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Observe Explain Connect: An Interdisciplinary Lesson Using Poetry and Science Highlights the Parallels of the Disciplines While Developing Literacy

By Vardell, Sylvia M.; Wong, Janet S. | Science and Children, April-May 2014 | Go to article overview

Observe Explain Connect: An Interdisciplinary Lesson Using Poetry and Science Highlights the Parallels of the Disciplines While Developing Literacy


Vardell, Sylvia M., Wong, Janet S., Science and Children


In his article "Physics and Poetry: Can You Handle the Truth?" astrophysicist Adam Frank (2013) revealed, "Poems and poetry are, for me, a deep a form of knowing, just like science ... each, in its way, is a way to understand the world." Poets and scientists both seek to observe, explain, and understand the world around them. Poetry's brevity, conceptual focus, and rich vocabulary make it a natural teaching tool for connecting with science, particularly in celebrating National Poetry Month each April and "Poem in Your Pocket" day, April 24, 2014 (see Internet Resources). Akerson (2002) reminds us: The "processes of science and literacy learning are similar and may help the development of each discipline." She goes on to observe: "Using an interdisciplinary strategy can help meet state and national science objectives in a way that supports language arts" (p. 22).

Like science, poetry often involves a high level of abstraction in language and ideas, requiring specific critical-thinking skills and promoting interaction. Casteel and Isom (1994) acknowledge, "The literacy processes are the means by which science content is learned because content information is rooted in written and oral language" (p. 540). Infusing poetry into the science curriculum can serve to jump-start or introduce a topic, present examples of terminology or concepts, provide closure that is concept-rich, or extend a science topic further. The brevity of poetry is less intimidating to children who may be overwhelmed by longer prose and streams of new vocabulary, especially for students acquiring English as a new language. We can introduce or reinforce a science topic with a poem in just a few minutes with language that is rich, vivid, and memorable and activities that are engaging and interactive. Of course a poem alone is not intended to be the entire science lesson, but it offers an innovative, engaging, and vocabulary-full and concept-rich way to launch or conclude a science lesson. Royce, Morgan, and Ansberry (2012) confirm this, stating "studies have shown gains in literacy as well as science achievement in programs that blend science and literacy instruction" (p. 6).

Many thematic poetry collections are devoted to science-related subjects, such as animals, weather, seasons, and space (see NSTA Connection for a list of recommended titles). The annual list of Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 typically includes one or two new books of science-themed poetry every year (see Internet Resources). As we consider the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), we can explore how poetry might work alongside other texts and experiences to help students understand what the Standards describe as our "technology-rich and scientifically complex world" (NGSS Lead States 2013). Akerson (2002) reminds us that the "use of language arts to promote literacy and support learning in other content areas is (also) recommended and encouraged by the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)" (p. 22).

Sharing Science Poetry

How can we share science poetry with young people while incorporating NGSS skills and still maintain the joy and pleasure of poetry? In the Poetry Friday Anthology series, the phrase "Take 5" from the great jazz musician Dave Brubeck was applied to taking time for poetry every Friday to introduce and share a poem. The "Take 5" approach is based on a constructivist model of learning and encourages engagement and exploration in particular. The latest in the series, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Science (Vardell and Wong 2014) focuses exclusively on poems rich in science content and includes a poem a week for the whole school year for every grade level K-5 on topics ranging from lab safety to famous scientists to exploring force, motion, and energy. "Take 5" activities are provided for every poem at every grade level tied to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) while also incorporating the literacy skills identified in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

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Observe Explain Connect: An Interdisciplinary Lesson Using Poetry and Science Highlights the Parallels of the Disciplines While Developing Literacy
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