Knowledge and learning do not happen in isolation, and are not confined by traditional subjects- they are supported and enriched by each of them. Thus, as it is commonly expressed, the idea of transdisciplinary essentially means connecting all the disciplines by a unifying issue or topic of inquiry, and going beyond all the disciplines through their links and relationships.
According to Greenwich Public Schools, the transdisciplinary approach promotes depth of understanding as well as adaptability to skills needed to allow students to solve real world problems, and to allow them to authentically create and build their own ideas. As a learner, visiting the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, was one of my strongest transdisciplinary experiences, and an example of what I am trying to explain.
I remember being at The Alhambra, listening to the tour guide’s explanation about the spiritual nature of mathematics. While I was busy and fascinated wondering ‘how many symmetries do these walls have?’, I could not help but wonder whether I had the language to classify and talk about the symmetries of the walls; and with tiny artist kicks, a third question emerged: ‘can different processes of transformation be applied to an object without changing its appearance?’ “The beauty of the Alhambra, the tour guide said, lies in the fact that we do not have individual shapes: the walls are hosting a dance of patterns repeating on a plan.” The Alhambra, built in the XIII and XIV centuries, is a symbol of the Arab conquest in Spain, an extraordinary piece of Muslim art that depicts how Muslims have abstained from painting figures of people and animals believing that the depiction of images can lead to idolatry, so they channel their artistic energy into the creation of beautiful and complex tile patterns. Remembering this experience always makes me think how the statement ‘when something is true mathematically, it is true forever’ would be a great central idea/statement of inquiry.
[Mathematics, language, art, history]
In moments like this, Oscar Wilde’s words are perfect: “I can resist everything except [temptation] an opportunity for learning ”. Thus, every time that I confront the need of planning learning experiences, I think at how many connections the contexts I have chosen allows students to make. I like to ponder how may skills from multiple subjects they can employ. I enjoy thinking about how using the language as a forum and opportunity to use what they know to communicate ideas enhances the relationships we all can have in the classroom. I try hard to think how reaching out to other subjects to use their particular skills and information will help them express their ideas clearly. This is important for me as a language teacher, because, for language learners, there is nothing worse than feeling they do not have any ideas at all, and if I encourage students to dig into what they have learned in other subjects they will always have something to say.
Below I will share a series of resources for transdisciplinary teaching and learning.
IB DP TOK
Illusion as Reality – Museum Experience : sense perception, art, language
The Growing Need for Interdisciplinary Curriculum Content (excerpts from the Hedi Hayes Jacobs book).
Interdisciplinary Teaching by Heather Coffey (LearnNC – Learning Materials).
Overview: Integrated Curriculum (ASCD Handbook)
Facing the Future – Critical Thinking, Global Perspective and Informed Action.
Interdisciplinary Learning in your Classroom (from ThirteenED online – w/guest writer Heidi Hayes Jacobs).