Not enough time for science? Try an integrated approach to learning science

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December 1, 2014 by HCDE-Texas

George Washington on the DelawareAn informal analysis of K-2 classroom daily schedules shows that the majority of instruction time is spent on reading, followed by math. Science and social studies often have a shared block of time that averages 30 minutes per day. Often, the designated snack time is longer than the time specifically allotted to science.

  • Long term studies* show that science is taught in kindergarten classrooms fewer than 30 percent of school days for an average of fewer than 15 minutes per day.
  • Studies also show slightly more time is devoted to science in first grade, with about 44 percent of school days for an average of fewer than 30 minutes per day. Without a comparable study, I would predict that statistics for social studies are similar.

 

Integrating science through a cross-curricular approach:
Many elementary classrooms are self-contained, so using a cross-curricular approach is easy to implement. An integrated approach has many advantages. Children are taught knowledge and skills in a context that is meaningful to them and more memorable. To many students, “science” is something that happens in the classroom, not in the real world. You could teach a standard science lesson about the differences between density and buoyancy, or alternatively you could explain how those concepts were incredibly significant to historical events.

In George Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware, he had to move over 2,400 men in addition to horses, cannons and artillery across the ice-filled Delaware River on Christmas day in 1776. Since all of these items are more dense than water, how was this accomplished? Why does ice float on water? Why can a boat laden with these heavy items float cross the river? Would the size and shape of the boat matter?

The type of lesson leads to true inquiry. The lesson begins with a scenario that is recognized as valid. Students can experiment to obtain their own data and then use the data to develop and justify an explanation. This type of lesson is more engaging than a traditional lesson. It leads to a deeper understanding of the topic.

Lessons that incorporate more than one subject and related standards are of great benefit to students. Texas standards for science and social studies actually have a lot in common. For example, look at this standard: Use a problem-solving process to identify a problem, gather information, list and consider options, consider advantages and disadvantages, choose and implement a solution and evaluate the effectiveness of the solution. It is not easy to tell that this is a social studies curriculum standard.

To make science more relevant, investigations need to be given a context. History provides a wonderful context for learning science.

  • How did Native American dye fabrics? Where does plant dye come from?
  • What did Benjamin Franklin discover about electricity?
  • How do airplanes (like the one flown by Amelia Earhart) fly? How can something so heavy get off the ground?
  • How can sound waves travel long distances, like they do in a telephone?

 

These topics, along with others are featured in an upcoming workshop, Integrating Elementary Social Studies and Science, on Dec. 11.


How do you integrate science across curriculum?

*Reference https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/bitstream/handle/2142/17844/ctrstreadtechrepv01991i00544_opt.pdf?sequence=1

Resources
Integrating Science Inquiry Across the Curriculum, http://www.fondation-lamap.org/sites/default/files/upload/media/4%20-%20integrating_science_inquiry_across_the_curriculum.pdf

Inquiry and Problem-Based Lesson Plans, http://www.indiana.edu/~oso/inq.htm

About the Blogger:
Lisa Felske is curriculum director for science at Harris County Department of Education. Her areas of expertise include integrating science with other disciplines and student misconceptions in science. She enjoys being a Girl Scout leader, reading way past her bedtime, and using the Oxford comma.

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