Chapter 1
Building an Integrated Studies Framework: 
Transitions to Transformation

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” John Dewey

This integrated studies framework is organized as a planning structure for a school’s Professional Learning Community (PLC). The strategies and resources are designed to facilitate constructivist practices in twenty-first century learning environments.

The Innovators, Their Vision and Plan

As stated in the Introduction, our target audience are the innovators and early adopters- the local administration, teachers, librarians, parents, and community members at any school having the vision and leadership to create an integrated studies curriculum. But, not everyone at your school will be ready and willing for such a change, and their first question, “Why Integrated Studies?”

As an advocate, you need to be prepared for how to harness both positive support and negative pushback. Here are a few bulleted ideas to help spark your thinking and communications with others about integrated studies. 

  • Integrated studies represent learning in the real world and sometime in this century, it will be a core foundation for all K-12 education.

  • Life doesn’t work with concepts, content and skills put in separate boxes taught through single subjects in segregated periods of time.

  • Life systems are often more circular than linear (think of perennial plants that come back every spring). Learning is a constant cycle from one experience to the next. Putting anything in the circular context of life simply and naturally becomes more interesting.

  • An integrated studies curriculum will motivate and engage students to wake up and come to school ready to think and tinker.

Developing an Integrated Studies Framework Within the PLC

Integrated studies is a sea change process that often begins with small whitecaps before larger waves are formed. It may start with one or two elementary teachers integrating language arts and mathematics in a unit of study. Maybe it’s a high school librarian collaborating with a Psychology and History teacher to create a unit together on the Vietnam War. It can also be a top down process where district level administration directs the change, like creating a STEAM themed school or design academy within a school. Regardless the genesis, the process of developing a coordinated integrated studies framework for any teacher, librarian and groups of both, maturates with their school’s Principal involvement. The school Principal’s engagement is critical to the tipping point where the concepts of integrated studies through a constructivist lens enter the school’s Professional Learning Community (PLC), by his or her leadership.

Here is a hypothetical PLC that starts with the fundamental premise that their professional learning will reflect the transformation of using an integrated studies philosophy and pedagogy. The transitions from teaching a single subject at a designated time period in the school day, to integrating two or more subjects during the same learning activity is the hallmark of an integrated studies approach. Elementary schools have a running start in the sense the system of a single classroom teacher with a multiple subjects credential is already in place. For middle and high school, single subject scheduling within six or seven bell periods is always complex to say the least. The key to an integrated studies PLC, is creating grade level or academy teams to collaboratively work together within the antiquated but still very present bell system structure.

If your PLC is progressive to the point of initially bending and eventually breaking the single subject periods, you are all heroes! But frankly, teaching staff or community members cannot change the single subject system alone. This is why the role of the school Principal within the PLC often becomes your first and local integrated studies champion. As a middle manager within a school district administration structure, the Principal is the instructional leader of the school who has the ability to communicate with upper level central office administration to approve your curriculum at a district level. This support will be critical to the success of your curriculum, and the structures you create in order to sustain the effort. This is why we stress a long-term strategy (at least six years, for starters). If you are fortunate, the same Principal will be there to lead your team to a level of sustainability, even after that Principal and some of the original staff have left to take other positions elsewhere.

Integrated Studies Framework
Constructivist Pedagogy

   Learning Content

   Learning Practices

6. Constructivist Theory

7. Inquiry-Based Learning + Project-Based Learning

8. Social & Emotional Learning

9. PIE - Integrated Studies Unit Development - See Chapter 2

10. BLIS - Blended Learning Instructional Strategies - Chapter 3

Learning Content

1. National Frameworks
3. Integrated Studies and Crosscutting Concepts
  The combination of academic subjects and concepts integrated in learning activities within a unit of study.
Integrated Studies Foundations
Integrated Studies Examples
4. Authentic Assessment
  A focus on real world contextual performance of knowledge, tasks or skills identified prior to an actual learning
    activity and/or unit of study (backward design). A demonstration of understanding (rubric) versus a transmission
   of knowledge (test).

5. Integrated Studies Curriculum Mapping
   An ongoing Professional Learning Community (PLC) process, organization and presentation of the school's
     coordinated units of study.
Curriculum Mapping Foundations
Google Doc Curriculum Map Templates

Integrated Studies Curriculum Examples

Learning Practices

6. Constructivist Theory
    People actively construct knowledge, skills and values through experiences in their physical and
    social environments. We continually construct are own understanding as we encounter new
    experiences and reflect upon our previous knowledge, skills and values.
7. Inquiry-Based Learning + Project-Based Learning 

   The combination of these two learning models are "the dynamic duo" structures for integrated studies unit

Inquiry-Based Learning

Inquiry-based learning directly taps into our nature to be curious in the exploration of a big idea through questioning, problems or scenarios organized in a research process. 

Project-Based Learning 
Project-based learning is the process designed within a project that leads to making a product. 
8. Social and Emotional Learning

   Thriving Students in a well-being learning environment

As educators, before we can talk about “collaborative learning,” we first need to talk about “social and emotional learning” as the heart and soul to student communications and collaborations.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL,2017) define Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) as, the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

CASEL identifies five SEL competencies across diverse settings:

1)     Self-awareness

2)     Self-management

3)     Social Awareness

4)     Relationship Skills

5)     Responsible Decision-making

As technology has become so ubiquitous in the twenty-first century, many people have come to lean on it to lead educational systems change. However, I'm more encouraged by the growing movement to focus on crafting "well-being" into learning environments as a social and emotional support for learning. Students today still need the human touch to guide their conversations and collaborations as they maturate in both physical and digital learning spaces.

This is why social and emotional learning must be a core strategy of any twenty-first century curriculum. With that said, I would like to expand upon the competencies within social and emotional learning presented by CASEL. I would like to bring forward the idea of social and emotional learning that promotes, “Thriving students” in “a well-being learning environment.”

Thriving Students are mindful and purposeful in their shared humanity of life as they grow and flourish as learners.
A Well-being Learning Environment 
supports students’ social and emotional needs as a place with engaging learning spaces where they feel happy, healthy and prosperous.     
Books - Engaging Learning Environments 
9. PIE - Integrated Studies Unit Development   
  • See Chapter 2 - Baking PIEs: Iterative Learning Cycles, Units and Curriculum Mapping

10. BLIS - Blended Learning Instructional Strategies

  • See Chapter 3 - Reaching BLIS (Blended Learning Instructional Strategies)


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