Students working on a project involving marshmallows, spaghetti, and tape.

Benefits of Collaborative Teaching & Learning

Allows Students to get Authentic Hands-on Experiences at MaderaTEC

By Linda Tolladay, Teacher, Agriculture Lab, MadTEC

Imagine students building garden plots, choosing what plants to place in the plots, planting, watering, weeding, and caring for those plants. Imagine them harvesting the vegetables or fruits and creating a class lunch. Fun, interesting, and the hope of every school with a garden. But imagine that not only did these kids plant a garden, but they learned about and grew soilless plants in a hydroponic system to learn what plants actually do need. Imagine they went a step further and planted varieties of radishes in a simulation of the garden where plants are grown on the International Space Station, doing research into which varieties grow best under various conditions. Imagine that they collected their data and presented it in a symposium attended by NASA scientists researching what to grow on the ISS and that their data helped inform which varieties of food go up on the ISS to feed the astronauts and cosmonauts — and that will be in the planning for the first manned mission to Mars. 

That is taking a wonderful idea and turning it into authentic, student-centered project-based learning. And that is the heart of what interdisciplinary teaching at the Madera Technical Exploration Center (MadTEC) does for students. 

What else might students be doing at MadTEC? Imagine working with a team of students to design and create a new delivery box for Amazon. Imagine working with community leaders to create action steps to resolve concerns within the community. Imagine identifying products useful to you, improving that product, creating a logo and marketing scheme for the product, and then competing “Shark Tank” style to have your product chosen. Imagine designing a new product or method of treating sports injuries. Imagine creating anthologies or podcasts bringing relevant stories to your community.

These sorts of projects are impossible for a single subject teacher to take on; they involve too many standards across too many subjects. But in an interdisciplinary team-teaching program such as the six labs offered at MadTEC, they are the backbone of the program. 

At MadTEC, Madera Unified 8th graders from all the middle schools and K-8 elementary schools can elect to spend a half-day studying Agriculture, Engineering and Manufacturing, Health Sciences, Public Safety, Entrepreneurship, and Marketing, or Digital and Performing Arts. Each program involves a Career and Technical Education (CTE) elective teacher, an English teacher, and a core subject teacher (math, science, or social studies, depending on the lab). Because each team of teachers plans and teaches their classes together, students benefit not just from the individual expertise of each educator but also from the synergy that comes from working together in an interdisciplinary fashion. The whole project is literally greater than the sum of its parts.

Not only can teams plan together, but MadTEC’s unique schedule allows for all teachers at the site to have a common planning time. Therefore all the English teachers can work together to find ways to weave their standards into lab projects, core subject teachers can reflect on lessons together and brainstorm ways to incorporate their standards into the unique career-themed settings in which they are taught, CTE teachers can work together to strengthen the core standards taught in all labs, and to ensure their students have opportunities to participate in Career Technical Service Organizations such as FFA (Future Farmers of America), FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America), HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America), or SkillsUSA, and different lab’s teachers can even work together to create a project building on the skills sets of disparate labs. 

I asked my colleagues what they thought about interdisciplinary co-teaching and was told: 

“The opportunity to co-teach in an interdisciplinary lab means students get the support they need and deserve. When students have multiple teachers in the room, they always have someone to help with questions and other concerns.”

“Co-teaching also increases the likelihood students will ask for supports. Since their teachers will most likely have different teaching styles, students will be able to find a teacher that suits their learning style to ask for help.” 

“Co-teaching gives teachers an opportunity to not only teach their own content as experts but to become competent in another content to support their peers. So as opposed to having one content teacher, you have multiple content teachers.” 

“Co-teaching allows for a greater invitation into learning to be extended to students, as one teacher’s approach and personality may mesh better with any given student than another’s.” 

“Co-teaching in an integrated content model is the future of education because time is always a concern for educators. Co-teaching in this setting allows for multiple teachers to look at standards and determine how to connect them through skills and content in an engaging, thoughtful manner. 

“Co-teaching in an integrated content model provides the most efficient manner of educating for our students, our content, and our time.”

And what do the students think of their interdisciplinary experiences? 

“The best thing about coming to MadTEC is I get to do more hands-on stuff and learn more about what I want to do when I get older for my jobs.” 

“Something I love about MadTEC is that the teachers always give us all this positive energy.”

“I can’t even tell when we switch subjects. We will be learning English, and then suddenly we are learning science. It just all goes together.”

“I love the group and partner activities! I love socializing, and overall I think it builds a bond with those around me.”

“I like how someone always notices if you do something good.”

“One thing I definitely love about MadTEC is that the teachers make the classroom so positive and are always interacting with and challenging the students.”

“One thing that is really different about MadTEC is being in a classroom with 68 instead of 30 students. The experience is different.” 

“The best thing is how fun the activities are and how it brings kids from all different schools in one place. It is like we aren’t even learning!”

“It feels like we are learning things that make a difference.”

The Vision of MadTEC is: “To transform education, we will use an integrated approach that keeps equity and evidence of student learning at the heart of decision making.” We demonstrate our vision through our mission: “Madera Technical Exploration Center exists to build strong relationships with students and the community through project-based, career-themed education rooted in real-world experiences. Madera TEC is where students are empowered to learn by doing.”

It is our triads of teachers who provide immediate support for students and exemplify the daily collaboration we expect our students to employ. It is integrated project-based teaching that allows us to create strong relationships, involve the community in our labs, and pursue the real-world experiences that allow us to live into our mission. 

Students working on garden projects.

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