Teacher Reflections: Crafting an Interdisciplinary Unit

By Amber Villa-Zang, Rubicon International featuring Meredith Ward from the Meridian School, WA

It can be tempting for teachers to open their unit planner and hammer away, creating a new unit or revising an existing unit as they fill-out their planner. While this might work for some people, for many it actually hinders the creative process, limiting the potential to create connections because they just weren’t visible.

Meredith, a 5th grade teacher at the Meridian School, an independent K-5 school in Seattle, Washington joined us at our AEC Leadership Institute. One of the goals of the Meridian School was to map high quality units in Atlas. This meant teachers essentially had two objectives: 1) To revise and refine existing units to ensure they were high quality (in some cases this required starting from scratch in order to embed cross-curricular alignments) and 2) To input their units in Atlas.

To maximize creativity, Ann Johnson, Educator Extraordinaire, encourages teachers to step back and get messy. Meredith already had the idea: She wanted to create a cross disciplinary unit about Lewis & Clark. But she needed to flesh out the details:

“After completing my initial brainstorm and mind map, I knew exactly how I wanted my unit to look when I mapped it because I had gone through the process of identifying the purpose of what I needed to teach. Because my objectives were very clear, I wrote everything on big chart paper to help guide me through the process of mapping. By doing this I was able to see what I was lacking and what I needed to let go. This also helped me determine my Big Ideas and Essential Questions. With Ann Johnson’s guidance, I was able to look for more appealing ways of presenting the different topics within the Lewis and Clark: Corps of Discovery unit.With all this in hand, I started mapping in Atlas. It was a smooth process once I started inputting all the contents and skills. I went through the standards for ELA and Social Studies, and checked the ones that applied to what we were doing in that unit. Finally, I added the activities and assessments. The hardest thing for me was to determine if I should input the map into ELA or Social Studies.”

See Meredith’s unit here:  Explorations: Taking Risks, the Corps of Discovery

Interdisciplinary color code in Atlas

Watch the process as Ann coaches Meredith on thinking through her unit to identify her big ideas, content, and skills.

For a recorded webinar of Ann Johnson talking in-depth about creating quality integrated units, click here

Interested in more reflections on creating units? Check out our blog “Creating New Curriculum: Design as a Process Top Five Things I Learned from Dr. Ann Johnson“.

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