High School

Micro-Integration: Teaching Inside a Jewel Box

Educators often think cross-curricular integration is large-scale strategies and grand gestures that build bridges between wide-ranging content silos and skills. But integration also occurs on a small scale. The result is a learning experience crafted to fit in a jewel box. I call this valuable process micro-integration.

Micro-integration is:

  • choreographing shades and variations within a larger concept body;
  • swimming into a rich swath of knowledge and lacing together sympathetic subtopics;
  • tickling up new knowledge and deeper appreciation for content and skills perceived or mastered.

Micro-integration may seem a bit airy-fairy.  Yet it is not philosophy-lite hoping to catch a ride on the latest swing of the pedagogical pendulum.  It’s not mini meditation fodder for teachers seeking more peace, love and understanding in the classroom.  Micro-integration has practical classroom applications because it allows teachers to stop playing Frankenstein to the mega-watt light bulb aha! moments they try to invent for each student.  Instead, with micro-integration teachers can let the wonderment of small revelations cast a warm, sparkly glow over the learning experience. In lieu of a wand, a teacher stimulates mental magic by careful manipulation of finessed thinking and focused sensibilities.

The fine arts is just one curricular area well-suited for micro-integration. For example, Kelly O’Brien (my sister) blogged at TurningPointePress about how a poem by Silvia Baron Supervielle and dance experience sparked her (Kelly’s) new art pieces called ‘Playing with Fire I & II.’

playing with fire 1 by Kelly O'BrienPlaying with Fire IIby Kelly O'Brien 
Playing with Fire I & II
by Kelly O’Brien

Kelly’s post illuminates the interplay of words, action, art, & the smoldering imaginations of two artists:

Paper, ink, pencil, cut, engrave, crumple – a kindred obsession with shared materials of our different crafts. Silvia Baron Supervielle’s poem, A l’Encre, deploys rich visual metaphor to evoke her process for getting poems down on paper, using words and images that I covet.
As it sinks into me, the power of this poem is in the physicality of Supervielle’s process. She seems to interact with her work viscerally, physically. Like a dancer, she allows words to flow through her, musically, and drip out onto the page. There is struggle, but also grace.

In this case, micro-integration links language arts and fine arts.  Paper is the binding medium between poem and art piece. Words and dimension add both structure to this bond and a bit of smoky bling.

This particular combination of Kelly’s and Sylvia’s work shows a sublime awareness that comes from intermingling concepts and skills from close-as-cousins content areas. But it’s not limited to artsy-fartsy dreamers. I assure you that micro-integration links to things that matter in your students’ worlds.  My comment on Kelly’s blog post shows the web of connections I spun between Playing with Fire and your students interests:

The work is just plain cool to look at. The concept that it’s part 2-D & part 3-D is a fun visuo-mental puzzle.  The etiology is a comfortable swirl of abstraction and introspection.   I also can’t help but notice that it nibbles at that slice of artistic endeavor that gets all the fanfare: pop culture. Supierville might not mind.  After all, soulful Alicia Keys’ hit song, ‘This Girl is on Fire’ celebrates striving and living inspired.  And the bound-for-blockbusterdom film, ‘Catching Fire’ (based on Suzanne Collins’ words-on-paper novel of the same name) burns bright with themes related to pushing limits for all the right reasons.

See?  Sometimes the subtle tatting together of ideas, words and skills ripples out to create a big impact.

So how can your students experience micro-integrated learning?  Have them try to:

1. Look for love in all the unrequited places. Compare segments of Romeo & Juliet to most any Rihanna or Chris Brown love song lyrics.

2. Use time-lapse photography or careful observation to track and graph a plant’s orientation over the course of a day as it moves to follow the sun.  See sLowlife for inspiration.

3. Recognize March 14th, Pi Day. Dig deep into a slice of pi with the games & activities at PiDay.org

4.  Compile a flavorful menu of synonyms for bland verbs like:  eat, move, take, like, or think.  Ice cream comes in at least 31 flavors; how spicy, sweet or savory can their word lists be?

5. Create artistic representations of a scientific theory.  See the 2012 Visualization Challenge for motivational ideas.

6. Introduce practical physics to design whimsy.  Build doll-house scale models of fanciful architecture like that in sci-fi stories, Dr. Seuss settings, or Oz.

Whatever task you set them, encourage focused, nuanced critical thinking worthy of a jewel box.

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