Michael NachbarBy Michael Nachbar, GOA Executive Director

I had the chance the other day to meet with a Gates Foundation grantee about what at first appeared to be a topic that had little relation to our work as a school – mosquitos.

It turns out that efforts to eliminate dengue by introducing the Wolbachia bacteria into mosquitos, which acts to “vaccinate” the mosquito and thus reducing the ability of the mosquito to spread dengue, does in fact relate to what we’re doing at GOA both directly and indirectly.

First, Eliminate Dengue, the non-profit attempting this amazing work, is a network of scientists located around the world. Working across cultures, teaching remotely, and sharing ideas among teams are all part of their work as a global organization and are also aims we are thinking about and working toward at GOA. Building relationships among individuals and groups, and promoting the sharing of ideas and best practices are central to our work. Even thinking about how to best prepare experts (teachers and scientists) to approach their work in new ways is something that educators, health organizations, and community organizers are all thinking about. As organizations increasingly become global these efforts will continue to grow.

Second, who thought that an online high school and a research program would have something in common? Seeing the connections between seemingly disparate ideas is a skill we should value highly. Teaching students to find information from different resources and think about ways they may connect is a skill that will become invaluable in the future. In a world where people are getting increasingly specialized in what they do, we run the risk of seeing less clearly the connections between us. It will be essential for our students to think creatively to find those connections. Someone at the Gates Foundation did that here. We can start to do that by teaching kids to establish a robust personal learning network by tapping into social media, learning how to explore connections between people and ideas, and to follow information to its source.

So, how do schools foster connections between traditional subject-area departments? How do we expose the rhizomes that exist between our science, history, art, and math classes? Much of our work to teach students to expand their thinking needs to begin with our own efforts to think differently about our approach to subjects. Interdisciplinary courses that pull together ideas from different places will be one of the ways we do this.

In my next post I’ll provide examples of how we make these connections in our classes.