Integrated Curriculum Research Paper Starter

Integrated Curriculum

(Research Starters)

This article discusses the origination and use of an integrated curriculum in the public schools. The use of an integrated curriculum in schools contrasts with the traditional subject-centered curriculum that has been historically applied in U. S. public education. An integrated curriculum bridges and links different disciplines, emphasizes all academic subjects and integrates objectives from multiple curricular and instructional areas. Curriculum integration became a key element of educational reforms in the U.S. as early as the late 1950s and the 1960s. The later educational reform movements of the 1990s demanded the integration of school subjects, and integrated curricula were seen as a means to massively overhaul and restructure education. The bulk of the research literature on the effectiveness of an integrated curriculum is in the form of specific case studies that summarize the experiences of particular schools. There is a paucity of empirical evidence supporting the use of an integrated curriculum.

Curriculum Organization > Integrated Curriculum


An integrated, unified, or fused curriculum is the key element and focus of an integrative education. It is an innovative curriculum design, a multifaceted concept and model, an intercurricular approach and method, and a more natural form of education, which encompasses both a method of teaching and a philosophy. Specifically, an integrated curriculum design follows experimentalism, an educational philosophy that focuses on things that work and in which the world of experience is central (Webb, Metha, & Jordan, 1992).

The conventional subjects-centered curriculum is differentiated and hierarchically organized (Little, 1992). It is subdivided into divergent disciplines and distinct, isolated, separate subjects by artificial disciplinary boundaries. Instruction is based on these isolated disciplines and separate subjects.

With curriculum integration, subjects are not taught in isolation as a single course separate from the rest of the subjects (Ornstein & Hunkins, 1988). An integrated curriculum is one that is coherent and whose parts are unified and connected with a sense of the whole (Beane, 1995). In its most basic sense, an integrated curriculum is most often used in the context of combining standard subject areas from within the same discipline (Littke, 2004; Webb et al., 1992). It can also refer to combining content from separate disciplines or branches of study. Thus, an integrated course is one that is formed by integrating two or more subjects both within and across disciplines (Webb et al., 1992). An integrated curriculum bridges subjects and links different disciplines. Concepts from disciplines as divergent as the sciences, the arts, and the humanities are integrated. Contributions, skills, and knowledge from different curricular areas are interwoven.

The primary focus of an integrated curriculum is not on the disciplines themselves but on the themes, the issues, or the phenomena (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2000). The thematic approach is used to integrate curricular content by common topical areas or themes into interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary units of study.

In an integrated classroom environment, courses, studies, learning activities, and experiences are combined to emphasize all academic areas and integrate objectives from multiple curriculum and instructional areas (Ediger, 1996). The accent is on broader educational goals. Although there are varying degrees and amounts of integration that are possible, an integrated curriculum can be applied to all content areas and grade levels. The strategies related to and the terminology associated with integrated curricula, instruction or teaching, and learning are presented in Figure 1.


The educational reform of the 1950s focused on mathematics and science (Groff, 1991). From a historical perspective, interdisciplinary teaching and learning and curricular integration became key elements of reforms of middle-level education in the 1960s (Lounsbury, 1992). In the late 1960s, academic and vocational education was integrated in some states as a means to facilitate secondary to postsecondary transition (Bragg, 1999). Some fields, such as environmental education, have been described as interdisciplinary and integrated since their emergence, meaning that they seek and require contributions from other fields of study, for example, from science for environmental education. The many international conferences on environmental education in the 1970s focused on the interdisciplinary and integrated nature of the field (Papadimitriou, 2001). While some fields were founded as integrated fields of study, others have become more interdisciplinary and integrated as they have transformed over time.

There were many attempts made by educators in the 1970s to integrate mathematics instruction into the social studies curriculum, but these efforts were generally unsuccessful. Curriculum integration in some cases only proved to be successful when other innovations came along to spur transition and advancement. Mathematics and social studies, particularly history, awaited the much later application of spreadsheets to the task of making valuable natural connections (Hollister, 1995). In the early 1980s, the spectrum of the educational reform movements broadened across the curriculum to all areas and levels of planning and policymaking (Groff, 1991). However, curriculum integration did not receive any concerted impetus or ascendancy onto the forefront of national educational reform efforts until the 1990s.

The 1990s saw a renewed interest in curriculum integration as an important, if not critical, component of educational reform strategies. The subjects-centered curriculum design had led historically to the proliferation of separate courses, and the emergence of the integrated-curriculum design had been in response to this unchecked multiplication (Webb et al., 1992). Recommendations from various educational reform efforts advocated that curriculum in the schools no longer be presented as separate, discrete, and independent blocks.

Figure 1

Integrated curriculum, instruction/teaching, learning, related strategies, and associated terminology. Curriculum Instruction/Teaching academics, activities, classes, content, courses, experiences, studies, subject areas, subject matter, subjects constructivist, integrated, interdisciplinary, nontraditional, team, thematic Integrated Integrated Curriculum academic curriculum, activities, classes, content, core curriculum, curriculum(-a), curriculum content, curriculum design, curriculum development, curriculum model, instruction, learning, studies, subject area(-s), subject matter, subjects, teaching, teaching method, units of study coherent, complementary, coordinated, correlated, cross-disciplinary, embedded, fused, global, holistic, interconnected, interdependent, interdisciplinary, interrelated, interwoven, linked, seamless, thematic, unified, webbed, whole Integration Learning content, curricular, curriculum, instructional, of curricula/curricular content, of subjects, of the curriculum, subject, subject-area, subject-matter across-the-curriculum, active, applicative/ applied, cooperative, discovery, experiential, hands-on, holistic, inquiry-based, integrative, interconnected, interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, multisensory, project-based, real-world Strategies Strategies

activity centers, creativity development, critical thinking, independent studies, learning styles, motor/ psychomotor skills, multiple intelligences, problem-solving, process skills, research skills agriculture, art, business & industry, career exploration, carpentry, communications & media, economics, English/language arts, foreign languages, geography, government, health, history, home economics, literature, marketing, mathematics, music, nutrition, physical education & recreation, reading, science, social studies, statistics, technology & computers, transportation, vocabulary, vocational education, writing, et cetera

In the early 1990s, a number of U.S. high schools made pioneering efforts in curriculum integration (Association for Career Technical Education, 1997; Bresler, 1995; Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 1998). The reform movements demanded integration of school subjects involving a conceptual convergence and melding of the social and behavioral sciences and humanities with the natural sciences, mathematics, and technology into a coherent whole (Hurd, 1991). The reform of educational systems in the 1990s was given impetus by changes brought about by technological innovations, demographics, and the global economy (Scruggs, 1996). It became clear that a different educational model was needed if students were to be prepared for the new world of work and that there would be increasing social, economic, and political consequences to the continued use of a traditional or conventional curriculum model. In fact, it has been asserted that an important factor in arresting the development of middle schools in the U.S. may have been the failure to widely adopt the integrated curriculum (Dickinson & Butler, 2001).

Further Insights

Curricular Organization

Schools have traditionally taken the world's vast repository of knowledge and unraveled it--dissected it, pulled it, apart, and stored it in separate "boxes" called subjects (Littke, 2004). Courses were built and learning was viewed in a linear mode going from the concrete to the abstract (Anderson, 1990). Following this discipline-based curricular approach caused important historical, thematic, and other nondiscipline-based goals and knowledge to be neglected (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2000). In contrast to the traditional approach, an integrated curriculum is a holistic learning approach that conceives knowledge as whole, not divisible (Silver, Strong, & Perini, 2000).

According to Ornstein and Hunkins (1988), integration refers to the horizontal organization of curriculum experiences so that they are unified with respect to the other elements of the curriculum being taught. The horizontal relationships among various content topics and themes are emphasized with integration (Ornstein & Hunkins, 1988). The organization of subject matter and the sequencing of learning aids students' integration of knowledge (Ediger, 1996). Integrating the myriad learnings that students encounter at a particular curricular level is a problem of scope (Ornstein & Hunkins, 1988). Curriculum organization, however, needs to provide not only for the scope but also for the continuity, sequence, and integration of knowledge (Kowalski, 1981). All of these factors working effectively together can create curriculum coherence.

At any given level of curriculum organization, the parts must make sense with respect to the whole and vice versa in order to have curriculum coherence (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2000). The parts of an entire curriculum must be internally coherent if the whole is to have coherence. The content of lesson plans, course outlines, and curricula are expected to conceptually form a coherent whole. However, the curriculum as a whole is not guaranteed to be internally coherent even if the component parts are (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2000).

Curricula can be referred to as being integrated even when it is actually not (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2000). Courses may be considered to be "integrated" even when the content of two or more disciplines is still recognizable as identifiable separate "chunks" (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993). Traditional approaches to integrated curriculum design have involved an "intermingling" of disciplines (Rolan & Kimpston, 1991). Authentic and meaningful curriculum integration does not constitute a random combination of disciplines (Relan & Kimpston, 1991). In a truly integrated curriculum, something other than the disciplines themselves determines how content will be organized (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2000). Effective curriculum integration occurs when content from one field is related meaningfully to content from another field (Ornstein & Hunkins, 1988). Authentic curriculum integration requires a conscious, systematic effort to make the relationships among disciplines explicit (Relan & Kimpston, 1991).

Content can be integrated at a high level of generality--within a single domain. To many educators, for example science educators, the integration relationship is confined largely to disciplines within science: life science, earth science, and physical science (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993). This type of integration can be referred to as intradisciplinary, or between areas, within disciplines. To other educators, the integration relationship may involve almost any disciplinary areas--for example, music and math, art and science, or social studies and economics (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993). Integration is interdisciplinary in the sense that there is coordination among separate disciplines. Following an interdisciplinary integrated curricular approach, there must be assurance that the learning goals of the disciplines continue to be achieved (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2000).

Curricular Applications

Curriculum can be integrated across fields and disciplines by organizing around important cross-cutting themes, interesting phenomena, or...

(The entire section is 6005 words.)