The National Education Policy 2020 recognizes that “it is becoming increasingly critical that children not only learn but more importantly learn how to learn. The necessity for students to learn ‘how to learn’ rather than just learn a lot of content is becoming increasingly obvious over time. Here are a couple of reasons for it:
If learning how to learn is so essential, how do we ensure that students learn it? Various scholars in the education industry are of the opinion that an interdisciplinary approach to education meets this challenge by focusing on the synthesis and application of knowledge. But what is an interdisciplinary approach? The International Bureau of Education defines it as “An approach to curriculum integration that generates an understanding of themes and ideas that cut across disciplines and of the connections between different disciplines and their relationship to the real world. It normally emphasizes process and meaning rather than product and content by combining contents, theories, methodologies and perspectives from two or more disciplines.”
For example, a student could learn not just science and math, but also how the skill of deduction can be used both to derive mathematical equations and to solve cases in the forensic sciences, not just what are the elements of grammar and language, but also how languages are structured, and how to use the knowledge to learn a new language perhaps.
Some tips to make classes more interdisciplinary
Now that we have established that an interdisciplinary approach to education is important, the next question that arises is how do we apply this approach to our classes? Here are a few tips to implement it in our classes:
1. Teach students how to learn, not merely what to learn
A lot of research has been conducted on how we learn new information and how we retain information for much longer. A couple of strategies that have proven quite effective are active recall (where students actively test themselves), spaced repetition (where students regularly revisit a piece of information after some period of time), and interleaving (where different subjects are mixed together in studying). These skills can be taught. Moreover, note-taking skills are highly useful for students no matter which profession they get into. These skills can be actively taught to students.
2. Teach concepts through real-world problems
Teach students through projects that help them apply what they learn to the real world. As students do this, they learn the skill of specification (applying general principles to specific contexts), which is an interdisciplinary skill. This is highly useful when they come across new information or a new tool for the first time. Although the information or tool may change, the principles of using them are all the same. Students can learn to use these principles in different contexts only through practice.
3. Activate Prior Knowledge as foundations for new knowledge
This tip is something that many teachers do actively practice. Encouraging students to build upon what they already know is a great way to drive learning. The understanding earlier was that students are blank slates. However, this is not true. Many students have a lot of knowledge, although it might be incomplete or incorrect at times. Ask students questions that make them integrate new learnings with their prior knowledge.
4. Identify the Main Idea in a Topic
Each topic has a single core idea. Even though students may not remember the details, knowing this main idea is important. For example, the idea of gravity is that objects with higher mass attract objects with lower mass. The computation or the calculations may not be as important. Teachers need to identify these ideas and repeatedly reinforce them.
5. Give importance to the practice of skills as opposed to mere imparting of information
As already observed, information very quickly becomes outdated. This means that teachers need to invest in teaching students how to find their own information. This would involve using resources such as books, libraries and the internet to find information. Teachers also need to teach students how to evaluate information and distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources.
6. Have an idea of what students are learning at the time in other subjects
By its very name, it is obvious that interdisciplinary education involves making connections between different subjects. One great way for teachers to ensure to do this is to always have a rough idea of what the students are learning in other subjects. If a Geography teacher knows that students learnt the importance of different conditions required for the growth of specific plants in science class, challenging students to think about the different industries present in different places (such as tea plantations in the hilly areas) is a great way to trigger interdisciplinary ways of thinking in the students.
To conclude, let us consider an analogy. Teaching content knowledge from a specific discipline is like feeding a person cooked food. Teaching interdisciplinary skills to students is like equipping students to find their own food and cook it. The second option would help them better in the longer term.