The grade 9 team (all science, social studies, math, and English teachers) recently completed an interdisciplinary unit (IDU) focused on the theme of inclusivity.

Last year was the first time that we offered the IDU, and one of the issues that we noticed was that teams tended to leave everything to the last minute, and teachers were unclear about the nature of their responsibilities towards the various teams.  To help ensure that all students felt supported throughout the process, we paired each team with a mentor teacher who was responsible for checking in on them throughout and for providing them with timely feedback – this is related to my “conferring” goal.  While the system was not perfect, it was a vast improvement over last year.  I checked in with the teams that I was assigned to every second day and tried to provide them with as much support and feedback as possible.

One of the challenges that we faced, however, were many teachers being out of school at various points during the 2.5-week unit, interrupting their ability to support the teams that they had been assigned.  Hopefully, this issue can be resolved through more careful scheduling this year.  Another way to improve the system would be to clarify at exactly what points mentor teachers need to check in with their teams, along with a central place for us to document that these check-ins are actually occurring and any interventions that may need to take place as a result.  With such a large group – approximately 20 teachers and 150 students – keeping track of everything and ensuring that everyone is clear about their roles and responsibilities are major hurdles.  This year we made many changes and improvements to the unit and also had a high degree of teacher turnover; next year we plan to run with a similar model and will likely have less turnover, helping to ensure continuity.

At the end of the unit, we issued a student satisfaction survey, collecting 86 responses – also related to my “conferring” goal.  Here are the results to the quantitative questions:

These results are encouraging overall, showing a few areas for further improvement:  more focus on presentation-giving skills, helping students make explicit connections across disciplines, greater focus on the various steps of the design cycle that we use at our school, tightening the organization of the unit, ensuring that all students are challenged, and tweaks to make the unit more fun.

ISB’s Design Cycle

In terms of the qualitative responses, the following themes emerged:

  • students learned more about the theme of the unit – inclusivity as well as about how to analyze survey data, how to deliver an effective presentation, and how to design a viable solution for a real-world problem
  • students valued the opportunity to learn more about and practice how to collaborate with others effectively
  • things to improve upon include greater clarity in terms of the schedule and individual assignments amongst all teachers; more time for teams to work together – possibly through more condensed lessons devoted to the collaboration meta-skill; more feedback throughout the process; improving the structure and engagement of the science, social studies, math, and English lessons offered throughout the unit

Here are a few quotes that stood out related to the theme of the unit, the focus on collaboration and presentation-giving skills, and the unit’s structure:

  • “We have SO MUCH to work on as a community!! We need to be more inclusive and understanding, kind, and empathetic! Kindness is so important and we all need to be grateful for our privileges (because of this unit, I realized my top value is kindness).”
  • “We have SO MUCH to work on as a community!! We need to be more inclusive and understanding, kind, and empathetic! Kindness is so important and we all need to be grateful for our privileges (because of this unit, I realized my top value is kindness).”
  • “The theme of inclusion was very meaningful. Since ISB is such a diverse school, including minorities is huge priority.”
  • “The idea of improving upon our school is very good, I think that having students share their ideas is a good idea.”
  • “Teamwork – this was the biggest team project I’ve done so far.”
  • “The ability to collaborate with other people I would not have otherwise.”
  • “The best part is working with my group because I did not know them from before, and we got really close during the course of this project.”
  • “Learning about collaborating with others and how to speak in front of people was probably the best part because I can see how it would be used in anything anyone does for the rest of their lives.”
  • “The individual assessments and the large amount of free time given were the best part, because of how it gave us a lot of flexibility regarding how and when we do our project.”

The grade 9 team will take all of this data into account as we begin our planning for next year.  Overall, we addressed a number of key concerns from last year’s IDU (which dealt with the theme of Islamic Art) – the unit was focused on a more relevant topic, it was more inquiry-based, and students were provided with an authentic audience for their work.  As well, even though there is still room for improvement, we were able to provide more structure and support for students this year than we did last year.  I am looking forward to reflecting with the team and will try to blog again once that meeting happens.