Chinquapin Preparatory School

Team Members: Susan Davis, Liz Thornton, Janet F. Ott

Student Advisors: Karely Osorio, Alexadriana Thammavongsa, Christian Su

Community: Dublin-Dallas Year 1, 2010-2011

Our goal is to create an integrated studies program serving the seventh grade. Liz will teach History, English and Language Arts, and Jan will teach Science, Math and Health/Skills. We will cover the period from the fall of the Roman Empire through the age of exploration. We will create a theme for each quarter, such as the one in our pilot project this year, on the Columbian Exchange. Then we will explore that topic from several angles, using project-based learning. Our goal is to create opportunities for deep learning that allow students to engage in productive, authentic, collaborative work. These specific skills will be focused on: communication, creative thinking and problem-solving, and collaborative research and analysis. We have begun this year with our pilot project and continue to develop next year’s curriculum, leveraging use of 21st-century technologies, such as Diigo, Edmodo, video production, and networking with experts in the field and other classrooms studying similar topics.


Our sense is that students learning subjects in isolation are not doing “deep learning”; rather, they are like a stone skipping across the water, only touching on topics and learning nothing in any depth. Our goal is to create one project this year to see the possibilities and issues involved in creating an integrated studies program for 7th graders. Jan has long experience teaching on teams doing coordinated studies and integrating several topics around common issues or themes. The data show students integrating their fields of study show stronger student engagement, more understanding, and the ability to take information and skills and transfer it to other areas when they have a solid foundation in one area (see research pages on our wiki). With Liz’s experience teaching 7th grade and Susan’s long experience in middle and high school, we believe we can create a strong program that eventually can be expanded to other grades in our school, and hopefully to other schools interested in developing integrated studies as well.
While our pilot project is still in mid-development as we write, we hope to have data for you by our presentation at the year-end meeting, and will continue to add to our blog as we develop our program so those interested can follow us.

Our goals/outcomes for pilot project:

  • students investigate the complex interrelation of various disciplines by investigating the “Columbian Exchange”;
  • students research and address a complex problem from multiple perspectives;
  • students share and digest research to solve a common problem (“rules of engagement” for converging cultures);
  • students analyze, synthesize, and collaborate to propose solutions to the shared problem;
  • teachers design a lesson for collaborative learning, using a TPACK approach;
  • teachers incorporate student perspectives in their planning;
  • teachers assess their own learning in this process;
  • teachers test out a lesson for collaborative learning and assess the students for “deep learning.”

Our goals/outcomes for the year-long project:

  • to assess and reflect on lessons learned from the pilot project;
  • to develop and implement an integrated studies curriculum for 7th grade;
  • to develop and model collaborative skills as teachers;
  • to gain expertise in assessing “deep learning” in students;
  • to develop a means for regularly reflecting on the effectiveness of our efforts to improve the curriculum (regular blog posts and F2F meetings at least quarterly);
  • to scale the integrated studies approach on our campus, and perhaps elsewhere.

What would success look like?

Students will research topics effectively and share their resources in diigo. Students will listen to and incorporate their learning from each other to develop rules of engagement that show the complexity of that issue. Students will be evaluated with rubrics that allow for self-assessment of their research process, communication skills, collaboration, and analytical/ creative problem-solving skills.

Teachers will evaluate their own learning about developing an integrated curriculum, posting their assessment of the collaborative process involved in pilot project as their first blog post. Teachers will design and implement tools for evaluating deep learning, sharing their work on their blog and in other documents for publication. Teachers will use TPACK and “Critical Friends” assessments for the pilot project and 7th-grade curriculum. Teachers will lead faculty in workshops to help and encourage collaboration in other areas of the curriculum.

For more information about implementation, see 2011 project on our wiki.

January-February 2011

  • Develop Sample Lesson (
  • Feedback from students (posted on youtube:
  • Essential questions; driving question
  • TPACK (see “Messy Learning”)


March 2011

  • Define terms
  • Research on skills and standards, deep learning, and cross-disciplinary, collaborative learning
  • Report back

April 2011

  • Summarize and synthesize research
  • Report back
  • Student feedback
  • PLP advice (Skype with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach)

May 2011

  • Prepare for PLP presentation
  • Launch sample lesson (Columbian Exchange)
  • Critical friends review, videotaping
  • Refine essential questions and extend to other disciplines (English/LA, Math, Skills II, Health)

Summer 2011

  • Full-year Curriculum Planning and Development
  • Blog (includes assessment of pilot project)

August 2011

  • Begin implementation
  • Review and reflect (October 2011)
  • Report to Board of Trustees/Future of Ed at Chinquapin Group
While we are still in the middle of this project, we think it instructive to lay out some of the lessons learned so far (thanks, Sheryl, for your guiding questions that led to some of these revelations). In early May, then, we have learned that integrated studies takes longer than typical lesson “coverage” of a topic. Having students explore in a deeper manner takes time, both for their exploration, and for our development of a truly integrated method of teaching. In many ways, our learning has been about our process, how and when to bring in students to critique, evaluate, and help develop, how often to meet and about what (it seems that weekly meetings are going to be a critical factor, both to tweak, and to critique all aspects of the process and the skills, content and understanding of our students at every turn). We have learned that this type of teaching takes longer, and we both (Liz and Jan) “freaked out” on the same day, realizing that we had squeezed too much in to too short a time frame to make a useful process for the students. We needed more time to cover the background, more time for them to develop their “roles,” and more time to prepare them for what a symposium is actually supposed to accomplish and more time to let them know what we expect and how we will evaluate their participation.
Find a list of documents and rubrics used during the project, as well as other links, on the team’s wiki page.


About Action Research Projects

Action research is a process in which Powerful Learning Team members collaboratively examine their own educational practice systematically and carefully. Action research is:

  • Disciplined inquiry into a problem or possibility within the school or classroom
  • Collaborative and usually takes place in a community of practice
  • Meaningful, positive, and reflective
  • Data-driven, action-based, improvement-focused
  • Transformative

View all Action Research

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Sheryl is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Powerful Learning Practice. She works with schools and districts from around the world helping them to infuse technology into their curriculums and by leading other digital conversion efforts. Sheryl also consults with governments, educational organizations and non-profits in development of their various professional learning initiatives. Sheryl is a sought-after presenter at national and international events, speaking on topics related to digital and online learning, teacher and educational leadership, online community building, and other educational issues impacting children of poverty. Sheryl served on the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Board of Directors for six years. She co-authored The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age with Lani Ritter Hall. Sheryl has four children and four grandsons, Luke, Logan, Levi and Tanner and a trio of dachshunds. You can find out more on her blog and on Twitter @snbeach.

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