Teachers all across the country are using science as a natural starting point for cross-curricular adventures in learning. Here's how to plan and develop an integrated curriculum that starts where kids' interests are highest.
Once you decide to use science as the core for an integrated curriculum, teaching and learning will never be the same. You'll accomplish more in less time than ever before, and your students will acquire and develop the kinds of process skills that can help them learn effectively in all subject areas. When it comes to curriculum integration, why is science such a natural? Six reasons follow:
- Children love science. Just ask them. Dinosaurs, whales, bees, thunder and lightning, volcanoes, ocean life, space travel — you name it and they're interested. Research studies have shown that when asked what they'd prefer to study, children choose science topics more than half the time. Try taking your own interest survey with your class. Ask each child to identify the five things he or she would most like to learn about and tally the results. Not only will you find science at the top of the list, but you'll actually be using science — collecting and analyzing data — to discover that science is the children's favorite. The natural world piques their curiosity and provides a great place for learning to begin.
- Science gets kids in on the action. Science lends itself to real experiences in which children can participate. In fact, the science word "experiment" comes from experience — to try, to test, to do. The key to good science is hands-on activities, experiences that involve the children's senses — touching, smelling, seeing, hearing, and tasting. Children involved in science activities have a rich bank of experiences from which to draw when they think, write, and act in other subject areas. Imagine how difficult it would be to describe a rose if we had never smelled the fragrance or been pricked by a thorn. Experiences are currency in the mind's memory bank that can be spent over and over throughout a child's life. Science provides the opportunity for sensory experiences — the starting point for further learning in other curricular areas.
- Real experiences lead to integrative connections. Children who blow through a soda-straw kazoo and feel the vibrations on their lips and fingers can easily relate those vibrations to pitch in music, even composing their own tunes with straws of varying lengths. Or children who observe and measure creepy crawlers like gummy worms will enjoy reading "How to Eat Fried Worms" by Thomas Rockwell. Identifying the star outlines in the Big Dipper, Draco the Dragon, and Cepheus the King can lead to great art and creative writing projects in which children create their own imaginary constellations and make up myths to go with them. Effective integration begins with real activities. Hands-on science is rich with opportunities for kids to describe what they are doing or observing. They use new words to build concepts, write creatively, and express feelings. For instance, this poem was written by a third grader after her encounter with a land hermit crab. It conveys a message, doesn't it? "A crab looks, yuck/ Oh so hairy/ He make me feel/ a little scary."
- Interactive connections can save time. One hands-on science activity enables us to teach two, three, or four subject in a single activity. Take magnetism, a topic included in nearly all science programs.
You might begin by having children explore with magnets by predicting, investigating, and writing which objects are attracted to the magnet and which aren't. Then have them measure the strength of their magnet by counting the number of paper clips it can pick up or by measuring and recording the distance between the magnet and the clip before the clip moves. You might also place a magnet under a piece of overhead-projector acetate and sprinkle iron filings over the acetate film to produce artistic designs. Spray them with hair spray to hold them permanently in place. Display them on the bulletin board. Conclude the lesson by reading about the history of magnetism and the discovery of lodestones in Magnesia, the ancient country for which magnets are named.
Were these experience science? Language arts? Math? Art? Social studies? Of course, they were all of them, rolled into one series of connected learning experiences. At the heart was a science activity, the raw material for reinforcing learning in all other subject areas.
- Science process skills develop habits of thinking important to all curricular areas. Science processes — observing, communicating, classifying, measuring, predicting, inferring, hypothesizing, recognizing variables, designing investigations , collecting and analyzing data and the like — are at the core of science. They are the thinking skills that are woven through all subject areas — the common threads of education.
The beauty of science is that it provides an excellent vehicle for teaching and reinforcing processes common to other curricular areas. For instance, comparing, classifying, and sequencing are shared with math. Collecting data, recognizing variables, and interpreting graphs are useful in social studies. Communication and synthesizing skills are important in creative writing. In fact, almost any process skill can find a niche in almost any subject area.
While acquiring process skills, children learn how to learn. The process skills taught in hands-on science cut across subject-matter lines, equipping our students with the potential to respond effectively to a wide range of intellectual challenges. They are preparation for life itself.
- Research indicates that experience-based science improves children's language, reading, and thinking skills. For instance, when science and language arts are presented together in the same lesson, both subjects are enhanced. They become a dynamic duo. Children who make and test-drop paper helicopters develop their own vocabulary — spin, turn, twist, fall, crash, plummet, clockwise, counterclockwise, gravity, lift, resistance-all words connected to mental images with experiential bases, their helicopter experience. Vocabulary words introduced through science activities have the memory experiences to back them up. And those experiences give meaning to words. Not only is vocabulary enriched, but research shows that children involved in hands-on science do better in measures of reading readiness, science processes, perception, logic, language development, science content learning, and mathematics.
With results like these, can we afford not to start with science?