Interdisciplinary Instruction
and the Influences on
Middle School Curriculum
Julie Gonzalez
Franciscan University of Steubenville




Interdisciplinary Approach Rationale
Since the beginning of education, education reform has been a topic of discussion as well
various methodologies and approaches to educating the young minds in the classroom. One
approach that has been explored “since very early in the history of education reform” is the
interdisciplinary approach (Warner, 2012, 40). Put simply, the interdisciplinary approach is an
educational method that seeks to integrate and apply one discipline with another. There are three
different forms or “levels” of integration to bring about the highest level of interaction and
learning possible for students (Burton, 2001, 20). It is important for teachers to not only try to
use an interdisciplinary approach when teaching but also because the advantages of using this
approach are numerous. The interdisciplinary approach is a multiple level method of instruction
that has an unlimited amount of benefits in the classroom for both the teacher and the student.
The interdisciplinary approach has been defined by the ASCD (Association for
Supervision and Curriculum Development) as “a knowledge view and curriculum approach that
consciously applies methodology and language from more than one discipline to examine a
central theme, issue, problem, topic or experience” (Burton, 2001, 18). This means educators
who strive to use this form of instruction properly seek to “help students form meaningful
connections” not only with other subjects but with those whom they encounter and in their own
lives (Warner, 2012, 40). The goal of an educator should be to help students see that there are
real world implications and connections to the subject matter they encounter in their classrooms.
If teachers utilize the interdisciplinary approach it is possible to show students the connection,
for example a social studies teacher, explaining part of the election process during an election
themed curriculum can show a connection to science by focusing on the platforms and view of
each candidate concerning the environment. This example not only shows the connection



between two subjects areas, it also brings into focus a real world connection with the election
and political views regarding the environment.
As a multi-level teaching method, members of a Curriculum Research and Development
Group have identified three main “levels of integration” that are apart of interdisciplinary
instruction (Burton, 2001, 20). The first level of instruction is called “thematic integration,”
which requires the teacher to select a theme and then find subjects that correlate with said theme.
The only downside to this initial level of interdisciplinary instruction is that the connections are
usually weak and not as developed as they should to aid students. The second level is called
“knowledge integration” and it is “achieved when interactive and connective relationships are
established between the knowledge and skills in two or more disciplines” (Burton, 2001, 20).
This means that the connections should be made clear, meaning there has to be a direct link
between the two or more subjects that are being presented to students and that it cannot be a
random “sampling” of information (Burton, 2001, 20). The third level of instruction is “learnerinitiated integration” and is the highest form because it happens only when learners see the
connection for themselves (Burton, 2001, 20). This type of interdisciplinary instruction
encourages students to find the value in independent thinking and form connections between old
information and newly learned information.
When a teacher is challenged with multiple students of diverse backgrounds the
interdisciplinary approach to multiple subject integration is extremely beneficial to the students,
as well as the teacher. Students are more likely to develop a sense of classroom unity, due to
encouragement to work in groups (Burton, 2001, 21). This allows for the teacher to arrange
students with different level of ability in different groups, promoting peer teaching (Burton,
2001, 21). Due to the combination of communication between students and building of
classroom unity, the classroom environment becomes more positive, which results in a safe



learning zone (Burton, 2001, 21). Teachers also experience an improvement in classroom
communication, thus allowing them to better aid students and understand their needs. This allows
them to better understand their students as well as “consider and employ a number of
instructional strategies” to increase student learning (Burton, 2001, 21). Finally, the
interdisciplinary approach allows teachers to visually plan lessons around themes that will
engage students and promote learning (Burton, 2001, 21).
The interdisciplinary approach seeks to “help students form meaningful connections”
with the information they are learning from multiple subjects, as well as see the connection of
old information in light of the new and apply it to real world situations (Warner, 2012, 40). This
educational method has multiple levels that build on each other to reach the goal of forming
students to become autonomous learners and to value their independent thinking. This approach
not only benefits the students by increasing the unity or a classroom and promoting a safe
learning environment, it allows teachers to become creative when teaching. Teachers can teach
the curriculum in new and interesting ways that encourage student involvement. The
interdisciplinary approach opens new pathways for integrating the curriculum of multiple
subjects in a way that enhances education.



Warner, C. K. (2012). A Cure for Narration Sickness: Paulo Freire and Interdisciplinary
Instruction. Journal of Thought, Vol. 47, No. 4 (Winter 2012), pp. 39-49. Retrieved from doi:1
Burton, L. H. (2001). Interdisciplinary Curriculum: Retrospect and Prospect. Music Educators
Journal, Vol. 87, No. 5, pp. 17-66. Retrieved from








Interdisciplinary Model for Richmond Heights
(Combination of the
Common Core
Standards and Next
Generation Science

ite informative/
explanatory texts to
examine a topic and
convey ideas, concepts,
and information through
the selection,
organization, and
analysis of relevant
CCSS.Math Traditional.
Geometry. 6.G.A.1.
Find the area of right
triangles, other triangles,
special quadrilaterals,
and polygons by
composing into
rectangles and other
shapes; apply these
techniques in the
context of solving realworld and mathematical
Develop a model to
describe the cycling of
water through Earth’s
systems driven by
energy from the sun and
the force of gravity.

Students will turn in
parts of a research
paper throughout the
semester. From prewriting, to
researching, to
writing, to drafting
and revising.

Students will present
their completed and
final version of their
research paper and
prepare a 5-minute
presentation to
explain their
findings and

Students will be
required to take
quizzes throughout
the semester to test
and assess their
proficiency and
understanding of
math concepts.

Groups of students
will be able to teach
a mini-lesson to
their peers on a
geometric concept
and explain how a
team of ocean
researchers and
marine biologists
might incorporate it
into their fields of

Students will
perform labs and
throughout the
semester to prove
their understanding
of concepts.

Determine the meaning
of words and phrases as
they are used in a text,
including vocabulary

Students will create
Venn diagrams and
other visual maps
that will help them
understand different
social implications

Student groups will
complete a science
fair project, which
will explain the
different movements
of water around the
Earth, which is not
limited to the
hydrologic cycle.
Students will take a
final exam to test
their proficiency in
concepts covered
during the semester
as well as chapter

specific to domains
related to history/social




Arts.SL.6.4. Present
claims and findings,
sequencing ideas
logically and using
pertinent descriptions,
facts, and details to
accentuate main ideas or
themes; use appropriate
eye contact, adequate
volume and clear
Understand the concept
of a ratio and use ratio
language to describe a
ratio relationship
between two quantities.
NGSS.MS-Weather and
questions to clarify
evidence of the factors
that have caused the rise
in global temperatures
over the past century.

pollution has on the




Students will create
short 5 to 10 minute
mock speeches on a
platform or debate
topic of their choice.

Students will hold a
debate at the end of
the semester on two
topics of the class’
choice. The class
will be divided into
two sides and
present their side
with their research.

Students will
conduct polls using
information about
ratios as well as the
polling process.

Students will take a
final exam to test
their proficiency in
concepts covered
during the semester
as well as chapter
Students will
Students will take a
perform an
final exam to test
assortment of labs
their proficiency in
and experiments
concepts covered
associated with the
during the semester
as well as chapter
environmental topics tests.
covered in candidate
Students will create Students will have
short one-page
completed an entire
Identify key steps in a
biographies of each
binder complete
text’s description of a
candidate as well as with a synopsis on
process related to
summaries of their
each candidate as
history/social studies
platform and views. well as a summary
(e.g. how a bill becomes Each candidate will of their biography
law, how interest rates
be sorted by their
and platform.
are raised or lowered).
party and will be
removed as the
candidates withdraw.
Course Description



Dear Parents/Guardians,
Over the course of two semesters teachers from the English Language Arts, Math,
Science, and Social Studies departments will work together to create a curriculum that is
centered around one theme. The purpose of this is for faculty to create an interdisciplinary
learning environment to help students recognize the connections between various subjects and
their connection to the real world.
The first semester will be focused on the ocean and its importance on Earth as well as the
effects of pollution. The English Language Arts department will be focusing on helping students
through the steps of the writing process by assigning a research paper, which will require them to
research a specific topic relevant to out theme. The Math department will correlate their
instruction to show the connection of math and geometry concepts learned in the classroom to
the real world in reference to oceanographers and marine biologists. The Science department has
a number of experiments and labs focused on pollution and its effects on coral reefs and the pH
of water as well as the hydrologic cycle. The Social Studies department will look at all of the
previously mentioned in connection to their social implications.
Our second semester theme will be on the elections and the election process. The faculty
of the English Language Arts department will teach students how to properly write a speech as
well as properly deliver one. At the end of the semester our students will be able to hold a class
debate and support their side with knowledge gained from the school year. The Math department
will teach students about polling and the science of the polling process. The Science department
will include labs and experiments from the environmental concerns and stance of candidates. The
Social Studies department will focus on informing and educating the students on each candidate
of each party as well the history and formation of each political party.
Our faculty is excited to begin the school year with this educational approach in order to
help students recognize the real world implications of everything they learn in our classrooms.

Ms. Gonzalez
Richmond Heights Middle School