User Generated Education

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Posts Tagged ‘student-centric learrning

All Lessons Should Be Interdisciplinary

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I am not a fan of worksheets. In fact, I hate most of them. They don’t teach real world skills. How often does someone do worksheets outside of school? How often when they become adults? They also tend to focus on a single content area concept like specific math problems or questions about a particular text.

I used to teach face-to-face elementary education classes to pre-service teachers. There is evidence that teachers teach the way they were taught. I know that almost everyone has been subjected to worksheets as part of their K-12 (even college) education. It follows, then, that theses new teachers will use worksheets as part of their teaching strategies. I can’t blame them especially if they are not intentionally taught and do not practice other instructional strategies as part of their education.

My instruction with them included a focus on interdisciplinary/cross-curricular, thematic, experiential, and project-based learning. I did very little sage on the stage with them during our classes as I wanted them to directly experience these strategies. They did lots of group discussion, case study analysis, and hands-on activities. I often said to them, “You really don’t have enough time in a day to adequately address all of the individual content areas. It is in both your and your students interest to layer your curriculum with a variety of content area concepts, ideas, and skills that can only occur with more project-based and interdisciplinary lessons. Worksheets won’t do this.”

Multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary learning is a “whole” or “comprehensive” method that covers an idea, topic, or text by integrating multiple knowledge domains. It is a very powerful method of teaching that crosses the boundaries of a discipline or curriculum in order to enhance the scope and depth of learning. Each discipline sheds light on the topic like the facets of a gem.

Imagine being able to teach character development, basic math, and basic science concepts via a classic text. How about basic geography, writing skills, and point of view from that same text? Is it possible to also teach about comprehension, sequence, literal vs. non-literal, imagination, plot, theme, compare and contrast, opinion pieces, vocabulary, friendship, bullying, and critical thinking? The answer is yes, and the genre is legends, myths, and fables (

Benefits of Interdisciplinary Learning:

  • Obviously, it addresses multiple content areas resulting in increased cognitive development as deeper learning occurs.
  • It mimics real life learning rather than isolated educational experiences. It is authentic. When we learn something in the real world, it is interdisciplinary. For example, when learning how to bake or cook something new, one often does research for the best recipes and cooking strategies, reading of recipes and directions, and using math in the actual cooking or baking.
  • It helps students increase their critical thinking and problem solving skills. Due to the nature of interdisciplinary learning which often includes the characteristics of deep and project-based learning, students are asked to make their own connections and conclusions about their learning.
  • It is student-centric. The focus is on the student rather than on the teacher and on lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy that often occurs when students are given drill and grill learning activities.
  • It tends to be highly engaging for students. They engage because interdisciplinary activities often have at least one content area that is of great interest to the student. It highlights their strengths.
  • It opens doors for students to develop interest in content areas in which they have not been typically interested as they see connections between their desirable content areas and other ones.

benefits of interdisciplinary learning

Some of my blog posts about my interdisciplinary lessons:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 13, 2019 at 12:43 am

Facilitating Learner Voice and Presence in the Classroom Using Experiential Activities

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This is the companion piece to Facilitating Learner Voice and Presence in the Classroom Using Mobile Devices.  The first post described how mobile devices were used during the initial classes of this undergraduate course (mostly 18-20 year old students).  This post focuses on the hands-on, experiential activities I used.  The introduction is the same, but the activities, obviously, are different.

I work towards a learner-centric classroom based on the following principles:

  1. Give learners multiple opportunities to be heard and seen through multiple modalities – verbal, written, visual.
  2. Get to know each learner as an individual – this is in line with my belief of the educator as an ethnographer.  Really see every learner in the room.
  3. Insure that the learners see one another as much as (or better yet more than) the content and the teacher.
  4. Provide ongoing opportunities to connect with the learners and for them to connect with each other.
  5. Use strategies, tools, and materials that the learners use outside of the school
  6. Make sure learners know that they are significant, important, that they matter- see Angela Maiers You Matter.
  7. Use learning activities that are engaging and authentic with the knowledge that the learners are giving their time (and sometimes money) to be in the learning environment.  (I feel an obligation not to “steal” my learners time with activities that are boring, useless – painful for them.)

As such, my first classes are always focused on having the students get to know one another and building a sense of community.  The only content-related activity during the first class is going over the syllabus which occurs during hour 3 or 4 of the class – not the first activity.

Group Norm Development – Class Contracts

Students were given the following task . . .

. . . and then asked to create a metaphor or symbol for their group norms.

I Am Poems

Students created poems using the following template:

I gave students the option of using magnetic poetry (collected with several eBay purchases) to complete the assignment.

(This is a Spanish Version of Magnetic Poetry)

. . .  and here are some students’ poems.


Students created collages of images that represented their physical, intellectual, emotional, and social selves.

Student Reflections About the Class Activities

Students are posting their class reflections via Facebook.  Here are some of their comments about the class activities:

In class this week we got into groups to work on class values and what we want to expect from this class. The groups we were put into we were with people we barely knew, it was very exciting. I enjoyed getting to know the 3 girls I was grouped with and I believe I got to know the talents the girls have.

I was unaware of how much we use communication. The way we think about things make all the difference in the world, reminds me of “The glass is half full or half empty”. I loved the fact that we spent most of the class time learning about the others in the class. Learning about others helps us communicate better as well as making the class more comfortable!

Jackie had us create a collage that showed our physical, social, emotional, and intellectual selves, I was unable to finish the collage however because of a health problem I had during class. I learned that the people I attend class with have had hard lives, and are giving their all to change them into better ones. The hands on learning experience that the class offers helped me understand how things from my mind go onto paper.

I was very happy that my group was able to just be open and I was able to see the personalities of people come out. I love making new friends so I was very excited about this.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 17, 2011 at 4:29 pm

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