Incorporating Science

I attended Learning to Learn: Trees, Birds, Bugs, and Clouds Can Teach K-1 Children What It Means to be on Fire with Learning, a TC Calendar Day presented by Heidi Mills. Throughout the workshop, Heidi spoke about how teachers can start with a science unit (for example, leaves) and then create a unit of study incorporating literacy, math, and social studies. While the idea of writing cross-curricular thematic units is a great idea, many of the teachers at the workshop expressed that they just simply don’t have enough time in the day. Most schools at the workshop follow the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project curriculum and must use their writing workshop time to study small moments (or whichever unit they are in). This reminded me of many of our own reactions to The Girl With The Brown Crayon. We wondered how Vivian Gussin Paley had the time to study just one author. I agree that it is hard to find time to incorporate science into the curriculum, but I think it can be done in schools where children have choice time every day.

As a kindergarten teacher, my children have forty minutes of choice time each day. Recently I implemented an apple study, as many of you do, over the course of a week. During read aloud, I read apple books and during choice time, students explored apples further. There were five stations and each child went to a different station throughout the week. At one station, there was a math game. At another, children tasted different types of apples and rated them. There was a word study apple game, a writing activity, and a reading activity. I think if a teacher is lucky enough to have this extra time in his/her day, choice time is a great way to incorporate science units.

-Emily

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3 responses to “Incorporating Science

  1. I too have been exploring the use of cross-curricular thematic units while designing curriculum for 3rd graders in a rural school in India. Like in your example of designing the science unit, I believe that such an approach integrates the various subjects creating more logically organized schemes in the child’s mind, which eventually facilitates better understanding. Also, I think the dilemma you presented, about the lack of time to incorporate such an approach in schools that already use a fixed curriculum, is a very valid one. However, I was curious about your idea of using choice-time to employ the science unit.

    From my observations over the past few months, I have come to regard choice-time with much more importance than I did previously. This is mainly due to the opportunities latent within it for natural and productive interactions amongst students, and even between the teacher and students. I have seen children forming partnerships and embarking on surprisingly ambitious collaborative art/writing projects during this free time.
    Again, the dilemma you posed earlier stands valid in my view, but it still seems unresolved by the option of replacing choice-time with a pre-planned set of activities.

  2. I, too, attended one of Heidi Mills’ calendar days entitled “Creating a Culture of Inquiry That Encompasses Science, Social Studies, Math and Literacy Too” on October 30th. Heidi Mills also explained several cross curricular, thematic units for grades three to five that integrated math, science, literacy and social studies.

    I was truly inspired by one unit on social action. She explained this unit grew out of some picture books the teacher was reading to her students. During the students’ conversations about the read aloud, the issue of homelessness emerged. The students were very interested in what they could do to make a difference. The class began reading several articles on homelessness. They learned that a house was being built for a local family through Habitat for Humanity. The students learned this family had small children. The class decided they would build a book shelf for the house. They visited the Home Depot and purchased the wood. They measured, cut and constructed the bookcase. Think about all the literacy skills the students had to use to plan and organize this project – and all the math skills used to build the bookcase!

    They didn’t stop there! The students decided they didn’t want to give an empty bookcase to the family. They began a mini-inquiry on their favorite books from childhood and how those books affected them as readers. They ordered these books with their book club points. When the books arrived, the children practiced their fluency by reading the books aloud into a recorder and creating an audiotape to go with the books. Lastly, they had spent so much time investigating quality children’s literature, they created a recommended book list for the upcoming school book fair.

    As I listened to Heidi describe this project, I just kept thinking, “This is how I want kids to learn in my classroom!” In this project, the children learned the same skills as in the standard curriculum, but with a sense of meaning and purpose. Students did not just learn about the importance of making a difference; they actually made a difference!
    It was so inspiring! When I taught sixth grade in middle school, I had this feeling that the curriculum was, perhaps, too neatly divided into eight periods. I felt like we were missing something. I felt like the kids were missing something. My team and I worked together to plan integrated units. One time, we planned a unit in which our students would write a myth about the Greek gods and goddesses they were learning about in social studies class. Many kids were dismayed. “What do you mean we are writing about social studies? This is language arts!” I think Heidi’s integrated inquiry projects shows students that literacy is a thread throughout all subject areas.

    Both this class and my content area literacies class has made me re-think my definition of literacy and what counts as literacy. Literacy, perhaps, is the skill of reading, writing, thinking, acting and being in a given community – a community of readers, writers, mathematicians, scientist or historians.

    ~Tiffany

  3. My school is only in its fourth year of operation, so everything is new and always changing. I came in last year in the school’s third year. Last year, science and social studies units were taught in alternating months. Like you, Tiffany, I felt like everything was divided too neatly into 45 minute periods. Science and social studies concepts were even divided into months!

    Occasionally we read books about the social studies or science content during read aloud or guided reading, but that’s as far as our integration went.

    This year, along with new administration, came a new plan for integrating science and social studies. So each grade level now has the task of taking all previously taught science and social studies content and integrating it. However, there was still no thought about literacy and math integration. The story you related was inspiring, and I would love to attempt something like that at my school since we are at this juncture anyway. I think by expanding our views of what literacy is, we open up a world of possibilities of literacy learning and exploration. These experiences have the potential to more closely reflect the kinds of literacy activities students will be faced with every day outside of school. And that certainly seems more motivating and memorable than the test preparation books we are working from now.

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