SMES Teachers Present Interdisciplinary Curriculum Pilots to Fellow Faculty

Showing creativity, innovation and new levels of collaboration, members of St. Margaret’s faculty broke down barriers between academic subjects and created interdisciplinary curricula which were piloted across the school during the fall semester.
Last week, those faculty members reflected on their experiences and presented to their peers during a faculty professional development session at St. Margaret’s.

The school’s ambitious Strategic Plan prioritized the elevation of curriculum and pedagogy to enhance multidisciplinary knowledge. In outreach to students through ethnographic research, adults learned that many students expressed a desire for learning experiences with heightened relevancy in their lives.

School leaders strategized that making connections of academic content across subjects was a way to address both student interests and the school’s strategic priorities.

Last summer, Assistant Head of School for Strategic Initiatives Ryan Dahlem and Academic Dean Jeneen Graham offered Innovation Summer Grants to faculty willing to partner with a colleague from another department to develop interdisciplinary curriculum. More than 40 faculty members from every division and discipline submitted proposals. Stipends were provided to develop the interdisciplinary lessons and units that were piloted on campus this fall. 

“This was an incredible creation of new intellectual property at St. Margaret’s,” Mr. Dahlem said. “Our faculty designed new curriculum in an innovative and exciting way, and helped students recognize how topics in one subject can connect to another, deepening understanding and providing greater meaning to their learning.”

Last week, the teachers shared their experiences and modeled their pilots to fellow faculty and staff. The sessions were a chance for teachers to share their concepts, takeaways and lessons learned from interdisciplinary collaboration, and also served to inform and inspire other teachers of the “outside the box” approach to teaching important concepts.

While some collaborations were natural fits, such as science and math or English and history, some teachers had unpredictable collaborations that provided intriguing pilots. In grade 7, science teacher Kevin Estipular, math teacher Stephanie Windes and physical education teacher Dan Berman joined for a unit on the human body and its mathematical and scientific components. Mr. Estipular explored the levers within the human body, while Mr. Berman taught the scientific concepts behind resistance training and Mrs. Windes detailed math concepts in strength and conditioning.

Other interdisciplinary units blended physiology and photography, religion and science, and world history and visual arts. In all, 17 different interdisciplinary units were taught, ranging from Preschool through grade 12. Many will be sustained and expanded in the St. Margaret’s curriculum going forward.

Mr. Dahlem said plans are in place for another round of grants this summer as school leaders continue to weigh different ideas and approaches to grow interdisciplinary learning experiences at St. Margaret’s.
 
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An independent preschool through grade 12 college-preparatory day school in Orange County, California