The Importance of Multi-Disciplinary Thinking

I was sent a video called “The Adaptable Mind” by educator Erin Caldwell.  She told me the following, “I have since shared it with my students, and used it as a launching pad to discuss what are the most valuable skills we can set our students up with. ”  It would be an excellent video for discussion with students and/or staff.

There are five areas that the video focuses on, and they are, ” curiosity, creativity, taking initiative, multi-disciplinary thinking, and empathy.”  I have talked about each often, except for “multi-disciplinary thinking.” I did a little research on it and found some interesting thoughts. In the article, “Why solving the world’s problems needs to start a multi-disciplinary approach,” they shared a story on the connection between engineering and understanding humanity:

One traffic intersection in the center of Drachten, Netherlands, accommodates 20,000 drivers as well as many bicyclists and pedestrians each day. As a result, it became notorious for its high rate of accidents and deaths.

A conventional solution might have been to load up the roads with signage and signals that clearly instruct everyone where to go and when. But when Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman approached the problem, he saw the congested conduit as a place of profound disconnection. Rather than peppering the roads with signs, in 2003 he took all signage away.

This approach to “shared space” design meant that drivers, cyclists and pedestrians had to increase their awareness of each other to successfully navigate the intersection. This reliance on human connection rather than engineered traffic patterns upended conventional thinking, and dramatically decreased the number of accidents and deaths.

The most innovative solutions to local problems like this demand deep integration of quantitative and emotional insights that are too often segregated between traditional academic disciplines.

I think the importance of stories like this is that it pushes us to think of ideas like STEAM or “SHTEAM,” as shared in the video (Science, Humanities, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics), we look at them as disciplines that are interwoven in our classrooms, not separate.

It was just something that pushed my thinking in the video, and I encourage you to watch the whole thing below (thanks for the share Erin!)

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