Interdisciplinary Units & VBS Focus of SHS Lighthouse Session

Interdisciplinary Units & VBS Focus of SHS Lighthouse Session
Posted on 04/12/2018
Sioux City Field Trip

During the third and final Lighthouse Session for the year, Spencer High School staff and administration showcased the impact and results from utilizing professional development to create Project Based Learning (PBL) interdisciplinary units and increase Value Beyond School (VBS).  Instructional Mentor Coaches (IMCs) and SHS instructors, Michele Dirkx, Will Dible and Ayn Thoreson, explained that the goal of increasing student experiences with high VBS and/or interdisciplinary units was established with feedback from staff and pairs well with the Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) that has been implemented for the past several years.  “We are looking more at concepts and essential questions, and we look beyond our classroom walls to help prepare students for the 21st Century,” explained Mrs. Dirkx.

The IMCs put a plan in place, and during scheduled professional development opportunities, teachers gathered to brainstorm and collaborate across disciplines, and 19 projects were created.  The projects were shared with their peers through a gallery walk, allowing other teachers to ask questions and offer input, and then after further development, the finished touches were put in place to bring the projects to life. 

To help the audience, comprised of school board members and representatives from the Spencer Community School Foundation and the School Improvement Advisory Council (SIAC), gain further understanding of the process and the benefits that are already evident, several teachers discussed projects that have been developed, demonstrating the broad number of students affected by the work.  The highlighted projects included:

  • Student Professional Development Days, completed throughout the mornings on 12:30 early dismissal days;

  • You and the Community, aimed at helping students understand how they can contribute to society;

  • Who Has the Plan, bringing Practical Writing and Tech Ed students together to create plans and an assembly process to build bird houses; and

  • Belief Systems, bringing awareness and understanding of different belief systems.

Each teacher shared about the process and how they have revised and expanded their units to be more interdisciplinary and increase VBS.  For Hope Bumgarner, World Area Instructor, carving out time during professional development has broadened the scope of her Belief Systems Unit. Last fall, as part of the unit, Mrs. Bumgarner took a select group of students to Sioux City to experience different religions firsthand. The field trip included stops at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Beth Shalom Congregation and Pho Mon Buddhist Temple, and the students who participated gained a newfound understanding and appreciation of the different faiths.  Following the trip, Mrs. Bumgarner utilized professional development opportunities to work with fellow World Area Instructor, Chris Phillips, as well as Vocal Music Instructor, Katie Kardell and Louise Kierscht, SHS Art Instructor.  Together, they spent lots of time brainstorming and developing ideas, and as a result, all sophomores will be able to attend the next field trip to Sioux City.  Throughout the unit, including the field trip, lessons on art and music, hearing from speakers and blogging, students will work to answer the essential question: How do belief systems influence people and society, including the arts?  “As the students go out into the "bigger world", I am hoping they remember hearing and meeting people from these different faiths, and as a result, are less likely to stereotype, judge or disrespect people who are different from them.  I think many of the students realized it is a good thing to understand and appreciate the different faiths because it increases their tolerance.  In addition, they understood that tolerance does not mean you have to agree with the beliefs or basic ideas of that faith, and I think that is a very powerful lesson for all of our students to learn,” shared Mrs. Bumgarner.  

When completing PBL units, students are evaluated on areas such as higher order thinking, communication, and their ability to apply knowledge to the real world and influence an outside audience, and Mrs. Dirkx ended by saying, "Incorporating VBS allows students to learn and practice these soft skills that employers are looking for in their future employees while still in a high school setting.  VBS also increases student engagement and achievement and allows students to do the deep thinking and make connections outside of our building while the teachers can facilitate and support the students in their project completion.”