World War II Interdisciplinary Unit
One of my co-workers mentioned trying to do interdisciplinary work with another coworker but nothing was coming to fruition. I am always up for collaboration so I casually mentioned "We can collaborate, students could do ....in my class" and a collaboration was born! Erin and I dove into a joint portfolio project on World War II. Interdisciplinary units are so important to show students that real work issues are complex. We often teach our disciplines in a silo. This generation of students needs to understand why they are learning concepts and how everything connects even if they are not going into science as a career after high school. Interdisciplinary units allow students:
the recognition of multiple perspectives
have academic conversations from a range of disciplines.
are meaningful and salient.
promotes engagement and accountability.
a broader understanding of the concept/concepts
similarities and differences between the different disciplines
integrated ideas from all disciplines into problem-solving
Interdisciplinary learning allows students to learn creatively and apply knowledge across many disciplines.
In world history they would learn about the causes of World War II and in Integrated Science, they could look at the environmental and ecological impacts of war. We started the unit with active reading activities in both classes. Students in science read a reading section on the environmental impacts of war. The reading covered a general overview of prior biological warfare conducted and focused on the impacts of World War II. Students were tasked with reading comprehension questions, graphing aviation contrail composition, and scientific modeling.
Causes of World War II
Environmental Impact of War
Start of the War
Battle Location Weather and Climate Affects
Ecological Impacts of the Pacific Theatre
Atmosphere Composition and Trends (1930-1955)
End of the War
Atomic Energy Stations
The Atomic Bomb
The World History teacher and I worked together one weekend on each of the Battle Stations to provide students with battle history as well as to investigate how weather and climate may have affected the battle outcome and/or battle decisions. Students mapped the battles and collected evidence in a data table on the key people and countries, highlights of what happened, outcome and significance, and the impact of weather and climate. Students were then tasked with several world history and science reflection questions. Concurrently, students in science focused on the battles of the Pacific Theatre and the ecological impacts of those battles. I created a Google Earth Tour of the Pacific Theatre battle locations focusing on endangered species located in the battle locations and the ecological environments of all the Pacific island battles. Students mapped ecological environments, identified endangered species, and noted the specific impacts of each battle. I then tasked students with choosing 3 of the battle locations to create a postcard from that location as if they were a soldier in battle there and watching the destruction of the environment.
Our 9th-grade students began reading "Night" by Elie Weisel in World Language class, so they were now learning about World War II in three of the four core discipline classes. So, we were compelled to tie in the math classes to hit all 4 core disciplines. Our Algebra 1 classes are a mix of 8th and 9th-grade students. They were currently working on graphing, so I created a graphing activity for the 9th graders to complete the week that the middle school was conducting state testing. Math students choose one of the main battle locations that were included in our Battle Stations activity. They then researched the temperature and precipitation for the location and created climatographs for the battle locations. These graphs were used during the Battle Stations activity to analyze average temperature and precipitation during the time period the battle was being fought.
Finally, students learned about the Holocaust and the decisions that led to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. Students in Integrated Science learned about the discoveries of nuclear energy, the Manhattan Project, nuclear fusion and fission, and more through a station activity. Stations included Early Nuclear Discoveries, The Manhattan Project, Nuclear Testing Locations, Nuclear Fusions and Fission, Radioactivity and Half-Life, Uranium and Plutonium, and Nuclear Scientist Profiles. I was missing some of the more hands-on labs as part of this unit, so I added a half-life activity with dice after students had completed the stations. On the data sheets, students mapped the locations of the Manhattan Project Labs, recorded data on the outcome and significance and environmental impact of the event or location, compared and contrasted fusion and fission and uranium and plutonium, created scientific models, and responded to analytical questions.
Students submitted all their work in a portfolio that we used as a summative assessment of both World History and Integrated Science. Students completed a reflection for both classes. Questions included summaries of specific content covered as well as general reflections on the portfolio process, learning across multiple classes, time management, and more. Student reflections expressed that they enjoyed this method of learning because it:
"because it showed the different aspects of the war."
"because it has you focusing on a single subject."
"because it goes more in depth with the topic."
"because we saw WWII in different views like math and climate."
Looking back, I would try and connect something to the Holocaust to align with the World History progression. I did end up adding 1 station on Zyklon-B to the Atomic Energy Stations, but it didn't really fit there. I would also like to incorporate more of the aviation contrails and fuel consumption into the impacts of the atmosphere to tie everything together. I have already added several pages to the atomic energy stations and revamped the reading activity after teaching it once through. I would also do one final culminating summative project for both of the classes with a hexagonal thinking poster. Interdisciplinary units are a great place to incorporate hexagonal thinking because the students can bring in so many different aspects into their connections.
You can check out my lessons from this unit on my store:
Ecological Impacts of the Pacific Theatre [COMING SOON!]
Bear, Ashley, and David Skorton. “The World Needs Students With Interdisciplinary Education.” Issues in Science and Technology 35, no. 2 (Winter 2019): 60–62.