Interdisciplinarity (if there really is such a word)

Yesterday was the final day for this summer’s session of the Crimson Summer Academy.

It was a successful return to in-person teaching after two summers of Zoom. We were all relieved to be back in front of real people instead of images on screens.

It was also our first summer trying out the preliminary version of our new interdisciplinary curriculum.

Or so I had thought.

It turned out that my model of interdisciplinarity is not the same as my colleagues’ model.

I try to follow Jackie Gerstein’s model, in which many (or even most?) individual lessons involve multiple subjects. So a math lesson might require writing and might include content from biology or civics. This approach is usually concrete enough to resonate with even the most concrete students, as long as we can keep them away from those “But this isn’t math” complaints. (Ironically, those who complain like that are usually the students who say they don’t like math!)

A much more abstract approach is to pick a general theme that isn’t subject-specific, so that many (or even most?) individual lessons in multiple subjects connect to that theme. This summer our theme was “Forming Our Future,” which was more-or-less a focus of all subjects. My guess is that that idea was much too abstract for the large majority of our students. My course, Quantitative Reasoning, did indeed try to focus on that theme (maybe 50% of the time) and we included plenty of non-math topics. Did anyone else include any math in their courses? I think not.

They never do.

It’s always up to the math teachers to include other subjects, never up to anyone else to include any math.

Categories: Teaching & Learning