Fostering Curiosity – Approaching Interdisciplinary Projects

Learning through interdisciplinary projects is an excellent way to foster curiosity.

By Marianne Green

“Creativity […] more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things,” noted educationalist Sir Ken Robinson in his famous 2006 TED talk. The value of creativity in classrooms can get set aside, because teachers have to prioritize the myriad of professional demands ranging from classroom management, assessment designs, on-going feedback, and the like.

Fostering curiosity and engaging students in stimulating activities does not have to be the responsibility of a single discipline. Exploring the web of intersections across disciplines can be done with the support of school administrators allowing for teaching teams to discuss interdisciplinary intersections and projects.

Consider the following questions when planning an interdisciplinary project:

  1. When in the scope and sequence would be the optimum time to introduce a project?
  2. What type of project would work given existing school resources?
  3. What would be the real-world connections and purpose of this intersection?
  4. Should the project be only digital or have digital components using the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards for Students?
  5. Which teacher would be responsible for specific aspects of the project?
  6. What types of assessments will be given, by which discipline, and when during the allotted project time?
  7. How will the purpose and general plan be communicated to students and their parents?
  8. Would there be time to schedule on-site or video conferences with external resources such as industry experts or museum educators? If so, when in the process should conferences be scheduled?

Fostering curiosity and modeling collaboration should also be part of executing the project. For example, organize teaching schedules to have different classes discuss what is working and what is challenging during the project-development stage. Should teaching schedules not accommodate for this possibility, have students post on a whiteboard or online classroom blog their discoveries, challenges, and advice.

Another digital possibility is designing HyperDocs which allow for customizing lessons throughout the project stages and for students to work through on their own. Additional benefits for using HyperDocs, according to education blogger Jennifer Gonzalez at the Cult of Pedagogy, are privacy and more personalized learning.

The potential and possibilities for interdisciplinary projects are endless. Here are just a few examples that this author proposes for consideration.

  1. Theme-based: Choose a theme such as Identity. Determine that the project will culminate in a three minute film showcasing students’ exploration of this theme. Language-arts teachers could select texts such as Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street, Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, or Elie Wiesel’s Night. Science teachers would discuss traits and genetics. Music teachers would then explore how artists use different instrumentation and composition for expression. Fine-arts teachers would showcase pieces perhaps by using the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s The American Experience in the Classroom (specifically developed with history and language-arts teachers in mind) or the National Gallery of Art’s Expressing the Individual. Technology teachers would determine shot sequencing, angles, and other aspects of videography. Ultimately, the script for the video would be the responsibility of language-arts teachers, music and color theme(s) would be determined by the music and fine-arts teachers, and the final video would be the responsibility of technology teachers.
  1. Issue-based: Select a community issue of student importance, such as immigration. Determine that the final project would be a student-designed Smithsonian Learning Lab curated collection. Language-arts teachers could use texts such as Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee or the Orphan of Ellis Island by Elvira Woodruff to discover immigrants’ perspectives. Religion teachers would explore Catholic Social Teaching themes. Science teachers could feature immigrants’ scientific contributions. Fine-arts teachers may discuss immigration using digital resources such as the National Gallery of Art’s Uncovering America. Mathematics teachers could conduct schoolwide census surveys for statistical analyses. Social-studies teachers would then explore the different immigration issues using primary source materials such as Immigration to America: Stories and Travels. Foreign-language teachers may even consider discussing the different cultural influences such as on foods.
  1. Topic-based: Select a significant topic. This year may be World Youth Day, and the culminating project may be different types of presentations during Catholic Schools Week. Since this year’s World Youth Day is in Panama, this country should be the main feature. Foreign-language teachers could review the folklife, food, and idioms. Social-studies teachers can explore the development of the Panama Canal using primary sources such as Digging Work in Progress on the French Construction of the Panama Canal or Panama and Panama Canal. Science and mathematics teachers could discuss the engineering of the Canal and the health challenges posed by malaria. Religion teachers can discuss the theme from Luke 1:30 and meaning of a pilgrimage.

Choose a path that works for the team and for the students. Know that exploring learning through interdisciplinary projects is an excellent way to foster curiosity!

Special thanks to the Education staff at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Elizabeth Dale-Deines and Phoebe Hillemann at the Smithsonian American Arts Museum, and Ashley Naranjo at the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access for taking the time to meet with me to discuss digital features.

Related Today’s Catholic Teacher Articles:

Imagination and History by Karen Walker (September 5, 2018)

Planning and Common Core by Rachel Wilser (September 27, 2017)

Creating a Positive Digital Experience and Footprint for Students by Amber Chandler (February 20, 2017)

Technology and the Common Core State Standards by Susan Brooks-Young (July 9, 2016)

Marianne T. Green, M.A., a Golden Apple recipient and independent consultant for the Catholic Apostolate Center, is an adjunct faculty member of St. Joseph’s College. Her recent collaboration with Diocese of Reykjavik is featured on Instagram @Virtual_Disciple.

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