Academic journal article Science Scope

See Less Sea-Less Seagulls: Planning for an Interdisciplinary STEM Unit

Academic journal article Science Scope

See Less Sea-Less Seagulls: Planning for an Interdisciplinary STEM Unit

Article excerpt

The Common Core State Standards (NGAC and CCSSO 2010) continue a long tradition of focusing on English literacy and mathematics understanding for K-12 students. But the Common Core has broken new ground by recommending that literacy in science and technical subjects be included in the English language arts curriculum. This has inspired a wealth of innovation from teachers who stepped out of their personal comfort zones to purposefully design crosscurricular lessons that incorporate integrative science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) literacy. Integrative STEM literacy is the ability to incorporate the practices and content knowledge from engineering, technology, mathematics, and science to solve real-world problems in novel ways or to elicit answers that cannot be constructed by application of the individual disciplines alone (Sanders and Wells 2010). Instruction designed to teach integrative STEM literacy ensures students can positively direct their world by evaluating and synthesizing information with the intent of creating something new. It avoids the "mile wide and an inch deep" curriculum of the past (NGAC and CCSSO 2010).

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For teachers in the classroom, big ideas and lofty descriptions often lack practical methods for how to design integrative STEM lessons and units that could captivate students and transcend classroom walls. Additionally, an integrative unit requires input and ideas from many teachers. Motivating teachers to take this challenge and finding time to implement it are the initial obstacles. A yearlong project at our small school actually began as a challenge from an administrator to create one integrated STEM unit. Fortunately, several of the teachers involved had prior knowledge and experience with STEM, so they served as leaders and recruited others to join the project. The team of teachers met for several professional development days and mapped out a problem-based theme meant to influence instruction for the entire upcoming school year. Planning was loosely based on principles of project-based learning, such as those put forth by John Larmer and John R. Mergendoller (2010) that include a need to know, a driving question, student voice and choice, 21st-century skills, inquiry and innovation, feedback and revision, and a publicly presented product. Teachers also decided that the STEM lessons and activities would put new life into the existing curriculum, replacing and refocusing select lessons, rather than being applied on top of everything already done.

A need to know and a local driving question

Seventh-grade science is focused on life science, which includes the study of ecosystems and how humans impact the environment. This can be a challenging area in which to incorporate engineering and technology concepts at the middle school level. When planning started for the STEM unit, teachers planned to use ecology as the theme. Because ecology involves the study of the world around students, it can be very engaging, and it can lead to an examination of local problems that may further draw students' interest into the STEM challenge. A mountain of trash growing in the local skyline provided the inspiration.

Connecting to the Next Generation Science Standards
(NGSS Lead States 2013)

Standard
MS-LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
www.nextgenscience.org/msls2-ecosystems-interactions-energy-dynamics

Performance Expectations
The materials, lessons, and activities outlined in this article are
just one step toward reaching the performance expectation listed below.
MS-LS2-1. Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the
effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of
organisms in an ecosystem.
MS-LS2-5. Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining
biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Dimension     Name or NGSS
              code/citation                Matching student task
                                           or question taken directly
                                           from the activity
Science and   Obtaining, Evaluating,
              and Communicating            Students proposed a use
                                           for the brownfield,
Engineering
Practices     Information                  created scale models of
                                           their proposed use,
                                           gave oral presentations
                                           about it and created a
                                           brochure explaining how
                                           their design addressed the
                                           challenges of the project. … 
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