“Class, open your science textbooks to page 137. Read the rest of the chapter and answer the questions at the end. We will then discuss the life of the prairie vole,” says the teacher.
A chorus of groans comes from the class as they comply. Not too long ago, this is how classrooms worked. Children read textbooks, answered questions, did worksheets, and teachers lectured. In many schools now, however, things are different.
Many schools are using an integrated curriculum.
An integrated curriculum “Cuts across subject matter lines, bringing together various aspects of the curriculum into meaningful associations to focus upon broad areas of study. It reflects the interdependent real world and involves learner’s body, thoughts, feelings, senses and intuition in learning experiences that unify knowledge and provide a greater understanding than that which could be obtained by examining the parts separately” (Walker, 1996).
The concept of an integrated curriculum is not a new idea. As early as 1918, “Kilpatrick elaborated a project method,’ in which education proceeded from the interest of the students rather than from disciplined subject matter” (Walker, 1996).
“Children are seekers of meaning. No sooner do the learn how to talk than the begin asking questions” (American Educator, 1992). The questions asked by children aren’t broken down into nice neat categories. You do not see a child consult a schedule and think that at 9:00 ask about spelling, at 10:30 find out why the sky is blue and how fish breathe under water, and at 12:00 learn the multiplication tables. No, children question anything and everything. To them, all these little pieces of information they are seeking are interconnected. A child may start out questioning one thing, and at the end of the explanation, come up with another question that for us is out in left field; but to the child, everything is all connected. This is how learning in the classroom should occur. “Implementing interdisciplinary curriculum units help children acquire targeted concepts and skills of various disciplines more effectively” (Jacobs, 1991).
An integrated curriculum is probably the most effective way for students to learn. Many schools are changing from the more traditional based curriculum with basal readers and text books to a more integrated approach. It is not a change that is made overnight however. A teacher can’t wake up one morning and say “Starting today, I only teach using an integrated curriculum.” It does require some planning and thought. “Educators recognize that change is difficult and takes considerable time” (Piazza, Scott, &Carver, 1994). A teacher’s best resource is other teachers. Marilyn Burns, an educator with more than 20 years of teaching experience believed that writing and math were at opposite ends of the academic spectrum. Now, she cannot imagine teaching math without making writing a part of it. “I’ve found that writing in math class has two major benefits. It supports students’ learning because, in order to get their ideas on paper, children must organize, clarify, and reflect on their thinking. Writing also benefits teachers because students’ papers are invaluable assessment resources” (Burns, 1995). Perlmutter, Bloom and Burrell state that “traditional math instruction with drills, flash cards and work sheets may, in fact, lead to math anxiety” (1993). They instead suggest that for children to enjoy mathematics, they must “literally reinvent it through their own daily explorations and with number games.”
Science can also be integrated into the curriculum with very little difficulty by combining it with literature. Imagine a third or fourth grader struggling to make sense of a traditional science book. They may have very little prior knowledge of the subject matter, or, they may not be interested in the subject matter. By using literature to introduce a concept, the students may be able get a firmer grasp on the subject matter. “Where an expository text may present an unfamiliar science concept, a story book can couch that science concept in a fictional setting that is familiar to the reader” (Moser, 1994). From there, the teacher can provide hands on learning experiences for the class. Bower (1993) states that “My students’ fascination with the plants, animals and scientific materials I keep in the classroom inspires them to write everything from daily observation logs to stories based on real or imagined events (such as snakes escaping from cages or hermit crabs moving to new shells.”
It is time to change from a skills based classroom to a hands on integrated classroom. The ideas are out there, and it can be done. Any initial work that occurs due to a changeover to an integrated curriculum is well worth it. Educators may not receive payment in the form of a check. Instead, payment will come from the children as their desire to learn increases.
Bower, Paula Rogovin. (1993). Science +writing=super learning. Learning, v21 n6 44,46-47.
Burns, Marilyn. (April, 1995). Writing in math class? Absolutely! Instructor, v101 n7 40-47.
Foster, Andrea. (1991). Connect your curriculum. Instructor, v101 n2 24-27, 32.
Jacobs, Heidi Hayes. (1991). The integrated curriculum. Instructor, v101 n2 22-23.
Moser, Sandra. (1994). Using storybooks to teach science themes. Reading Horizons, v35 n2 138-150.
Perlmutter, Jane C., Bloom, Lisa and Burrell, Louise. (1993). Whole math through investigation. Childhood Education, 20-24.
Piazza, Jenny A., Scott, Margaret M., and Carver, Elizabeth C. (1994). Arithmetic Teacher, v41 n6 294-298.
Walker, Dean. Integrative education. (January, 1996). ERIC Document Number ED390112.
What should be elementary students be doing? (Fall, 1992). American Educator. 18-22, 42-45.