Integrated Curriculum Units for Traditional and Multiage Classrooms
Weil, Linda H., Childhood Education
The following project by Linda H. Weil was chosen as one of two winners of the 1998 Elizabeth Breathwaite Mini-Grant. Linda H. Weil is a 2nd-grade teacher at Carlos Rivera Elementary School in El Paso, Texas.
How can teachers let their students sail with Columbus across the Atlantic, travel with Native Americans, walk with Little Red Riding Hood, find cracks in the ocean floor, dig up dinosaurs, go to the center of the earth, save the Earth's ecology, and land in the Amazon rain forest - all without ever leaving the classroom? They plan, plan, plan, and then have a great time teaching!
When I first began working with thematic teaching techniques, I felt they made good sense. The main problem, however, was figuring out how to connect the themes and topics so as to maximize learning. My quest to develop such a method began seven years ago, as I attempted to combine 12 teaching units into one interconnected teaching building block. I designed in-depth themes that progressed from one unit to the next, and that provided a common thread to weave in and out of each other. I felt the lessons needed to be reinforced and recycled. As a result, the students could capitalize on new knowledge before proceeding to the next unit. They could collaboratively explore and learn in a thematic content.
My project for the Elizabeth Breathwaite Mini-Grant was a thematic project that involved the physical worlds of students' past, present, and future. It integrated the basic curriculum of math, reading, language arts, social studies, and science into congruent units throughout the year and involved the child's natural curiosity about the world. The foundation of each unit included review and reinforcement of prior knowledge, while preparing for future learning.
My chief goal was to provide the best learning environment possible for my students. I sought a way for them to simultaneously become focused, renew their interest, and build upon the knowledge they were gaining. A heavy emphasis on science and math began to emerge. I noticed that events in the physical world sparked my students' interest. By using the technique of integrated thematic teaching and building on my students' imaginations, we could visit places they had never known existed! I found that they readily accepted this new knowledge, and began using higher-order thinking skills as well. The students began to actively plan and reflect about the theme being studied. As this reflection took form, my students began to explore in greater depth.
It took small, well-thought-out steps to begin to find a solution. Techniques that worked were recorded and kept; those that failed were evaluated and discarded, if necessary. By organizing ideas for teaching and learning, and working to reach an understanding of the themes and topics, new methods of finding relationships between facts and information began to emerge. The students were able to use facts that they had learned to understand and solve problems.
Everyone in the classroom became an active learner. To my delight, the students displayed an increasing desire to achieve. Higher-order thinking and reasoning skills were beginning to develop naturally. It seems someone was always asking, "Why?" As a byproduct, we were having fun! I would tease my students about their researching, saying, with a smile, "Stop that reading - I want to talk to you!"
These units were designed to create a "hands-on" atmosphere focusing heavily on science. The students focused on their personal interests and learned to work in teams and independently. The students became empowered to make decisions, and the teacher became the facilitator. Although the students were young, they were becoming aware of life skills, and even gave some thought about related jobs that they never had known existed. …