Interdisciplinary Learning Done Right: Student Exhibition Projects – #BLOG365 Day 29

There has been a little bit of chatter on the #IMMOOC Voxer group about interdisciplinary learning over the last few days. It was also something my accreditation group spent a lot of time discussing last week when we were doing a site visit. True cross-curricular learning seems to be the Holy Grail in teaching. Great educators are always striving for content integration and looking for natural connections in the curriculum to facilitate this type of learning. It’s the whole reason we have curriculum maps in most instances. Curriculum maps allow us to easily spot those natural connections and build upon them in the classroom. When we teach across disciplines the learning is deeper and more meaningful for our students. Beyond extending the learning, if we are working alongside teammates in this process we have the opportunity to collaborate and draw on the collective understanding of our team.

I could write about dozens of cross-curricular units that I have either created or been a part of over the years. But, today I would like to write about one I taught a few years ago with my sixth grade team. We lobbied for no finals that year. In lieu of the final our students would create an interdisciplinary exhibit. At the time we were lucky to have an 8th period, basically an extra class period to work on this twice a week. We were also a very cohesive team with a shared vision of what success looked like for our students. That success wasn’t a paper and pencil final for us. Our measure of success of transfer and extension of knowledge and skills.

For me, social studies and science are the easiest umbrellas to work under when creating interdisciplinary units. We ended up settling on an Ancient Rome unit since the sixth grade focus was ancient civilizations up through the Fall of Rome. I taught social studies so I focused on the content surrounding Ancient Rome in the weeks leading up to the start of the exhibit project. I also spent time with students discussing what made a great exhibit. My students had already done a group exhibit on Ancient Greece. But, I broadened their understanding of museum quality work by looking at online exhibits, studying museum labels and design choices, and discussing the concept of big ideas in exhibition design. Also, we continued to do object-based learning every day as part of our warm-up.

We introduced the student exhibition concept to our students in 8th period with a rubric. Rubrics ensure success with students exhibitions, or any project-based learning. Our rubric explicitly included every subject area except the arts. But, we included a few indicators on audience awareness, design, creativity, and big idea. Here’s the run down of what we were assessing with indicators in each subject area.

Social Studies- Accuracy of historical information, incorporation of cultural significance, research, primary source inclusion

Math- Grade level math application appropriate to content

Science- Incorporation of at least two sixth grade level science concepts

English- Text conventions and visual texts

We placed students in groups: architecture, arts, religion, food/culture, entertainment, etc. Students were responsible for completing an individual exhibit. Each exhibit included a student-created 3-d object, a primary source, an interactive component, and labels. Normally I am not a fan of using tri-fold boards, but we used them in this unit for a few reasons. Our students had never created a school-wide exhibition and the boards provided a certain level of consistency.  We were also dealing with space constraints so students needed to be able to display their exhibit on one student desk. They were expected to include 3-d components that would add to the depth of the display, but they had a confined space (just like in a museum!). Students were also responsible for working with their group to create one exhibition component to be displayed in our classrooms. Eighth periods were divided between working on research and design of individual exhibits, as well as working on the group components. Students had timelines for check-in’s for their individual exhibits (another element that ensures success with student exhibitions). The check-in’s kept them on track and it kept us in the know about what to expect on the night of the exhibition opening.

In total we spent about 4 weeks on the unit. This included the twice a week 8th period sessions. I continued to teach on Ancient Rome right up to the end of the unit.

At the end of all of this we held an exhibition opening for parents and community members (another element that ensures success with student exhibitions…authentic audience). Exhibits were displayed in five different classrooms by themes. Our goal was to create galleries within the larger exhibit of Ancient Rome. We also had an opening for younger grades to visit. Students were docents for their individual projects. But, because exhibits were grouped by themes many times students worked together with their group to tell the full story of art or entertainment or architecture in Ancient Rome.

We were astounded at the quality of work we saw from our students. Their excitement and engagement throughout the process was infectious. The entire school of 1600 knew we were working on it and the energy was intense. And, boy did our kids learn! In a big way! They were phenomenal docents. They knew their material inside and out.

One of the coolest things we saw was this interactive component. Its a spice bottle that worked as a dial on the exhibit, rotating to show new content.

As with any museum unit, I learned a lot and my team did too. We reflected on the roll out as a team frequently throughout the unit and again at the end of the process.

Below are some of the amazing exhibits created. I will post tomorrow about lessons learned and adjustments I might make if I did this again. Assessment tips will come again later too!

I would love to hear about interdisciplinary projects in your classrooms either here or via Twitter at @JCrossEdu


2 thoughts on “Interdisciplinary Learning Done Right: Student Exhibition Projects – #BLOG365 Day 29

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