What time do you start your mathematics each day? What day do you reserve for critical thinking and problem solving? How much time do you allot yourself to investigate connections between the past and your world today? These questions might seem ridiculous to any adult. The examination of life is not divided into segments in which content and skills are relegated to specific times or days. So, it’s important to question why we teach students this way.
John Donne penned a famous poem stating, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” This could inform how to change our thinking when it comes to content in schools.
In the larger world outside of education, we use content, ideas, skills, and strategies across disciplines to make sense of situations, solve problems, and complete everyday tasks. These are skills that drive our careers. Our pathways are not directed by the disciplines, but by larger concepts or ideas that utilize all the disciplines and their associated skills as tools to achieve success in our endeavors, whatever they may be.
STEM education, and education as a whole, could benefit from pivoting away from presenting content in highly focused silos centered around isolated disciplines. A more inclusive model of pedagogy would help prepare students for all aspects of the world, not just having disciplinary expertise. In a world where the internet and Google do not exist, content expertise is crucial; however, we don’t live in that hypothetical world. We live in a world where employers value content expertise, but also value “what else can you do” or “how can you use that expertise” even more. The world outside our classrooms is less about facts and more about what our students can do with them.
Basarab Nicolescu shares in The Transdisciplinary Evolution of Learning that in the 21st century we need to change our emphasis from just “learning to know” to a broader purpose. Teachers need to equally emphasize instruction on “learning to do,” “learning to live together,” and “learning to be”—in other words, preparing students for life beyond the classroom.
In the classroom, the idea of transdisciplinary STEM presents itself in not what we teach, but how we teach. We center our standards and content around larger concepts in which all disciplines can engage and add to understanding the connectedness of the real world. Concepts such as innovation and interdependence provide opportunities for all disciplines to build learning experiences that mirror real life and provide openings for students to make sense of the world around them.
This pedagogy is not about forced integration of science, technology, engineering or mathematics into other content areas, but about building understanding and meaning about the world through all disciplines. With all disciplines building connections to a larger concept, students begin to see the interconnectedness of content and skills in the world around them. Science, reading and mathematics skills, as well as the litany of skills labeled by a discipline, become real life skills in the context of learning. The walls come down and bridges are built.
Classrooms across the nation have to move beyond just theory and implement pedagogy in practical instruction. Transdisciplinary instruction doesn’t happen overnight, it takes thoughtful planning, robust examples to reflect upon, continual practice, and strategic professional learning. Discovery Education supports educators in taking steps toward practical application of this type of instruction through Discovery Education STEM Connect, a resource which helps the classroom walls fade away and opens the world to students.
STEM Connect, Discovery Education’s interdisciplinary K-8 resource, blends dynamic digital content with ready-to-use lessons and hands-on activities to enhance core curriculum and cultivate valuable skills that prepare students for the future. With embedded supports, interactive resources and compelling career connections, teachers are able to add more flexibility to their online or in-person instruction, deepen engagement, and help students grow from classroom problem solvers into imaginative, global solution seekers.
No content is an island entire of itself; every content is a piece of the continent, a part of a transdisciplinary world. STEM Connect uses transdisciplinary resources to not only provide students with the content and tools for success, but to develop them into lifelong learners who will leave a lasting impact on the world.