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How to make units transdisciplinary

Bridget Louder, PYP Coordinator, Belvedere Elementary School

Bridget Louder, PYP Coordinator, Belvedere Elementary School, USA

This article shows how to involve the single-subject teachers into the collaboration process of the programme of inquiry.

Single-subject teachers at Belvedere have been working diligently to make every unit of inquiry truly transdisciplinary. Our single-subject teachers, which include music, art, PE, Spanish, librarian, technology specialist and counselors, are successfully integrating their specialty into every grade’s unit of inquiry. How? Collaboration.

Once every quarter, the specialists and I study the programme of inquiry. The discussion revolves around each grade’s upcoming unit and how they can integrate their specialty to ensure transdisciplinary learning. Our programme of inquiry is located on Google docs. Here, the five essential elements of each unit of inquiry are being updated by teams and by single-subject teachers.

These meetings assist specialists in making conceptual or topical connections. Here is a glance at a section of our programme of inquiry.

This is the kindergarten unit “Together we can” where single-subject teachers have noted how they plan to integrate their subject into the unit during a quarterly collaboration meeting.

Our music teachers focused on the building of a community. Students worked on building a safe environment where everyone takes responsibility for their actions. In art, teachers focused on the key concept of responsibility. They stressed that students had a responsibility to take care of art tools. Our PE teachers had students work together in teams on how to support one another in a game. Our librarian read Snatchabook by Helen Docherty and focused on how our behaviour impacts communities. For the month of September, our counselors stressed cooperation and teamwork to further connect to the kindergarten unit.

Being that it is difficult to have specialists attend grade level meetings, I take it upon myself to input any connections that the specialists have to the units of inquiry. I send out “unit maps” to inform specialists when grade levels are switching units. Within these maps, the essential elements of the units are laid out for the specialists. Specialists inform me of any connections they made during these units. I then input those learning experiences into the unit planner. Should specialists have any questions regarding a unit, I am available to walk them through the unit.

This is a “unit map” which was originally created by a former ESOL teacher for our fifth grade students. I adapted it for our specialists.

At Belvedere, it is our goal that each single-subject has one unit of inquiry written. We want our specialists well versed in the PYP and to be held equally responsible for the transdisciplinary nature of the programme. By having a unit written, our specialists will internalize and empathize the process of creating a unit. Specialists and I discuss where they could develop a unit that is genuinely integrated with a grade level specific unit of inquiry. For instance, our music teachers will be completing a unit planner aligned with third grade’s “how we express ourselves” unit, which focuses on simple machines. In order to develop a deep understanding of the unit, music teachers will attend third grade’s meetings for “how we express ourselves”.

Being a specialist in a PYP school is a very difficult job. It is extremely important to us that our specialists are fully supported. In order to further develop our specialists, I hosted a specialist networking session for the IB Mid-Atlantic region. Here, specialists shared ideas and strategies. Discussions revolved around the hardships presented by being a single-subject teacher and how to overcome any challenges they faced. Being able to collaborate with teachers from other schools helps assist specialists in furthering their PYP journey.

Through collaboration with the coordinator, the classroom teachers, administration and specialists from surrounding PYP schools, the specialists at Belvedere are successfully integrating their specialty into our PYP units. This transdisciplinary process helps all of our students grow and learn at a deeper level.

Bridget Louder is the PYP Coordinator at Belvedere Elementary School in Falls Church, Virginia. Belvedere is the first authorized PYP school in Fairfax County. Bridget holds a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech and a master’s degree from George Mason University. Follow Bridget on Twitter @bridget_louder.



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5 Responses to How to make units transdisciplinary

  1. alison 27 October 2016 at 12:00 am #

    As an art specialist at a school going through the IB authorization process I found your piece helpful. I am curious, though, as to where the specialists own curriculum and standards fit in… are the specialists always trying to link their work to the classroom work? Does collaboration ever go in the other direction where the specialists lead the unit and the teachers collaborate with them? Just curious as all of this is still new and we are working to find our way as a school. Thanks again.

  2. Susan 4 November 2016 at 10:21 am #

    Alison. I love your question. At our school, GSIS, we have carousel style meetings where the classroom teachers rotate around the room and meet each specialist teacher to share what they are looking at for an upcoming unit. The specialist and classroom teacher may or may not be collaborating. It is a great way to involve the teachers in my visual arts stand alone unit. Sometimes the classroom teacher can see a natural connection with their UOI or even Math/language arts units which will support the Specialists units. @GSISKorea

  3. Patricia 13 January 2017 at 11:31 pm #

    I understand how all of the above is interdisciplinary but when does it become transdisciplinary?

  4. Bella V 16 February 2018 at 8:11 pm #

    I read your article and I was wondering if it is possible to incorporate Science into the units of Inquiry. I am an IB Biology teacher & also teach biology for 7-12 grades. I´m going to have a workshop for primary school teachers that work the PYP curriculum and I am trying to understand the units of inquiry as to share with them how Science (Bio, Phy, Chem) can be integrated into their class. The reason for this is that student that continue into an IGCSE + IB program have no base on Science, and we want them to help us a bit. Is it possible? any ideas?
    I´d really appreciate your info on this.

  5. Cheryl 28 October 2022 at 8:35 am #

    Dear Bella,

    We are working on a similar concept. We get the middle school Science teacher to work along with us while we plan the units of Inquiry. Most units will find some form of integration, while some really don’t.

    The science teacher then helps us integrate those concepts that go really well. However, the concepts that do not integrate are addressed as a stand alone. We have kept aside one session in the week and we call it Scientific Inquiry. This session gives our learners time to pursue their personal inquiries as well address those concepts in science that are very important for middle school.
    I hope this is helpful.

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