Simplicity for the Interdisciplinary Unit Win

Darcy BakkegardBlog, Connect Better, Differentiate Better, Engage Better, Lesson Plan Better, Tech Better


  • Create an interdisciplinary unit by exploring your own community or communities around the world.
  • Tie in social studies, geography, math, art, music, and more in your unit.
  • Using simple technology create videos and presentations.
  • Have students share their projects with the community.

If the idea of diving into an interdisciplinary unit (IDU) feels overwhelming, take a breath and just remember to KISS: Keep it Simple, Silly. That’s not to say designing and executing an IDU will be easy. Anything worth doing takes valuable time and energy. But you can increase your likelihood of successful and meaningful collaboration by focusing on a simple topic that nurtures simple connections supported by simple tech.

Consider what will provide the most DEPTH for your students as well as what will spark their authentic curiosity and joy in learning about this topic. Click To Tweet

Simple Topic 

You want something universal and easy to connect to. Think thematically: broad enough so all can participate; specific enough so there’s a clear direction. The more possible points of connection to your topic, the greater the likelihood of collaboration. 

  • Example 1: The Perfect Place– In North Dakota, 4th graders study North Dakota history, presenting a natural topic for an IDU. Studying any place opens the door to examining art, literature, Native American/First People history, biology, zoology, language, culture, food, religion, sports, genealogy, geology, ecology, history, and legends. You get the picture. So embrace your locale. Let students explore their roots. Or Zoom around the world and explore the perfect place. (See below for more specific examples.)
  • Example 2: Instrumental Connections– Make music the centerpiece of your IDU. Music connects to everything, everywhere, and is simultaneously art, literature, and science. It’s rich in history and culture. And it provides great opportunities for students to create (be it songs or instruments) as well as present (concert, anyone?). And don’t forget the possible class TikTok-Esque videos you could produce.

Simple Connections

Take your topic and share it with your community. And I mean your COMMUNITY. IDUs can be school/community-wide or a focused melding of two subjects. Older students can serve as teachers and mentors for a cross-grade collaboration. Community members can add expertise and authenticity. Consider what will provide the most DEPTH for your students as well as what will spark their authentic curiosity and joy in learning about this topic. 

Two tips here

  1. Be early: Share your desire to collaborate as soon as possible. The earlier the better, and no, a year ahead of time is not too soon. Early increases the likelihood of funding partnerships, community connections, and better curricular alignment. This brings us to the need to…
  2. Be flexible: You may have to shift and be flexible when you want to do this project to better coincide with the timeline of other educators. Provide a time frame or date range and adapt from there. 

Example: The Perfect Place

In addition to the connections listed above, studying a place allows you to tell the story of the place. When that place is YOUR community, the connections are endless: 

  • Social Studies: Identify ways the community has changed and/or needs to improve. Document local history (the big storm, the big win/loss, the big XXX). Conduct personal interviews (with veterans, immigrants, business owners, local “legends”).
  • FACTS: Host a class bake-off (invite community mentors to teach traditional recipes; the best team wins!).
  • Geography: Create your own map of the community. (Have access to a drone camera? Help students get aerial shots all over town. Or just use Google Maps.) Explore your ecology. Dig into local natural resources.
  • Math: Calculate population growth and population density (by neighborhood). Estimate the size of various landmarks and the distance from one to the next then figure out how to actually calculate those values.
  • Art: Partner to make a community mural. Gather local plants and flowers for collages. Make representative sculptures of local history.
  • Music: Learn music from cultures that have immigrated to your area, past and present.  If you choose to explore other places, find examples of traditional music integrated into the work of contemporary artists.
  • Other classrooms: If you do allow students to research different places, collaborate with classrooms in those places. Use Mystery Skype and Mystery Zoom and talk to students around the world. OR connect via Flip and their Flip Grid Pals to create video pen-pals.
  • Other grades: Empower older students as peer editors, tech-support gurus, or camera operators.
  • ELA: Compile, outline, draft, edit, and tell the STORY of not only the place(s), but the IDU, too.
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Simple Tech

When maximized, great ed tech can help us connect, not only to our students but to our colleagues and community. Two go-to classroom tech tools will enhance any IDU: StoryMap and Flip. StoryMap is a simple, free presentation tool that allows you to connect pictures, videos, and text to a location on a map. Flip is a one-stop video response tool perfect for capturing what students know. 

Example 1: The Perfect Place

  • Allow students to pick a person, place, or event in your community to research. Provide a clear list of artifacts for them to collect about their topic (a personal interview (video and/or audio), photos, facts)
  • Use Flip to record an interview or share favorite findings. (Sure, they can use any video recording tool you want. Flip is just super easy and then YOU have them all compiled nicely together for safe-keeping, for grading, for the next steps. When submitting a video via Flip, students can download the video to their device before sharing it with you, allowing them to then insert the video into any presentation too.) 
  • Once students have their information and video(s), compile, outline, and draft the story of that person, place, or event. Then create a class StoryMap (or one for each place studied). Students add their “stop” on the community tour. Layer in all the connections for that location: the math measurements, music, photos, and videos.
  • Your classroom can even be one of the stops on the map, allowing you to highlight the students’ work and their contributions to the community.  
  • Bonus: Create QR codes and post them at those sites in your community. Create a self-guided community tour using the class’ StoryMap and help your whole community connect to each other. Don’t forget to share what students create with the local business associations and your county/regional/state tourism bureau.

More than likely you won’t do ALL of these things, especially the first time through. You’ll pick, or let students pick, the pieces that resonate most with your goals, content, and potential collaborators. The possibilities are endlessly simple. Go to it! 

About Darcy Bakkegard

Darcy Bakkegard is an English/Theatre teacher who got tired of traditional sit-n-get PD and now creates the type of PD she always wanted with The Educators’ Lab. With 10 years of experience teaching English and Theatre, Darcy specializes in interactive strategies for the classroom, meaningful tech integration, and building relationships with students. Darcy is an ISTE Certified Educator, an experienced international presenter, and empowerer of teachers. She co-authored The Startup Teacher Playbook to help teachers take back their professional development and rekindle their spark for teaching.