In science, students learn about their place in the natural world. In social studies, they learn about our social systems and history. Both are vitally important subjects. As the preface to Science for All Americans so elegantly states, “Education has no higher purpose than preparing young people to lead personally fulfilling and responsible lives. For its part, science education…. should help students to develop the understandings and habits of mind they need to know to become compassionate human beings able to think for themselves and to face life head on. It should equip them also to participate thoughtfully with fellow citizens in building and protecting a society that is open, decent and vital” (Rutherford and Ahlgren 1989, p. v).
So, the very purpose of science education is to contribute toward a just and compassionate society. In a sense, social studies and science are organically linked to a higher purpose. But in a crowded day, the pressures to teach literacy and math often crowd out other subjects. We cannot allow either science or social studies to be relegated to the end of the day—if there is time. Integrated units may be an answer. While not a panacea, this issue’s articles demonstrate ways in which we can teach science and social studies together effectively.
“The Integrated Curriculum” makes a case for combining social studies and science. The author describes how her school sought to connect an existing social studies unit on China with science. Students look at silk within the culture and history of China as well as the biology and materials science of the silk itself.
A continent away, “Science and Social Studies in a Nutshell” highlights similar connections—this time as students explore peanuts—from peanuts’ physical characteristics to their role in the history and economy of the southern United States.
The connection of science and social studies can also prove motivating. Just ask the fourth-grade students from “Savvy Consumers Through Science,” who designed investigations to test the claims of different products. These students used math, science, and social studies skills to evaluate the claims of advertisers and develop responsible skepticism.
In Science 101 and in Teaching Through Trade Books, the authors show how an understanding of science contributes to the cleanup and avoidance of oil spills. The reliance of our economy on oil is a natural place to combine social studies and science. What are our energy options? What are the environmental consequences of fossil fuels? There are many questions that require sensitivity and knowledge of both science and social studies.
And beyond this month’s social studies and science connections, we also include articles that seem to compose a mini-theme of their own: science trade books. In addition to the much-anticipated lists of Outstanding Science Trade Books List for K–12 and recent science trade books in Spanish, “The Making of the List” reveals details of how exemplary trade books in science are chosen. In our Methods & Strategies column, readers will learn how to translate those exemplary books into an outstanding and purposeful classroom library. These articles can help you make the best choices for your students.
Integrated units, trade books, or not, the school year is passing quickly—amazingly, there are just a few more flips of calendar pages until summer. In the meantime, enjoy the glorious spring days with your students!
Rutherford, F. J., and A. Ahlgren. 1989. Science for all Americans. New York: Oxford University Press.