How multi-disciplinary learning leads to deep understanding
How is information stored in our brains?
Is our brain like a filing cabinet with many drawers? Does each drawer store different pieces of information – one drawer for words, another for numbers, and yet another for symbols?
Or is our brain like a spider web, with words and numbers and symbols all interconnected?
I suspect you already know the answer, but here is a quick way to demonstrate how our brains work.
Here’s a word: MOON.
Take a deep breath. Clear your mind. Take 30 seconds and think about the moon. Write down all the thoughts that come to mind.
Here are the thoughts I noted down:
What does this list show? Is our brain a filing cabinet or a web?
If our brain were like a filing cabinet, the drawer with all the information about the moon wouldn’t contain words like magician’s hat, cheese or International Space Station. It would contain information strictly about the moon!
But that isn’t so. Our brain is in fact like a web, with all the information we know and have learnt interconnected. One thought leads to another and another, with the first thought (moon) quite unrelated yet connected to the third thought (cheese). Similarly, the word cheese could also come to mind by thinking about a mouse, about pizza or about Switzerland. Every piece of information has many threads of web connecting it to other varied pieces of information!
Okay, but what does this have to do with multi-disciplinary learning?
To answer this question, let’s take a look at a couple of examples of multi-disciplinary learning.
Example 1: Teaching students about balanced diets in Biology
A typical Biology lesson will simply teach students the definitions of terms like nutrients, proteins, carbohydrates and so on, and then give them a table of the different nutrients needed by our body, along with the kinds of food that we get them from.
On the other hand, a multi-disciplinary approach will:
Have students apply Language skills to break down the word carbohydrates into its two parts and identify its meaning: carbo (carbon) + hydrates (water)
Have students apply their knowledge of Chemistry to draw how carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms join to form a carbohydrate molecule.
Have students apply their Social Science skills to identify the commonly eaten unhealthy foods in their class.
Have students apply their Mathematics skills to calculate the nutritive values of the unhealthy foods identified.
Have students apply their Social Science skills once again to analyse how traditional foods from across the world have always been balanced meals – fish curry and rice; missal pav; steak with bread and mashed potatoes; pasta with veggies and meat; enchiladas; and idli sambhar.
Example 2: Teaching students about life in a particular desert in Geography
A typical Geography lesson will give students facts about the terrain, the climate, the food, the occupations and the lifestyle of people living in that desert.
On the other hand, a multi-disciplinary approach will:
Have them apply their pre-knowledge of Geography to analyse the latitudinal location of the desert as well as the terrain, and then make informed inferences about the type of climate the area experiences.
Have them apply their knowledge of Science to discuss how the soil affects their food and therefore their nutrition.
Have them apply their knowledge of History to debate about the occupations and lifestyle of the people.
Have them apply their Mathematics skills to calculate how close or far the area is from their town/city and from other developed cities of the world.
Now that we understand what multi-disciplinary (teaching and) learning involves, let’s go back to the spider web analogy.
Our brain is like a spider web, with pieces of information all connected with each other. So, learning new information means connecting a new piece of information to an existing piece of information by making a new thread.
But, the aim is not to create just a chain of information – the aim is to create a web of information. And a web has interconnections too. A piece of new information needs to be connected to many other pieces of information for the web to grow stronger and bigger!
Multi-disciplinary learning helps a child’s brain making many connections and interconnections between information learnt across subjects – Language, Mathematics, Science, Social Science, Arts and Sport. The more the connections, the deeper the learning!
A multi-disciplinary approach also helps learning by making connections to already existing memories explicit for the students. Making these explicit connections have been shown to have a large positive impact on student learning and retention.
Multi-disciplinary learning at home can be achieved through simple activities and discussions. Here are some examples:
Read a book about a child detective solving a crime? Have your child examine a magnifying glass to understand how it works and why detectives use it!
Experimented with a yummy new dish at home? Have your child apply their knowledge of Science to identify the nutrients or their Language skills to write the recipe!
As you can see simple interactions can go a long way in increasing and strengthening the connections in the brain!
unboxED is based on multi-disciplinary learning. It offers the child and parent resources to build a growth mindset at home while exploring Literacy and STEM concepts through conversations and creation, and letting kids be kids. These educational boxes have been built keeping in mind the academic and cognitive skills needed at various stages of the child’s development.