We just finished a 3 week long interdisciplinary unit on nuclear energy. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to work with the same core sophomore teachers for the past three years. We have grown together personally which I think in turn has had a positive effect on our students learning (supported by The Washington Post here), and we have also accomplished a lot professionally together. We started out three years ago trying to become more unified in our teaching approaches with simple ideas like wearing the same t-shirt on the same day. Needless to say, that wasn’t quite an authentic learning opportunity for students. Our approach evolved into us using the same vocabulary word somewhere in our dialogue throughout the week in hopes that our students would catch on and use it for their “personal dictionary” assignment in English. I definitely learned a lot of new words, but again, this was such a simple daily act and we knew we could do more!
With the help of our Trinity University interns a couple years ago, our most unified approach was created- a UbD unit centered around nuclear chemistry with lesson plans in English, world history, geometry, and Algebra II. (I have to plug an incredible master’s program here that prepares student teachers with a high level of understanding about teaching pedagogy and practice). This unit has gone through three years of revision and I have to say, the way in which everything came together this year, I think it was the our best year yet!
The first year we did the project we were not able to incorporate math because it did not fit with the scope and sequence. I still remember hearing one student mumble, “you know, we’re studying nuclear energy n every subject except math.” My heart sank and I knew I was going to find a way to make it happen! The next year, I decided to switch the sequence of our curriculum and teach exponents at the beginning of the spring semester when the nuclear culture unit started. Working with my Trinity intern that year, we created investigative lesson plans where students discovered how radioactive elements decay. Understanding asymptotes also helped students see that nuclear waste will never reach 0. We then discussed the implications for using nuclear energy based on exponential growth and decay and exponential properties. This year, I added the geometry component and solidified the inclusion of math in the unit. After my students learned about proving congruent triangles, I went into the English/World History combined classes and introduced their persuasive essay by asking students to write an outline in a mathematical proof format (I was lucky to have another intern this year and she taught a great lesson on truss strength involving triangle properties this day while I was teaching in the other room…I’ll save that post for another day). I loved how the proof writing gave my geometry students the chance to be experts on the topic they just learned and were able to refresh the Algebra II students how to write proofs. Also, the English teacher loved the way they provided evidence for their essays and did some formulaic pre-writing before jumping on a computer to type their essays. Finally, after the culminating day of the project (a “town council meeting” to debate whether we should pursue nuclear energy in San Antonio), the World History teacher created a graph where the x-axis was labeled as a continuum from “San Antonio should not pursue nuclear energy” to “San Antonio should pursue nuclear energy” and the y-axis was a continuum with “the US should not pursue nuclear energy” to “the US should pursue nuclear energy”. Students then plotted their personal opinion as a visual representation for further dialogue.
My heart is full after this unit and I loved hearing quotes like this: “I like the way every class was included in this unit because we understood all perspectives.”