The Four Cognitive Abilities of Interdisciplinary Thinking

RepkoFour cognitive abilities have been identified by Allen Repko, the Director of Interdisciplinary Studies for the School of Urban and Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington. These abilities, which are brain-based skills and mental activities which are needed to carry out activities, are heightened by interdisciplinary learning. Because these mental processes are enhanced by interdisciplinary education, this method of education has become more popular among educators.

  • According to research conducted by Baloche, Hynes and Berger in 1996, interdisciplinary teaching fosters perspective-taking techniques. This means that students become better equipped to see and understand several viewpoints on any given subject. They can then appreciate better the differences between subjects and can better understand the best way to approach a problem and the rules of evidence.
  • The interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning helps the development of structural knowledge. This takes form in two ways: declarative knowledge such as factual information; and procedural knowledge, which is process-based information. Both of these elements are needed to solve complex problems.
  • When regarding conflicting ideas from alternative disciplines, other perspectives often appear. Interdisciplinary education helps to encourage the integration of insights from alternative disciplines, a creative process which is difficult to teach in another way.
  • New understandings of issues will often arise when several perspectives must be dealt with simultaneously. This new, interdisciplinary understanding gives the student the ability to see how alternative approaches to a problem influence each other.

Interdisciplinary teaching is not easy. However, as we see above, the effort invested to teach in this way is easily paid back by the unique and valuable skill set that students develop as a result.



Interdisciplinary Approach to Teaching and Learning

School systems today are beginning to recognize that children have unique and individual ways of learning, and are working to incorporate different activities and learning programs in order to accommodate each student’s needs. Although many schools still use traditional classroom furniture, new curricula and interdisciplinary approaches to teaching and learning have the potential to boost each child’s learning potential, no matter what their strengths.

Instructional Strategies Online explains that the purpose of the interdisciplinary approach is to “dissolve the boundaries of areas of study and encourage learning across the curriculum.”

The site explains: “Educators must develop a plan where they can see the natural areas for integration and develop thematic units. Student learning outcomes should include a well-rounded education where critical thinking and transfer of knowledge is evident with the school and the outside world. A constructivist approach to learning where creative thinking processes are developed within a meaningful context will enhance the student’s education and encourage lifelong learning.

Tips for the Learning Environment is a website dedicated to helping teachers and other educators set up curricula and develop an effective framework for a learning environment. It’s Creative Curriculum is designed to help create an environment that meets the children’s needs.

Young children require a structure that helps them become independent and confident learners. The Creative Curriculum lists three essential points:

  • Classroom setup and maintenance, which includes the use of appropriate classroom furniture and creative corners, organization tools and anything else related to a classroom’s physical space.
  • A structured daily schedule, with routine and consistency. This provides the children with clear expectations and understanding, which are essential for their confidence and ability to focus.
  • Building a classroom community to meet the social and emotional needs of the students. This provides children with positive examples and motivation, encouraging them to continue to enjoy learning and look forward to school for years to come.

How to Use the Internet in a Classroom Curriculum

cyberbeeIn today’s world, classroom learning does not have to be monotonous and boring. There are many resources aimed at helping teachers develop curriculums that keep students engaged and productive without having to leave their school desks. One such example is CyberBee, a website which shows teachers how to incorporate the internet into their classroom curriculum. offers examples for online lessons and projects in math, science, social studies, language, and cross-curricular studies. It also provides ideas for science fairs, research tools, adventures like treasure hunts, and other inspirations for teachers of all grades.


An Interdisciplinary Approach to Teaching

An interdisciplinary approach to learning is meant “to dissolve the boundaries of areas of study and encourage learning across the curriculum.”

Teaching in an interdisciplinary education system, whether in a traditional setting with classrooms and school furniture or online, can be quite challenging. The benefits, however, are endless. Instructional Strategies Online offers three tips for teachers based on the Interdisciplinary Concept Model (Jacobs and Borland 1986):

  1. Choose a topic-concepts such as observations, patterns, light, revolution, humor, flight, pioneers, the future, and world hunger have proven highly effective (Jacobs).
  2. Brainstorm for ideas that can be organized onto an interdisciplinary concept model. This model has the theme in the center and the subject areas are explored in relation to the theme.
  3. Guiding questions are developed to serve as scope and sequence. The questions are general and should transcend discipline lines (Jacobs p.60).