A Perspective on Teaching Integrated Science

By Druger, Marvin | Technos: Quarterly for Education and Technology, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

A Perspective on Teaching Integrated Science


Druger, Marvin, Technos: Quarterly for Education and Technology


HOW CAN WE GET STUDENTS EXCITED ABOUT SCIENCE? THIS LONGTIME SCIENCE PROFESSOR ESPOUSES INTEGRATED SCIENCE AND EMPHASIZES THE NEED FOR INTEGRATIVE CONCEPTUAL THEMES, CHANGES IN SCIENCE TEACHER PREPARATION, AND A FOCUS ON STUDENT MOTIVATION AND ACTIVE STUDENT INVOLVEMENT IN LEARNING.

Most science educators would agree that it is highly desirable for students to have basic knowledge in all the major scientific disciplines, such as biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science. In the United States, we generally teach earth science in ninth grade, biology in tenth grade, chemistry in eleventh grade and physics in twelfth grade. Educators talk a lot about the importance of emphasizing the relations among these disciplines, but this seems to be very difficult to achieve. In my experience, students do not seem to recognize the connections among the sciences. Indeed, at the college level, many students probably enroll in my introductory general biology course because they wish to avoid taking chemistry, physics, or earth science to fulfill a science requirement.

THE GENERAL SCIENCE FRAMEWORK

The traditional separation of the disciplines in high school and beyond leaves pre-school through the ninth grade as the opportunistic years for teaching integrated science. Middle school through junior high school has been a focal point for such formal integration, presented in the past as "General Science." In the first half of the 20th Century, the concept of general science as the first course in high school grew in popularity. The general science course served as an orientation for students who planned to leave school and for students who intended to do further studies in science. In a book published in 1936, the author states: "As has been the case since its inception, the general science course is taught as though it were to be the last opportunity open to pupils to view this field, its problems are still selected from the pupil's immediate environment, and no account is taken of division between the sciences. The student, not the subject, is the main concern."

And further: "Thus, in determining what it means to a community to have an adequate water supply, the class may one day be studying dams and pressure; another, topography and watersheds; another, pumps, standpipes and gravity distribution; another, safeguarding against pollution; and still another, methods of purification. Before the students have completed the topic, they have touched upon the realms of physiography, biology, physics, and chemistry."

It is interesting to note that the conceptual framework of general science was prevalent in the first part of the 20th Century. This framework seems to make sense today, but it is difficult to implement. It seems that many of the conceptual frameworks of the past have been resurrected in modified form, with new names, as tenets of modern reform.

IDENTIFYING OBSTACLES

What are the major obstacles to teaching integrated science? First, many schools seemed to be locked into new standards and curriculum frameworks. Although standards are important, they may inhibit innovative ideas. We do not have "the" answers in education. Yet, adhering to state and national standards seems essential for obtaining funding for educational projects. I believe it is important to develop and promote standards, but we also need to leave room for innovative approaches. Granting agencies should identify such approaches, help shape the ideas, fund them, and assess the outcomes. Innovative, non-conformist approaches to teaching integrated science may prove to be very valuable for promoting science learning.

We also seem to be locked into the "layer-cake" approach to science in the schools: expecting students to complete earth science, biology, chemistry, and physics in successive grade levels. Major reform projects that deviate from tradition are difficult to implement. An attempt to break the layer-cake mode was conceived by Bill Aldridge in 1992, while he was executive director of the National Science Teachers Association. …

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