Student projects showcase growing emphasis on interdisciplinary learning May 15, 2017 – On Wednesday, May 10, Needham High School (NHS) hosted Interdisciplinary Innovation Night, showcasing the work of over 700 high school students enrolled in 32 interdisciplinary classes and units of study. The evening also celebrated the conclusion of a successful 5-year partnership and collaboration between NHS and Needham Education Foundation (NEF), in which NEF invested more than $550,000 to launch interdisciplinary units of study at the high school.

Established in 2012, the partnership between NHS and NEF began with the creation of the Greater Boston Project (GBP), a class that integrates social studies, English and mathematics, and in which students use technology to build 21st century learning skills. The partnership grew to fund the Da Vinci Workshop, a lab space for hands-on learning and technological creativity; a two-year dedicated part-time Interdisciplinary Learning (IL) Specialist position at NHS; and four years of a “mini-grant” fund, which seeded many of the interdisciplinary units of study on display at Innovation Night.

While the high school’s formal collaboration with NEF is ending, the partnership established a model for interdisciplinary teaching and learning that will continue to grow both at Needham High School and throughout the district. The NEF will continue to support innovative interdisciplinary programs through its annual small and large grant programs.

“The funding by the NEF has allowed us to grow these programs at a much faster rate than the school would have made on its own,” said Jimmy Odierna, IL Specialist at NHS and one of three founding teachers of the GBP. “It is amazing to see the vast quantity, quality, and diverse types of work happening in the school. There is a lot of pride from both the faculty and students around the success we see tonight. These students are gaining skills and experiences that will better prepare them for the world ahead.”

Odierna organized the Interdisciplinary Innovation Night, which showcased the growing body of student work integrating history, engineering, art, and robotics, among other disciplines. These projects included:

  • Memory and Memorials Project – 10th grade history students utilize the Da Vinci Workshop and art studio to design and build memorials to key moments in history.
  • Kinetic Sculpture – Students in robotics and sculpture classes collaborate to build kinetic sculpture pieces.
  • Integrated Environmental Science – Through field study, students research local ecosystems and build functioning wind turbines out of
    everyday materials.

“The success of our collaboration cannot be reduced to numbers, but the numbers do give you an idea of how this big idea has grown ever larger,” said Jennifer Quinn, co-President of NEF in her opening remarks. “One two-block interdisciplinary class, 11 interdisciplinary units of study, 36 teachers now teaching interdisciplinary classes or units, over 100 teachers participating in professional development, more than 1,000 students impacted. And we are very excited that those numbers will continue to grow.”