Integrative Teaching

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What is Integration?
When we think of integration we can think of a folding together of ideas to gain a fuller understanding of something. If we are teaching a mathematics concept such as multiplication with two digits we may bring into the learning experience some manipulatives such as concrete arrays, or a multiplication rectangle, or base ten blocks. These concrete manipulatives help children to access the concept. They are resources or tools used in the learning experience. We are not focused on students having a deep understanding of base 10 blocks--they are tools in the process of learning, the focus being on base 10, and specifically on multiplication. These tools are thus considered to be integrated into the learning experience to enable students to have a better understanding of the concept. Almost all of our work in integration has started with curriculum concepts. We always ask the question "what is it that we should teach, for example, Grade 3 children (specific Grade 3 children in a specific school)." Almost as soon as we ask the curriculum question we are adapting the curriculum for a specific group of children. All of the different types of integration are really different types of curriculum integration, from a simple one-subject form of integration (as in the above example) to a variety of subjects organized around a common concept. Some people might consider integration to occur when two subject areas are taught together, focused on the same topic. For example, we might combine science and mathematics in a dinosaur study, where the science component could explore dinosaur habitats, and the mathematics component could explore the lengths and heights of dinosaur bodies. Together, these two subject areas contribute unique and specific understandings to an overall understanding of dinosaurs. If we take this two-subject area idea a bit further we can combine a variety of subject areas--even within the dinosaur unit. We can study science, mathematics, art, language, social studies, drama, etc all in connection with dinosaurs, with the intent of deepening and extending the understanding of dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are the focus of study and each activity is designed to help students understand specific dinosaur-related aspects. Each activity may well be from a different subject area, with a different conceptual focus, a different set of learning objectives, different tools or resources, and different outcomes and products. In our work with thematic units we have found that this is the type of unit most often designed by our students. If we were to storyboard the design phase of the unit planning process we would most likely see our students poring over a concept map with dinosaurs and grade 3 (for example) at the core. They would have open before them a variety of different Grade 3 curricula and they would be searching for objectives, content, and resources that fit with their unit on dinosaurs. This concept map is somewhat like a jigsaw puzzle; the students want to fit into the puzzle as many different subject area pieces as possible; they want variety in content and they want variety in teaching approaches, learning experiences, and assessment. This type of unit is certainly thematic, addressing curricula at the appropriate level, and undoubtedly the children will learn something about dinosaurs; after all dinosaurs are the focus of study. BUT, the different subject area concepts and the entire unit is probably not designed in a conceptually-integrated manner. We will come to conceptual integration a little later. Sometimes the connection between subject areas is not so obvious. A pumpkin display in the middle of a room might signify that pumpkins are being studied. This display may be accompanied by pumpkin drawings, pumpkin seed roasting, pumpkin soup, jack-o-lanterns, and so on, but the pumpkin may not in itself be the focus of study. It is the excuse for different classroom activities associated with pumpkins....
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