Integration is Essential

Author: Jennifer Jordan-Kaszuba, Secondary Science Specialist


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Integration of science process skills within the teaching of science concepts is essential for students to truly grasp the nature of science.  Teaching skills or concepts in isolation is no longer a viable option.  Including a beginning of school year unit on science skills in a scope and sequence is no longer a viable option.  Districts need to develop curricula that emphasize true integration of skills and concepts and include inquiry-based investigations.

In the course of visiting schools, I have seen many teachers who structure their year to include a 3-6 week unit at the beginning of the year designed to teach students the nature of science and science process skills.  Teachers will spend days going over how to use equipment and “the scientific method.”  Investigations, when included, are either loosely or not connected to the science content standards for the grade/course.  For example, a biology teacher might have students investigate how mass affects the speed of a cart down a ramp in order to teach them about variables – clearly not a concept taught in biology.

The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), our state adopted standards, require at least 40% of all secondary science courses be devoted to conducting investigations.  When and how these investigations are included in the curriculum are up to the individual district/teacher.  Teachers should strive to include investigations in 40% of each unit rather than front load them or wait until after State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) testing is completed.  Ideally students would be involved in investigations two days out of every five-day week.

Teaching skills in isolation is ineffective, wastes valuable class time, and does not correctly represent the way science is conducted.  Students should be asking questions, investigating, manipulating data, and drawing conclusions, which lead them to the big, concept ideas in science.  For example, students in biology should be investigating antibiotic resistance in bacteria rather than their teachers simply tell them about it.

Teachers who use non-essential concepts to integrate science process skills waste valuable instructional time.  Teachers should instead integrate skills, in a logical progression, throughout the course of the year.  This requires a well-planned scope and sequence for the year where the topics of investigations have been predetermined and aligned to appropriate science skills.

Teaching skills in isolation also fails to correctly represent the way science is done.  Science involves observations, asking questions, designing an investigation, conducting the investigation to collect data, analyzing data, and engaging in scientific argument to reach a conclusion.  Students need to be involved in these same practices so they can appreciate and learn the ways of science.  This will hopefully lead to a greater degree of engagement by students and more students entering scientific disciplines.  And for those who do choose a career in science, they will be better prepared to act as researchers.

Not all students will pursue a career in science, but all students need to learn the skills of persistence and problem solving.  Engaging in inquiry-based investigations with no predetermined, correct outcome will help develop these skills.  Districts need to develop curricula integrating investigations, some of which should be inquiry-based, within the teaching of science concepts.

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