FOCUS ON A TRANSDISCIPLINARY UNIT: ACCESSIBILITY
A key component of the academic program at GEMS World Academy Chicago is that we tie disciplines together in our daily inquiries. This "transdisciplinary" approach makes classroom work more engaging and relevant to our students because it shows how academic disciplines exist and interact in the real world.
A great example of the transdisciplinary approach in action is the unit on Accessibility recently completed by our first-graders.
During the course of the unit, students visited Access Living, a Chicago-based advocacy group for people with disabilities; they toured Chicago Transit Authority headquarters and interviewed CTA officials about how and why buses and trains are made accessible; they photographed public spaces in Chicago that either help or hinder accessibility; they designed and constructed accessible city structures out of wood blocks; and they talked to members of the Mayor's Office for People With Disabilities about the work the office does for the city. The visitors from the city also critiqued the buildings that the students had designed.
Our first-grade teachers, Joel Blecha and Michael Ferbrache, and their assistants, Jessica Anglin and Kirsten Richards, incorporated a variety of disciplines into the unit's many activities.
Prior to the Access Living visit, the students explored the Americans With Disabilities Act and the circumstances of its passage (history). Deb Lasala, the Lower School STEAM and innovation leader at GEMS, showed the first-graders how to build simple machines for use in their block buildings (physics/science). Students explored how steep ramps must be to make them easily and safely traversed by people in wheelchairs (math/physics). And they considered the role that local government plays in ensuring accessibility for its residents (humanities/civics/history).
As they moved through the inquiry, our students approached the idea of accessibility from a variety of vantage points. They acted as scientists, engineers, journalists, historians and civic leaders.
The Accessibility unit was a rich learning experience that showed young first-graders the connections between academic disciplines and how they themselves are connected to the world around them. Other examples like it can be found throughout our academic program, from preschool through middle school; the integration of multiple disciplines into each unit is a hallmark of the International Baccalaureate curriculum in place at GEMS World Academy.
The videos below show some of the experiences the students had at Access Living.