Transdisciplinary STEM: Making Pedagogy Real

So what does transdisciplinary teaching and learning actually look like? Following up on a post around the pedagogical importance of this idea: Transdisciplinary STEM: Teaching to Mirror the World. To understand what transdisciplinary teaching and learning is and move from abstract to concrete, let’s first explore what it’s NOT:

  • It is NOT thematic teaching.
  • It is NOT forcing content together.
  • It is NOT stopping curriculum and teaching a separate unit.
  • It is NOT doing a project or just teaching through PBL.

Secondly, what CAN transdisciplinary teaching and learning include:

  • It CAN be taught through a PBL.
  • It CAN include a project.
  • It CAN include multiple curriculum connected through interdisciplinary instruction.

Finally, what does transdisciplinary teaching and learning REQUIRE:

  • It REQUIRES planning.
  • It REQUIRES bridging connections between content and the outside world.
  • It REQUIRES collaboration.

There are a great number of graphics that can help showcase the idea of transdisciplinary pedagogy. The way to think about this pedagogy is to focus on the prefix “trans”; coming from latin origins meaning “beyond.” The topic idea must transverse all disciplines, connecting to each through real-world or organic experiences. 

Credit: Greenwich Schools, CT
Credit: University of Technology Sydney
Credit: Gendered Knowledges Blog UK

To effectively implement a transdisciplinary model of instruction, educators and leaders need to brainstorm and select concepts that are not disciplinary in nature but touch (or go beyond) all disciplines. The example we will use is that of “Design”. The idea of design can be connected to any discipline from engineering and science to physical education or the fine arts – not necessarily by teaching design but through utilizing the idea or reading about it or framing disciplinary content with the idea.


An inquiry into how ideas are transformed into tangible artifacts.

Once the transdisciplinary topic is set, educators now dig into the content they are asked to teach during the year and look for connections – again not necessarily teaching design in separate disciplines, but through utilizing the design process itself or reading/analyzing the idea of design or framing content with the idea of design.

Here are some examples of resources in a number of disciplines which engage the topic of “design” whether directly or indirectly AND teach standards that are required relative to a specific discipline.


The James Dyson FoundationThe Design Process Box – Challenges students to find inspiration in everyday objects and develop ideas and to identify problems and use their creativity to find solutions.



EVERFI – Endeavor: STEM Career Exploration – Lets students explore STEM careers via interactive gameplay and real-world scenarios. A manufacturing module has students explore 3D printers then design and rapid prototype their own sneakers.



Wonderopolis – Is Design a Science or an Art – Have you ever wondered is design a science or an art? What is the origin of the word “design”? How does good design combine science and art?



Visible Thinking Routines – Tug of War – A routine for exploring the complexity of opposing dilemmas through metacognitive visible thinking.


Fine Art: 

Joel Sartore – Photo Ark – A groundbreaking effort to document species before they disappear and to get people to care while there’s still time. Highlight the importance of storytelling in conservation, and empower students to spread the word about species extinction.


Physical Education:

Try Engineering – Engineered Sports – Students examine principles of aerospace engineering and how they have impacted golf ball design. Students analyze the use of dimples on golf balls, and discuss adding dimples to airplanes to increase fuel efficiency. Students take engineering principles and apply them to sporting equipment.


When these resources (and others connecting the idea of “design”) are infused into everyday content and teaching; connections are made through context to the transdisciplinary concept. Teachers aren’t “teaching” design in each subject area, but framing the learning and standards that already must be taught with the context of this concept that goes beyond a singular discipline.

Want to read more about this pedagogy? Check out the book Transitioning to Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction: How to Bring Content and Process Together by H. Lynn Erickson and Lois A. Lanning.

Author: Jonathan Gerlach

Global Consultant for STEM Education @STEMigo

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