Cross-curricular thematic approach and interdisciplinarity in the Greek school curriculum

Amalia Nippi

PhD Candidate, NKUA



This paper presents the concepts of cross-curricular thematic approach and interdisciplinarity as reflected in the Interdisciplinary Integrated Curriculum Framework in primary and secondary education. With an emphasis on learning objectives rather than on the curriculum, an innovative teaching programme is implemented which aims beyond the acquisition of knowledge to cultivate competences and develop skills of students. Cross-curricular thematic approach and interdisciplinarity provide students with an integrated system of knowledge and skills that allows them to form their own worldview and worldaspect, directly linking school and life.

Key words: cross-curricular thematic approach/thematic teaching, interdisciplinarity, curriculum


The Interdisciplinary Integrated Framework of Curricula (Δ.Ε.Π.Π.Σ.) includes uniform objectives and principles for all subjects at all levels of study. In accordance with this, the Comprehensive Curricula (Α.Π.Σ.) are drawn up for each subject, which, with the basic axiom of the “integration” and “interdisciplinarity” of knowledge, define the main axes for writing textbooks for primary and secondary education. (Υπ.Ε.Π.Θ & Π.Ι., 2003, Υπ.Ε.Π.Θ & Π.Ι., 2003²)

If one studies the Comprehensive Curricula (Α.Π.Σ.), one notices that they follow the unified approach to the teaching objects, they include the axes of the cognitive content, the general objectives of the course concerning knowledge, skills, attitudes and values and, finally, fundamental concepts of the cross-curricular thematic approach. By “cross-curricular thematic approach” we mean the use of concepts from one discipline to study another discipline. «Cross-curricular thematic approach » is not an end in itself, but a means to knowledge. Subjects may be distinct and self-contained units, but through thematic teaching, they are approached from many perspectives. Concepts are studied in a multidisciplinary way, associations are made, which lead to generalisations about their meaning and significance, for example, the terms “action” and “reaction” are found in both Physics and History. In other words, the words are treated as links for the horizontal interconnection of subjects. (Υπ.Ε.Π.Θ & Π.Ι., 2003, Υπ.Ε.Π.Θ & Π.Ι., 2003²) . (On interdisciplinarity and the teaching of history see  Αγγελάκος, Κ. & Κόκκινος, Γ. (2004). Η διαθεματικότητα στο σύγχρονο σχολείο και η διδασκαλία της ιστορίας με τη χρήση πηγών. Αθήνα:Μεταίχμιο)

In the context of the implementation of innovative educational actions, thematic teaching and interdisciplinarity as methodological approaches in the Interdisciplinary Integrated Framework of Curricula (Δ.Ε.Π.Π.Σ.) are basic prerequisites for a holistic approach to knowledge. On the one hand, cross-curricular thematic approach based on the Analytical Curriculum, bypasses discrete subjects and treats knowledge as a single whole, which is approached through the exploration of topics of interest to children (Ματσαγγούρας, 2009:48, 50), while on the other hand, interdisciplinarity maintains discrete subjects, but links their content.

Mapping the terms «interdisciplinarity» and «interdisciplinarity»

The terms “cross-curricular thematic approach, integration, thematic teaching” and “interdisciplinarity” are considered similar in the Greek literature, since both reject isolated and fragmented knowledge and promote the emergence of relationships and functions (Ματσαγγούρας, 2009:48-50) (However, cross-curricular thematic approach extends to a wider range of search for relationships and meaning-making, see. Kousoulas F., 2004). By following holistic and exploratory methods they aim to acquire knowledge.  However, some specific characteristics can be identified.

Maingain&Dufour (2003:69) argue that the term “cross-curricular thematic approach” denotes a “common space” between different knowledge, where everyone is beyond their own field of knowledge, in a space of which they are not the exclusive owner. According to Ματσαγγούρα (2009:48), the term «thematic approach» denotes the theoretical principle of organization of the Analytical Curriculum that breaks down discrete subjects and tries to approach school knowledge unified through the global study of topics of universal interest.

In addition, Θεοφιλίδης (2010:11) argues that “by the term thematic approach” we mean that form of teaching in which, on the one hand, the content of teaching is internalised and, on the other hand, the teaching is of a laboratory and inventive form.  This embodiment can concern various fields, such as school and society, for example, the coupling of theory and practice. Consequently, the  thematic approach to knowledge applies a holistic methodology and adopts a language from more than one discipline in order to address a central theme, issue, problem or experience. The cross curricular thematic approach is learner-centred and society-centred, having at its core the interest of the learner and society in a topic.

In contrast, the term “interdisciplinarity” refers to the theoretical principle of organizing the curriculum that maintains distinct subjects while attempting to relate the contents of the subjects in order to ensure a more complete and comprehensive study of them. Interdisciplinary programmes are therefore knowledge-centred. Interdisciplinarity answers the question of how different subject areas are processed, while thematic approach generally refers to the choice of subject areas for the study and processing of subjects and the approach to knowledge in general (Θεοφιλίδης, 2010:26).

Interdisciplinarity is characterised by the coherence within each teaching subject and the search for conceptual connections between the specific teaching subject and the others provided in the curriculum. The multidisciplinary organisation of knowledge contributes to the development of students” cognitive skills and, if this is achieved, contributes more broadly to the cultivation of functional literacy. The interdisciplinary approach requires knowledge and skills from different scientific fields, which also requires the involvement of teachers from different disciplines (of course, interdisciplinarity concerns not only primary and secondary education, but also higher education institutions, which are called upon to develop curricula with a wide range of content that are not based exclusively on the scientific subject of a particular department (Νόμος 4009/2011)).

Therefore, cross curricular thematic approach/thematic approach and interdisciplinarity contribute to the acquisition of knowledge, the development of skills and the cultivation of critical thinking, which is why their application in the educational process is appropriate. For example, through projects, thematic approach and interdisciplinarity can be implemented, as they combine a) the use of students” knowledge from various fields of knowledge, b) the abilities and interests of students, c) the cooperation of teachers from various disciplines, so that students acquire comprehensive knowledge about the subject under examination (Ματσαγγούρας, 2009:217-296). The term «project» comes from the Latin verb projicio which means to project. Work projects mark the opening and projection of the research result, achieved by the student, in the social environment. Work projects are defined as a differentiated and collaborative model of teaching, whose themes are derived from the content of the respective course in relation to the students” interests. Work projects are an open learning process, they aim to enable students to apply school knowledge to everyday life issues, as students should be able to manage knowledge experientially through different perspectives.

In conclusion, teachers can address the subject under study either through a multifaceted analysis of each discipline separately (thematic approach), or through the synthesis of the aggregate result of the disciplines with regard to the subject under study (interdisciplinarity).  Ultimately, learning can be achieved much more easily, quickly and effectively through the interrelationships between subjects and holistic approaches to sets.

The creation of curricula

For the compilation of the Interdisciplinary Unified Curriculum Framework (Δ.Ε.Π.Π.Σ.), a way of organization was chosen that maintains the discrete subjects as a framework for the arrangement of school knowledge, segmenting knowledge by areas of specialization, but at the same time combines the contents of the discrete subjects, so that the student understands the possibilities of an interdisciplinary approach to phenomena. This interdisciplinary correlation is ensured through (Ματσαγγούρας, 2009:59-92):

1) From the study of the individual units of each course, those interdisciplinary correlations between the topics, concepts with related and non-scientific disciplines (for example, literature and history) are highlighted.

2) From the «infusion» processes, the content of programmes is integrated into existing courses, for example, in environmental studies, actions from the broader programme of environmental education are added.

3) By course unions leading to hybrid courses, for example physics and biology leading to environmental studies.

The thematic approach to knowledge suggests that instead of discrete subjects, themes, issues and problems that are of either personal interest to students or of general interest to society and culture (universalia) should be exploited (Ματσαγγούρας, 2002). Thus, departing from the traditional teacher-centred teaching of one textbook, the Interdisciplinary Integrated Curriculum Framework places particular emphasis on learning objectives rather than on the curriculum, so it stipulates that school knowledge should: (a) be taught in a holistic approach to everyday life; (b) be linked to students” experiences in order to be comprehensible; and (c) be approached through exploratory methods so that knowledge is gradually built up by the students themselves. The knowledge provided by the school should lead to functional literacy, i.e., it should offer pupils new possibilities for thinking, judgement and action, so that they are able to manage reality effectively. (Ματσαγγούρας, 2009:95-106).

Generally, the Interdisciplinary Integrated Curriculum Framework has as its principle the active participation of students in the learning process. It encourages the application of innovative teaching methods so that students develop social and cognitive skills and attitudes, in order to be able to self-regulate their attitudes and behaviours in society.

Examples of interdisciplinarity – interdisciplinarity in the curriculum

A case of interdisciplinarity is the course of History and Modern Greek Language in secondary education. According to the Α.Π.Σ. of History, emphasis is placed on the formation of historical knowledge, declarative, procedural and conceptual (cultivation of skills, conceptual infrastructure), which makes it easier for students “to learn how to learn’, i.e. to discover knowledge through active methods (utilisation of sources, preparation of work/project plans) rather than being offered it ready-made. Students should: 1) master the basic conceptual infrastructure of history (concepts, associations, generalisations); 2) be able to understand the language of a historical text written in historical codes; 3) acquire to some extent the historian’s way of «thinking», cultivate similar skills (exploitation of historical sources) and build values, attitudes and behaviours that are commonly accepted.

Therefore, to examine comprehension of a history text, we must first examine the elements of linguistic coherence and conceptual coherence of the texts. Without these, the discourse is not a unified and coherent text with linguistic and conceptual coherence, but may resemble a telephone directory, a shopping list or a price list (Ματσαγγούρας, 2007). Linguistic cohesion refers to the various linguistic devices (grammatical, lexical, phonological) by which the text connects its surface components (words, phrases, sentences) at the syntactic level to form large units of discourse (Γεωργακοπούλου & Γούτσος, 2011; Αρχάκης, 2005).

Another case of  cross curricular thematic approach – interdisciplinarity can be the teaching of mathematics and physics in primary education, for example the examination of the phenomenon of global warming. The problem based learning (pbl) method (Boud & Feletti, 1997:137-150) is a learning process, which is differentiated from the classical traditional student-centred teaching method, aiming at the acquisition of skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, cooperation and communication. Through the application of the pbl technique, students learn how to solve problems that are connected to reality under guidance and advice. It is an active learning method based on research and constructivism. For example, students work together in small groups, activate their existing knowledge, gather new information and invoke possible theories and hypotheses to solve the problem.

Thus, they are led in a self-directed learning process to apply their new knowledge to the problem through reflection and creative approaches and to build a model to explain the problem.  The role of teachers here is to facilitate the learning process rather than to provide new knowledge, i.e. they have the role of facilitator.

In summary, the main features of the PBL method are as follows:

1. The teacher having the role of a facilitator helps the learner to decide what information he/she needs in order to be able to manage the problem.

2. The formation of small groups of students under the supervision of the teacher. In this way the students are asked to work with different people.

3. The teacher has the role of guide and coordinator. The teacher guides and advises students without confirming whether their ideas are right or wrong, gives feedback.

5. Problems are used as a motivation for learning. Presenting problems helps to understand the challenge learners are facing by providing them with motivation for learning, and in trying to understand the problem, learners understand what it is that they need to learn and increase their problem solving skills.

6. New knowledge is acquired through self-directed learning. Learners are required to gather new information through individual study and research. Learners rely on collaborative knowledge construction, sharing ideas and knowledge they have gathered by reviewing and discussing what they have learned.


The modern education system is characterised by inherent weaknesses as a result of the organisation of the knowledge on offer and the way in which it is taught, with the result that there is often talk of the “schooling” of knowledge. Since students acquire knowledge that is detached, fragmented and indifferent to reality, learning is focused on passing certain examinations rather than on understanding about life. This organisation of the curriculum does not help students to realise that for every phenomenon knowledge has been produced from various scientific fields, knowledge that should be understandable, interesting and attractive. Consequently, students are led to accumulate unconnected as well as dormant knowledge, without being able to use it, without any usefulness for life (Ματσαγγούρας, 2002).

Dewey (1990:91) argues that «we do not have a series of separate worlds, one of which is mathematical, another physical, another historical, etc. We live in a world where all sides are connected. All studies derive from relations of the one great common world, and as the child lives in a changing but concrete and active relation to this common world his studies are naturally unified. The connection of studies will no longer be a problem. The teacher will not have to resort to all sorts of tricks to weave a little arithmetic into the history lesson. Connect school with life and all studies will necessarily be connected». Initially, man, in order to understand the world, posed questions to which he gave answers of a universal or dogmatic nature, then systematized his knowledge through the definition of distinct sciences, so that through the exchange of knowledge and methods, the foundations for the development of the sciences were laid. Therefore, the mission of education should be to demonstrate that the natural and social worlds are interrelated, that they constitute a single reality, the parts of which influence and are influenced by each other. In other words, it is not consistent to follow and apply in the modern educational system a fragmented and fragmented knowledge.

For this reason, curricula should be characterised by a flexibility, adaptable to the needs of students and offering a variety of subjects and contents, so that the student is able to choose the subject matter he or she wants, achieving the appropriate learning objectives for the development of individual skills and competences.  In other words, they are open curricula that apply a cross curricular thematic approach  and interdisciplinary approach to knowledge.



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