Multidisciplinary projects in schools

It is my experience that we compartmentalize knowledge entirely too often in schools, labelling some ways of learning mathematics, other ways of knowing science, and still other ways of knowing the humanities. We compartmentalize knowledge so much in schools that I believe it leads to what I like to call Sitcom teaching, in which each lesson is a stand alone that does not depend on any other subject areas (or often even the previous lessons in the same class) in order to be learned by students. 

This is a dangerous practice because it leads students to believe that mathematical thinking is somehow incredibly distinct from other types of thinking and to the logical conclusion that they can get by in life without being able to reason mathematically, or that it is even possible to live life without using mathematical reasoning. This is clearly false – the similarity between what we think of as different modes of thinking is much more than the differences. Just thinking of similarities and differences as I have pointed out in the previous sentence, a common activity in the social sciences, is using the basic ideas inherent in mathematical set theory. 

A potential cure for compartmentalization is multidisciplinary learning, wherein the skills, knowledge, and modes of thinking are rejoined together to form whole projects.

Here are some sample multidisciplinary projects:

  • Build a community garden

    In this project, students could learn science as they observe how the plants grow, and be encouraged to experiment with different amounts of light, watering, fertilizer, and soil preparation techniques to see how these variables affect plant growth. Younger students can count out seeds, and work with older children who help them carefully arrange these seeds into rows and columns. Students could learn how to calculate the lengths of shadows during the course of a day, and thus work out where are the best places for Tomatoes in their garden. Students could write letters of invitation to various community organizations to invite them to use the community garden. They could write grant applications to seek funding for their garden and petition local businesses to offer financial support for the garden. They could research how farming practices have changed over time. They could learn about the environmental consequences of our global food supply.

    At the end of the season, they could harvest and cook their own food. They could give away the food to a local food bank. 
     

  • Run a store

    Students could create budgets, order supplies, and keep track of inventory. They could research the health benefits (and problems) associated with various kinds of food. They could write proposals to change inventory selection. They could read about the manufacturing process for the goods in their store, and write letters to the manufacturers either requesting more information or a change in harmful practices. They could use their experiences in the store as a background for a short story. They could sell their art work, or books of their poetry. They could donate the proceeds to charity, or use them to buy supplies for their school.


  •  Create an (rock) opera

    Writing musical scores would let students learn more about fractions, sequences, and counting. Students could research different musical styles, and learn more about their culture. Students could create the music, the stage settings, design the costumes, program the lighting sequence, and create the program booklet for the performance night. Students could create multiple storylines and then find ways to bring their ideas together (where possible).

 

Of course, there are a lot of other project ideas not listed here. To implement these in most current school settings, teachers would have to collaborate and work together fairly well, and we might have to set aside some of our standard school schedules. However, we should never let the school schedule have too much control over the kinds of learning activities we do with our students.

What other benefits do you see to this approach? What are the problems with it?

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12 Comments

  • MUKESH KUMAR wrote:

    i am very impressed with the example of multidisciplinary projects given by you. i too a maths teacher teaching in a school and i was searching regarding this.
    thanks a lot for sharing your views

  • Mr.Akhila Ranjan Dash wrote:

    I am a Social Science teacher. The M.D. project sample provided by you is quite a good one.
    Thanks a lot for the same.

    Dept. of Social Science
    DAV Public School
    Pokhariput, Bhubaneshwar
    Odisha, India

  • Mani Kant Mishra wrote:

    The M.D is really very creative and innovative.Thanks a lot for the same.

  • anshu yadav wrote:

    i want a multidisciplinary project in social-science for class IX . can u pls help

  • David Wees wrote:

    Have you mapped out the topics in social studies and science to see if there is any overlap during the year?

  • Prakash reddy wrote:

    Need your help for M.D. projects covering languages plus matha, science and science for classes VI to VIII

  • David Wees wrote:

    Hi Prakash,

    I don’t know enough about those classes to be able to help you. Can you give me more detail about what is taught in those courses?

    David

  • pandey shikha wrote:

    Hi, i want more information about this project .how can this help me for prep student?.

  • sananda choudhury wrote:

    please help me with more samples of MD Projects for classes 1 to 8.

  • David Wees wrote:

    Hi Sananda,

    I’d need more detail than that. What kinds of projects are you hoping to find? What do you mean by classes 1 to 8?

  • ayesha wrote:

    can you give me any ideas for an MD project based on sports? i want to do something based on a hypothesis, like for eg – do drugs boost the performance of players?

  • David Wees wrote:

    That sounds like a potential statistics project. You could run an experiment, but it’s important to make sure that your experiment follows ethical guidelines. Drugs might boost the performance of players but they may also cause health problems, so that makes it a difficult topic to study.

    What else would you want to learn about sports? There’s literally tonnes of data just in the newspaper and the sports scores, for example.

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