IB Middle Years Programme: Using “macroprojects” to enhance interdisciplinary education
By Ma. Fernanda Varela, director, IB Middle Years Programme, St. Patrick’s College, Montevideo, Uruguay
Developing curiosity, furthering understanding of different disciplines, and appreciating one’s own history and culture and that of other communities, require a sustained reflective attitude. This attitude enables ongoing learning relevant to a great variety of situations that students might encounter, inside and outside the classroom. There is no doubt that forming knowledgeable students with an active attitude towards learning, not only during their formal education, but throughout their lifetime, requires a comprehensive approach to knowledge and teaching.
The members of our school community are continually working to improve our classroom practices and to achieve the goals mentioned above. With this in mind, the coordinator’s department initiated an analytical and creative investigation into specific tools that would support interdisciplinary knowledge, encouraging an active attitude towards learning in our students. As a response to our needs, the “macroproject” found a privileged place in our school, having proven to be a very good tool for students to develop interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary knowledge both inside and outside the classroom.
The macroproject begins with an initial stimulus question, from which students begin a process of in-depth inquiry into relevant knowledge as they search for answers to the question. The teacher provides methods to facilitate their journey by means of an integrated methodology of subjects and disciplines.
All macroprojects must include topics that will contribute to the process of knowledge acquisition both in a theoretical and a practical way. Some examples are teacher or guest dissertations and field trips that offer students unique personal experiences, allowing for different styles of learning and multiple intelligences. This is where diverse abilities find a place. The different disciplines consist of constructive work performed by the students through a rich variety of coursework, homework, learning visits, and individual and group assessment aimed at providing the students with materials that can help them find answers. In the process, the traditional constructed and imaginary boundaries between disciplines are knocked down, motivating in-depth study.
As an example, one of our school community’s most praised macroprojects is “Aprender a ver nuestra ciudad-Montevideo” (Learning to see our city –Montevideo). The aim of this project is to learn how to see and appreciate the reality in which we are or can be immersed from different disciplinary perspectives and from a plurality of approaches. We therefore, individually and collectively, “take possession” of the city, its history—present and past, its culture, organization and geographical setting.
This working style presents an ongoing challenge to teachers, but results in planning opportunities for students to acquire knowledge and make it their own as they go through the process of answering the initial questions of What makes our city? and What shapes our city?. The different disciplines come together as we share and plan the activities for an in-depth study into What makes our city?.
Macroprojects have given us ample room to reflect through the areas of interaction which serve as a guideline to reach our objectives. Our teachers have responded positively to the macroprojects. Their thoughts on the macroprojects are shared below.
Mariana Santurio, history teacher: “These instances of interdisciplinary work, collaborative work and inquiry link curricular content with the students’ personal interests: their environment, the cultural, social and economic diversity of their environment, and their history.”
Beatriz Casal, mathematics teacher: “From my point of view, the macroproject is a very valuable instrument in which teachers, students and the school community can find common criteria from the perspectives of different subjects through the areas of interaction, and thus find a tangible and integrating common ground for the knowledge found in the different processes of the work.”
Marta Barboza, geography teacher: “These projects satisfy the need for students to observe and analyse social, economic, and geographic issues with a comprehensive approach through the areas of interaction; and thus develop critical and reflective learning skills.”
Antonio Padilla, history teacher: “Macroprojects are interdisciplinary activities that allow the students to come into contact with the natural, cultural and social world in an organized, interesting, and ultimately significant manner.”
Year after year, experience after experience, we have seen that the macroproject is ideal for the incorporation and participation of different subjects and disciplines. As a result, interdisciplinary learning is involved in every aspect of the learning process: planning, development, outputs and assessment. Teachers and students are involved in an ongoing process of investigation and action, which contributes to their academic work and objectives. Although the macroproject requires much planning, the end result is a rewarding experience which helps to develop the IB learner profile in Middle Years Programme students.