Pulling Things Together: The Promise of a Connected Curriculum

Posted by Lou Moore on 8/20/2018

A number of years ago, I asked a group of students what made high school different from elementary and middle school.  Many commented on increased workloads, greater independence, and the excitement of meeting new people. I enjoyed hearing from the students but one insight really stood out.  “We see our learning as a whole,” one student declared. “High school separates it.”


This was not what I hoped to hear but when you think about it the observation makes a lot of sense.  Despite many changes, the basic organization of most public high schools has endured. Curriculum is separated by discipline with an emphasis on discrete content.  Teachers usually do most of their work isolated in departments with little time for collaboration with educators in their own disciplines let alone across subjects.


Since I started teaching in 1990, secondary education in the United States has been buffeted by many changes.  Academic rigor has increased, teacher evaluations are more demanding, and schools have implemented high-stakes standardized tests in almost every grade.  But pursuing strategies to integrate and connect learning across subjects has not been a priority. This is a shame because pulling things together would deliver substantial benefits.


Most importantly, greater integration promises to boost learning and understanding for all students.  An emphasis on content and skills that connect disciplines would challenge students to transfer knowledge to new problems.  Furthermore by seeing themes emerge across the curriculum, students would be more likely to see the value of what they are studying.


RBR is already way ahead of the game on the coherence front and we take up the challenge from a position of strength.  Our academies promote links across subjects and establish real world connections. Moreover, RBR is fortunate to have a talented and dedicated staff who collaborate effectively and encourage students to link and transfer knowledge across subjects.  As we revise and develop curriculum, teachers are infusing vital literacy skills across multiple subjects. This will be readily apparent in the revised sophomore core curriculum that will be implemented in 2018-19. These courses of study reflect an important shift in emphasis away from fixed content and toward the development of the skills, attitudes, and habits of mind that are rooted in the subjects we teach.  In addition, we are building in more time in our district calendar for collaboration among our teachers to develop learning experiences that stress an interdisciplinary approach to subjects. Moving forward we will continue to review and revise curriculum with these goals in mind and we will look for other ways to increase program coherence.


Connecting learning between subjects will require sustained effort, time, and some rethinking about the high school experience.  But the potential benefits are great for both teachers as well as students with the ultimate aim of making high school academics more rigorous and rewarding for everyone.