What sounds most interesting?

  • Working out at the gym.
  • Training to be a pirate.
Thanks to the new HR policies, the crew almost missed their island because Terry was nervous about shouting “Land ho!”

Thanks to the new HR policies, the crew almost missed their island because Terry was nervous about shouting “Land ho!”

Taking a course in “pirate” sounds like one of those gimmicky ideas from a fringe university – but not in this case. You can earn a certificate in swashbuckling from none other than the esteemed MIT. (Sound familiar? Good memory: that’s the school where a struggling Matt Damon worked as a janitor before getting discovered by Hollywood!)

To qualify as a high-seas scoundrel, you need to complete four physical education courses – fencing, pistolry, archery and sailing.

Sound awesome? Yes, but individually those lessons likely lack interest to you. Combine them with creativity and suddenly your topics have a fantastic HOOK. (Pirate humour is im-PARROT-ive.)

My point: Would your children feel A+ about going to school if they were training to be an “Olympian” or planning a “Mission to the Moon”?

What’s a pirate’s favourite planet? It be MARRRRRRRS.

What’s a pirate’s favourite planet? It be MARRRRRRRS.

They would definitely be more excited – if only teachers had more time to focus on cross-curricular lessons.

What is that? Instead of teaching subjects separately, you combine them on a theme or project.

The first time I tried this was a Grade 3 unit on early settlers. I intertwined social studies, language arts, visual arts and math. Students… were apoplectic. “Why are we doing MATH during ART TIME?!”

School subjects have been segregated forever. But don’t they relate? Think about the measurement you learn in math class. Is it important in preparing liquids for science? Useful for drawing in visual arts? Invaluable for determining the winner of the cow patty shot put? (I went to a rural school.) No, it shouldn’t just be “math.”

Educational psychologist and awesome-name owner Lauren B. Resnick wrote in an essay:

“In contrast to learning skills in isolation, when students participate in interdisciplinary experiences they see the value of what they are learning and become more actively engaged.”

I totally agree. (If I didn’t, I wouldn’t haven included her quote.)

For example, staging a puppet show unites a language arts “fables & folklore” unit, visual arts and drama. In this large lesson, my Grade 3s weren’t just looking at scoring “10 out of 10” on a test; they were developing expertise in tasks and resolving problems (such as eliminating a character from a play because they decided they didn’t have time to make the extra puppet).

They also received independence to enjoy their topic instead of being instructed to “finish questions 1-5.” (If a student didn’t feel like constructing the puppet that period, they could rehearse lines for the show or finish the good copy of their corresponding story.)

Teaching students how to brown-bag it academically.

Teaching students how to brown-bag it academically.

Sounds great and fun to run so why don’t cross-curricular lessons occur more often in schools? Well, timetables aren’t negotiable, it takes a lot of planning and creativity, and it’s not always easy to get other teachers to see eyepatch to eyepatch on this. (Pirate jokes finished in the fourth paragraph? Sorry.)

Despite the above challenges, disgraced Olympic sprinter-turned-high school principal, consultant, author and learning coach, Ben Johnson, supports cross-curricular teaching. He states that “deeper learning requires that groups of teachers pool their talents, resources, time, and efforts” to connect the content areas. (He offers teachers several ideas in his post on Edutopia.)

Whoa, I just looked at his photo – he’s a very different Ben Johnson. Definitely not the one who lost a race to two horses but outran a stock car in Prince Edward Island back in ’98.

You could run web searches to read more about cross-curricular lessons but I suggest joining some Twitter chats and groups (such as #edchat) for fast learning. Twitter chats help you find other teachers who can provide expert opinions and resources ranging from high school to kinderGARRRRt–okay, done, I’m done.

What kind of patch do pirates wear at Halloween? Pumpkin.

What kind of patch do pirates wear at Halloween? Pumpkin.

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Read up on Twitter chats in How & Why to Join the Saint John Playlist Twitter Chat with @ChuckTeed & @MrPeterCullen.  

Written by Peter Cullen

Peter Cullen loves to teach children. He specializes in literacy (elementary level) and has a lot of fun creating games and activities for class lessons. He also writes, manages social media accounts and announces roller derby games.

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