The Knowledge Explosion
The current trends in education are moving educators toward adoption of an integrated curriculum. What is now referred to as the integrated curriculum was once known as interdisciplinary studies. Integration focuses on the organization of central themes or concepts combining several subjects
. These themes, or concepts, allow students to interconnect information between subject areas. Giving students this skill will enable them to combine information in large quantities, assess the quality and validity of information, and help them to determine the importance of any given context. Replacing the isolated subject areas with an integrated curriculum develops in the student an interrelated view of learning.
There are two common models for curriculum integration, the Daisy Model and the Rose Model. Independent subjects are organized around a central theme in the Daisy Model. The subjects refer back to the theme but are taught separately. The theme is represented by the center of the daisy surrounded by the unique and separate petals which represent subjects. On the other hand, the petals of the rose are intertwined symbolizing the fully integrated subjects of the Rose Model. The focus of the Rose Model is on a particular theme rather than individual subjects. The subjects are united under one theme and are taught simultaneously through the exploration of that theme.(Martin, D. J., 2000).
Curriculum integration has become a way to redirect the aims and purposes of schooling because of its positive benefits for students. James Beane has found evidence that shows that "we have known for many years that movement in this direction benefits both young people and their teachers"(1992). One positive aspect of this curriculum is that students see the relevance of the instruction because of the connections made among subject areas(McDonald, J., 1994). This makes the instruction less abstract and more applicable to real life
(Berlin, D. F., 1994). Students then tend to search for meanings and answers to their questions instead of simply memorizing facts to pass exams(Beane, J, 1992). Ms. M, a fifth grade teacher in Maryland, has observed this element of integration in the actions of her students. They seem more motivated by the subject matter when they can relate it to their personal experiences and other parts of their education. In addition, she noticed that the students had a better sense of accomplishment when they could draw from previous instruction and tie together information from each subject. Students who feel successful will acquire the skills necessary for cooperation, socialization, communication and self-motivation. Also, because the knowledge base is established for the overlying theme, there is more quality time for curriculum exploration in each class period.
Though the evidence cited in the preceding paragraph shows the benefits of the integrated curriculum, there are various levels of employment of integration among the school systems in the surrounding area. In an interview with Ms. W of Maryland, it was revealed that in her first grade classroom an integrated curriculum was not being applied. Instead, the focus was mainly on isolated reading and math instruction, with no science instruction included. Ms. W recognizes the benefits of an integrated curriculum yet the county mandated curriculum does not allow for science instruction of any kind, integrated or otherwise. She tries to include science connections in her reading program when possible, but finds it to be difficult due to the time restraints put upon her. Fortunately, the curriculum imposed upon Ms. W does not necessarily reflect how all districts deal with integration.
Some counties, such as the county in which Ms. M teaches, include a diluted version of an integrated curriculum. Based on the county mandated curriculum, a team of teachers selects four themes each year into which all subject areas are to be integrated. These themes are used to develop an idea of interrelatedness among subjects. Ms. M believes this amount of related information is a good way to incorporate the benefits of integration without overwhelming the students. She thinks that too much integration would cause the students to become frustrated and bored due to the overlapping of facts. She has come to the conclusion through her experiences that any amount of integration depends greatly on the involvement and communication among the team teachers. Ms. M’s situation reveals a way to incorporate the best aspects of both the traditional core curriculum and the integrated curriculum.
Evidence from an interview with Salisbury State professor, Dr. J, suggests that all subjects, including science, can be linked in order to achieve the full benefits associated with an integrated curriculum. He feels that the overlapping of subject content "mirrors real life" situations in that every day experiences are not isolated and unrelated. In addition, Dr. J emphasizes the importance of recognizing the uniqueness of each discipline and preserving it even during integration.
As author Philip Panaritis states, "We are constantly grappling with the need to teach more, new material and ideas, fresh approaches and methods, yet we are unwilling to let go of the traditional content of the curriculum"( as cited in Integrated Curriculum, Performance Assessment, Authentic Learning, 1996). He feels there is a "knowledge explosion
" awaiting students and a great possibility for one to learn everything that they can know. An integrated curriculum provides an opportunity for this explosion of ideas and facilitates a fresh approach to learning.
Beane, J.(1992). Integrated Curriculum in the Middle Schools. Eric Digest. Retrieved February 2, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.ericeece.org/pubs/digests/1992/beane92.html
Integrated Curriculum, Performance Assessment, and Authentic Learning. Ideas and Directions. (1996). Retrieved February 10, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.parkcce.org/id/3/intgr.html
Berlin, D.F., & White, A. L.(1994). The Berlin-White Integrated Science and Mathematics Model. School Science and Mathematics,94(1). 2-4.
Martin, D. J. (2000). Elementary Science Methods: a Constructivist Approach. United States: Wadsworth/ Thomson Learning.
McDonald, J., & Czerniak, C. (1994). Developing Interdisciplinary Units: Strategies and Examples. School Science and Mathematics. 94(1). 5-10.