energy to do work could go into areas of: health, nutrition, photosynthesis, transport (gas, steam, coal). That’s already a lot of Transdisciplinary links.

      It makes sense that if we have a concept that is basic to how the world works, we should be able to link up a whole lot of subject areas.

      I looked up Lynn Erickson’s list of concepts for science. They are:

      If you grouped all your activities under one of the scientific concepts, that’s a start to developing a Central Idea

    • February 4, 2014 7:04 am

      Thanks Mary. Thats the great thing about our school that professional discussions like this take place! It will be interesting to see how this unit develops over time.

  2. February 2, 2014 2:48 am

    Thanks for the link Jason! I don’t think my blog has ever reached such giddy heights of stature before! 🙂

    I like the way that your Central Idea can link up several subjects (and could probably link up the entire physical world) because its focus is the Scientific Inquiry process.

    I know that my MYP children write up the scientific process each time they write up a lab report. The process does end up being reinforced and made explicit in MYP, but it’s not necessary to wait until Middle School start looking at it.

    I’m not a scientist but there must be only a few main conceptual lenses through which we can understand the physical world: waves, energy, matter. So, I get what Mary is saying and I think it’s possible to come up with a Central Idea that is still transdisciplinary but seen through one of theses conceptual lenses. My guess is that if we do it correctly, we may be surprised what two topics may suddenly link up.

    I hope some science people would chime in with their suggestions. I’m not a science person and I’m stuck and can’t go further than this…

    • February 2, 2014 9:32 am

      Real good thinking here . Am wondering if sometimes we see the scientific process as a linear journey rather than a forward and back inquiry. When does a model become a formula rather than a guide?

      • February 2, 2014 6:17 pm

        Layla, That’s a good point that the scientific process is not linear. When we write up our lab reports, it does give the impression that it is. Primary/Elementary school would be a good place to show that it isn’t linear.

    • February 4, 2014 7:17 am

      Vivian and Layla. Thanks for commenting. I think that the Scientific Method as often used is finalised by the conclusion, and thus looks linear when actually it could easily be (or is?) the catalyst for even more questions and wonderings. I think thats the basis of research in general, we take what others have learned, failed etc and build on that prior knowledge and its definitely a cycle. The crux of the unit through my eyes is exactly that, whether we ‘do’ an experiment on sound, energy, liquids… the thinking process needs to be explicit to the kids. I think we run the risk being topical in nature if we limit to sound (but this does come through in the lines of inquiry). Of course maybe it the way I teach the unit, I teach it in a way that feels like a topic? I also believe that the central idea isnt for the kids so much, but for the teachers. Open central ideas allow for links by specialists. I think that the lines of inquiry and concepts in this unit as they stand underpin the understanding of the unit. I think even with changed the central idea that we would be doing many of the same things, but now we can actually make connections to other disciplines by thinking, inquiring in a scientific way. Id really love to try having the kids come up with their ‘central or big idea’ about what the unit was about.

  3. February 2, 2014 1:15 pm

    As a Language B teacher, I am quite fond of using other subjects content to add purpose to my teaching. I have witnessed how by doing this, students have developed a high capacity for abstract and conceptual thinking; and how in this interdisciplinary learning environment students develop the ability to apply their thinking to real world problems since they function in an ambiance where communication skills are vital.
    This is a great gift of my subject, as I can pretty much use any context in my class, without restriction- as long as I customise it considering students’ language skills. Yet, for me, personally, when thinking about how exercising our abilities to work effectively with others to resolve conflict and to work with freedom, the sustained enthusiasm that manifests in students is what convinces me of its meaningful impact.

  4. February 4, 2014 7:13 am

    I believe what you’re getting at is that ‘transdisciplinary’ doesn’t mean ‘nondisciplinary’. If central ideas are inclusive enough, then they won’t limit inquiry except to the scope of the theme, and even that should is up for negotiation in authentic inquiry.

    Scientific thinking, mathematical thinking, poetic thinking, etc, can be applied to any learning. The application and transfer of those skills IS the learning. The transdisciplinary approach provides the most opportunity for learners to access and apply their understanding broadly, whereas a disciplinary approach limits opportunities.

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