What is Integrated Curriculum?

The elementary school curriculum of many provinces and states became overcrowded during the rise of the "standards movement" that started taking root across North America in the 1990s.

Many of these "standards driven" curricula are very detailed, lengthy, and explicit. It created an uncomfortable tension among the state and its curriculum and schools, teachers, and students. It created a tension between prescribed curriculum content and what is developmentally appropriate and/or produces deep learning among students.

Curriculum integration is a solution to teaching a top-heavy, content-laden state-/province-mandated, standards-driven curriculum. For example, in Ontario the subject curriculum documents list approximately 500 specific curriculum expectations (standards) per grade per year, grade one to grade 8.

Even though educational leaders would probably explain that the focus of instruction should be the main or overall curriculum expectations, and that the other activities are merely ways to achieve the overall expectations or to assess whether they have been met, the overall curriculum expectations still comprise a great deal of content. The solution is to integrate content and strategies from a variety of subjects or disciplines.

Inquiry Planning Template 1     Inquiry Planning Template 2

 Understanding           Inquiry Learning

Do our children know enough about ... ?

In this satirical news video, The Onion, a U.S. digital media company and news satire organization, depicts how ridiculously overcrowded elementary school curricula have become.

Types of Curriculum Integration

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When integrating subject matter, educators apply methods and language from more than one academic discipline to examine a theme, issue, question, problem, topic, or experience.

Students learn better when they can make connections between traditionally discrete disciplines such as mathematics, the sciences, social studies or history, geography, the Arts, and English language arts. Interdisciplinary methods work to create these connections.

Students also learn better when they are engaged in a task, when it is a real world or simulated real world task, and when the task is slightly challenging for them.

As an instructional strategy, integrated curriculum aims to develop highly engaging learning tasks that by organizing instruction in a variety of ways. There are three basic approaches to integrating subject material:

  • multidisciplinary - a theme-based unit of study addresses a topic through the lens of three or more subjects ending with a culminating performance task,

  • interdisciplinary - integrating two subjects e.g., learning math or science through the arts, and

  • transdisciplinary - based on student questions and/or real world tasks and problems). 

 Inquiry Learning         Performance Tasks

Importance of Curriculum Integration

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Integrating curriculum helps teachers overcome obstacles that make it difficult to create powerful and meaningful learning experiences for students. Daily schedules often fragment learning so that each subject is given a defined time block to cover material that will likely be assessed on a state- or province-mandated "test".

Curriculum integration, on the other hand, enables teachers to use classroom time more efficiently and to address content in depth.

It empowers students to:

  • study material in depth,

  • make connections and see relationships among topics and subject areas, helping students to answer the question, “Why do we need to study that?”,

  • engage in authentic performance tasks,

  • avoid the untimely content contained in textbooks and which appear to be in curriculum documents that is not timely or relevant to students’ lives.

In the classroom, curriculum integration tends to put students to work on large, multi-stage projects, experiments and inquiries, or real world or simulated “real” performance tasks that require them to do “hands on” work and make use of an integrated curriculum that pushes beyond the boundaries of traditional disciplines into seemingly unconnected areas. Teachers provide mini-lessons with direct instruction and specific feedback to individuals and/or small and/or large groups as continuous formative assessment reveals.

The engagement of students encourages them to:

  • formulate questions,

  • investigate to find answers,

  • collaborate and share discoveries,

  • recognize their misconceptions,

  • build new understandings, meanings, strategies, and knowledge,

  • explain and communicate (and therefore consolidate) their learnings to others through talk, representations (models, media, diagrams), and

  • self-assess their work.

Integrating curriculum and interdisciplinary teaching are especially important in the primary grades in order to “provide authentic experiences in more than one content area, offer a range of learning experiences for students, and give students choices in the projects they pursue and the ways they demonstrate their learning."

How Children Learn         Understanding

Integrated Curriculum Planning Steps

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Planning Planning for instruction through the use of an integrated curriculum usually involves four steps:

•Teachers and students select a topic of study based on student interests, curriculum standards, and local resources.
• The teacher finds out what the students already know and helps them generate questions to explore. 
• The teacher provides the students with resources, direction instruction mini-lessons for large or small groups or individuals, and opportunities to do “field work.”
• Students share their work with others in a performance task (culminating activity). Students display their exploration and review and evaluate their project.


Planning Questions                    Planning Resources

Pedagogies Which Promote Integrated Curriculum

There are a variety of instructional models which promote the use of integrated curriculum and inquiry learning. These models include the following:

  • The BSCS 5e instructional model (Bybee, 1987),
  • The Dimensions of Learning Framework (Robert Marzano, 1992b),
  • Understanding by Design® and W.H.E.R.E.T.O. (Grant Wiggins & Jay McTighe, 1998),
  • The Inquiry Path (Joanna Villavicencio, 2000),
  • The Story-Model Framework (Susan Drake, 1993, and Kieran Egan, 1986)
  • The UIUC cyclic model of inquiry (Bertram “Chip” Bruce, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2003),
  • The Three-Part Mathematics Lesson (John A. Van de Walle, Virginia Commonwealth University, 2003),
  • 4C-ID Model (Jeroen van Merriënboer)
  • Algo-Heuristic Theory (Lev Landa)
  • ADDIE Model | Analysis > Design > Development > Implementation > Evaluation Weaknesses of the ADDIE model
  • ARCS (John Keller)
  • ASSURE (Heinich, Molenda, Russel, and Smaldino)
  • Backward Design (Wiggins & McTighe)
  • Conditions of Learning (Robert Gagne)
  • Component Display Theory (David Merrill)
  • Criterion Referenced Instruction (Robert Mager)
  • Dick and Carey
  • Elaboration Theory
  • Gerlach-Ely Model
  • Hannafin-Peck Model
  • Kirk and Gustafson Model
  • Instructional Systems Design ISD
  • Integrative Learning Design Framework for Online Learning (Debbaugh)
  • Iterative Design
  • Spiral Model (Boehm)
  • Rapid Prototyping (Tripp & Bichelmeyer)
  • Kemp Design Model (Morrison, Ross, and Kemp)
  • Organizational Elements Model (OEM) (Roger Kaufman)
  • Transactional Distance (Michael Moore)
  • Cognitive Apprenticeship
  • Discovery Learning
  • Empathic instructional design
  • Goal-based scenarios
  • The Plan: Building on Children's Interests (Hiliary Jo Seitz, The Plan: Building on Children's Interests, Young Children on the Web, National Association for the Education of Young Children, March 2006 ), and,
  • The four-part “Inquiry Process in the Early Learning–Kindergarten Classrooms” (Ontario Ministry of Education, The Full-Day Early Learning – Kindergarten Program, draft, p15, 2010-11).

Inquiry Learning Performance Tasks Inquiry Questions

Planning Questions Planning Resources Links to Resources

The Plan: a Simple Four-Step Process of Inquiry

“The Plan,” as Hilary Jo Seitz calls it, is a simple four-step, transdisciplinary integrated process of investigation, circular in nature and often evolving or spinning off into new investigations. (See diagram at right.)

The Plan consists of the following:

1. Sparks (provocations)—Identify emerging ideas, look at children’s interests, hold conversations, and provide experiences. Teachers should document the possibilities.

2. Conversations—Have conversations with interested participants (teachers, children, and parents), ask questions, document conversations through video recordings, tape recordings, teacher/parent dictation, or other ways. Ask “What do we already know? What do we qonder about? How can we learn more? What is the plan?”

3. Opportunities and experiences—Provide opportunities and experiences in both the classroom and the community for further investigation. Document those experiences.

4. More questions and more theories—Think further about the process. Document questions and theories. In other words, teachers, children, and parents identify something of interest; we discuss what we know about it or what we want to know about it; we experience it or have opportunities to learn about the idea; and then we discuss what we did and either ask more questions or make new theories. We document our understandings throughout the whole process.

The initial spark can come from anywhere or anything. For example, we might overhear children talking about the lawnmower at the park. The class, or sometimes a smaller group of children, then sits down and devises a plan with the help of interested adults.

Sparks can be things, phenomena, conversations, books, stories—anything that provokes deeper thought. The sparks are what trigger a child (and adult) to want to know more, to investigate further. These sparks can occur at any time. They can be as simple as finding a pebble in one’s shoe, grabbing an idea or story line from a book, or finding a nut on the playground. Young children have these sparks of interest all day long.

Integrated Curriculum Planning Template 1

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Stage 1: Desired Results


Unit Plan Title:




Subject/Discipline Areas:


Time Required:

Include unit planning date, begin of unit and end of unit dates.

Library and Media Centre use dates and other

Include computer lab, in-class and media center use dates.

Curriculum Expectations / Content Standards: What are the state standards addressed by this unit?  Be sure to include all subject-area standards.




Enduring Understanding: What is the “big idea” or conceptual issue that is worth student inquiry? This idea should transcend all content areas. Instead, the disciplines should be used as tools to explore the critical issue.



Over-Arching Essential Question (Transdisiplinary): frame an essential question that engages and promotes higher-order thinking that relates to the critical transdisciplinary concept or issue.



Essential questions are provocative and make students think about the lessons within a greater context. Example: How can we explain the things that happen around us?

  • They can be Unit specific questions which focus attention on the important objectives of the project. Example: Are there rules that affect the ways things move? What rules affect whether an object floats or sinks? ~or
  • Content questions lead to fundamental and specific answers. Example: How are density, buoyancy, and displacement related? How can you measure volume of irregular solids?



Knowledge and Skills: what are the discrete objectives that students need to know and be able to do for effective performance?



Stage 2: Determine Acceptable Evidence

Determine acceptable evidence of understanding (Student learning goals): What should students be able to know and do or express when they understand the learning objectives?

q  Students will be able to…

Performance Task & Rubrics (e.g. Goal, Role, Audience, Scenario/Situation, Product/Performance and Standard/Criteria: G.R.A.S.P.S., Role, Audience, Format and Task: R.A.F.T.)





Other Evidence (e.g. test, quiz, common assessments)





Self Assessment








Stage 3: Plan learning experiences and instruction

Learning Experiences: Plan instructional activities that address the learning objectives. Couch learning activities in simulations or authentic tasks that put students in charge of their learning. Plan work samples, performance tasks and other forms of formative assessment that allow students to express understanding of the learning objectives. These experiences should be designed via a gradual-release-of-responsibility continuum (immersion, guided practice and commitment/application).









Plan for information, media and technology (See Checklist of Integrated Technologies) The realistic nature of project work naturally leads students to use technology as they collaborate, solve problems, and share their work with others. How can technology support learning in this project?









Plan for Resources (Print and Non-Print): What books, periodicals, technologies and web resources will help meet the needs of this lesson?








PROCEDURE: Steps in the task – based on lesson plan w/responsibilities (example below):


Media Specialist will:

Classroom teacher will:

(Other content-area)

________________teacher will:























Integrated Curriculum Planning Template 2

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or click on the link below:


Understanding By Design Unit Template


Title of Unit



Grade Level






Time Frame



Developed By



Stage 1 - Identify Desired Results


Broad   Areas of Learning

How are the BAL incorporated into this   unit?






Cross   curricular Competencies

How will this unit promote the CCC?








Learning Outcomes

What   relevant goals will this unit address?

(must come from curriculum; include the   designations e.g. IN2.1)











Enduring Understandings

What   understandings about the big ideas are desired?(what you want students to   understand & be able to use several years from now)

What   misunderstandings are predictable?

Essential Questions

What   provocative questions will foster inquiry into the content?(open-ended   questions that stimulate thought and inquiry linked to the content of the   enduring understanding)

Students will understand that...












Related misconceptions…






Content specific….












FNMI,   multicultural, cross-curricular…



What knowledge will student acquire as a   result of this unit?  This content   knowledge may come from the indicators, or might also address pre-requisite   knowledge that students will need for this unit.



What skills will students acquire as a   result of this unit?  List the skills   and/or behaviours that students will be able to exhibit as a result of their   work in this unit.  These will come   from the indicators.

Students   will know...














Students   will be able to…






Stage 2 – Assessment Evidence


Performance Task

Through   what authentic performance task will students demonstrate the desired   understandings, knowledge, and skills? (describes the learning activity in “story”   form.  Typically, the P.T. describes a   scenario or situation that requires students to apply knowledge and skills to   demonstrate their understanding in a real life situation. Describe your   performance task scenario below)

By what   criteria will performances of understanding be judged?

GRASPS Elements of   the Performance Task        

G – Goal

What should students accomplish   by completing this task?


R – Role

What role (perspective)   will your students be taking?

A – Audience

Who is the relevant   audience?


S – Situation

The context or challenge   provided to the student.

P – Product, Performance

What product/performance will the student


S – Standards & Criteria for Success

Create the rubric for the Performance Task


Attach rubric to Unit Plan


Other Evidence

Through   what other evidence (work samples, observations, quizzes, tests, journals or   other means) will students demonstrate achievement of the desired results? Formative and summative assessments used throughout the unit to   arrive at the outcomes.

Student Self-Assessment

How   will students reflect upon or self-assess their learning?






















Stage 3 –   Learning Plan

What teaching and learning experiences   will you use to:

  • achieve the desired results identified in Stage 1?
  • equip students to complete the assessment tasks identified in        Stage 2?

Where are your students headed?    Where have they been?  How will   you make sure the students know where they are going? 

What experiences do the learners bring   to the unit?  How have the interests of   the learners been ascertained?  Have   the learners been part of the pre-planning in any way?  What individual needs do you anticipate   will need to be addressed?

Learning environment:  Where can this learning best occur?  How can the physical environment be   arranged to enhance learning? 







How will you engage   students at the beginning of the unit? (motivational set)







What events will help students experience and explore the enduring understandings   and essential questions in the unit?    How will you equip them with needed skills and knowledge?


Lesson Title

Lesson Activities




















































































































































Assess and Reflect (Stage 4)



Required Areas of Study:

 Is there alignment between outcomes,   performance assessment and learning experiences?






Adaptive Dimension:

Have   I made purposeful adjustments to the curriculum content (not outcomes),   instructional practices, and/or the learning environment to meet the learning   needs and diversities of all my students?

For struggling students:










For students who need a challenge:










Instructional Approaches:

Do   I use a variety of teacher directed and student centered instructional approaches?






Resource Based Learning:

 Do the students have access to various   resources on an ongoing basis?






FNM/I   Content and Perspectives/Gender Equity/Multicultural Education:

Have I nurtured and   promoted diversity while honoring each child’s identity?






From:  Wiggins, Grant and J. McTighe. (1998). Understanding by Design, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, ISBN # 0-87120-313-8 (pbk)

Integrated Curriculum Planning Template 3


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or download it from the link below:


BSCS 5E Unit/Lesson Planning Template



Subject  / grade level:



Essential Curriculum Expectations/Standards, Clarifying Objectives, and Enduring Unerstandings



Lesson objective(s) by day:



Differentiation strategies to meet diverse learner needs:




  • Describe how the teacher will capture students’ interest.
  • What kind of questions should the students ask themselves after the engagement?




  • Describe what hands-on/minds-on activities students will be doing.
  • List “big idea” conceptual questions the teacher will use to encourage and/or focus students’ exploration





  • Student explanations should precede introduction of terms or explanations by the teacher. What questions or techniques will the teacher use to help students connect their exploration to the concept under examination?
  • List higher order thinking questions which teachers will use to solicit student explanations and help them to justify their explanations.





  • Describe how students will develop a more sophisticated understanding of the concept.
  • What vocabulary will be introduced and how will it connect to students’ observations?
  • How is this knowledge applied in our daily lives?





  • How will students demonstrate that they have achieved the lesson objective?
  • This should be embedded throughout the lesson as well as at the end of the lesson



Short Version of template #2 above

Understanding by Design Unit Plan  

Title of Unit


Grade Level


Curriculum Area


Time Frame


Developed By


Identify Desired Results (Stage 1)

Content Standards



Essential Questions

Overarching Understanding






Related Misconceptions



Students will know…


Students will be able to…



Assessment Evidence (Stage 2)

Performance Task Description













Other Evidence


Learning Plan (Stage 3)

Where are your students headed?  Where have they been?  How will you make sure the students know where they are going?


How will you hook students at the beginning of the unit?


What events will help students experience and explore the big idea and questions in the unit?  How will you equip them with needed skills and knowledge?


How will you cause students to reflect and rethink?  How will you guide them in rehearsing, revising, and refining their work?


How will you help students to exhibit and self-evaluate their growing skills, knowledge, and understanding throughout the unit?


How will you tailor and otherwise personalize the learning plan to optimize the engagement and effectiveness of ALL students, without compromising the goals of the unit?


How will you organize and sequence the learning activities to optimize the engagement and achievement of ALL students?



From:  Wiggins, Grant and J. Mc Tighe. (1998). Understanding by Design, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development ISBN # 0-87120-313-8 (ppk)