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Musically Inspired and Multi-Faceted: Interdisciplinary Learning in English and History

Laura Oeschger

The sounds of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” permeated through the Middle School first floor hallway. The Boss’s 1984 chart-topping song hit mainstream radio about two decades before Shipley’s eighth graders were born, and is an unlikely song choice for their generation. But some students in Peter Schumacher and Christine Hutchinson’s eighth grade history and English classes were listening to it - over and over again.

Schumacher and Hutchinson teamed up to create an interdisciplinary historical research and fiction writing project with a Shipley Method twist. Rather than assigning students to choose a static topic to research and write a paper about, the duo started with something more engaging for 21st century students: music.

Integrating History and English
Each eighth grader selected a tune written about a historical event, time period, or person.

In Schumacher’s history class, students investigated all angles and references made in the song for historical accuracy, while citing their sources in a bibliography. After the students felt well educated, they took their new knowledge to Hutchinson’s English class, to write a historical fiction story or memoir. In many ways, the writing piece forced them to dig deeper into their research to better understand the lifestyle of the time period.

Back in history class, the students engaged their creativity to craft a visual element to present in front of the class, to aid in telling the history behind their song. Laced with representation of the material, visuals ranged from paintings to board games.

“The students really took ownership of this project,” Hutchinson explained. “It’s so important for critical thinking and analysis. They have to understand the literature and history to be able to come up with these great ideas to share through writing and their history projects.”

The interdisciplinary approach with creativity woven into each element of the project yielded, to Schumacher and Hutchinson, enthusiasm and authentic, deeply rooted academic work.

“They wrote very in-depth about what they were trying to express,” said Schumacher. “It really surprised and impressed me.”

Real World Learning
“If it was up to me, everything I do in history class would be partnered with English,” Schumacher said. It’s so much fun to make those connections. It’s definitely beneficial to the kids.”
 
“Interdisciplinary learning is real world, it’s how we put our worlds together,” said Hutchinson. “To actually experience the history and English elements together and research them in more depth, I think gives them better understandings of what the dynamics are. It just makes sense.”
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The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.