Learning makes more sense and is retained when it has a context and connection to other knowledge. Duh. We know this from a wealth of sources: research, our experiences as students—and as teachers. We remember things that have a rich set of connections. Teaching that is too focused in one context is much less likely to be transferred to other contexts. If one of our goals is to develop our students into critical, reflective thinkers, we have to extend skills and knowledge across the traditional content areas.
This is not a new attitude. There is a long history of curriculum integration. One of the most elegant and thoughtful was the Dewey School at the turn of the last century. The curriculum was centered on problems encountered by societies across history. Many of these problems are not neatly divided into separate content areas—math, economics, science, etc. If we think of major issues facing us today—global warming, for example—we can see how problems cut across sciences, social sciences, mathematics, and communications.
So if this is true, why don’t we do more to integrate our curriculum? Again, if we visit the Dewey School, we can see part of the problem and solutions. Even though the Dewey School had a focus on integrated human problems, the content knowledge necessary for the solutions had to be discretely taught. Students still needed math class. The trick was to make the math necessary to understand and solve real problems.
A newer obstacle to integration can be seen in our new focus on standards and accountability. Our students are assessed in discrete content areas. There is no state assessment that I know of that expects students to integrate their knowledge to solve complex problems. There are technical reasons why that must be true, but the sad consequence is that we have no time to teach across the content areas and still meet state standards.
Is all lost? Must we separate all content into disconnected chunks? No. But it will require thought and careful planning. Fortunately, we have done some of the planning for you. We have assembled in this issue articles that meet significant standards in each content area while connecting them in a meaningful and real way. Below are a few highlights:
- Music has a natural connection to science. It is a form of energy that, when in certain patterns, carries meaning. Birds use those features to communicate via songs. “Cheep, Chirp, Twitter, and Whistle” (p. 20) explores the multiple ways in which bird songs, music, and sound complement each other. In fact, it is hard to find something not to integrate as language arts, music, sound and biology all weave together in a study of songbirds.
- When we think of integrating science and art we usually immediately think of the connections of science content with art. But the two are connected in other ways as well. “Sublime Science” (p. 26) explores the aesthetic connection—how awe and magnitude can distinguish both science and art.
- Kindergartners develop “An Artful Forest” as they learn about animals, forests and drawing (30). The young students springboard from an innate interest in bunnies to develop investigations and observations about animals and their habitats.
You’ll find much more in this issue to help you creatively integrate subjects, including an annotated list of past S&C integration articles. This list started as a way to help methods students embark on their career. Which reminds me: few things in my professional life are as rewarding as comments from beginning teachers about how their attitudes about science and their abilities to teach it were transformed in a science methods class. “Inquiring Minds Do Want to Know” (p. 42) pleasantly reminds us that a sense of wonder is not limited to young children, and that a career in teaching science is rewarding on many levels.