Ignite! Learning's Approach to Interdisciplinary Education

Just as students learn best when they are making conceptual connections within a particular subject area ("Wow, westward expansion is directly related to the Civil War!"), they can also boost academic performance by making connections among different subject areas. For example, negative numbers are not merely left behind in a math lesson, but are picked right back up again in B.C.E. years with social studies. Ignite! Learning facilitates this educational approach by providing numerous media pieces that connect math, social studies, and science. Students who make connections are learning actively and deeply. We want students regularly recognizing connections, thinking beyond disciplinary boundaries. We want them to see how geometric shapes and patterns inform art and architecture. We want them to start noticing, all around them, how powerfully science and technology can drive societal change. We want them to think of mathematics-from Punnett squares to line graphs to carbon dating-as a key that unlocks scientific understanding.

At Ignite! Learning, we believe that it is an educational best practice to holistically link content in different subject areas. Not only does this strengthen students' academic performance, but it also builds a bridge between the way learning happens in school and in the broader world. Rather than the compartmentalized nature of some traditional educational approaches, interdisciplinary education encourages students to construct a web of content meaning, to carve their own road maps of information retrieval. The working world places a high premium on problem solvers who can use connected thinking to understand things a new way.

Traditional education teaches in segregated classes of specified disciplines (e.g., math class, art class, social studies class, etc.). Interdisciplinary education is by no means a response to the failure of isolation, but, rather, it is an attempt to benefit from cooperation. It models for students the realistic collaboration of complementary professional relationships (e.g, the relationship between marketing and media production, human resources and nursing, architects and project managers, etc.) and certain academic studies (e.g, art history, comparative literature, nanotechnology, etc.). As traditional educational environments are compartmentalized into specific classes, each class reflecting a particular intelligence (e.g., art class appeals to a visual-spatial intelligence, music class appeals to a musical intelligence, math class appeals to a logical mathematical intelligence, etc.), interdisciplinary education embraces multiple intelligences by showing how various disciplines view an idea. By unifying and validating dissimilar academic fields, it models respect for those unlike fields, an important component in well-rounded character education for young people. By bringing different disciplines together, this kind of learning embraces the true strengths of diversity. It shows the value gained when we seek help from people who are different than ourselves.

Because learners are going to access the data again in a different, cross disciplinary setting, interdisciplinary education helps create a community of learning outside of that initial origin point of learning. It reinforces the value of what is being taught if that unit of data is repeated outside of its original setting. Probability isn't just a math idea, if students see it again in science. A number line isn't just a tool for math, if students recognize it again in a history timeline. Archimedes isn't just someone from a science world, if his ideas are also encountered in math or Ancient Greek history. Interdisciplinary education gives students additional chances to interact with that data, allowing learners to sequentially ascend the intellectual hierarchy of Bloom's taxonomy through growing experience. Repeated interaction creates multiple pathways of data access for learners. By referring to geometry in math and art and world cultures, you're keeping your access to geometry fresh and relevant. By taking on different points of view for the same information, students are learning different ways to tackle a problem. This sort of broad education models strategies of problem-solutioning by analyzing information from numerous disciplinary angles, encouraging flexibility and open-mindedness in academic challenges.

Interdisciplinary education is practiced by teachers in different ways. Elementary school classes may be taught by one teacher who can design curriculum to purposefully return to an idea or bring different disciplinary approaches to the idea throughout the lesson, day, or school year. As this one professional has more control over the class's time, it may be easier to design an interdisciplinary approach to curriculum. When schools are more compartmentalized in the upper grades, specialized teachers face more challenges of time and practicality. An individual teacher may bring interdisciplinary ideas to an idea within the class time he or she controls. That teacher may also unite with other teachers the students share to approach an idea from various separate classrooms throughout the school. School administration may plan an interdisciplinary theme for the teachers to rally around for the sake of a cross-disciplinary approach to a topic. As proof of the success of interdisciplinary education, a study of 15,000 eighth graders showed that students from an interdisciplinary educational background scored higher on standardized tests than those students with a traditional educational background (Lawton, Ed.).

Ignite! Learning's approach to interdisciplinary education can be seen both in its media and its print components. Across its courses, Ignite's media frequently references its content's relevance in other fields, such as teaching the geometry in cubist art, showing technology throughout history, and teaching the usefulness of mathematics in scientific professions and investigations. The offline components put the students in positions where they seek out different points of view on a subject, asking students what kind of professions, for example, would make use of a particular mathematical concept, or using timelines in science. We ask that students collaborate and respect each other's diverse vantage points in problem-solutioning, so that all roads lead to success.

While traditional education has been compartmentalized and segmented, a product of the 19th century industrial revolution when learning became very mechanized, interdisciplinary education is a very 21st century approach to learning, where solutions are varied, multi-angled, and at the speed of information delivery in this multimedia age. Addressing the needs of information age learners, Ignite! Learning's style of interdisciplinary education asks students to use the wide array of data representation and problem-solving strategies to arrive at a solution, proving how they arrived at an end is just as important as that conclusion.


Lawton, Ed. "Integrating Curriculum: A Slow but Positive Process." Schools in the Middle 4, 2 (November 1994): 27-30.