The International Baccalaureate published a new document recently called “The Primary Years Programme as a model of transdisciplinary learning”. I read it with great interest, as the idea of transdisciplinarity is so central to the PYP, yet it is a hard concept to grasp and put into action at times.

A clear distinction is made between the PYP, the MYP and the Diploma Programme, showing its gradual move from the transdisciplinary programme to the discipline-driven DP. It made me understand the journey a lot better.

Chad Hyatt, the PYP Coordinator at Sandy Searles Miller Academy for International Studies in Las Vegas, posted an interesting comment about the document on the OCC (Online Curriculum Center). It puts into words the thought I had while reading the document!

In my view, there is a difference between these terms [He refers to interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary]. I like to look at it in terms of a continuum with disciplinary and multidisciplinary learning at the beginning. Disciplinary learning is isolated within the subjects with no connections being made between the different disciplines. Multidisciplinary learning is isolated within the subjects with thematic connects being made between the different disciplines. In other words, we are reading about bears and using counting bears in math. These connects are not really valuable, but the day is organized around a theme.

Interdisciplinary learning blurs some of the lines across the subject areas and stronger connections are made between the different disciplines. This is more of an integrated curriculum where we are learning about topics. We are reading and writing about Mars. We are viewing presentations about Mars in Science and writing about our reflections.

Now, transdisciplinary learning is structured around issues or concepts. The disciplines are used as tools to help us uncover understanding about the issue or concept. Everything we do is related to the issue or concept and the disciplines are used as a way of thinking about the issue or concept from different perspectives. The lines between the subject areas are invisible in transdisciplinary learning because the focus is on the concept or issue.

My thinking is that progressive teachers move throughout this continuum. We start to see more and more connections and increasingly strive to move towards the transdisciplinary end. However, I feel that we get stuck often in the interdisciplinary section because it is such a paradigm switch to get to the transdisciplinary level. I kind of think this is why the one document is called Towards a Transdisciplinary Programme of Inquiry. It is IB’s vision. We always want to move towards that goal, but often it remains as a goal and never quite gets 100% accomplished. There is a book called Meeting Standards through Integrated Curriculum by Susan Drake that shows a model of the differences between the approaches listed above. Due to the paradigm switch, she focuses on convincing people to at least move to the interdisciplinary level while knowing that transdisciplinary is possibly in the future.

I couldn’t agree more about the points made about the continuum, and how we move towards transdisciplinarity over time. The whole argument Chad makes here is so well put, I had to share it.

In the near future, the document shall be discussed at our school. I wonder what will happen once we have taken this apart? What kind of learning will occur? What kind of ideas do we have?

What would you do with this document at your school?


2 thoughts on “Trans-disciplinarity

  1. Thanks Jessica for making me feel good and posting my message from the OCC. I’m glad that you found it useful. I enjoy reading many of your comments on the OCC as well. Thanks again.

  2. Pingback: Talking about… « Stars and Clouds

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