Interdisciplinary Lessons


Jane Baker and Lauren Kenny, 2023
Falmouth High School
Falmouth, MA
AP Art and AP Literature and Composition (grade 12)

Careful observation of the natural world can provide students with personal insights as well as creative
inspiration. We have found over the last few years that when we ask students to put away their devices, step
outside, pause and pay attention to their surroundings, they are rewarded with an authentic experience that
inspires thoughtful and focussed artwork and writing. For this project, we are asking our students to approach
this experience through the lens of the Transcendentalists – reflecting on their own sense of place as it relates to
their creative efforts. This unit is intended for our combined classes of AP Studio Art and AP Literature, a group
of about sixty high school seniors. It could be modified, however, for any grade level – with obvious changes in
the expected readings.

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Transcendentalism 101: An Interdisciplinary Approach

Chris DiFranco and Kerry Donovan, 2016
Georgetown Middle High School
Georgetown, MA
American Literature and History, Grade 11, Honors and AP

The purpose of this unit is to give the students an interdisciplinary understanding of transcendentalism from both a historical context and through the lens of English Language Arts. At the end of the unit students will have their own personal experience with transcendental writing and also understand where and when it developed in US History, and why it is important. The lessons are organized to be completed sequentially or non-sequentially depending on the schedules of the US History and ELA classes.

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Approaching Walden

Keith March Mistler, 2016
Burlington High School
Burlington, MA
Fashion Design, Grades 10-12

The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world. Human working conditions can be hazardous and pay very low. Students fail to realize the impact that clothing has on the environment, both on a local and global level. This unit will challenge students to take a step back from their wardrobe and understand how they can make less of a global impact and how to dress mindfully.

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I’m in Hull…& Going to Peddocks

Sheila Blair, 2015
Hull High School
Hull, MA
Ecology, Grades 11 and 12

I’m in Hull…& Going to Peddocks is a unit designed for the Ecology of Hull course taught at Hull High School.  This course is a one semester, 11th and 12th grade, field-based science elective course that examines the socioecological system of our town, Hull, MA.  Students study the biological, physical, and cultural relationships within the various ecosystems that make up our peninsula.

I’m in Hull…& Going to Peddocks is an interdisciplinary unit that consists of science, health/physical education, history, ELA (reading and writing), and art lessons conducted on Peddocks Island in Hull.  During this unit, students row to Peddocks Island on two separate days, and examine the cultural and ecological community of the island.  Each lesson within this unit was inspired by the field experiences of the Approaching Walden, 2015 program, and by Henry David Thoreau’s love of exploration within his own local town of Concord, MA.

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“We find only the world we look for”: Documenting a Sense of Place Using iMovie

Carrie Conlon, 2015
Lexington High School
Lexington, MA
American Literature, Grade 11

This high school English unit capitalizes on students’ love of their camera phones, requiring them to shoot and edit their own footage of an important place in their lives. Throughout this unit, students will read excerpts of Thoreau’s Walden and his journals, in and out of class, to discern how Thoreau communicated his perspectives on Concord in general and the Walden Woods in particular. A field trip to Walden will further students’ understanding of the world Thoreau inhabited and provide fodder for their own place-specific responses in journal form. Students will also read American poems that speak to other environments and places, comparing and contrasting approaches and poetic techniques. The unit will culminate in a presentation of student films which will have been edited to include music, natural sounds, and text that suits each student’s specific sense of place. To ensure that these films “live on” and feel relevant to the students beyond the classroom, students will post them to a shared Tackk page and comment on one another’s work publicly.

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Transcendentalism and Progressivism: Then and Now

Stacy (Boster) McConoughey and Luke Sundermeier, 2014
Marysville High School
Marysville, OH
American Cultural Studies (Combined American Lit. and American History), Grade 10

American Cultural Studies is a co-taught, blocked class which combines the content standards of American Literature (ENG 10) and American History. Students have the class five days per week. Throughout this unit, students will be introduced to the major concepts associated with transcendentalism and progressivism. Students will seek an understanding of both concepts through various activities and culminate with a presentation meant to demonstrate connections between the two concepts and modern day.

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Be Thoreau: Naturalist Journal & Wildflower Garden to Measure Climate Change

David Albano, 2013
Fox Lane High School
Bedford, New York
English, Grade 12

This unit will build a sense of place through the study of Thoreau’s writing, wildflowers, phenology, and climate change. The study will enable students to interact with nature on the school campus, then at local nature preserve and ultimately in a wildflower garden; these places are focal points for observations as a way to use a naturalist approach to journaling and ultimately witness the impact of climate change. The first part of the unit (lessons #1-#8), focuses on writing and building the skills of a naturalist. The second part of the unit, focuses on the garden, gathering data, journaling, and climate change. Students will explore the scientific concepts of ecological succession, phenology, and climate change while also working to enhance their observation skills, interpretive thinking, and collaborative skills. Subjects included: environmental science, art (drawing and photography), writing and literature (creative nonfiction).

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The View from Two Cabins
Carr and Thoreau: Literature and the Expression of Nature

Lydia Harrington, 2013
Terry Parker High School
Jacksonville, FL
Interdisciplinary, Grades 10 and 11

The View from Two Cabins is an instructional unit designed to explore the work of Dr. Archie Carr, eminent researcher, teacher, writer, and pioneer in the field of conservation biology. Using the Carr Family Cabin, an historic preservation site located in Florida, as a symbolic link to Thoreau’s cabin in Walden Woods, the unit also creates a bridge between the ideas and philosophies of these two influential naturalists.

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A Multiple Intelligences Look at Hortonville, WI

Heather Brinkman, 2012
Hortonville High School
Hortonville, WI
English/Alternative Education, Grades 11 and 12

This unit will start with an introduction to Multiple Intelligences and will include assessment of each student’s strengths in terms of multiple intelligences. Project planning and proposal sheets guide students through using their strengths to choose an interest area for interviewing a community member or evaluating a community resource, and through selecting a format to present their personal explorations of the community through the lens of their chosen “intelligences.” Journal entries will be used throughout the unit, are a regular part of the class structure, and will help students generate and explore ideas.

The unit introduces students to a basic overview of concepts and tools in a variety of areas including cameras and photography; sound recording and editing equipment; research methods, tools and resources; maps, GPS and Geocaching. The unit will provide the groundwork for students to begin exploring the local and surrounding communities with more focus and through a variety of lenses that will be revisited as the class continues. Follow up activities will include building a class community-focused website that will showcase much of the work completed in this unit and in following units.

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Rivers: An Interdisciplinary Unit for Juniors and Seniors

Matthew Goldberg, 2012
Concord-Carlisle High School
Concord, MA
Biology, Grades 9-12

This is the first unit of a pilot program at Concord Carlisle High School, called, Rivers and Revolutions. This is an interdisciplinary program for juniors and seniors, including teachers from Art, English, Math, Science, and Social Studies. The program will operate on a 1:1 classroom to field ratio, though not necessarily on a daily or even weekly basis. Each day of the week will be devoted to a particular discipline, or lens, through which students and teachers will engage the subject matter.

Presented here is the science portion of the Rivers unit, although the assessment represents the work that students will do as they create a unit synthesis assignment, combining all disciplines. The science portion of the unit will consist of six lessons over a two week period, centered around The River Continuum Concept. The River Continuum Concept, a paper written by Robin Vannote in 1980 is one of the most well known scientific papers on the topic of stream ecology.

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Rivers; An English/ Language Arts Unit Connecting Rivers to People Through Literature within an interdisciplinary curriculum.

Kathleen Westgard, 2012
School of Environmental Studies
Apple Valley, MN
Interdisciplinary, Grade 11

This river unit will explore rivers through multiple genres, within an interdisciplinary curriculum with an emphasis on sense of place. It includes two field trips to rivers: one where the students canoe down a small river in Dakota County for approximately two hours, observing the flow of a river, its ecology, its biology, and personal reflection; and a second where they observe a larger river with an industrial history (The Mississippi and lock and dam #1) at St. Anthony Falls and the Stone Arch Bridge, observing how rivers have served the people and economy of an area, and how consequently, the river has changed.

The study of rivers combines the curriculum of the social studies teacher who looks at the historical significance of rivers to culture, civilization, and historical events, and the biology teacher who looks at the ecology of rivers, collect and study macroinvertibrates and compares them with the ecology of the pond; and the English /Language Arts teacher who explores the meaning of rivers as metaphors for the human experience by looking at poetry, essays, excerpts from literature, and by choice reading of a larger piece of fiction or non-fiction full length work.

The unit culminates with an essay, which connects all three disciplines in their study of rivers, and with a community book club where the students invite a member from outside the school community (parent, relative, neighbor, former teacher) who reads the same choice book with them and then discusses with others who have read the same book. This exchange of ideas between different generations, varied life experiences and backgrounds, make the end of the unit a real coming together of ideas and information in a rich and valuable way.

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Discovering the Pond in Our School’s Backyard: An Exploration of a Wetland

Elizabeth Friedman, 2010
Dover-Sherborn High School
Dover, MA
Environmental Research, Grades 11 and 12

This unit explores a transitional pond/wetland ecosystem on the campus of Dover-Sherborn High School.  The intention of this unit is to provide an opportunity for students to interact directly with nature using the pond/wetland as a focal point from which to learn about the pond/wetland, the towns of Dover and Sherborn, and themselves as individuals.  Students will explore the scientific concepts of ecological succession, biodiversity, water quality, nutrient cycling and conservation, while also working to enhance their observation micorscopy, analytical interpretive, research, collaborative and critical thinking skills.  Subjects included:  Biology, Chemistry, Art and Design, Social Studies, Writing.

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Watch! Notice! Observe! Designing A Schoolyard Field Guide In conjunction with the Night Thoreau Spent in Jail

Amy J. Krajeck, 2010
Portsmouth High School
Portsmouth, NH
English Language Arts, Grade 9

This unit is grounded in the essential question, “How can an individual’s sense of place influence identity and the decision he/she makes?”  A part of a 9th grade literature curriculum theme: Celebration of the Individual, this project aims to increase student achievement by integrating nature journaling enhanced by iPod Touch mobile devices and field guide applications, class collaboration on a schoolyard field guide, reading and physcializing Lawrence and Lee’s The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail and various passages from Thoreau’s Walden.  Subjects covered: Language Arts, Earth Science, and American History.

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The Tree Diaries

Anndy Dannenberg, 2009
Newton North High School
Newton, MA
English/Science Elective, Grade 12

The Tree Diaries comprise a series of out-of-class assignments in which each student chooses a tree with which he or she has regular contact, and makes a series of observations about the life-cycle and ecology of that organism. Diary entries range from specific data about the size of the tree, the dates of leaf loss, and the identity of the tree’s species, to observations made during a quiet time sitting near or in the tree. Students have the opportunity to hone observation, data collection, and both their scientific and creative writing skills. One of the final assignments asks the student to identify a tree, other than the chosen subject of the diaries, which has personal or cultural significance in his or her life. In addition, students will be encouraged to include quotes from literature selections read as part of the class curriculum, as well as those from personal reading.

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The Nature Seminar

Susie Carlisle, 2006
Souhegan High School
Amherst, NH
Nature Seminar: Elective, Grade 12

While students are reading Emerson and Thoreau, and striving to achieve an appreciation and understanding of their works both in the 19th-century and in terms of today’s environmental and social discourse, they are also involved in detailed mapping of their 12’ x 12’ quadrats in the Biodiversity plot adjacent to the school and bordering the Souhegan River. This is important field work not only for this course, but because their data is entered into larger international research project monitored by the Smithsonian Institute; we maintain a similar plot at El Eden in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, which is visited by members of the class each spring. The students learn to read a landscape, measure tree diameter, take soil samples, identify species, and finally, produce not only the computer data, but present a project on terrestrial succession.

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Digital Poetry

Wayne Little, 2005
Burlington High School
Burlington, MA
Literature and Photography, Students aged 12-18

In a combined effort between Photography and Literature teachers as well as an in-house poet, students study many forms of poetry, and become familiar with techniques of taking photos and editing them in photoshop. Students then use these skills to create a final project- the digital poem, in which the students present original poetry artistically with their own nature photographs. The unit includes a field trip to Walden, during which the students can take their photos and reflect on nature as inspiration for their poems.

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Art and Science: Where Do You Draw the Line?

Dave Luther and Wayne Little, 2000
Burlington High School
Burlington, MA
Science and Art, Grade 9

In this unit, students practice drawing techniques while learning observation and classification skills in the spirit of Thoreau as a naturalist. Students will collect samples of native plants, classify and draw them, and Keep a Botanical Journal, replicating the methods of Thoreau. The students use these activities to create a “Kalendar” containing the drawn samples and their journal observations.

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