Integrated Unit of Work
I will describe an integrated unit of work that I have designed as an assessment task in my third year of uni (2011). The unit of work is suited for grade 5 and 6 students, which is relevant to Level 4 VELS. The theme of the unit is Endangered Species, and is formed around a multidisciplinary model of integration. I will begin by rationalising why I have selected this theme and model of integration. I will then describe the unit of work I have designed and how I expect it would unfold if it were implemented in a school. A peer feedback section will follow this, which describes how I have modified my integrated unit of work, based on the suggestions I received during a peer assessment.
Curriculum integration is an essential component for providing successful education to students in this present day. An integrated approach to teaching positions students to move away from memorizing facts, and provides them with more opportunities to comprehend information and form knowledge (Drake, 1998). This unit of work is based on a multidisciplinary model of integration. Multidisciplinary integration involves the connection of different subjects, or disciplines, by a specific theme. The subjects are generally studied in separate lessons, over the same time period (Drake, 1998). The theme is the central focus of each lesson studied during the unit. It is the classroom teacher’s role to make explicit connections between each subject area (De Vries, 2011).
I drafted the plan of my unit before deciding what model of integration I would use. After this process was completed, I examined my plan to determine what model of integration was recurrent throughout it. It was apparent that the unit of work I had designed would follow a multidisciplinary model of integration, as I had mainly planned separate lessons for each different subject, and related them to the topic of Endangered Species. Some lessons, however, did integrate multiple subject areas into them, but it was clear that there was a dominating subject in each lesson.
A study by Wicklein and Shell (1995), on the effects of multidisciplinary integration in four different schools throughout American concluded that a multidisciplinary model of integration was beneficial to implement, as it led to increased student learning and motivation. It was found that this model is most successful when teachers are committed to thoroughly planning the integrated unit and willing to work with other teachers to share knowledge on the topic.
Endangered Species is an important subject to educate children on as animals hold “medicinal, agricultural, ecological, commercial and [recreational] value” (Kurpis, 2002, para. 1). It is essential for humans to learn how to save and protect animals, so that future generations can experience these values (Kurpis, 2002). When I was a grade 6 primary school student, my class studied Endangered Species as a unit of focus. I remember it as being an educational and valuable subject that I enjoyed learning about.
When planning an integrated unit of work, a teacher must take into consideration the types of lessons they provide and the order than these are delivered to the students (Murdoch & Hornsby, 1997). It is suggested that teachers begin their unit of work with a key shared experience, such as an excursion, guest speaker or film (Murdoch & Hornsby, p. 51). It is then recommended that this experience is followed by tuning in activities that gather together information on the children’s prior knowledge of the topic, as well as the information learned during the key shared experience. These activities could involve brainstorming and creating data charts (Murdoch & Hornsby, p. 52). The main component of the unit should then consist of sorting out activities that allow children to bring together and present the information they have gathered from the key shared experience and tuning in activities. These activities could be based around the visual arts, drama, music, language and mathematics (Murdoch & Hornsby, p. 52). A final lesson should be provided as the integrated unit of work comes to an end, to allow students to make conclusions based on the information they have learned throughout the unit. This activity may be related to the tuning in activities, and could involve comparing results, writing statements and drawing diagrams (Murdoch & Hornsby, p. 52).
The unit of work I have designed can be found in Attachment 1. The lesson plans for each individual lesson are provided, in order of sequence, in Attachment 2. I have chosen to commence this unit of work with a tuning in activity, as opposed to a key shared experience. As the key shared experience in this unit is an excursion, I believe it is important that the teacher and students discuss their knowledge of the topic prior to the event. This will also allow them to prepare for the excursion.
Lesson 1: This lesson requires the students and teacher to fill out a KWL chart. A KWL chart stimulates children’s prior knowledge by asking them what they already Know about a topic and what they Want to know about it. After students have completed a unit of study, they then discuss what they have Learnt about the topic (NCREL, 2004). In lesson 1, the teacher and students will discuss their prior knowledge of Endangered Species and fill out the K and W sections of the chart. The teacher will then conclude the lesson by providing a small information session on the upcoming class excursion to the Melbourne Zoo.
Lesson 2: This lesson is an excursion to the Melbourne Zoo, and is a key shared experience for all students and teachers studying the unit of work. The majority of the school day will be spent at the zoo, but the duration of the event will vary, depending on how far away the school is from the zoo. The teachers and children will attend a variety of ‘Meet the Keeper’ sessions throughout the day, and these times can be found in the lesson plan for Lesson 2, in Attachment 2. Students are required to document information by writing it down on notepads, and taking videos and photographs.
Lessons 3-6: These lessons are tuning in activities that require students to first share their experiences and information obtained from the excursion they attended. Students will then extend this knowledge by further researching Endangered Species and graphing their results. The final tuning in lesson will be an information session about a series of round-robin activities that the students will be taking part in.
Lessons 7-12: For these lessons students will be divided into at least 3 groups of 4-6 members (depending on class size) and will remain in these groups to complete a series of arts-based round-robin activities. Each activity will be carried out over two lessons of approximately 2 hours each, and will then be rotated around the groups. For larger classes, there may be more than one group working on an activity at a time. This is fine, as long as the groups work separately from each other.
Activity 1: Students are to work as a group to use the information they have learnt so far in this unit to write a song through the perspective of an Endangered Species. The students will then perform this song to their peers. The presentations may be video recorded.
Activity 2: Students are to work as a group to use the information they have learnt so far in this unit to write and perform a play on a possible way of preventing animals from becoming endangered and extinct. The presentations may be video recorded.
Activity 3: Students are to work as a group to use the information they have learnt so far in this unit to design and create two dioramas – one of an endangered species in its natural habitat, and another of that same animal in a habitat that has been altered by humans. Students will then present their dioramas to the rest of their peers.
Lesson 13: This final lesson will allow students to make conclusions based on the information they have learnt while studying this integrated unit of work. In this lesson, the classroom teacher and students will complete their KWL chart, by filling in the section on what they have Learnt.
Overall, the feedback I received during the peer assessment was very positive and encouraging. My peers were very interested in my unit topic and the activities and lessons I had created. I was praised on the design of my unit plan and lesson plans, as my peers saw these as easy for teachers to read, understand and adapt to suit their classroom’s needs. As a result, I felt like I didn’t need to modify the layout of these plans. My peers were impressed with the idea of having round-robin activities, as they believe these would assist with keeping children engaged in the unit and excited to complete the activities that were to come. My peers supported the idea of group work for these activities, as they thought they would encourage the development of each student’s social and team skills.
I did, however, receive several suggestions that would assist to make my unit of work successful when implemented. Firstly, my peers recommended that I included parent helpers as an essential resource in my lesson plan for the excursion to the Melbourne Zoo. I had originally overlooked having parent helpers, but after attending a number of excursions with classes whilst on professional placement, I am aware of the important and necessary roles that they play. I have acted upon this suggestion and amended my lesson plan to include parent helpers as a resource. My peers also recommended that I ensure children are aware of the specific information that needs to be documented whilst on the excursion, to ensure that it remains relevant. I amended the excursion lesson plan so that it would include a list of appropriate questions for the children to research and document.
My peers also suggested that I could include more opportunities for the children to engage with technology and media. Initially, children weren’t offered a great deal of access to computers, except for when conducting their research. Taking this suggestion into consideration, I decided to offer an online graphing program to students so that they could create both hand drawn and electronic graphs. I have also provided the option for the teacher to allow students to video record the songs and plays that they create, so that they can be looked back on in the future.
I have created an integrated unit of work that has been designed around a multidisciplinary model of integration. The unit is suitable for implementation with grade 5 and 6 students, and is relevant to level 5 VELS. The unit has been peer assessed to ensure that a classroom teacher will be able to successfully implement the unit, once reading over the unit plan and individual lesson plans. This experience has opened my eyes to the amount of time and effort that a teacher must put in, when creating a successful integrated unit of work. I will use the experience and knowledge gained from this assessment task to guide my future teaching practice.