Fostering an interdisciplinary learning culture

Say the letters I-D-U in a crowded staff room and I bet you’ll see a cluster of MYP teachers scatter to the winds. For some reason, The IDU has taken on a beast-like persona. Perhaps because teachers see it as an extra burden? Perhaps because they feel that they the lack time and resources to effectively plan and implement an IDU? Perhaps because teachers are naturally territorial and think of themselves as English teachers or Chemistry teachers rather than MYP English teachers. Perhaps all three of these — or something else? Let me unpack each of these possibilities one by one and offer a solution — albeit an idealistic one.

The IDU is an extra burden: Actually, the IDU (I’ll abandon the capital The now) is an MYP requirement, just like the Personal Project and Service as Action. It is not an option or an add-on, and shouldn’t be treated as one — especially for schools who administer the ID eAssessment. So IDUs need to take priority within a school’s overall scope and sequence. They are also perhaps the most creative element of the MYP (in my opinion!), but school leaders at all levels (senior leaders, heads of subject and heads of year) need to show enthusiasm for them to get teachers to “buy into” them and see them as an opportunity rather than a threat.

The IDU takes too much time to plan and implement: I won’t argue that an IDU does take time to develop and implement, but it needn’t be that labour intensive. Arguably, the planning stage is the biggest challenge; many teachers find it difficult to make time for collaboration, and I’m afraid I don’t have a solution to that one because each school has its own timetable constraints. But in terms of delivery, schools have relative freedom. The IB does not stipulate a minimum or maximum length of time for an IDU to take place, so they can really be as short or as long as a school or teachers see fit. We have done IDUs in a day before, and some of our IDUs have stretched over a few weeks. I would advocate for a 3-day collapsed timetable approach which mirrors the inquiry cycle. Below are slides I developed which outline a framework that I think could work.

The IDU takes time away from my subject/discipline: Let’s face it, teachers are territorial by nature. We often speak of my subject or my classroom or my students, and, even in the most collaborative of schools, tend to work in disciplinary silos. Again, it’s about flipping one’s thinking and considering how an IDU can enhance one’s subject, not take away from it. That might mean sacrificing a little bit of content from other units, but the student engagement that an IDU can promote will be well worth it.

From my experience writing and examining ID eAssessments, I came to the conclusion that the most successful students came from schools who prioritised interdisciplinary learning and made it part of the school culture.

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