Friday, April 24, 2009

Making Science Cross Curricular--10 Tips

When I was a young teacher (so, not too long ago!), I had a "Eureka" moment (vroom, vroom). I realized that in life, we don't use each subject area skill in a VACUUM. For example, if I have a problem with my bank statement, I gather some information (science), crunch some numbers (math) , and prepare an arguement (language arts) to present to the bank. Real-world issues require you to think and work in cross-curricular ways.

So, if school is really about preparing kids for life, why do we often teach each subject independent of the others?

Cross-curricular instruction is an efficient way to cover all that you need to teach. (Sign me up for anything that makes my life as a teacher easier!) Plus, it helps students build some synapses between topics--critical thinking that improves comprehension and retention of information taught. (Ooh, when my students actually LEARN a lot too, that's a win-win for both the "teach" and the kid!)

A couple of years ago for a popular teacher publication, we created this list of tips on how to make science cross-curricular. I thought there might be a nugget or two here that you could find helpful...

1. Science is the perfect vehicle to teach writing.
Keeping a science journal can help students build daily practice and encourage descriptive as well as expository skills, like compare and contrast, process, and cause and effect.

2. Use graphic organizers every day.
For example, you can do a lot with a simple Venn diagram--compare math formulas, events or people in history, story elements or scientific observations. Children build key critical thinking skills when they find and explore relationships in any subject. Use graphic organizers in a variety of formats including books and pocket charts.

3. Get students in the habit of reading informational text.
But, don't assume that kids come with built-in strategies in their brains for understanding this kind of text. Explicitly teach them the structure of expository text and how to pick out main ideas and details.

4. Embed math in science inquiry/experiments.
When math solves a real-world problem, children apply what they know and gain deeper understanding. Operations, data and measurement are three topics that are usually easy to mix into science inquiry activities.

5. Make science come to life with biographies.
Have students read true stories about great scientists and their discoveries. Then, read some science fiction on a similar topic. Compare how the real stands up to the imaginary.

6. Turn kids into social scientists.
Once students are comfortable collecting data, encourage civic responsibility by studying an environmental issue in your neighborhood. Have them write to local governments and businesses and see if they can make a positive change in their community.

7. Teach science inquiry from a creative perspective.
The digestive system is more fun when students travel through it from the perspective of a piece of food. (Kids are always soooo grossed out by the way that lesson ENDS!) Or, when students have to persuade you to live on one planet over another, you’ll see how much they really know about the solar system.

8. Reinforce science themes early with theme-based counters.
Bright and engaging, they encourage sorting, classifying, patterning and counting skills that can transfer to math, social studies and language arts.

9. Play a pocket chart game with artifacts.
Hide artifacts inside pocket charts. Leave written clues in the outside pockets and play 20 questions until students guess the identity of the artifacts. It’s never too early to teach inference and investigation skills with clue words like who, what or how.

10. Let students invent their own games!
Some kids think scientific thinkers are so stiff and serious. Prove them wrong! Mix up the pieces of any science game to make them laugh and show them it’s okay to throw out the rules once in a while. Have them write new game rules that can be placed in a center with the game compoments so their classmates can enjoy their new creation.

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