Stretching Beyond Science Standards with Interdisciplinary Projects

Students answers to essential questions regarding endangered species outside Mrs. Devlin’s classroom.

I’ve become a broken record over the past few months responding to colleagues questions, concerns, and frustrations around the pressure to do more and more around math and ELA standards in science. “Yes,” I say, “there is more expectation to do more math and writing during science time,” and, “Yes, I support our district’s interdisciplinary vision.”

In many ways, the interdisciplinary approach to elementary classroom curriculum, instruction, and assessment is embodied in the Next Generation Science Standards and what scientists and other professionals are ultimately required to do in the world, use a wide swath of skills across reading, writing, language, mathematics, and scientific practice.

Today I made a trip to Wayland’s Happy Hollow school where PLN all-star and prolific edublogger, Maureen Devlin was winding down the year with her 4th graders. Over the past month, Maureen has shared a number of posts sharing an ambitious goal of intertwining many common core goals in informational reading and writing, speaking and listening, into a unit exploring endangered species ultimately leading to a community service component.

Touring the panda reserve, complete with simulated earthquakes, panda sound effects and a mandarin-speaking guide.

Her students were as wily as one would expect of young adolescents in their last week of school with summer vacation tantalizingly on the horizon. Despite such distractions, four groups shared presentations both entertaining and educational that carried their member’s voices and styles through collaboratively completed research, visual aides, and written scripts. A blog post of student reflections shared by Maureen shows just how much thought, hard work, and valuable learning went into these complete projects.

Burlington educators in a range of grades have made similar efforts over the past year, including common core ELA goals into their pursuit for their students’ scientific literacy. Coincidentally these projects also centered around animals: their characteristics, adaptations, life cycles and so forth.  Francis Wyman’s first graders created classroom iBooks sharing their knowledge around different endangered animals while Maureen Schnee’s science students created iMovie trailers to demonstrate their knowledge around different animal’s characteristics.

I am proud to share these projects on behalf of their teachers. They embody the types of interdisciplinary work we will need to continue to develop, improve, and share with one another as we coach and develop 21st century students, students who will be expected to better interweave oral and written language with media of all kinds to convey their own research, understanding, discoveries, successes and failures.

If you have an interdisciplinary unit or lesson you would like to share or have included in a future post please share! I am always looking for great student (and educator!) work to highlight and model.

About Sean Musselman

Teacher Dad and Burlington MA Schools K-5 Science and Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator. NSTA Professional Development facilitator and author of "Think Like a Scientist: Investigating Weather and Climate" NSTA Kids ebook.
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1 Response to Stretching Beyond Science Standards with Interdisciplinary Projects

  1. Hi Sean, Thank you for featuring our project. I am so delighted to share this learning with you, and look forward to visiting Burlington in the fall to see some of the wonderful interdisciplinary projects teachers are doing there. Though like my students, I'm anxious to start summer vacation, it's clear that a thorough read of the new science standards is a requirement if I want to move forward with this kind of teaching in the new year. Thanks again for your consult, interest, and ideas.

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