Posts Tagged ‘Science’

Making a Case for Information Literacy

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Author:  Leslie Barrett, Education Specialist: Technology & Library Media Services

Information literacy. What is it? Quite simply, it is the ability to sift through an abundant quantity of information to find what you need to accurately answer a question you have. It is knowing how to refine an information search to get a smaller but more accurate selection of resources to answer your question (i.e., “puma NOT shoes”). And it is knowing when one source (National Geographic) may be more reliable than another source (Bob’s Blog About Cool Science Stuff).

So why does it matter? The information landscape of today’s digital world is changing at incredible rates. According to Gonzalez (2004), the “half-life of knowledge,” or the time between acquiring knowledge and the obsolescence of that knowledge, is shrinking. Effectiveness in today’s workforce requires knowing how to stay current on the most up-to-date information possible. “As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses” (Siemens, 2005). Knowing how to find out is rapidly replacing knowing. Information literacy is knowing how to find out.

We are seeing more and more digital devices being included in classrooms to facilitate the learning process. This creates perfect opportunities to make sure we are integrating information literacy skills into our content area instruction. Fortunately, some common threads of information literacy are already woven into the process standards of the four major content area TEKS. Consider the following TEKS examples:

 ELAR Research Strand

Students are expected to know how to locate a range of relevant sources and evaluate, synthesize, and present ideas and information.

ELAR Figure 19

Students are expected to apply deep comprehension strategies when reading such as:

establish a purpose for reading,

ask questions of the text,

make connections (text to self, text, community),

make inferences and support with text evidence,

summarize, and

monitor and adjust comprehension.

 Social Studies Process Standards

Students are expected to use a problem-solving process to identify a problem, gather information, list and consider options, consider advantages and disadvantages, choose and implement a solution, and evaluate the effectiveness of the solution.

Science Process Standards

In all fields of science, students are expected to analyze, evaluate, and critique scientific explanations by using empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and experimental and observational testing, including examining all sides of scientific evidence of those scientific explanations, so as to encourage critical thinking by the student. In addition, students will evaluate the accuracy of the information related to promotional materials for products and services such as nutritional labels.

Mathematics Process Standards

Students will use a problem-solving model that incorporates analyzing given information, formulating a plan or strategy, determining a solution, justifying the solution, and evaluating the problem-solving process and the reasonableness of the solution.

In creating learning activities around these standards, teachers can incorporate opportunities for students to search the web and databases of scholarly resources to find information to support their content understanding. When Google searches produce information that is inaccurate or too broad, the opportunity exists to teach students ways to refine searches or access more scholarly sources to yield more effective results. With the return of state funded database access through teachers in Texas public schools and open enrollment charter schools will have free/low cost access to digital academic resources to support information literacy integration. Your campus librarian can be a fantastic resource to assist teachers in integrating information literacy skills into instruction, but it is important that information literacy skills integration is occurring regularly in classroom activities and not just on occasional library visits.

As the “basis for lifelong learning” (ACRL, 2000), information literacy is one of the greatest skills we can instill in our students. The increasing availability of technology in our classrooms makes integrating information literacy skills into instruction an attainable goal.



ACRL. (2000). Information literacy competency standards for higher education. Retrieved from

Gonzalez, C. (2004). The role of blended learning in the world of technology. Retrieved from

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. Retrieved from

Three Easy Steps to Teaching Your Students Through the CER Writing Process

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Author: Shawna Wiebusch, Education Specialist, Secondary Science

What can you learn from a ShamWow commercial? As it turns out, a lot!

Image from

The ShamWow Commercial is the perfect “hook” to introduce your students to evidence based argumentation using the C-E-R Method: Claims – Evidence – Reasoning.

Many of our students, especially in middle school, come to us with a mindset that “Science is hard.”  Using a fun, lighthearted, science-lite infomercial to introduce a systematic way of scientific writing eases students into the process.

How does it work? (Not the ShamWow – CER!)  Here’s how I introduced it to my students:

1.  Show this infomercial to your students and have them answer the question “What does Vince want to convince you is true?”

After the infomercial, solicit and record your students’ answers.  Then introduce the term “Claim.” Make the connection that what the announcer wants us to believe about the ShamWow is his claim.

2.  Ask students: “What data does the announcer give to convince you that the ShamWow is as cool as he claims?”

For Example:

  • “Sham wow holds 20 times its weight in liquid”
  • Lasts 10 years and will be cheaper than paper towels over time
  • Will soak up 50%  of wine, coffee, cola out of carpet without pressure

Introduce the term “Evidence” – the facts that are used to convince you that the claim is true.

3.  The final part is to connect the Evidence back to the Claim.

Ask your students “WHY does the Sham wow hold up to 20 times its weight in liquid?”  Tell them about microfibers and ask why something made with microfibers would absorb liquids better.

Ask your students WHY the ShamWow would be a better deal than paper towels over time.

Introduce the term “Reasoning” – the principle behind the evidence.  HOW does the evidence support the claim?   In our science classes, the students need to be able to explain the scientific principle behind the labs and activities they are doing.  This is the reasoning!

These are the basic steps to writing a C-E-R.  Go ahead and try it with your students!  Teach them to argue effectively and with science!  Want to know more and find other good ideas?  Check out our Science Blog and the Region 13 Science page for updates!

Science in the Age of Globalization

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Author: Jennifer Jordan-Kaszuba, Secondary Science Specialist

The world is shrinking, not in the literal sense, but in the sense that increasingly academic endeavors and businesses are global in nature.  Researchers around the world collaborate, sharing techniques, data and conclusions.  Businesses rely on products and services from across the globe and offer their goods internationally.  Technology has sped up the rate at which globalization is occurring.  Part of preparing students for post-secondary success is preparing them for changes globalization brings such as cultural sensitivity, global collaboration and an understanding of the world beyond their hometown.


There are several ways teachers can help prepare students for globalization.

Utilizing Data from the Internet

One of the easiest ways is to incorporate data from around the world.  Examples of data that might be of interest:

  • Climate and weather
  • Seasonal changes
  • Proportion of energy from renewable resources
  • Rate of vaccination compared with incidences of disease
  • Agricultural productivity


Students as Researchers

Students can also become part of collecting data and sharing it internationally.  Several projects exist to help students as researchers, including GLOBE and the World MOON Project.



Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) is a well-established program intended to allow schools to collect and interact with environmental data.  With over 27,000 schools participating, they have a world-wide network of partner schools in 112 countries.  Schools must have a GLOBE-trained teacher in order to register to enter most data. The GLOBE at Night project is very accessible and is a great tool for teaching the nature of science.


World MOON Project (

Students from all over the world are asked to observe the moon and identify patterns to gain a deeper understanding about the moon’s appearance.  Short essays based on student observations are collected by the World MOON (More Observation of Nature) Project. Participants then receive a packet of essays from other parts of the world so students are given both a local and global perspective. Students learn to observe nature firsthand and are engaged in global collaboration.  Teachers may choose to emphasize different aspects of the project to meet own needs of their curriculum standards, and participation in the World MOON Project can emphasize curricular goals in one or more of the following areas:

  • Lunar phases
  • Inquiry skills
  • Nature of science


Students as Collaborators

The most advanced form of global collaboration involves students actively communicating and working with students from another location to complete a project or accomplish a task.  Projects students work on are varied and limited only by the imagination of the students and teachers who are collaborating.  Students may work together to design a robot to walk on Mars, seek better ways to clean water or collaborate on earthquake resistant designs.  Projects of this nature are sometimes provided as structured activities by organizations or can be the brainchild of the teachers involved.  Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds by Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis is one of the most popular books on how to set up and manage a global collaboration project.  Some sources of projects and collaborators include:


Interactive Communications and Simulations at the University of Michigan (

Web-based simulations engage students in global collaboration and problem solving.  Projects are set and space is limited.  Most projects are more social studies based, although their Place Out of Time project for this year is focused on a trial that involves seismologists. In this project students play guests at a trial, take on a famous character from history and debate the issue at hand from the viewpoint of their character.  University students act as mentors or “game masters” for many of the simulations to drive the action and respond to students.  This is available free of charge for one year to new schools.



According to their website, iEARN “enables students and teachers to design and participate in global projects as part of their regular and after-school programs.  All projects align to education standards and use a safe and structured online Collaboration Centre.” (, Projects section)  All projects are designed to answer the question, “How will this project improve the quality of life on the planet?”  Participants come from all over the world and collaborate to make a difference while becoming global citizens.  Registration is required for both teachers and participating students.

iEARN provides already established projects or allows for creation of new projects.  They also provide online discussion forums to meet and discuss potential projects with collaborators around the world.  They also provide a how-to-get-started tutorial that outlines the process and provides a to-do list to find and join a project.  Among the projects listed are some dealing with eradication of malaria, deforestation and the impact of people on a local river.


ePals (!/global-community/)

ePals provides a method for connecting with other teachers who are seeking partners from all over the world.  Their database is searchable by region of the world or country, age level of students, project type, duration, type of collaboration and language, allowing, for example, the user to search for science projects taking place in South America.  Some of the projects currently listed included endangered animals, global warming and endemic diseases.

Teacher participants have the ability to either join someone else’s project or to design their own and seek collaborators.  Online tools including school safe email, blogs for both the project leaders and members, file exchange service, discussion forms, a project wiki and calendar are provided to allow for collaboration.  Also provided are resources such as parental consent forms, guidelines for using collaboration tools and user guides for the project leader.


Global SchoolNet (

Global SchoolNet works toward preparing youth in a global economy through content-driven collaboration.  They strive to build teamwork, civic responsibility, workforce preparedness and multi-cultural understanding within participants.  Registration is required and they have 30 current projects including projects on ecosystems, seasonal changes, and space base building.  Services are offered free of charge.  The site includes a registry of more than 3,000 annotated listings to assist users in finding collaborators.

In addition to the current projects which can be joined, participants are able to submit projects for inclusion on the website.  This site provides a potential source of collaborators and a mechanism for advertising projects.


This list of resources is by no means exhaustive. However, it provides a good start for teachers wanting to foster student global collaboration and development of 21st century skills.

The Genius of Genius Hour

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Author:  Leslie Barrett, Specialist:  Technology & Library Media Services

Image courtesy of


Genius Hour is an education trend that is getting a considerable amount of buzz lately.  It is a concept inspired by Google’s 20 percent time, a policy that affords Google engineers 20 percent of their work time (one day per week) to pursue “passion projects” related to their official job duties.  This encouragement of choice and innovation has resulted in the development of many of Google’s products, including Gmail and Google News.

Translated to a classroom setting, Genius Hour is a small chunk of time – the hour part is arbitrary – where students are allowed to investigate any topic of their choice.  While the topic does not have to be related to any specific content area, there are guidelines and checkpoints that teachers and students should adhere to in order to maximize the educational benefit of the experience.

While student choice is key, topics must be presented to and approved by the teacher.  This helps provide structure for students in crafting a topic that will result in deep exploration, and not just questions that can be answered by a quick Google search.  It also sets the tone that although this project will be fun, there are still expectations around topic acceptability and student learning.

Students are expected to present their investigation findings at the conclusion of their research.  This accountability piece communicates that Genius Hour projects are not just goof-off free time, but a project to be taken seriously.  Additionally, presentations give students experience communicating to an audience and designing a presentation with an authentic audience in mind.  It also creates a platform to inspire new ideas and thinking about future projects among classmates.

Genius Hour project timeframes can vary based on individual teachers’ schedules.  Some teachers choose to do projects with prescribed timeframes (i.e., a 6 week cycle), while other teachers find it better to allow each individual project to conclude naturally.  Even the “hour” designation of Genius Hour is just a suggestion.  Some teachers, particularly secondary teachers who are subject to finite class periods, allow one class period a week to be devoted to Genius Hour projects.  Some teachers incorporate Genius Hour time as part of daily activity options when students are finished with their assigned class work.  Other teachers, particularly at the elementary level, may choose to implement Genius Hour in lieu of Fun Friday activities that have little academic value.  The key is to mold the idea to what works in individual classrooms.

A key component of Genius Hour projects is regular teacher-student check in conferences.  This is how teachers help students stay on track, and how they can address misconceptions or guide learning.  Teachers can offer mini workshops during Genius Hour time to help groups of students who are struggling with similar issues.

Through the course of Genius Hour topic exploration, students are developing a myriad of skills in an authentic, student-directed learning environment.  The most obvious is information fluency.  Students are driven by a need to locate accurate and reliable information about a topic that is meaningful to them.  Students will need to organize and summarize the information they are locating, and it’s a perfect platform to reinforce the digital citizenship skills of avoiding plagiarism, fair use, giving attribution and citing sources.  While investigating information students are naturally applying the reading and writing skills being taught in the content areas.  As they learn more about specific topics of interest they are expanding and internalizing content knowledge in various areas.  In preparation for their final product students are synthesizing the information they have uncovered and reassembling it in a new and creative way to showcase new understanding.

With so many educational advantages, it’s easy to see why many teachers are making room for students to explore their passions through Genius Hour activities.  To learn more please access the following links:

Eight Pillars of Innovation by Susan Wojcicki, Google Think Insights

The Google Way:  Give Engineers Room by Bharat Mediratta, NY Times Job Market

Integration is Essential

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Author: Jennifer Jordan-Kaszuba, Secondary Science Specialist


Image courtesy of

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.

Instructional Materials Selection & Adoption

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Author: Jennifer Jordan-Kaszuba, Education Specialist



During the 2013-2014 school year districts will be selecting instructional materials for K-5 Math, K-12 Science and K-12 Technology Applications.  This selection is different than adoptions in the past in that districts will purchase materials they select using their Instructional Materials Allotment (IMA).  The State Board of Education (SBOE) is scheduled to release their list of materials in November of 2013.  To qualify for the list, materials must align to at least 50% of the TEKS for the subject/grade level/course that they represent. Materials under consideration for state level adoption may be print, electronic or a hybrid of both.



Gone are the days where a textbook system covering 100% of the TEKS, complete with ancillaries and more, was selected without thought to cost (as long as it qualified for the list), and books for every student showed up in August.  Instead, districts must now weigh the cost, quantity and TEKS coverage of all materials and make hard choices about which materials to purchase.   Districts will need to, if they haven’t already, form a committee to prioritize spending of the IMA.


Committees face the daunting task of deciding which courses and grade levels receive new materials: both to what extent as well as what internal preview processes and systems need to exist. District technology staff must also work with the committee to make sure any online materials will work with the district’s infrastructure. Math has new K-8 standards taking effect in 2014-2015. Science has new standards that were adopted in 2010 for which no long-term materials were adopted.  Technology Applications TEKS are also new and require updated materials.  More materials were submitted to the SBOE for consideration than ever before, with 50+ submissions for 8th grade science alone.  These considerations are in addition to the normal questions regarding quality, ease of use and suitability of materials for students groups with regards to differentiation.


Materials Preview

Districts should be actively reviewing materials as soon as possible.  ESC Region 13 hosts free ongoing preview opportunities on alternating Wednesdays during regular service center hours of operation.  District personnel may preview materials only – no vendors or publishers are present.  Pre-registration is required and space is limited for these sessions. For more information about dates and registration, click here.


We will also be hosting three days of Instructional Materials Preview where vendors will be present to exhibit their materials and answer questions.  These free sessions will be done in an exhibit hall format and you are welcome to come and go throughout the day.  Pre-registration is not required but on-site sign-in is requested. (Register now.)


January 7, 2014         K-5 Math and Science (SP1425307)

January 8, 2014         6-8 Math and 6-12 Science (SP1428091)

February 21, 2014    K-12 Technology Applications (SP1428092)


Information about Proclamation 2014 and the SBOE process is available online from TEA.


Information about the Instructional Materials Allotment is available online from TEA.

Teaching Science through Gallery Walks

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Author:  Kristen Hillert, Secondary Science Specialist

As the school year gets under way and the honeymoon phase starts to fade, the importance of integrating new, exciting strategies becomes more and more important.  Integrating purposeful movement and conversations within the class period increase student engagement.

Gallery Walks can be used in all content areas as a way for students to see each others’ work and possibly evaluate it.  (See the Gallery Walk in action here:

But have you tried using Gallery Walks within the 5E Model as an Explore or Explain activity?  Allow the observations that students make be data that is then analyzed to form conclusions.


Gallery Walk:  5th grade Science example

TEKS: (10) Organisms and environments. The student knows that organisms undergo similar life processes and have structures that help them survive within their environments. The student is expected to:

(C) describe the differences between complete and incomplete metamorphosis of insects.

SET UP:  Each station has a picture of the life cycle of an insect.  There should be at least three examples of incomplete metamorphosis and three examples of complete metamorphosis.  However, the posters should not be labeled as “complete” or “incomplete.” This is something students will discover.

ACTIVITY:  Students rotate between stations and record characteristics of each life cycle including the stages of development.

DEBRIEF:  Students are told that all the organisms they observed can be classified into two types of life cycles and then are given time to sort their observations into two groups.  Students need to explain how they formed the groups.  The teacher then explains the word metamorphosis and introduces the phrases “complete metamorphosis” and “incomplete metamorphosis” and encourages the students to determine which label best fits each group of organisms.


Gallery Walk: 7th grade Science example

TEKS: (6) Matter and energy. The student knows that matter has physical and chemical properties and can undergo physical and chemical changes. The student is expected to:

(A) identify that organic compounds contain carbon and other elements such as hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, nitrogen, or sulfur;

SET UP: Each station has a picture of an organic compound with the formula of the compound beneath it.  There is also a periodic table next to the picture that shows elements of the formula highlighted.

ACTIVITY:  Students record the examples of organic compounds and the elements in them at each station.

DEBRIEF: Teacher facilitates a discussion to help students discover the pattern of what organic compounds have in common and what is different between them.


Gallery Walk:  Chemistry example

TEKS: (7) Science concepts. The student knows how atoms form ionic, metallic, and covalent bonds. The student is expected to:

(B) construct electron dot formulas to illustrate ionic and covalent bonds

SET UP:  Round 1 – Each station has a picture of a simple Lewis Dot Structure for a Covalent Compound with bonds represented by dots.  The dots and element symbols are color coded.

Round 2 – Each station has an additional picture added to it that shows the same covalent compound but with lines to represent bonds instead of dots.

Round 3 – New stations are added with pictures of Lewis Dot Structures for Ionic Compounds.  The dots are color coded with the element symbols.

ACTIVITY:  Students rotate between the stations recording observations using the “I notice…” and “I wonder…” sentence stems on sticky notes and leaving them around the posters.

DEBRIEF:  Teacher organizes students’ observations and reads them to the group.  The observations form the foundation for the introduction to Lewis Dot Structures, how they are drawn, what they represent and how ionic and covalent compounds are represented differently.


  • To learn more about this strategy and other engaging ways to allow students to construct their knowledge of chemistry, join us Wednesday,  September 25, 2013 for the workshop:

Targeting the TEKS in High School Science – Chemistry: Chemical Formulas, Bonding and VSEPR (FA1327062). Register at

Exploring Integration in Elementary Curriculum, Part 4

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Author:  Lori Reemts, Education Specialist: Elementary Generalist


As this series on exploring integration winds down, it is a great time to recap three major areas as well as add a few closing remarks addressing the question “So now what?”  Thinking back to the first installment , we began by creating a common working definition of integration and what that can and cannot mean in terms of classroom instruction. We all want it; we all feel we need it if for no other reason than to address time constraints, but we aren’t all in agreement of what “it” even is.  When considering the three areas of curriculum (written, taught and assessed) the greatest opportunity for true integration can be found within the taught curriculum. What happens in the classroom is key.  Even with the most beautifully written curriculum, connections and true integration simply cannot take place until what is written comes to life through purposeful instruction.  Instructional integration provides the points of intersection, the rich discussion and the multiple opportunities to use knowledge and skill throughout the entire learning day.


The second installment then shifted our focus to defining some of the opportunities found within the standards.  Direct (explicit) Support and taking advantage of Purposeful Awareness during instruction provides students more than one discrete opportunity to experience something and often provides multiple contexts in which to do so.  Examples of direct support, such as concepts found within the Social Studies Geography strands and the Science Earth Science strands, can be found throughout all of our standards.  Keeping vocabulary and concepts alive through various contexts is a major benefit of using Purposeful Awareness.  This can be seen, for example, with the term “consumer.” Though the foundational concept is the same, the application within a science lesson on organisms and environments is slightly different than that of a social studies economics lesson.  Knowing and referring to the standards as the starting point of any lesson design is the best way to take full advantage of these two techniques.


The third installment highlighted transferrable skills.  Our standards are full of skills that we hope each of our students develop and utilize to be successful in whatever path they take. In essence, these “transferrable skills” comprise the core of we are told to highlight on our professional resumes and the like.  However, it seems they can become lost in all of the standards and even more so when the learning day is segmented.  By identifying these skills across content areas we can better teach them, practice them and help students become aware that they are indeed using them.  The skills themselves are important as they are where that added layer of rigor and application come from, but they also serve as vehicles to obtain the very content knowledge we need students to comprehend within each discipline.


Finally, the question “So now what?” comes to mind.  We are now set to take the first steps in the journey to transform and integrate our instruction through these points of intersection but…just what do we do when armed with this information now?  Over time this type of thinking and approach can become quite second nature, but it takes quite a bit of purpose at first. If we do not plan for the connection, the question, the link, the use of vocabulary in another context and the relationship between the standards, they simple do not occur. The frantic pace of the day, the fire drill, the lack of sleep or the unexpected question or result can derail the best of intentions.  Once a point, or multiple points of intersection, has occurred there are decisions that must be made.  Is this the best place to start at this time? Do I have a resource to do this? What do I need to gather?  Is there someone, such as our librarian, who can assist me?  Take the thinking and begin linking it to the tangibles that exist and can exist within a classroom lesson, discussion, and experience.  Be purposeful. Start realistically for yourself.  Manageable pieces lead to a much more satisfying and organic end result.  Begin with just two content areas or one or two skill areas.  Perhaps even begin with one content area finding points of intersection WITHIN that given content. How does this unit connect to the unit we did 6 weeks ago?  Engage in this thinking with your students and don’t be afraid to think out loud or let them do so before it is time to “answer.”  Knowing that there is more time spent up front, it is important to keep the end in mind and realize that the time will be made up two or three times over in the long run, not to mention it is what is best for learning.


Interested in a more detailed discussion or information?  Contact Lori Reemts, Elementary Generalist.

Exploring Integration in Elementary Curriculum, Part 3

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Author: Lori Reemts, Education Specialist: Elementary Generalist


In the first two installments, this series visited integration by creating a working definition and common language to guide the reader through the series with the intended understanding.  Descriptions and examples were given to identify both Direct (Explicit) Support and Purposeful Awareness.  These prove to be excellent starting points when seeking points of intersection between disciplines.  This article, now the third in the series, promises to explore the idea of skill building.

As educators we long for our students to be able to apply thinking and learning across and within content areas. We provide experiences within each content area and hope for the moment when the light bulb shines brightly signaling the student experienced some sort of revelation or connection.  We hope that our students continue to build crucial skills in order to be successful not only within their school career but also, more importantly, as adults with knowledge and skills that merge seamlessly enabling them to gain new insight, solve a problem, or make an informed decision.   These areas of success come from the application of transferrable skills rather than any spelling list or set of facts about a science concept.  These transferrable skills are both our hope and joy and our nemesis as educators because these can prove to be quite difficult to identify, teach, and foster within our students.  The new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) employ such skills to the extent possible through a multiple choice format.  Students must be able to access information previously learned and situations previously experienced and apply this learning to new and novel situations.  These exams are designed to assess a variety of skills along with content specific knowledge.

We have become quite adept at identifying various examples, vocabulary lists, strategies, and techniques within different content areas assessed through STAAR but not as adept in the skill areas assessed through STAAR, not to mention those content areas not assessed through the state program.  The very thing we long for most in our students – the development of real skills – sometimes falls by the wayside if for no other reason than because they are more difficult to identify and teach.  These skills can be found within most any student expectation by reading the verb but this is often still singularly associated with a particular content-focused student expectation.  Every discipline, including Health and Technology Applications, has a focus on skills built within it. It is in our best interest, and more importantly our students’ best interest, to focus on these sets of skills. By learning, practicing, and applying these skill sets students are then far more equipped to access the very content we are struggling to get them to remember and apply.

One example is related to data. Students are bombarded with input on a daily basis; much of which is subconsciously stored for later.  However, there are also times when we purposefully seek data.  There are many reasons that a person may need to gather some information, evaluate the source and the information, manage the information, and somehow make sense of it in order to follow this acquisition with application of some form or fashion, such as planning, communicating, or making an informed and thoughtful decision. Consider the following student expectations:



These skills found within each of the content areas all deal with data collection / information management. In total, there are at least 23 Student Expectations between these 6 areas of study that relate directly to the skills of obtaining data, evaluating the source and the data itself, and somehow managing the information. While the context is different because of the different disciplines, the core skill remains intact.


Just as using Direct (explicit) Support and Purposeful Awareness can serve as starting points to locate potential points of intersection, so can a skill set.  By unifying “how” students work within different contexts throughout the day, a classroom teacher can actually capitalize on the potential to connect through skills.  Students not only have more practice on the identified and planned-for skill, but also they are able to see it in a variety of situations, identify what they are doing, and use the skill to make connections within and across content areas.


Take a moment to look through the Student Expectations for each content area and you will see skill sets that naturally merge with skills sets from other content areas. They essentially group themselves into manageable categories making at least the identification of these thinking skills far more obvious than they would be as they exist separately.   After a scan, you will see skills related to:

  • Planning & Development; Problem-Solving & Decision-Making
  • Tools and Technology, including text features
  • Data Collection and Information Management
  • Analysis, Inference, Justification, and Making Conclusions
  • Communication
  • Making Connections


As this spring semester progresses, we are working on a tool enabling teachers, administrators, parents, and even students to identify skills that group themselves into broader ideas and applications.  It is sometimes amazing to see what is actually built into our state standards, right before our eyes, which can so easily turn into missed opportunities.  Interested in seeing what this looks like completed?  Keep an eye on The Scoop for more information later in the semester.
In the meantime, take some time to consider making connections and points of intersection for your students through the sheer application of a skill within different contexts throughout the entire learning day.  Both you and your students will benefit!