Interdisciplinary Lessons for Remote Learning

Interdisciplinary Lessons for Remote Learning

by Amy Withers, Bank Street College of Education

Planning for remote learning may require more flexibility than does planning lessons for our classrooms. Students are engaging in mathematics outside of school, where support may vary. In addition, access to materials, including technology, will vary from student to student. Interdisciplinary lessons are one way to address a variety of situations and needs during remote learning, and also present an opportunity that is enhanced by remote learning. Interdisciplinary projects are an opportunity to:

• offer flexibility and choice
• build on students’ strengths and interests
• encourage students to connect mathematics to other content areas

What does this look like? To take one example, we might ask students to build a structure. We could be as broad (build a shelter for something) or as specific (build a shelter for your favorite stuffed animal) as fits the needs of our students. This is the kind of project that students could work on over the course of a week or so. It could be incorporated into a choice board or menu of options.

The project can become interdisciplinary by asking students questions such as those below.



Social Studies


What did you build? How big is it? How can you measure it?


What is the tallest thing that can fit inside your structure?


What math did you use while building your structure?

Write instructions so that someone else could recreate your structure.


Write three or four diary entries from the perspective of the person or animal that would live in your structure.

Who lives in your structure? What needs do they have?


What is their daily life like?

Experiment with different materials to build your structure.


Which materials are most durable? How could you make your structure waterproof if it rains or snows?

In a complex, week-long project like the one above, each part presents its own set of neurodevelopmental demands. What accommodations can we make so that each part is accessible?

Below, we describe our thinking about two mathematical questions that are part of the task of building a structure: How big is your structure? How can you measure it?

We deliberately phrased the questions so that students could interpret the words “big” and “measure” in many ways. Students can decide whether to measure height, volume, area, perimeter, and so on. Our goal with this phrasing is for students (perhaps in grades 3–5) to think about the different ways one can measure, and the ways in which they are related. As always, the questions should be rephrased depending on grade level, particular content and practice goals, and the strengths and needs of students.

Our planning was guided by a focus on two specific students who each have different strengths and challenges. We believe that making the task accessible for them will make it accessible for many.

One of the students we were thinking of is Eddy. He is an English Language Learner who has strong language skills in his native Spanish, who loves mathematics, and who gets along very nicely with everyone in his classroom. Another student we thought about is Mona. She is a strong reader and pays attention well. However, she has difficulty remembering things, especially when she is presented with a lot of information all at once.

We used the chart below to help us plan.

Learning Area

What are the demands of the task?

How will Eddy and Mona handle the demands of this task?

How can we adapt the task to make it accessible to Eddy and Mona (and other students in the class)?


  • Understanding mathematical language
  • Using language to communicate with others and to clarify one’s ideas
  • Understanding and using vocabulary, e.g., “structure”
  • Understanding the questions
  • Understanding and interpreting what is meant by “measure”
  • Interpreting what is meant by “how big?”
  • Understanding and being okay with the ambiguity of the language
  • Eddy has a good grasp of measurement, and will understand directions in Spanish, but it may be challenging for him to understand directions and vocabulary if they are presented only in written or spoken English
  • Mona will be able to read the directions well. She may not remember what is meant by “measuring.”
  • Provide more specificity for “measure,” e.g., “measure the height of your structure in inches;” “measure the area of the floor of your structure.”
  • Provide examples or a bank of ideas for the math involved in the task, e.g., counting, using tools such as rulers to measure, estimating.
  • Consider alternatives to presenting directions to this task through written language only (e.g., record a video to explain the task verbally and model what students are expected to do).
  • Provide directions in Spanish and in English


  • Short-term memory
  • Active working memory
  • Long-term memory
  • Holding onto an image of what you are building, and where you are in the process
  • Remembering the multiple steps in this task
  • Remembering one or more ways of measuring
  • Remembering how to use measuring tools
  • Eddy will be able to build an elaborate structure. He will remember multiple ways of measuring (using centimeters and inches) and how to use measuring tools.
  • Mona will remember how to use measuring tools, but will struggle with remembering the multiple steps in this activity.
  • Provide more explicit instructions for how to build a structure; for example, “start with the floor;” “create supports for a roof.”
  • Scaffold the different steps in this task by providing a checklist.
  • Use picture cues alongside instructions.
  • Allow for measuring tools other than a ruler, i.e., non-standard units of measurement such as a pencil or a toothpick.
  • If possible, encourage students to work with a partner on this project (e.g., a sibling or caregiver, or with fellow students connected online).

Considerations for remote learning

  • Offer ideas for materials that can be used to construct the structure and that would be readily available to students where they are doing the work.
  • How will students share their work with the teacher and with each other? Send a photo? Make a sketch of the structure and submit that? Have a synchronous online meeting where students can share with each other?

This is one example of an interdisciplinary, week-long, project and a way to think about making it accessible for all students.

We would love to hear about the different ways the teachers with whom you are working are approaching remote learning, and whether they have tried out any interdisciplinary projects. Please reach out to your MFA coach or any member of the team to share your experiences.

The contents of this blog post were developed under a grant from the Department of Education. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0  

Math for All is a professional development program that brings general and special education teachers together to enhance their skills in
planning and adapting mathematics lessons to ensure that all students achieve high-quality learning outcomes in mathematics.

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