American Studies Honors was introduced this year as a true interdisciplinary experience for students, combining two subjects, instructed by two teachers, covering the content and standards for two departments. We believe that this type of course offering is beneficial to students and should be reimagined in other departments.
Of course, interdisciplinary teaching is not new to the high school: the Criminal and Civil Law sections team up with the Forensics classes to study crime scenes; the Journalism class works with world language classes when the foreign language students create a newspaper; and, the drama department often works with the art and construction classes to build settings. However, the introduction of American Studies Honors is unique amongst the other courses offered.
Interdisciplinary courses allow students to access material in creative, innovative ways. In the case of American Studies, literature allows students to learn history; yet, this is only one way that students can learn about the content of one discipline through the methodology of another. Since students have experience with multiple disciplines, learning the same concepts in different frameworks, they are more likely to make connections with other disciplines. This process of making connections results in a deeper understanding of the material that becomes relevant as students draw connection further in the real world.
Psychologist Howard Garner said that “students bring multiple forms of intelligence to the learning process. As a result, given that students are heterogeneous in their learning styles and have diverse backgrounds, interests, experiences, talents, and values, he believes that drawing on a broad array of frameworks and methodologies will enhance student engagement, and thus
learning.” These courses further engage a range of students in learning that is relevant to them and in way that makes sense.
Furthermore, Washington University professor John Bransford argues that interdisciplinary teaching helps to challenge students’ preconceived notions. This is done by approaching the material from one perspective and then filtering it through another. He further asserts that this process also helps develop students’ cognitive abilities and complex problem-solving abilities. The possibilities for these courses are endless.
What if the Social Studies Department opened up its electives and ran classes focused on different regions? What if a world language teacher co-taught this course? Perhaps the construction classes could team up with science teachers and discuss the properties of the different materials while students work with them.
We are not saying these classes should feel contrived or created just for the sake of creating them, but we do feel like this is an avenue worth exploring further. In the right context, with the right teachers, and students who are invested in the experience, these courses can be beneficial.