Seventh Graders’ Construction of Novel Insights in Interdisciplinary Learning
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College of Education
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TitleSeventh Graders’ Construction of Novel Insights in Interdisciplinary Learning
AbstractInterdisciplinarity holds a promise of improving students’ learning by providing opportunities to connect what students are learning in schools to relevant real-life issues. However, despite some literature supporting the effectiveness of interdisciplinarity, there is a lack of understanding of what and how students learn from this approach. This study sought to understand students’ learning experiences in the course of an interdisciplinary unit of study through the lens of the pragmatic constructionist epistemology of interdisciplinary understanding. Conducted at a private international school in the Southeastern United States, the qualitative single case study methodology involved one math teacher, one English teacher, and 11 seventh-grade students. The data generated from various sources, such as the teachers’ collaborative unit planning documents, class observations, student focus group interviews, one-on-one semi-structured interviews with teachers, and student assessment documents were analyzed and interpreted using inductive and deductive thematic analysis to generate findings. The results show that a collaboratively designed interdisciplinary course of study that includes relevant and student-centered teaching and learning approaches promoted strong interdisciplinary grounding, which enabled students to integrate knowledge and skills. Moreover, students effectively integrated their learning from different subjects and their own in order to develop a deep understanding of their topics and produce an effective product. This integration process led to their construction of novel insights, which were cognitive and practical in nature. In addition to the cognitive and practical novel insights, the students also constructed humanistic novel insights, which showcased their new worldviews. The students’ construction of humanistic novel insights can help develop dispositions or global competencies they need to thrive and become change agents in the complex world. Thus, interdisciplinarity helps promote the development of well-rounded students who are globally competent. These results led to recommendations that focus on teacher development as curriculum designers, support structures for teachers, tools for evaluation and design of interdisciplinarity, and community connections. Considerations for future research include empirical studies with different age groups, subjects, issues or topics, and programs as well as longitudinal studies on students’ development of key dispositions.