Integrated Studies: Placing Learning in the Real World

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How do visual arts, science and literature come together for student engagement and success?

Journaling This month’s blog presents Valuing Place: A study of human impact on the American West an 8th grade integrated studies project that explores the impact of human activity on the American West’s ecosystems.
Ben studies the map of the Great Basin Region in the Visitors Center at Antelope Island State Park.
What is integrated studies?

Integrated studies connects two or more disciplines, showing ideas in context and giving students a more realistic view of how one works in the real world.

Teaching this way promotes:

  • collaboration
  • critical thinking
  • an in-depth understanding of the areas being studied

For support developing an integrated studies approach visit the Edutopia website.

What can integrated studies look like for 8th grade students?

The project Valuing Place is a collaboration between science, humanities and visual arts teachers at the Salt Lake Arts Academy.

Image 2

Through this project teachers have designed a cohesive curriculum that unifies the facts, skills, goals, and knowledge found within their core standards.

By designing a collaborative unit the teachers have created a powerful learning model for future integrated curriculum.

These powerful learning activities included standards-based connections to each content area:

  • In the humanities, students read works of fiction and non-fiction, including primary sources about the settlement of the American West and Utah.
  • In science, the standards addressed the theme of “change” and students were asked to analyze the influence humans have had on the environment. Students studied the geological forces that created the geography of the American West and its natural resources and eco-systems. Through experiments and fieldwork students studied how human activity, along the Wasatch front, positively or negatively impacted the local eco-systems.
  • In visual arts, students were taught photography, basic drawing and watercolor techniques. Additionally they analyzed old photographs and artwork of the American West and Utah.

Emmaline's mantis

Students created original products that showed a deep understanding of the complex issues as a result of western expansion and how those issues remain relevant to the present as well as to the future way of life for Utah.

The Valuing Place project helped students demonstrate:

  • increased proficiency in narrative, expository and informational writing
  • targeted visual arts techniques
  • multiple perspectives about how human activity has impacted their local eco-systems over time.
The Salt Lake Arts Academy has an award-winning leadership program that invites their 8th graders to identify an area that needs improvement and the actions they must initiate to make these improvements a reality. They used this leadership program with the Valuing Place project.
Fieldwork Provides Opportunities For Integrating The Disciplines
How can an integrated studies project evolve?

During Year One of McCarthey Dressman funding, students looked into the changes in the past 150 years to the Wasatch front, and the impact of mining on local eco-systems.

In Year Two of the project, the students looked into the water and the impact of expanding development in the 20th century, the Central Utah Project and reliance on the Colorado River system.

In Year Three the issues and costs of future expansion, green building guidelines, alternative energy sources and conservation were studied.

What is the impact of integrated studies?

Jeni and Jason

In closing, this is an excellent example of how education should work, now and in the future. Instead of learning in discreet, separate subjects, the disciplines are taught in a more integrated manner. Students are studying real problems, understanding the content at a deep level, working in teams and producing products they can be proud of and that are shared with a larger audience.

Next Month’s Topic

BOOM Magazine – an after school program that helps kids of all abilities, from extremely talented to inexperienced writers, express themselves, improve writing abilities, and gain confidence and life skills.


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