Inspiring students with choice: a look at interdisciplinary learning

By Jessica Thompson, Newswire, and Nick Yates, ISB Communications

School is a very different place than what today’s adults experienced. In this series of blogs, we examine the science behind a modern education and why it’s beneficial to your child.

A couple of years ago, ISB started a redesign of its High School curriculum to offer the best mix of traditional academic and interdisciplinary courses. There is a consensus in education about the value of learning exercises that bridge academic disciplines that would previously have been taught in isolation.


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Kelsey Giroux, who was one of the teacher leads in the redesign, had student success in mind when looking into applying interdisciplinary learning to our curriculum.

“We’re designing these courses to increase student choice and different learning opportunities, and we’re really seeking to offer courses that are more aligned to real-world experiences and take learning outside of the school walls,” Ms. Giroux said at the time.


The evolution of ISB’s interdisciplinary learning

“We discovered what was important in these classes were the aspects of interdisciplinary learning, students having a voice and choice and that real-world context,” Ms. Giroux said. “We kept those as cornerstone pieces in these new courses.”

The new courses are in-depth, year-long programs that take up a double block rather than the full-day.

According to ISB student Noah M, the courses offer a more hands-on approach to learning.

“When I was choosing courses, I noticed one that took up two blocks and was a lot more hands-on than the other courses,” Noah said. “You also got to go on two trips to Cambodia.”

He chose to enroll in the Action Research program.


Students in our interdisciplinary learning program during their trip to Cambodia


New courses offer different pathways to students

“Every student is unique and we want to offer different pathways and opportunities to each student,” Ms. Giroux said.

The new courses give students the ability to have choice in their learning. Learn more about how ISB has created a challenging and joyful learning experience.

“I think for some students they learn better when they can make connections across subject areas or some students really learn by doing or creating,” Ms. Giroux said. “My class took two trips to Cambodia, you don’t get much more real-world than that.”

And it’s this hands-on experience that has truly stuck with Noah.

“I found the course really great because it makes the stuff we’re learning applicable to our lives because going there and seeing things first-hand such as how people live, the amount of money they live on, the resources they need, the facilities they have and what we can do to help, it makes my research much more personal,” Noah said.

When learning is personalized, not only is retention higher, students are also more engaged. Want to find out more about a personalized learning curriculum? Click here

Noah said he spent time after the Cambodia trip “looking into solutions to the water crisis in Cambodia and how that can be fixed in a realistic and feasible way.”

Students walking through a field in Cambodia during their interdisciplinary learning trip

Noah, in addition to having his eyes opened to real-world issues, has gained better research and writing skills through Action Research.

“Learning how to combine my personal passion of history and social studies with writing and research, it’s enabled me to be a much better writer in English, but also a critical thinker and researcher for social studies,” Noah said. “It’s really applicable to everyday life and helps prepare me for my future.”

Ms. Giroux saw the effects on these students, with many wanting to volunteer to help out future classes.

She said, “For them to be involved in the future, that’s their choice, that’s not a class they’re taking, that’s them personally saying, ‘I’ve been really engaged in this work and I want to continue with it.’ The conversations I’ve had with students who want to come back in the future, those have been the ‘wow’ moments for me because, in some way, shape or form, it’s had an impact on them.”

And that is the purpose of a good education, creating a learning environment where students actually want to learn. Click here to learn more about our innovative and unique learning environments. 

“Our goal at the end of the day is always what is best for students and how can we improve student learning,” Ms. Giroux said. “That is the goal in education, so it always comes back to that.”

Learn how ISB has redefined learning to prepare students for success

ISB is an extraordinary school, made so by a tradition of educational excellence spanning 40 years. Establishing, nurturing, and growing such an exceptional learning community has been and remains intentional; we work hard to build strong relationships so our learning is at its best.

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Challenging & Joyful Learning