Interdisciplinary Connection and Collaboration

I am in the very fortunate position of being a Religious Studies teacher and in terms of inter-curriculum collaboration and flexibility, I think that you would be hard pressed to find a better subject than mine.

At its heart, Religious Studies presents its students with a way of looking at the world through a variety of different lenses. One particular area that I would like to see co-construction around is our unit on bio-ethics.

At year 13, we have a major unit of work that looks at bioethics with choices ranging from stem cell research, fertility treatment, and assisted suicide. In an ideal world, I would envisage that with a flexible timetable and supportive teaching staff the following links between the subjects could lead to deeper learning and skills acquisition among the student body.

When looking at how to make this form of collaborative education occur, Mulligan, & Kuban, (2015) state that three conditions must be met to ensure success. Firstly, the Qualities and Attitudes of the staff must align. In this manner, staff need to trust in the professionalism of each member, and roles must be equitable with a large amount of enthusiastic cooperation. Secondly, the Workplace Conditions must also be favourable. Tied into this is the necessity of timetabled planning time with fellow collaborators and time for other administrative requirements. The physical aspects include well-resourced classrooms with adequately sized work spaces and reliable infrastructure and IT. Class time and student teacher face-to-face time also slots in here. Finally, the Common Goals of the collaborating teachers must also be in sync.

Mulligan, L. M., & Kuban, A. J. . (2015). A Conceptual Model for Interdisciplinary Collaboration.

One major challenge with NCEA, despite its flexibility, is that we are still geared towards assessment. Thus when we look at a subject and its choices, potential buy in from other staff can be best facilitated when the common goal is a lot clearer. The chart below demonstrates the available links afforded by an assessment end-goal between three different subjects.

For example:

Unit Topic: Stem Cell Research

Curriculum Area

Learning Outcomes

Skills being developed

Religious Studies (AS90826, Level 3 NZQA. 6 Credits) •      Investigate a contemporary ethical issue, by breaking it down into components or essential features.

•      Develop conclusions about the response of the religious tradition to the issue, supported by evidence.

•      Research

•      Literacy

•      Source interpretation

•      Critical thinking

•      Note taking

•      Scaffolding text and arguments.


(AS91602, Level 3 NZQA. 3 Credits)

•      Integrate biological knowledge to develop a reasoned informed response to a socio-scientific issue.

•      Select and collate relevant biological knowledge to develop an informed response.

•      Research

•      Note Taking

•      Scientific Analysis

•      Understanding of cellular processes.

•      Data analysis and evaluation.

•      Calculate and apply formulas.


(AS91476, Level 3 NZQA. 3 Credits)

•      Create and deliver a fluent and coherent oral presentation which develops, sustains, and structures ideas and commands attention. •      Research.

•      Oral language.

•      Presentation.

•      Information technology.

•      Writing Structure.

•      Making links (synthesis).

•      Drawing Conclusions

It is clear that when looking at a topic such as stem cell research, there are very clear links between these senior subjects and how they can operate alongside each other to form a pathway for deeper learning. So any issue is not going to be with the topic and the broken faculty silos, but rather with the assessment and implementation of teaching strategies.

At a summative level, all three subjects can be assessed via an oral seminar with the use of IT. While it may take a few tweaks to ensure that all three subject’s standards are met, it shouldn’t be too difficult for a group of teaching professionals to create the right conditions for this end-goal.

The biggest barrier to this mode of learning will undoubtedly be in regards to preparation time. While most teachers have little difficulty in preparing learning programmes for their students individually, having to work with a range of other staff – often with differing timetables – poses many problems.

From a management perspective, this kind of project will need dedicated in-school planning time to ensure that the staff delivering the programme are able to collaborate, weed out, and develop learning pathways and facilitation techniques. This planning time is easily the most important variable in the successful implementation of this form of endeavour. Consequently, the timetable coordinator needs to try and align non-contact time among the facilitators to give them time to work together. The school’s leadership also needs to allow time for whole planning days in the build-up and development of this form of project.

I firmly believe that if there is a will, there is a way, and a programme such as the one outlined in the chart could be a success as long as teachers are willing to compromise and work collaboratively to foster an open learning pathway for their students.

Mulligan, L. M., & Kuban, A. J. . (2015). A Conceptual Model for Interdisciplinary Collaboration. Retrieved from