The term ‘integrated curriculum’ can be used to mean many things. At the very least, it means that a curriculum has been made interdisciplinary in some way–say, by incorporating the arts or technology into core subjects like math or history, or by making connections between core subjects such that the content of one class informs and expands the content of another.

More radically, it can refer to a ‘trans-disciplinary’ curriculum like GCE’s, which transcends disciplinary boundaries in such a way that traditional subject areas–History, Math, Science, English–are used only very loosely to demarcate different courses. The curriculum is designed instead primarily around thematic units. During the spring term at GCE, for instance, junior students take two courses called Urban Planning and Policy in which they explore the concepts of infrastructure, services, housing, and transportation. The unique disciplinary threads in both courses (integrated math/science and history/English, respectively) are woven together ever more tightly through weekly Field Experience and the spring term’s art installation project. It’s important to note that while the courses’ subject matter dispenses with traditional boundaries, the course still relies on and teaches students disciplinary skills – e.g. how to collect, analyze, and communicate information from mathematical, scientific, literary, and historical perspectives.

There are many advantages to a curriculum that’s integrated in this way. We’ll highlight three here:

1) By applying different disciplinary skills to a larger theme, students learn to think about a topic holistically. They make connections between different types of knowledge and different modes of understanding. As they develop an appreciation for a diverse set of perspectives and concerns, students learn to form judgments about complex questions like, “Does the City of Chicago ‘work’, as its tagline states?” Or, “for whom and in which neighborhoods does the City of Chicago work? “

2) In prioritizing thematic investigation over disciplinary isolation, the curriculum encourages students to focus on asking questions and addressing problems they see in the world (i.e. “How can the CTA effectively and sustainably transport millions of people per day while simultaneously rebuilding its crumbling infrastructure?”). GCE’s approach helps students to go beyond merely compiling and warehousing information, skills, and concepts; they learn to mobilize in service of their own questions and future projects. This trans-disciplinary curriculum teaches students to find purpose in their studies and to use their studies to further this purpose.

3) By the same token, a thematically integrated curriculum teaches students to think locally and globally about what they’re learning. By applying a lesson on statistics to CTA ridership or analyzing the physics of viaducts, students see, feel, and experience the essential continuity between what they are working at in school and the world beyond. They understand how the things they learn can help them to participate in the larger world; and they simultaneously come to see themselves as thinkers, actors, citizens who have the tools to make a difference.

If you’d like to learn more about GCE’s 4-year curriculum scope and sequence or the incredible efforts our staff makes to collaboratively design our exciting courses, please contact me directly: [email protected].

This post is co-written by GCE Advisory Board Member, Lizzie Krontiris, and GCE Founder/Director, Eric Davis