This engagement with their own cognition inspires students to continue thinking through all areas of their lives and asking questions about the direction of the world around them. Creativity and problem solving are strongly connected to critical thinking and thus, it behooves all educators to ensure that our students are indeed learning not just what to know, but how to use their brains for genuine critical thinking in the classroom and beyond.
This can be very difficult if we look at everything that we need to teach our students as separate, unrelated, disciplines. The reality is just the opposite: life isn’t about disconnected silos of information. Math and history and science and literature are all a beautiful combination of each other. This leads us into the unmitigated value of cross-curricular learning.
As the Virginia Department of Education’s guide to cross-curricular instruction put it, “This approach allows students to build on their current knowledge base and connect what they know with what they are learning; and it promotes higher level thinking and collaborative skills needed for lifelong success.”
By using tools like Kids Discover Online to bring in multiple related concepts from across disciplines, we make the learning more authentic. Math is no longer an isolated set of algorithms. It has real-world context, from shopping at the local store to figuring out which materials would best withstand the pressure of an oil spill gushing out of a ruptured pipeline. History ceases to be an endless series of past dates and names of people from long ago and becomes an examination of how basic astronomy was vital to the success of the Underground Railroad and why Word War II may have continued much longer had not math and computer science been employed to crack the Enigma codes.
Some may argue that this kind of cross-curricular learning may be appropriate for older students but not for younger ones, but this is an inherently false way of thinking. Developmentally, young children are constantly trying to make sense of the world around them. By infusing any particular topic of study with another—such as art with math or language arts with music—we give students a greater opportunity to make genuine connections to their authentically lived experiences.
If we go back to another powerful insight from Dewey—that school and learning should not be an escape from the real world but rather it should be a genuine part of it—then we can understand why cross-curricular teaching and learning is so important for students of all ages. By opening up our curriculum designs and lesson plans, we breathe life into what we all know can be a static process. The old science adage that “nothing grows in a vacuum” could very well be the rallying cry to guide all educators to recognize and harness the power of cross-curricular teaching and learning as a means of empowering our students today and well into tomorrow.