"Breakfast, Brainpower, and Connecting Disciplines"

Dave Wells, Arizona State University
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This material was originally created for Starting Point: Teaching Economics
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.


Interdisciplinarity involves finding a creative tension--sometimes disciplines are complementary and sometimes they are in conflict. This example illustrates complementary aspects. This introduction starts with an NPR audio clip and then enables students to identify how disciplines differ in their focus in a manner that students can easily relate to since it relates to eating breakfast and performance at school.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Learning Goals

  1. Help students distinguish between related disciplines (in this case biology and psychology)
  2. Help students identify the way different disciplines focus and apply terms to address an issue--and the limitations of disciplines.
  3. Help students see how disciplines can combine to create a more compelling explanation than one discipline alone.

Context for Use

This is an introductory activity designed to help illustrate the concept of academic discipline and integration in way that's easily accessible.

Description and Teaching Materials

A Better Breakfast Can Boost a Child's Brainpower (audio also available
by Allison Aubrey (8/31/2006)

Questions for students while listening:
1. Listen to this clip and see if you can identify two different disciplines.
(you can stop the audio to debrief)

Further questions to have students work on
Focuses on...
Concepts used
Theories/Analysis Causation applied

Focuses on...
Concepts used
Theories/Analysis Causation applied

Powerpoint attached which includes an introduction that leads to activity and includes a recap exercise where communication, economics, sociology and psychology can be applied and students can work to differentiate them. 
Disciplinary Perspectives (PowerPoint 390kB Apr7 10) 

Teaching Notes and Tips

Have fun with activities from the duck/rabbit to playing with whether the students had breakfast if it's a morning class.

Expect to help the students put together how psychology and biology interrelate. Psychology is operating outside the body. They are measuring student performance, but don't know what about oatmeal makes students perform better--it's a black box. The glycemic index which comes from biology tells us only about glucose and how the body reacts. It's the missing link that's inside the black box, enabling us to better understand the mechanism and therefore predict which foods might be good for best academic performance.

Astute students will pick up on a missing piece--we still don't know why the glycemic index impacts the brain's functioning, though Biologists and Neuroscientists may have the details on that (it's just not in this story).


The recap activity--which could be done in pairs--enables you to see whether students are getting it or not. Student backgrounds may be limited, but they might tie notions of identity and self-esteem from psychology, top-down communication or one-way communication as some of the communication features, the notions of institutional rules and the implied power and dehumanizing aspects of bureaucracy from sociology, and notions of profit maximization and marginal analysis from economics.

References and Resources

Repko book cited in one slide:
Repko, Allen (2008), Interdisciplinary Process and Theory, Sage Publications.