Academic journal article Science and Children

A Pattern in the Sky: An Integrated Unit Teaches Second Graders about the Phases of the Moon

Academic journal article Science and Children

A Pattern in the Sky: An Integrated Unit Teaches Second Graders about the Phases of the Moon

Article excerpt

Our school has just finished a two-year expansion, and our beautiful new science lab is perfectly matched to our greatest ambitions. Our science department has been reshaping our curriculum to match our state standards as well as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013), and it has actually been a fun though arduous process. Our primary goal is for students to be constantly challenged to make and test predictions with exciting labs designed to meet the goals of the NGSS.

I began the school year with a second goal: to integrate the science curriculum with the rest of the curriculum, so that what students learned in science would illuminate what they were learning in other classes. In Meeting Standards Through Integrated Curriculum, the authors write, "A popular way to integrate the curriculum is to address a topic or theme through the lenses of several different subject areas" (Drake and Burns 2004).

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) makes even more specific recommendations about integrating curriculum for the Next Generation Science Standards:

K-12 science education should reflect the interconnected nature of science as it is practiced and experienced in the real world. One of the most significant shifts of the NGSS is the recommendation that students engage in science learning at the nexus of three dimensions: science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas. Because many state and district standards address these dimensions separately, it will take a considerable effort to embrace this new vision in the implementation of the NGSS, including instruction, curriculum, assessment, and teacher preparation and professional development. (NSTA 2013)

In order for students to excel in science, science has to be relevant to their lives and part of their entire school experience. The NSTA mission statement offers support for this approach. I wanted students to experience the joy of parallel learning firsthand, but where were the points of integration?

My daughter, a second-grade student at the same school where I teach, provided me with one answer. One day on the way to school, she mentioned that her class was celebrating Rosh Chodesh that morning. She knew that Rosh Chodesh welcomed the new Moon and meant the start of a new lunar month in the Hebrew calendar. I asked if she understood why there was a new Moon, and when she answered, "No," I was delighted. I knew the second grade would study the solar system in their general studies class in January and realized that we could integrate a phases of the Moon science unit across general studies and Judaic studies.

The NGSS crosscutting concepts provided the best way to make sense of these seemingly disparate curricular threads. Crosscutting concepts, the cornerstone of the NGSS, identifies seven critical concepts that invite students to relate science to other disciplines. I focused mainly on the concept of patterns, defined as "observed patterns of forms and events guide organization and classification, (which) prompt questions about relationships and the factors that influence them" (NGSS Lead States 2013, Appendix G, p. 79.) As I developed a crosscutting curriculum, I found ways to include the concepts of cause and effect and stability and change.

Planning the Unit

Since this was a brand new unit for the school, I discussed my idea with our dean of faculty, and we contacted the other teachers in the second grade. In designing the unit, I worked backward from the goals of the unit to the activities, a strategy described in Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe (2005). The result was a four-week Moon extravaganza. We all agreed that adding the phases of the Moon unit would enhance the popular solar system unit the general studies teachers were planning. I wrote a scope and sequence for this unit, designed enduring understandings and objectives, and then identified activities to support student learning (see NSTA Connection). …

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