In most schools, integrated curriculum is more a hitandmiss practice than a fullscale, allout commitment.
To accomplish the goal of ensuring that “all teachers
can identify the connections among ideas and fields of
knowledge, as well as how their teaching relates to the
courses and student activities conducted by other school
personnel,” as AMLE’s This We Believe suggests, schools
must establish protocols that help middle grades educators
develop integrated lessons and units.
Getting Started
The first step in developing integrated lessons and units is
to designate a planning time for teams to discuss ways to
integrate each teacher’s curriculum. At Lee County Middle
School, we chose Tuesdays. During that dedicated time,
we plan and discuss shortterm and longterm integration
opportunities.
Shortterm and longterm units are identified according
to the length of time it takes to complete the unit. A longterm
unit requires two or more weeks to complete; a shortterm
unit requires anywhere from one day to one week
in the regular classroom. (When integrated units require
a more flexible schedule so students can work with each
other or with students on other teams they utilize a period
called “seminar” time.)
A meeting agenda helps focus all attendees and
provides a framework for more productive outcomes.
One of our teams was having a hard time planning an
integrated curriculum, so we worked together to construct
an agenda to steer the meeting. Discussions were guided by
key questions.
1. Are there any student concerns we need to discuss?
Student issues that have nothing to do with integrating the
curriculum often get team members off topic; therefore, we
set some guidelines:

Do not get bogged down in student issues. This
discussion should be quick and specific. Remember,
today’s meeting is about integrating curriculum.

If you must discuss a problem or situation that concerns a
specific student, do not use the student’s name. Instead,
discuss the behavior, situation, or problem that should be
addressed.
Now brainstorm ideas to solve the problem. Once
the team has come up with a plan, put it on paper and
determine how it will be implemented and how often the
plan will be monitored.
2. What topics or standards are we teaching next week?
Each person on the team shares what he or she will
introduce or teach the following week. Team members take
notes about each member’s responses then review them for
possible connections.
3. Is there an opportunity for any integration between or
among the subjects?
Is there vocabulary that can be integrated across subject
areas? Is there a concept that cuts across topics? Is there an
opportunity for writing across the curriculum?
On one team, the math teacher planned to work on ratio
and proportion the following week; the science teacher
would teach about layers of the Earth; the social studies
teacher would introduce gross domestic products, literacy
rate, and economics; and the English language arts teacher
would review parts of speech and strategies for reading
informational text.
On the surface, none of the team members’ lessons
seemed the least bit related. But once we started discussing
how we could connect the content and the learning, we
came up with some easy and fun integration opportunities.
We discussed how to incorporate ratio into each subject’s
lessons. The teachers decided to begin with the vocabulary.
They developed a ratio/proportion vocabulary list that
each would introduce along with her own contentspecific
vocabulary. The integrated vocabulary was posted on a
word wall with definitions and possible uses. (The same
definitions are used in each class.)
Math: The math teacher’s topic drove this unit, so she
taught her original unit—no additional planning was
necessary other than a discussion of how ratio/proportion is
used in our daily lives.
The team decided science students would look at the
make up of the layers of the Earth and develop ratios
regarding the Earth’s composition. These ratio charts would
be posted in the hall and in the classroom.
Because the students were studying gross domestic
products (GDPs) and literacy rates, students would be
broken into small groups. Each group would study the
literacy rates and GDPs of the various countries covered
in their standards. They would develop ratios of literate
citizens to illiterate citizens and then make inferences
regarding GDP and economics based on literacy rates.
In English language arts (ELA), students were given
informational text regarding GDP and literacy rates to
read and determine important details and main ideas. This
integration helped the social studies teacher because her
students came to her having read much of the background
information needed to understand her lesson.
The ELA teacher had also planned to review parts of
speech; therefore, we devised a game for the students.
Working in pairs on one paragraph from the informational
text, students would label two specific parts of speech and
develop a ratio for them.
This unit was a shortterm (one week) integration. The
students discussed ratio and proportion in every class. They
gathered data and produced charts and graphs based on
ratio, and they made inferences about a country’s GDP and
economic strengths or weaknesses based on literacy rates.
In most schools, integrated curriculum is more a hitand
miss practice than a fullscale, allout commitment.
To accomplish the goal of ensuring that “all teachers
can identify the connections among ideas and fields of
knowledge, as well as how their teaching relates to the
courses and student activities conducted by other school
personnel,” as NMSA’s This We Believe suggests, schools
must establish protocols that help middle grades educators
develop integrated lessons and units.
4.What will our next longterm integrated unit be?
The team examined the longterm integrated unit they
planned to teach. This time the ELA teacher’s curriculum
anchored the unit.
The sixth grade ELA curriculum includes a study of world
mythologies. Since the ELA standards do not specify which
mythologies are to be taught, the team decided to use the
mythologies of the countries presented in the social studies
curriculum.
The students would be placed in “expert” groups for
the ELA unit. Each expert group would study a different
mythology and share its findings with other groups. The
ELA teacher would use Greek/Roman mythologies to model
what she wanted the students to learn in regard to the
myths they were studying in their expert groups.
The science teacher looked at her curriculum and realized
she could teach her space unit during the mythology unit.
Her students would study the constellations as they relate
to ancient mythologies. The students would create the
“night” sky as it looked during important historical events
related to their social studies curriculum. After placing the
constellations in their correct positions for each event,
students would compare their renderings, looking for
patterns.
Since Central American countries are included in the
social studies curriculum, the plan would allow the math
teacher to discuss the importance of math in the building of
the Mayan pyramids. Students would create scale drawings
of the pyramids, research and discuss the mathematics
needed to construct the pyramids, and measure the
volume, square footage, and other geometrical aspects of
the pyramids.
The teachers discussed the culminating task for this unit,
developed a timeline for completing the unit, designated
wholeteam unit work days, and took an inventory of
resources and supplies needed to complete the unit. Each
teacher was given a specific task. During each Tuesday’s
integrated unit planning time, the team would reflect on
the unit and make needed adjustments.
Seminar Time
Seminar time is an outgrowth of fully integrated longterm
units. To complete the seminar units, the teams carve out
one to two hours weekly. During these times, the students
work as an entire “team” of students rather than a “class” of
students.
The integrated seminar units are usually designed around
themes, but incorporate skills and content from each
subject. One such unit is the space museum seminar. In
this seminar unit, the students study the various aspects of
space, including solar system, ancient astrology/astronomy,
space travel, the development of NASA, future space
exploration, and other topics of interest related to space.
The culminating performance task for this unit is to develop
a walkthrough space museum that is informative and
interesting for elementary students in grades 35.
For six weeks the students with similar interests form
cadres to research one of the topics. These cadres design
displays and visuals for the museum. The displays must
include written placards that show the students’ research.
After each cadre’s work is complete, an entire hallway is
dedicated to the “museum.” Students create a space walk,
covering the walls and ceilings with the various visuals
they’ve created. Eighth grade students take the elementary
students through the museum, sharing information and
providing opportunities for the younger students to
participate in the many interactive displays.
Another seminar unit is our Iditarod unit. The unit
integrates physical science very nicely because it requires
students to understand force, motion, acceleration,
and friction.
For background information for this unit, students read
Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet or Jack London’s Call of the Wild
in their English language arts class. These books afford
the teachers and students glimpses into the worlds of
orienteering and dog sledding. Students also conduct
extensive research about the Iditarod.
In the social studies class, students learn about the
geography and terrain of the Iditarod trail, the indigenous
peoples of the regions and their traditions and cultures, and
the evolution of the Iditarod itself.
Math and science students are divided into teams. Each
team must construct a sled from “found” objects—most
often large, cardboard boxes and lots of tape. Each team’s
sled must be built to provide the least friction and most
acceleration because the students actually participate in a
mock Iditarod.
Student research about the race is recorded on posters
and informational text hung in the hallways for other
students, teachers, and visitors to read.
As part of the culminating activity for the Iditarod,
parents are invited to watch the race. Dogs (students with
socks on their “paws” for mittens) and sled drivers line
up in anxious anticipation. It is amazing to watch eighth
grade boys and girls (who are usually too cool for anything
school initiated) screaming and yelling with enthusiasm
and excitement as they get caught up in the competition
between sled teams.
Our school is teamdriven to observe common planning
time, team decision making, flexible scheduling, and full
curriculum integration when appropriate. Seminar time was
so popular that seminar time and seminar units have been
adopted by many other teams in our school.
Final Thoughts
Constrained by the statemandated curriculum, teachers
often do not recognize opportunities for integrating
learning. However, with intentional planning and
collaboration, integrating curriculum can become
second nature.
Sue Vansant is instructional support specialist at Lee County Middle School in Georgia. Email: VansantSu@lee.k12.ga.us