Academic journal article Science and Children

How Much Do You Trash? an Interdisciplinary Project-Based Unit for Fifth and Sixth Graders

Academic journal article Science and Children

How Much Do You Trash? an Interdisciplinary Project-Based Unit for Fifth and Sixth Graders

Article excerpt

A classroom discussion started after a student noticed three days of accumulated trash in the wastebasket and exclaimed, "Wow, look at the trash! If it keeps piling up like this, it will soon be everywhere!" His statement motivated our class to research about the trash, or solid waste, we create and what can we do about it. The project-based learning (PBL) unit shared in this article allows students to learn about solid waste management, actively construct their ideas, and collaboratively engage in tasks that emphasize the connection of science and mathematical knowledge.

Over the past two decades, several initiatives have been implemented nationally and internationally that directly focus on reforming mathematics and science teaching. These initiatives are supported by reform documents (AAAS 1993; NCTM 2000; NRC 2012) that emphasize the importance of understanding science and mathematics content and finding ways to engage students productively in the disciplines. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), now in development, are based on A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (NRC 2012). The Framework highlights the power of integrating science knowledge and abilities with the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design. One of the science and engineering practices specifically focuses on using mathematics and computational thinking in solving scientific problems and addressing major challenges that confront society today, as well as helping students "to be critical consumers of scientific information related to their everyday lives, and to continue to learn about science throughout their lives" (p. 9).

Our PBL unit helps students understand the important environmental issue of solid waste management by engaging them in science and math concepts and challenges them to develop solutions for addressing this issue, as the Framework expects.

What Is Project-Based Learning?

PBL focuses on inquiry and opportunities to connect different content areas in meaningful ways. We used Markham, Larmer, and Ravitz's (2003) definition of PBL, "a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning knowledge and skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks" (p. 4). Students are presented with a driving question, or a realistic problem at the beginning of a unit, and the curriculum is guided by the need to answer the problem (Figure 1). Thus, PBL is a sustained learning experience and instruction is integrated for when students need that information (Colley 2008). Our interdisciplinary unit attempts to have students answer the driving question: "How does the solid waste I create affect my community?"

Engaging Students in an Interdisciplinary Approach

Our unit engages students in science concepts such as solid waste, recyclables and nonrecyclables, and reducing solid waste, as well as math concepts such as graphing, bivariate data, ratio and rate reasoning, understanding algebraic expressions, and equations. Integrating several content areas into instruction provide opportunities for students to make connections to concepts that they readily may not have made without an interdisciplinary approach (AAAS 1993). Doing so provides opportunities for students to use practices such as observing, planning, inferring, comparing and contrasting, and communicating. This PBL unit attempts to integrate science and math concepts and help students to improve their problem-solving skills, develop strong knowledge schema, and also learn math and science concepts through a context.

"How Does the Solid Waste I Create Affect my Community?"

This solid waste management unit was taught to fifth-and sixth-grade students. The unit spread over six weeks, and two hours every week were spent discussing and researching an answer to the driving question: How does the solid waste I create affect my community? …

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