Author Archives: Nancy Harding

PS1 and Thematic Curriculum

This blog topic grew out of a conversation with some of the parents in the Youngers’ classes. We were talking about field trips, projects and the general active learning that occurs at PS1. It made me want to share some of the rationale behind PS1’s Integrated Thematic Curriculum. Integrated curriculum describes curriculum that cuts across subject-matter lines focusing on real life problems to help students make connections and deepen their understanding of what they are learning.

The Outer circle of the PS1 Curriculum Values chart is a visual representation of this concept. Imagine yet another circle on the outside containing the academic subjects, music, visual arts, and P.E., creating a framework for this integration.


The concept of Integrated Curriculum and method of teaching started over one hundred years ago with the work of John Dewey and since then it has been supported and promoted by a variety of educational theorists (Drake, 2007). Currently, most significant support for thematic teaching and learning comes from brain research; indicating that learning that is integrated in a thematic way improves and may even accelerate learning (Jensen, 2005).

Here is how it works. We know that the brain organizes new knowledge on the basis of previous experiences and that we develop meaning from the integration of these experiences. The brain processes many things at the same time, and holistic experiences are recalled quickly and easily. In addition, the human brain actively seeks patterns and searches for meaning through these patterns. Learning occurs faster and more thoroughly when it is presented in meaningful contexts, with an experiential component, thus supporting interdisciplinary teaching and learning.

Examples of integrated thematic learning abound at PS1.

Here are just a few:

BJ Yellow made their own wooden blocks in the Studio and incorporated them into a number of lessons. This photo shows the “mini-me” self-portrait blocks created by the students in the Studio.


This photo shows an estimation graph. The students were estimating how many blocks it would take to outline their body.


Then the students  “tested their hypothesis” and recorded the number of blocks that they needed.



In the photo below BK Blue students are experimenting with gears. The cards on the table integrate reading, new vocabulary and critical questions. One card reads, “What is a crank?’ Another card has vocabulary words, “ axle, pillar, teeth, gear, base and vertical.”


In this photo the students worked in teams to building a model of various types of land formations and bodies of water.


In HC Olders the students are integrating social studies, (U.S. government), writing, technology, art and design. This photo depicts a storyboard for an election video.


This is a photo of one of the campaign posters.


In this photo the student is recording her research on biospheres for their party’s environmental platform.


I am pleased to be at a school whose mission can be seen in evidence in the daily work of the teachers and students. “Theory to Practice” is a popular buzzword in education and at PS1, it is a reality.