Teaching the Levees: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Community Problem Solving

Grade Level

“Teaching the Levees” is an instructional resource provided by Columbia University Teacher’s College to support democratic dialogue and civic engagement about the Hurricane Katrina disaster. The curriculum model provides opportunities for interdisciplinary instruction for community problem solving and social justice learning. In this activity, teachers use the following instructional framework to plan an exhibition emphasizing culturally responsive instruction across academic disciplines. This activity is designed to give students practice in cooperation and exchanging, identifying and refining ideas for a culminating unit of study.


Planning Process

1. Implementation Overview—The students should clearly describe the problems the community is facing using a process model to guide learning. Ensure the relevancy of topics and allow students to narrow the scope of the situation presented in the area of interest and the underlying problem. Thereafter, allow students to build consensus around a common project theme.

2. Prior skills and knowledge—Determine what students already know and what they will learn. Develop a series of essential questions to guide research and inquiry.

3. Resources Needed—Identify instructional materials and supplies needed for your project. Resources may include various types of research references, agencies contacted, field trips, interviews and speakers.

4. Develop an outline of responsibilities, including specific tasks and roles for team members to foster a sense of shared responsibility. 

5. Plan collaboratively to draft a list of cross-curricular activities for a culminating school-wide/community exhibition of student projects.

Sample list of interdisciplinary activities:

Science: 9th-grade Biology “Creating a DNA Database for Identification”

Language Arts: 11th-grade American Literature “Poetry Display of Katrina Victims”

Social Studies: 11th-grade U.S. History “Cultural Mapping the Katrina Diaspora Migration”

Foreign Language: 10th- through 12th-grade “Spanish Katrina News Broadcast”

Engineering: 10th- through 12th-grade Engineering Concepts “New Levee Design”

Extended learning: The problem-solving model deepens understanding about connecting students’ identities to world issues and creates work of value. The UNESCO community problem-solving module is recommended to scaffold instruction for extensive thematic projects. This process can be used as a framework to address community problem solving in a broader context. Recent disasters in Haiti and Japan are topics that can be considered as alternatives. 

Cleopatra Warren
Frederick Douglass High School
Atlanta, Ga.