24 November 2022

Designing interdisciplinary lessons: an inspiration toolkit

Author: Karolina Czopek, Marcin Sakowicz, Maksymilian Woch,


As a result of research conducted by HTT in order to develop new educational solutions, we announced an international competition for the creation of curricula that take into account the need for changes in education, while adapting its assumptions to the state of the modern world. Consequently, three educational organizations were awarded grants for the preparation of curricula that meet the assumptions of the WSOT list created by the HTT research team.

The winners of the grant competition are the FAB Foundation (USA) [https://fabfoundation.org], The School of Education of the University of Sheffield (UK) [https://www.sheffield.ac.uk] and the Human Restoration Project (USA) [https://www.humanrestorationproject.org]. Each of these organizations presented a proprietary curriculum for the primary school level containing several ready-to-use scenarios for teachers around the world. Although the proposed curricula are different approaches to teaching interdisciplinary and different visions for the implementation of individual ideas in the classroom, they share the same understanding of values that should be applied in contemporary education.

The School of Education of the University of Sheffield places particular emphasis on the development of students’ skills for conscious and socially sensitive participation in the modern world. The lesson sets have been assigned to three divisions – My Media – developing students’ ability to use media skilfully and make a critical selection of available information. My Power – shaping the attitude of conscious participation in the life of the local community and society as a whole, and finally My World – building awareness of the impact of the world on an individual, as well as the individual’s abilities to mold their social and natural environment [See the list of sample lessons below].

The Human Restoration Project, starting from democratic principles, presented a two-segment curriculum containing the “Activity” part, i.e. a set of thematically diverse lessons aimed at arousing students’ curiosity about the world in which they live together with a sense of belonging to a community. In the second part, entitled “Impact”, which is the project part of this program, students carry out their own projects to improve the world they live in [See the list of sample lessons below].

The FAB Foundation presented a different type of two-segment curriculum consisting of “The Thrive Project – Community” and “Thrive Project School-Wide relationships” part, in which classroom activities are a kind of combination of acquiring knowledge, developing sensitivity to social problems, inspiring creativity with translating it into practical skills of materializing their ideas with the help of digital technology [See the list of sample lessons below].

These three programs developed under grant projects consist of a set of lessons or courses containing a number of innovative educational tools useful for achieving the assumed educational goals. These specific solutions are so universal that they are useful tools for educators teaching any subject. Although the HTT together with grantee partners is still working on a Comprehensive Handbook of Interdisciplinary Subject, the HTT team chose the aforementioned sample solutions with strong adaptive potential and compiled the following guide to inspire educators to create engaging and fruitful lessons. We believe that this choice adequately reflects the vision, ideas, and pedagogical assumptions of the authors. Let’s take a look at some of those solutions. We grouped them into several categories for better readability.


Design thinking

Design thinking is an approach to developing innovative solutions by focusing on users’ needs. It analyzes complex and/or abstract problems from a human-centered perspective. Therefore, an essential part of the process is empathizing with the users by identifying and understanding their needs.

One of the lessons [See the list of sample lessons below: HRP 1] used design thinking by showing the learners the elements of city design and asking them to brainstorm their own city design in order to understand that planning requires considering the needs of all inhabitants. This lesson teaches students to find schema, identify regularities and repetitive sequences of patterns occurring in a concept, as well as generalize and present a problem as a model or simulation.

Creating art

When children express themselves through art, they develop not only their socio-emotional skills but also learn how to overcome challenges and think outside the box. Moreover, collaborative artistic tasks promote communication and empathy. We promote going beyond tasks that use only drawing or painting. Sculpture, music, poetry, drama, dance… – all forms of creative expression can be successfully used in the classroom.

Art can be used to express one’s opinion on an issue – the lesson plan created by FAB Foundation has small groups of students create drama/skit to show how symbolic “pollution” negatively affects a thriving community and what could be done to mitigate these negative effects and create an “atmosphere” that encourages personal growth [See the list of sample lessons below: FAB 1]

Another example is the lesson about art as a tool to highlight the needed change [See: HRP 2]. Students explore different examples of street art and discuss the social issues they tackle. Finally, they design their own artworks to comment on the topics they feel strongly about. The lesson teaches students to participate in civil society, being able to engage in activism, and initiate change.

Creative tasks can help learners give shape to their ideas. For instance, in the lesson about Child Inventors [See the list of sample lessons below: SHEFFIELD 1], children consider local, national, or international problems, and design an invention that helps to address it.

Art can also be a way to illustrate complex ideas. In the lesson about privilege [See: SHEFFIELD 2], students are grouped in teams and are asked to build a tower. Each group has a different set of resources to complete the task, which is an incentive to start the discussion on the nature of privilege.

Photography/Making videos/Recording sound

Photographs and videos, as well as GIFs and memes, are one of the main ways children explore and create content outside school. It is therefore natural for them to use these methods of expression to present what they learned or how they understand or feel about a given concept.

In accord with the interdisciplinary approach presented by the FAB, creating video material is a part of a wider process of learning or solving a particular problem. Students make and present video relations of the conducted interviews with their peers using Flipgrid [See: FAB 2] or record the already mentioned dramas/skits acted out to feature some social issues experienced by the local community [See: FAB 1]

Another example is the lesson where students explore different types of text in their environment during “a literacy walk”. They take photos of texts they find which are then discussed in terms of their purpose and authorship [See: SHEFFIELD 3].


Role-plays and character cards

Role plays enhance children’s ability to change perspectives and think creatively. It’s a great tool to support cognitive, emotional, and behavioral development. The enacted scenarios can be linked to students’ realities or they can put them in a completely new context, e.g. related to their dream jobs.

Character cards are a useful tool to understand the motives and actions of others. Students can empathize with them and understand the diversity of attitudes and values.

In an interdisciplinary lesson plan [See: HRP 3] students design an invention using prompts they picked and later prepare a pitch of their product for classmates who act as potential investors. The lesson focuses on students being capable of listening to one another, understanding other people’s interests, and attaining compromise within communities; as well as developing a capacity for effective conflict resolution and respect for different perspectives.

Brainstorming and mind mapping

Brainstorming is a tool that not only promotes creativity and generates new ideas, but also brings groups closer together in working towards a common goal. In this context, creating a mind map is a great tool to organize the flow of ideas. This can be done with digital tools such as Mentimeter, Jamboard, Mural, or Google Draw.

The lesson about the impact of being kind [See: HRP 4] introduces children to the notion of scale and shows how small acts of kindness can have ripple effects that reach beyond individuals. In the final part of the lesson, students brainstorm what various kinds of impact can be caused by one act, such as using a litter bin in a park.

Discussion strategies

Student discussions can be facilitated and enhanced thanks to many strategies proposed by HRP. They include the following examples:

  • assigning group roles (leader, arbitrator, note-taker, etc.),
  • gallery walk (students develop an artifact or a response to a question, exhibit it, and move around the classroom to see how others approached the same task),
  • think-pair-share (students think about their responses individually, then share them in pairs, in the end, they discuss it in a larger group),
  • using online polling tools (e.g. PollEverywhere or Mentimeter).


Exploring different sources in the search for evidence

The ability to verify information is one of the key competencies in the 21st century. Children must be aware that not every piece of information they see or hear is reliable. When familiarizing students with the concept of lateral reading (verifying the source and comparing it with others while reading it), teachers can also make students aware of different interpretations, viewpoints, and ideologies.

For instance, in this lesson, which can be easily adapted to most subjects [See: SHEFFIELD 4], students explore different online sources in the search for information on a specific topic and learn how to evaluate information presented there to establish which sources are trustworthy.

The use of digital design to digitally produce various items

Even though not all schools have appropriate equipment at their disposal, we encourage taking advantage of digital design wherever it is possible. It is a great tool for IDS-based lessons, as it gives students a hands-on experience, connecting knowledge with the real world.

Students can use a variety of computer software, e.g. Canva or TinkerCad to prepare an appropriate design and materialize it using digital equipment such as a 3D Printer, laser cutter, or vinyl cutter.

The examples of lessons carried out in this way include various tasks, such as creating artifacts representing watershed moments in social history [See: FAB 1] or making stick figures and puppets for the show about the stories reflecting conflict and multiple feelings [See: FAB 3] or designing and fabricating the drain and pipe system [See: FAB 4].


Initiating change

Schools should empower students to make a positive change in their communities. It is a chance to show students the importance of democratic action and civil society. While pursuing an idea they care about, students develop empathy, notice their impact, learn to make choices based on the common good, and seek the right solutions.

Our examples show how to inspire students by discussing how children can be discriminated against and what they can do about it [See: HRP 5] and by showing them an example of social change initiated by a child [See: SHEFFIELD 5]. What students can later do is write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper, make a video, prepare a poster, organize a letter-writing campaign for local authorities, or attend a school board meeting.

A particular type of another tool which inspires learners to make a change is planning a social campaign described below.

Planning a social campaign

Designing social campaigns aimed at having a positive impact on the local community is an IDS tool utilized in many of our grantees’ lessons. They put special emphasis on awakening students’ social activity while prompting them to undertake real actions aimed at evoking social change within society or in the local community. They can also be combined with elements of entrepreneurship, planning a budget, etc.

In one of them, students design and propose a school-wide system for creating thriving social relationships. The goal is to strengthen school relationships and improve the way their school community experiences, expresses, and acts on feelings [See: FAB 3]. In another case, the IDS aims to create a general understanding of the learner that their actions can have a positive effect on the functioning of their community and environment. To achieve this, students first identify the problem and then develop solutions by discussing it in groups, taking into account possible obstacles that may prevent the expected results [See: FAB 1].

In the lesson pertaining to the problem of racism [See: SHEFFIELD 6], the envisioned outcome of the lesson is that students understand what it means to be anti-racist and produce media that educates and provides support to other young people to actively speak out against racism.

Creating an exhibition

One of the forms of presenting the effects of the student’s activities is their public presentation, e.g. at an evening meeting for the school and/or the local community.

An important example is the water crisis student’s group project where pupils will develop a model of how families, schools, and communities can identify water problems and create solutions that will help us make ethical and practical decisions about our own families as well as those in the natural world. At the meeting, students explain the solutions developed, which include conservation actions, the construction of a water filter, and other ideas [See: FAB 4].

The School of Education of the University of Sheffield combined the idea of conducting research by the students [See: SHEFFIELD 7] with designing and preparing the school exhibition as a result. The idea behind it is to present the pictures of the phased-out digital equipment which served the generation of parents and grandparents of the pupils along with their opinions on how technological advancement influenced their lives. Thanks to preparing the display, the students – “digital natives”, would be able to conceive the extent of the changes in the way of living, communicating between people, or creating and transmitting information that took place over the course of several last decades. By the way, one should point out the fact that the authors of the lesson advise students to look for equipment used by their parents in museums!

Conducting research

Students can be encouraged to gather information about a topic through individual or group exploration which can take the form of conducting mini-research. This activity develops numerous skills: problem formulation, collection of data, logical reasoning, critical thinking, analysis of sources, and cooperation, among others. Learners can also develop a positive perception of science and respect for scientific achievements.

Such kind of activity is advised in [See: FAB 3] as well as in [See: FAB 2]. In both cases, the subject of the research is school relationships which is accompanied by the strong emphasis on the proper way of doing interviews. What is interesting here, the idea of the authors is that the results should be processed and elaborated in the artistic form, e.g. a puppet show or a video report.

The School of Education of the University of Sheffield approaches this subject in a slightly different way emphasizing not only the aim of the research, which is, in this case, an answering the question [See: SHEFFIELD 8] but the very methodology of conducting the research. Therefore, the important part of the task is to establish the structure of the research while discussing its subsequent steps. In such a way the authors of the project call into being the genuine “school of young researchers” as the task elucidates topics such as establishing research questions, research methods, ethics, results, and conclusion.

Lastly, in the lesson about food mapping, students interview their classmates to get an idea of food availability and accessibility within their own class [See: SHEFFIELD 9]. They are also encouraged to extend their mini-research and interview ten members of their community.

In this toolkit, we only enumerated a few of the many educational tools suggested by our grantees. They can be utilized as concrete educational solutions in teaching various subjects in schools as useful practical tools ready to use during a particular lesson. It should be said that they were designed to make the process of learning more engaging by combining content knowledge with skills necessary in the modern world, such as cooperation, problem-solving, independence, critical thinking, and empathy. Importantly, the implementation of these tools allows us to inspire students to be active and conscious members of their community through experiencing the real possibility of changing the world in which they live.

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