Discipline-Focused Learning

Ok, isn’t that what all learning is… where we study a discipline?

Uhm no.

Actually it’s not.  The model of education that we have blindly followed for decades is a collection of highly connected disciplines, but yet which rarely interact. Seldom do we see thoughtful collaborations as a regular part of learning. Yet, isn’t the real world “out there” just a huge intersection of every possible discipline?


The role of school has been to prepare students for the real world outside the school walls, but yet it seems as if the walls are getting higher, and the education is more and more irrelevant and disconnected.

We have to experiment with new ways of learning in order to find how to reconnect school, at all ages, with modern-day students. I’m not worried about what worked 25 years ago, and I am not worried about what school will look like in 10 years. I am talking about right now.


Currently, students study numerous subjects in a single day, but each is compartmentalized, meaning that they go to math for an hour, then abruptly change to language, then abruptly change to history,  and so on.  No rhythm. No flow. Little cross-over in the day-to-day, but if we take a step back… all these subjects are heavily related!

No one will disagree that there is math in music and chemistry; there is chemistry in the art class; there is technical reading and writing in language and math; there is biology in physics; recently we are seeing there is AI in every subject….. you see my point. In any one subject, there is a direct connection to every other subject.

What about a new strategy for designing learning?

How about Discipline-Focused Learning? (yeah, I am still working on the name for this)

What if instead of just teaching math in a silo for a year, we completely flipped that concept on its head? What does that look like?


What if for a month, math is the focus of every subject. All subjects continue their lessons for the month but do it through the math lens. For example: history studies the math from periods of history(i.e. Greek, Roman, China, number systems in cultures) and their impact on society; art uses math in art projects (i.e. phi in drawing, perspective, dimensions) and of course the relationship between math and music; English class can focus on technical reading and writing in math with both fiction where math is heavy part of story (i.e. Mars, a Beautiful Mind) and nonfiction( Hidden Figures, writings by Ptolomy) ; foreign language uses culture-based mathematical word problems using mathematical vocabulary including lectures using technical vocab; Computer Science can use trig to rotate a visual object, algebra for variables updates, or use recursion to implementing Fibonacci series; Physical Education can use an obstacle challenge courses that involve calculations, then based on answers, active challenges; and then math itself focuses its curriculum to enhance/support other subjects as they ‘teach’ math along with the math dept.  Each department still does its ‘thing’, but for that month math is the focus, with the other departments approaching it from their perspective. Keep in mind departments should work together on projects, so students can let the flow of learning happen even when changing physical classrooms.

Yes, this would involve heavy collaboration between departments and between faculty. Administrators need to provide time for planning. It will take some time to figure this out. Schools will need to build that into their schedule. Students will need to learn to not stop learning a subject area when they leave the classroom. Teachers will need to help them with that cross-over. Projects will need to be more complex and far-reaching. Teachers will need to learn how to build great cross-curricular projects.

Does that make sense?


Then the following month,  the ‘discipline of focus’ is Computer Science. All subjects continue their lessons but do it through the technology/Computer Science lens. History will study how technology impacts(and has impacted) society, business, elections and politics, and economies; art will be using programming languages to draw geometric shapes, fractals, and repetitive patterns using loops; foreign language will teach vocabulary for how to use different technologies, students use software for projects but that are configured in a specific foreign language. You want to insert an image or add styling? Gotta know how to find that menu option in Spanish; math will study algorithms, variables, loops, and functions to calculate answers to technical word problems. Language class will read fiction and nonfiction on highly technical topics, including business, ethics, AI, (i.e. science fiction and stories with a tech focus (i.e. Bicentennial-Man, Azimov’s Runaround)); physical education will have students outdoors solving classic CS algorithms such as towers of Pisa or implementing active sorting algorithms(look on Youtube you’ll see it); music has students using loops, variables, and functions to generate instrumental music(thanks Bob); and Computer Science itself will be using their curriculum to enhance/support other subjects as they teach Computer Science along with the CS department.

The next month is science, then history, then art, then language, then music, then physical education, and so on. A typical school year is 8 months long, which is plenty of time for every subject area to get a full month of highly focused attention, plus the other 7 months of “regular”. Is that not more than we are doing now? Is it not more how the world works and is it not more relevant?

I gave two examples of Math focus, and Computer Science focus. I’d love to hear ideas on what language, science, fine arts, and history would look like. What I also love about this approach is that each department gets a chance for some front-and-center attention every year.



About Doug Bergman

Professional Educator
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