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The Art of Teaching Science - excerpt from Chapter 9

Grady Venville
Vaille Dawson
The Art of Science Teaching

Chapter 9: Integration of Science with Other Learning Areas

Grady Venville

Outcomes – By the end of this chapter you will be able to:

  1. Describe several different approaches to curriculum integration
  2. Debate the advantages and disadvantages of curriculum integration
  3. Explain the particular issues that curriculum integration brings to teachers of science, and how these issues can be addressed

 

Introduction

The curricula in most formal educational systems throughout the modern world are divided into separate and distinct subjects or disciplines, like science, mathematics, English and social science. Many educators argue, however, that the disciplines limit students’ learning to narrow aspects of content knowledge and do not allow for real-world investigations and learning of issues of interest to adolescents. In Australia, the national statements and profiles and all the state curricula are divided into eight discipline-based learning areas. Most of these documents, however, encourage some form of integration that enables students to make connections between ideas, people and other things and encourages them to see the various forms of knowledge as related and forming part of a larger whole. This creates what seems to be a curriculum conundrum, particularly for secondary teachers who are trained as subject specialists. Do teachers aim for balance when they teach, allowing students to draw on information and investigate topics of interest to them from a wide range of worldly, integrated knowledge? Or should teachers focus within one subject, encouraging specialisation, depth of content knowledge and integrity to the conventions of their discipline, such as the scientific method. The purpose of this chapter is to explore this curriculum conundrum, to examine the broad spectrum of ways that curriculum integration has been implemented in different school settings in Australia, to consider some of the challenges that curriculum integration presents, particularly for science teachers, and to consider potential ways forward.

 

Defining Curriculum Integration

What is an integrated curriculum? This is not an easy question to answer because there is considerable diversity in the approaches to curriculum that teachers consider integrated. Many of these approaches are described in the next section. However, there are several features that integrated curricula have in comparison with more traditional discipline-based curricula. These features are outlined in Table 9.1 in order to give some indication of what an integrated curriculum tends to look like. It is important to note that these features are not necessarily present in all integrated or all discipline-based curricula, they are simply noted here as an indication of the general tendencies of these approaches.

Table 9.1: Features of an integrated curriculum compared with a traditional discipline-based curriculum.

 

Integrated Curriculum

 

 

Traditional, Discipline-based Curriculum

 

Content determined by outcomes desired and interests of students and teachers

 

Content determined by discipline-based knowledge

 

Curriculum is often in the form of projects and investigations that draw on several disciplines as sources of knowledge

 

Well defined, distinct subjects form the basis of the curriculum

 

School timetable is flexible and blocked into large timeslots where students have to manage their own time

 

School timetable is strictly determined by subjects studied and often inflexible

 

Often taught by teams of teachers, specialists and generalists

 

Taught by discipline specialist teachers

 

Tendency to student-centred teaching strategies

 

Tendency to teacher-centred teaching strategies

 

High levels of interaction between students and students and teacher

 

Focus often on individual work and learning

 

Strong associations often formed with workplace, environments and people outside the school

 

Associations with environments outside the institution not often encouraged

 

Various forms of authentic assessment of the learning process collated through portfolios

 

 

Assessment often pencil and paper tests of instrumental understanding

 

Examples of curriculum integration

Education journals and textbooks are full of descriptive examples of projects that fall under the broad umbrella of curriculum integration and the term integration is used in myriad ways. The breadth of examples is what makes integration interesting and applicable to a variety of contexts. There are deliberate and explicit attempts to integrate by teachers, for example, thematic approaches like ‘The Olympics’ and ‘The Environment’ or cross-curricular approaches such as numeracy, literacy and computing skills. Assessment tasks called ‘Rich Tasks’ associated with the Queensland New Basics Curriculum are explicitly integrated and require students to produce high-quality work that is not the province of any one subject. There also are more incidental and informal efforts to integrate like competitions such as the Science Talent Search that provides excellent opportunities for integration between science, mathematics and technology. Local community projects are an incidental form of integration. For example, one rural school in Victoria worked with their town council to prepare an inventory of local services and another school prepared a pamphlet about a nearby wetlands area including the flora and fauna of the wetlands and poetry, art and maps prepared by students. Other examples of integrated approaches include whole school specialisations. For example, a remote community school in the Northern Territory specialises in horticulture and the school garden is the focal point for the integration of many subjects. A city high school in Perth has a marine studies program that permeates the curriculum. Figure 9.1 provides an overview of the various approaches to integration that may be found in Australian schools.

 

Key Learning Areas

Science

Subject Headings

Science teaching
Curriculum planning