Voyage of the SS Discovery and The Truman Show: Fifty years of lessons in trans-disciplinary curriculum

Year: 2009

Author: Imms, Wesley, Godinho, Sally

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

During the early part of this century trans-disciplinary curriculum was enthusiastically embraced by many Australian education systems as a means of making learning more relevant and cohesive, and of cultivating student voice and civic engagement. However, given the apparent problematic nature of fully implementing such curriculum, including most notably Tasmania and Western Australia, John Dewey’s 1930s rebuke of school systems for their segregation of knowledge and inability to connect school-based knowledge to their lived experiences would seem to ring even more true in the 2000s. This emphasises that the cyclical nature of curriculum implementation is a matter of historical fact, as are the many lessons history can teach us about what does and does not work in the classroom.

In this paper, the co-researchers present evidence from two trans-disciplinary projects conducted almost half a century apart to argue that certain characteristics always have, and perhaps always will, encourage success with this style of curriculum development. In the first project, a grade two teacher in a regional Tasmanian school sailed her class around the world in a virtual ship, facilitating enthusiastic creative, cultural and academic learning by her students. Illustrated by a rich array of photographs, authentic hand-written ‘log’ entries, and interviews with class members and the teacher 44 years after the voyage, this case study demonstrates the power of a literacy-arts rich program to engage students in multi-disciplined learning in the primary setting. As a method of contrast, a recent trans-disciplinary project in a Victorian secondary school explore students’ perceptions of ‘reality’ through film analysis, writing and discussion within the disciplines of Science, English and Religion. Resulting interview transcripts and writing samples acknowledged the role teachers played in opening up spaces for students to ask questions, to explore each other’s ideas and to engage in independent thinking. The students valued the creation of opportunities for extended dialogic interactive learning which they identified as enabling them to develop depth and complexity of understanding. In this paper, the content, teaching styles and student artefacts of the two programmes are examined, discussed and compared to identify epistemological and pedagogical traits common to these successful – but historically separated – trans-disciplinary projects.