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Volume 11, Number 5
September/October 1995

Moving Beyond Traditional Subjects Requires Teachers to Abandon Their 'Comfort Zones'


About a fifth of the seventh-graders at Radnor Middle School in Wayne, Pennsylvania, spend the entire year studying the local watershed. Except for foreign-language classes, their curriculum is centered exclusively on this project, incorporating activities that would normally be classified under English, science, social studies, art, and other traditional subjects.

Students conduct laboratory tests on water and soil samples. They study the history of the people who have lived in the region since pre-Columbian times and compose diaries and newspaper stories depicting these people's lives. In a creative writing assignment, they imagine themselves as drops of water moving through various stages of the water cycle.

The Watershed program, as it is known, places a heavy emphasis on field work. Students spend between 40 and 60 school days outside the classroom, studying a water treatment plant, a power plant, and a local landfill. They visit Revolutionary War battle sites, go canoeing on the Schuylkill River, and study the art of area native Andrew Wyeth at the Brandywine River Museum.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

J. Arhar and J. Kromrey. "Interdisciplinary Teaming in the Middle Level School: Creating a Sense of Belonging for At-Risk Middle Level Students." Available from the ERIC Clearinghouse (ED364456, 1993); 800-443-3742.

T. Gatewood et al. "Middle School Interdisciplinary Team Organization and Its Relationship to Teacher Stress." Research in Middle Level Education 15, no. 2 (Spring 1992): 27-40.

International High School, LaGuardia Community College, 31-10 Thomson Ave., Long Island City, NY 11101.

V. Lee and J. Smith. "Effects of School Restructuring on the Achievement and Engagement of Middle-Grade Students." Sociology of Education 66, no. 3 (July 1993): 164-187.

North Warren Elementary School, Route 8, Brant Lake, NY 12815.

K. Roth. "Second Thoughts About Interdisciplinary Studies." American Educator 18, no. 1 (Spring 1994): 44-48.

M. Springer. Watershed: A Successful Voyage into Integrated Learning. Columbus, OH: National Middle School Association, 1994.

G. Vars. "Effects of Interdisciplinary Curriculum and Instruction." In Annual Review of Research for Middle and High School Leaders. Reston, VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals, 1995.