Trans v. Inter Disciplinary – A Visual Guide

I’ve been busy preparing for my upcoming MYP workshop in Mathematics and I’ve been getting all ‘Presentation Zen‘ on the slides. Yes, it adds to the amount of preparation (I could just use some ‘canned slides’ for all workshop leaders) but this way

  • gives me ownership of the content
  • makes me really think about what I’m presenting
  • allows me to make something that I’m proud of
  • will be more helpful to my participants (I hope).

One of the ideas that I was really struggling to present was the difference between transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary teaching and learning. I realized it was because I didn’t fully understand the nuances of them myself!

So, with the help of Twitter (@klbeasley, @amichetti, @stangey especially) and our Curriculum Coordinator, I came up with the following visual metaphors for monodisciplinary, multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary teaching and learning. I wanted something that people could recall in their head to help explain the differences between these terms.

All of the original images used were found on Flickr and licensed under Creative Commons. Please feel free to use or reuse them as you see fit!

I have included some brief explanations on the Flickr pages (each image links back to its Flickr page) for each image but have purposefully left them off here. I wonder if those images clarify, to you, the differences? If you go back and read the explanations, does that help?

Any comments or suggestions, either on the content or the presentation of the slides, are greatly appreciated!

32 thoughts on “Trans v. Inter Disciplinary – A Visual Guide

  • September 23, 2010 at 11:59 am
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    Heya Clint,

    Thanks for the great visual imagery, and the opportunity to weigh in on our discussion on the PYP term Transdisciplinary and the MYP term Interdisciplinary.

    Adrienne Michetti mentioned on twitter the differences between the terms:
    Trans = across, beyond & through
    Inter = between & among

    I think in a PYP model, teachers are generally teaching multiple disciplines, e.g. a Grade 3 homeroom teacher may be responsible for English, Maths, Science, Social Studies, and Personal & Social ed. Units of Inquiry are organised under 6 transdisciplinary themes – not subject themes. The TD themes are:
    Who we are, where we are in place & time, how we express ourselves, how the world works, how we organise ourselves, & sharing the planet.

    Within these themes, we don’t refer to them as ‘the science unit’ or ‘the english unit’. We are working across, beyond and through the disciplines to help unpack our Central Idea. Our starting point is the Central Idea (enduring understanding) – not a subject discipline. In your lovely images Clint, I think your interdisciplinary image would best fit our transdisciplinary approach. I feel it is more organic (especially when considering disciplines are human constructs).

    From my understanding of MYP (feel free to correct any inaccuracies), teachers predominantly teach one (or maybe two) subjects or disciplines, e.g. Maths. You may teach enduring understandings, but they are generally linked back to a particular discipline.

    An exception might be an interdisciplinary unit. This would be between/among subject areas. It would require subject teachers to meet together and find common threads or enduring understandings, but also ensure they are meeting their expectations of teaching their particular discipline.

    An image I think of when I visualise interdisciplinary is a bridge – a link between different places.

    I would love to hear your thoughts on this (and anyone else’s).

    Reply
  • September 23, 2010 at 12:05 pm
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    KL – totally agree with you! and I do think this is the reason why the language is (deliberately) different between PYP and MYP. PYP teachers are looking at transdisciplinary themes, as you said, whereas MYP teachers are looking through one subject “lense” and then tying it to others, which would be an interdisciplinary unit — the ideal, in MYPlandia.

    I emphasize “the ideal” not because it’s unusual, but it’s because what MYP aspires to do — regularly. It’s *meant* to be interdisciplinary. However, administrative, structural, philosophical, and other challenges make this difficult at the secondary level. But that is the topic for an altogether different post!

    Reply
  • September 23, 2010 at 3:48 pm
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    Would it be okay if I comment on the pictures/slides themselves as a set? I would like to suggest that you keep the theme running that you have very well captured in slide 3 and 4, the black header and orange: the design. Slides 2 and 1 need some work in order to fit into a visual pattern and thus would be more supportive of the messages that you are trying to get across in 3 and 4.

    Reply
  • September 23, 2010 at 4:17 pm
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    @Keri-Lee Beasley Thanks for helping me flesh out these ideas. As a non-PYP teacher, it is easy (and lazy!) to fall into the trap of thinking they are the same or nearly the same things.

    I like your suggestions for interdisciplinary imagery. I’m picturing in my mind’s eye an island in the middle connected to other places by a number of bridges…

    @Adrienne There is a lot of talk about creating common vocabulary for IB programmes. This, evidently, is a case where we would not want to use the same terminology since we are actually doing different things. By the way, if the PYP is trans and the MYP is inter, what’s the DP???

    @Karenne That’s an excellent suggestion, from a presentation point of view. I like the idea of unifying that visual pattern as you call it to subliminally reinforce that all these slides are connected. As for the color, that may be a bit more difficult for me as my “Flickr-fu” isn’t as strong as others. But this is why I practice!

    Reply
  • September 23, 2010 at 4:33 pm
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    @Clint
    put me down in the seriously nerdy-category… sometimes I get lost in the design when presenting however…. see, there’s this um, tool you can use.

    Here’s an example using some of the colous I saw in 3 and 4:
    example – the site is called (in case the link doesn’t work) Multicolor Search Lab.

    You can get seriously lost in the Alice-in-Wonderfulness of this website, trouble is that you will also pull up non-cc licensed images so don’t get too attached until you’ve clicked through to Flickr.

    :-)Karenne

    Reply
  • September 23, 2010 at 4:35 pm
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    Clint – I like the images, particulary some of the connotations that arise from them (interdisciplinary as ‘on fire’; trans as evoking play and simplicity.

    AM – the interdisciplinary issue is a tough one in MYP for the systematic reasons you have mentioned. It makes me wonder why we teachers don’t “just say no” to these systematic restrictions in much the same way as is being purported with the NCLB program. (http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/2010/05/just_say_no_to_the_race_to_the.html).

    KLB – I disagree with the image of a bridge that you mention as I think this perpetuates the problem. Through a bridge, we imply that domains need to be maintained and that only formalised structures, in this case IDU’s, are the way to make connections. Learning is messy and organic. Our model should be based on a genuine need that arises at any time with an individualised line of inquiry as its catalyst. I’m not sure what the metaphor or image is but it’s one to ponder…

    A conversation the other day suggested that Erasmus Darwin was the last polymath. Maybe we can learn something from education 250 years ago?

    Reply
  • September 23, 2010 at 5:08 pm
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    @Karenne Oh. My. Goodness. I think I’ve just found something that I can spend hours playing with! Thank you… I think!

    Reply
  • September 23, 2010 at 6:51 pm
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    Hi Clint,
    The PYP is transdisciplinary, the MYP is interdisciplinary and the DP is disciplinary. This seems like a good continuum to me! I’m not sure where multi- fits in. Does it fit?

    Reply
  • September 24, 2010 at 2:12 am
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    @Maggie The DP is disciplinary until you get to TOK and the Extended Essay… And do we want it to remain primarily disciplinary? I’m not sure, to be honest. But I do agree with you, for the most part, about it being a good continuum.

    @Sean, I really don’t think comparing ANY admin aspect of MYP to NCLB is appropriate, for oodles of reasons. Nothing in an MYP school is mandated politically, for starters. And I could go on…!

    Reply
  • September 24, 2010 at 2:25 am
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    Hi Adrienne, When I taught DP the Extended Essay definitely was disciplinary. Perhaps it isn’t in some schools, but in the 2 I taught at it was. It was extremely rare for a student to do an EE in a subject that s/he was not doing (though I did once have a student who did an essay in history, though he wasn’t doing history as one of his 6 subjects and his supervisor was the DP history teacher). I take on board what you say about TOK however, and my question would be is TOK trans-, multi- or inter-? Or is it even something else??

    Reply
  • September 24, 2010 at 2:35 am
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    @Maggie
    I have supervised only a handful of DP EEs, but my understanding was that although it is within the scope of one of the subject groups, the expectation (to reach highest awarded bands) is to make connections to other subject groups — as much as it best fits, anyway. Admittedly, the EEs I supervised were for A1 and A2, and literature definitely reaches to other disciplines much easier than, say, Physics. But that was my understanding, at least. Mind you, it’s been several years since I supervised an EE so this all could be very different now.

    As for TOK – I think it’s transdisciplinary. That’s my take on it, at least. It reaches through and across all disciplines, much like the transdisciplinary themes in PYP… which then really does bring us full circle. 🙂

    Reply
  • September 24, 2010 at 6:52 am
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    @sean tangey
    @Sean – I found your interpretations of the bridge metaphor interesting! Where you saw rigidity & structure, I saw connections and a search for commonalities.

    Fundamentally, a bridge is a connector of 2 places. I see it as being the link that brings the disciplines closer, rather than a “formalised structure” designed to control the interactions between disciplines.

    I think what you describe is a toll booth, rather than a bridge.

    Of course this is a classic example of different perspectives on an idea/issue. There is no right or wrong! Perspective is one of the 8 PYP Concepts (like lenses with which to see the world through), and a very important one at that.

    Reply
  • September 24, 2010 at 9:07 am
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    Great job with the images – I totally agree with your thoughts. I find forcing myself to use powerful images for my presentations makes me think more deeply about my topic. It allows me to make connections with my topic which otherwise I wouldn’t make.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post

    Reply
  • September 24, 2010 at 11:44 am
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    @Adrienne @Maggie Great discussion on the Diploma Programme and Extended Essay (EE, for those of you scoring at home). I agree with Adrienne: while it is an in-depth look into one discipline (Art, History, Physics, Math, etc.), I would hope that a student would draw on what they have learned throughout their Diploma education. As for TOK, based on the discussion we’ve had here, I would definitely hope that it takes a transdisciplinary approach, with the ‘Ways of Knowing’ at the center of inquiry.

    @sean tangey To add to the jargon being bantered about, the MYP also refers to ‘interdisciplinary links’. If interdisciplinary learning encourages bridges between the significant concept/unit question/area of interaction and multiple subjects, do these interdisciplinary links encourage different bridges between subjects on a more informal basis?

    Reply
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  • September 26, 2010 at 8:44 pm
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    Wow! This is a terrific discussion. While I am a little late to join, here are some thoughts that I would like to add:

    – Transdisciplinary, interdisciplinary and intradisciplinary learning deals with integrating… integrating knowledge, skills, concepts, understandings, etc… Most of my understanding of these comes from Erickson and Fogarty…. and a little from McTighe and Wiggins… Both the PYP and MYP are to be considered concept-based curriculums… which goes hand-in-hand with trans/inter-disciplinary teaching and learning. What about the DP??? Is it concept-based??? I would say no… although Erickson does refer to the IB as a whole as being concept-based. In my opinion, the DP is currently struggling with how to move towards a slightly more concept-based approach… this is evidenced in the sample (not official or require at this time) DP planner that is going around.

    – Some of the issues mentioned in posts/responses above are dealt with in the IB position paper “Concurrency of Learning in the IB Diploma Program and the Middle Years Program” by Roger Marshman.

    – Additional information on the interdisciplinary nature of the DP program can be found in the DP From Principles into Practice. Most DP teachers assume that the DP is strictly disciplinary study… not so…

    – In regards to “interdisciplinary links” in the MYP… there are varying degrees of interdisciplinari”ness”… An “interdisciplinary unit” may be as connected as having a common assessment, which would likely require simultaneous teaching and learning. However, it is possible to lead students to make interdisciplinary “links” to other units that they did not experience at the same time. Thus, I would propose that transdisciplinary learning is mostly simultaneous, but interdisciplinary learning can be a combination of simultaneous and non-concurrent study.

    – Lots of good stuff in the MYP guide to Interdisciplinary teaching and learning

    – I always found it interesting that in the IB Program Standards & Practices there is mention of transdisciplinary in regards to PYP, interdisciplinary in regards to MYP, but no mention of trans, inter, or disciplinary in regards to DP.

    Reply
  • September 28, 2010 at 4:14 pm
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    @Frobro747 I think it will be hard for DP teachers to embrace a concept-based approach to their subjects so long as their are external examinations involved. Pragmatism will win the day and teachers will do their best to prepare their students to succeed on exams. Why spend time on that fluffy cr$p when it won’t be on the exam?

    Thanks for pointing out that Marshman paper. I will search for it on the OCC and give it a good read. Maybe he refutes what I’ve written above; I certainly hope so!

    I think your link to concurrent and non-concurrent teaching is an important aspect to the discussion as well. Because of the nature of the PYP classroom (I was just told that you cannot teach ‘core’ subjects without the classroom teacher: there can be no ‘science specialist’, for example. Is that true?)

    Reply
  • September 28, 2010 at 10:35 pm
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    I’d also like a copy of that Marshman position paper, but can’t seem to find it online. It must be one that IB schools have to purchase. If either of you have a copy, fancy sending one my way?

    Clint, yes, technically what you’re saying is true — e.g. a PYP school cannot have pull-out science — and aligns with PYP philosophy, but of course like everything else “fundamental” to an IB programme, I know of a few authorized PYP schools that do that and somehow manage to get away with it.

    Reply
  • September 29, 2010 at 12:58 am
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    Plenty of thought coming out of this post!

    The point I was working towards above is if trans and interdisciplinary practices should be so embedded in MYP curriculum, why do we continue to structure the MYP in a disciplinary manner? I should have more to say here but its late..

    @AM – my reference to NCLB was merely in terms of action, not the gravity that is implied with that particular political mandate.

    Reply
  • December 22, 2010 at 3:23 am
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    @Frobro747 I think it will be hard for DP teachers to embrace a concept-based approach to their subjects so long as their are external examinations involved. Pragmatism will win the day and teachers will do their best to prepare their students to succeed on exams. Why spend time on that fluffy cr$p when it won’t be on the exam? Thanks for pointing out that Marshman paper. I will search for it on the OCC and give it a good read. Maybe he refutes what I’ve written above; I certainly hope so! I think your link to concurrent and non-concurrent teaching is an important aspect to the discussion as well. Because of the nature of the PYP classroom (I was just told that you cannot teach ‘core’ subjects without the classroom teacher: there can be no ‘science specialist’, for example. Is that true?)

    Reply
  • December 23, 2010 at 12:22 am
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    Great job with the images – I totally agree with your thoughts. I find forcing myself to use powerful images for my presentations makes me think more deeply about my topic. It allows me to make connections with my topic which otherwise I wouldn’t make. Thanks for the thought provoking post

    Reply
  • December 2, 2011 at 7:50 pm
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    So what would you call the current project in G08? Trans: We are teaching mathematics through science.. Or are we teaching science through mathematics? Seems to be both. So is that interdisciplinary because we do one project at the end assessed by both subjects. There seems to be a bit of grey area stuff happening amongst all of the cool colours. Google image also does colour search now (or maybe you knew that). I’ll show you the project and what we’ve been doing. You had a glimpse today. Maybe it will be useful for the workshop. Maybe I should blog about it…

    Reply
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