Middle School Madness Part 2: Integrated Science Versus Coordinated Science
Posted: Thursday, November 12th, 2015
by Robert Sherriff
In my last article, I compared the integrated versus discipline-specific models of teaching science in middle school. In this article, I seek to dispel some misconceptions and refine the comparison of an integrated science program with a coordinated science program.
This past summer, I was honored to participate in presenting at the two Northern California NGSS Early Implementation Institutes. I was part of a science content cadre to which I brought both my 25 years of middle school teaching experience and my knowledge of NGSS (I was on the State Science Expert Panel and was Co-chair of the Curriculum Framework Criteria Committee – CFCC). Other members of the cadre included Bob Rumer, an innovative engineering professor who helped us incorporate the Engineering Standards, and an outstanding high school science teacher, Lesley Gates, who helped provide activities and pedagogy.
One part of our learning experiences for our 8th grade teacher participants was to involve them in a preview of a publisher’s “integrated” middle school instructional material. We engaged in a lesson from the material that was well-designed, interesting, and even fun. Although the publisher showed how the lesson fit into a series of lessons as part of its “integrated program,” there were no connections between disciplines.
I asked: “Where is the integration?” The teachers responded with: “What do you mean? This IS integrated!” It was apparent, at least to me, that while the lesson appeared to be part of a superb “coordinated” program, it was NOT integrated. Later, I spoke with another publisher who was visiting our institute, and after a short while, I realized his plan was also a coordinated, not integrated, program. Talking to a few more publishers and variety of classroom teachers confirmed what I had been coming to realize: it appeared a large number of science educators were confused about the difference between integrated and coordinated science.
Suddenly I experienced a red-flag moment and thought, “What’s wrong with this picture?” I remembered we worked diligently at the Science Expert Panel to create an integrated program, and the Framework committee continued to make edits to provide a detailed integrated example for the middle school models. Next, I sent out an email to many leading science educators all over California about their views of coordinated versus integrated. The responses were varied, which told me that within our practice, we desperately needed further clarification.
So what is the difference between the two ideas and why are we in this pickle? Simply stated, the difference between coordinated and integrated is the type of connections that can be made between and among the various fields of science. In a coordinated curriculum, discipline specific units in life, earth, chemistry and physics are all taught in a single year to the same students. It is up to the teacher to help students “remember when we talked about chemical reactions in chemistry? Well, photosynthesis is a chemical reaction.” In a coordinated model students could even be rotated each quarter between different teachers. In this case connections between the disciplines would then be rare or non-existent unless the teachers themselves were given time to integrate between the disciplines…and time is always in short supply.
In an integrated curriculum, content from different disciplines are bundled together, creating different learning than when the concepts are treated independently. Kathy DiRanna, Statewide Director, K-12 Alliance, summed up the differences between the two saying “’Coordinated’ would be when there is a structure (chapters or modules) in which each science is treated mostly as its own discipline with references to the other sciences. An example would be when chemical reactions are treated fully in a physical science unit, with references in the bio (e.g., photosynthesis) and earth (rock cycle) units. ‘Integrated’ is where the performance expectations (PEs) are bundled to include appropriate science, e.g., matter is conserved (physical) as evidenced by matter cycling in ecosystems (life) and in earth systems (earth science).”
Does it really matter if something is coordinated or integrated? To understand the history of this issue, I spoke with Dean Gilbert a leader of an earlier science reform movement, the SS&C (Scope Sequence and Coordination project), and a current advocate for integrated science. The SS&C, as far back as 1992, in the SS&C/National Science Teachers Association’s book, “The Content Core,” promoted every science every year. This movement was in response to research, which indicated that a typical science program “discourages real learning not only in its overemphasis on facts, but in its very structure which inhibits students from making valuable connections between facts.” The research from the SS&C program found the greatest success with student learning from programs that were truly integrated, rather than coordinated. This would support the point of view of the Science Expert Panel and the CFCC (Framework Committee) for the preferred integrated model.
The NRC Framework for K-12 Science Education (2011) reemphasizes these ideas with a concern that current K-12 science education “emphasizes discrete facts with a focus on breadth over depth, and does not provide students with engaging opportunities to experience how science is actually done.” The NGSS promote deeper, conceptual learning by moving away from the memorization of facts to performance expectations that include three dimensional learning.
One of the major shifts that came out of the NRC Framework for K-12 Science Education that both it and NGSS are striving for is making these connections between science disciplines. A primary vehicle to do so is with the “crosscutting concepts that unify the study of science and engineering through their common application across fields.” (NRC, 2011)
In addition to promoting these connections, an integrated model helps to emphasize these connections showing how science is practiced today thus promoting connections to an even greater degree. Integrated science also allows students to investigate and understand phenomena and provides rich, real-world experiences for them to investigate. Some examples of this we worked on in our cadre was to explore the gravitational effects on living things as well as how heat transfer is dealt with directly by living things and in relation to climate. We sought to blend or integrate components of Earth, Life, and Physical science for a deeper, connected understanding. To paraphrase the words of one of the 8th grade teachers from our group, “[t]he integrated curriculum will play well with my students because those who don’t like physics very much will have another possible way into the content with a life science or earth science connection.”
The table below helps to summarize some differences between integrated and coordinated science.
Coordinated science might seem easier and it allows a publisher to produce a coordinated program that can be sold as individual subunits, making it discipline specific, or with a “road map” to connect the individual sub units. Yet, unless the connections are really strong, the coordinated program will not optimize the student learning. Research on how people learn shows us that we learn best when we make connections to ideas already in our brain.
A past cadre member of mine, Dr. David Polcyn (Professor of Biology CSU, San Bernardino) responded to my email on this topic, and he reminded me that the main issue is that most people just don’t like change and somehow coordinated science feels like less change. Integrated science is new, and teachers will worry about the time and resources they will need to do a good job. It is difficult to get out of one’s comfort zone, and it won’t happen overnight. But not having good integrated textbooks is a concern. (Are you reading this, publishers?)
Dr. Polcyn said he started, as did most of us, not teaching integrated but now he said, “I can’t imagine teaching without integration…in fact, the thing I find hardest about teaching non-majors biology at the university is that I CAN’T expect students to have any knowledge of chemistry, math, or physics, which makes it very tough to teach biology effectively, without having them just memorize a bunch of facts and then regurgitate them back.”
Peter A’Hearn, a K-12 science specialist with PSUSD, helped clarify ideas on implementation and the difficulties in dealing with change. Peter convinced me that after all the concerns I’ve raised with regard to coordinated science, and, after talking with more science teachers about their concerns over implementation (the lack of time, resources and knowledge), maybe it is ok to start with a coordinated science program as a bridge. This could be a three-year plan to deal with concerns, and with each passing year, as the familiarity with NGSS with 3D learning improves, the concern of lack of knowledge is met. Units and lessons can be traded at each site to help with resources, and the power of an integrated year can be achieved. Some may want to implement a little faster.
An example of a slower phasing in of an integrated program was provided by Dean Gilbert who noted that the instructional transition from coordinated to integrated did not occur overnight in his district. In the initial development and implementation of SS&C in his district, the first year’s curriculum was approximately 70% coordinated and 30% integrated. By the third year of district implementation and curriculum refinement, the curricula for Years 1, 2 and 3 was 70% integrated and 30% coordinated. This evolution was a direct result of increased teacher content expertise, defining key conceptual links between disciplines, and then weaving links around a central phenomenon or essential question. The reform was a gradual, incremental process without losing sight of the end goal—to create a rigorous, engaging, inquiry-based science program for students.
For implementation, the approach I’ve taken is to start with the known, evaluating where I’m at now. I was doing a coordinated discipline focused program, with some integration when the connections were obviously needed to provide any depth in the content. Our old 1998 Standards and Framework encouraged this small amount of integration to occur at each grade level, but they of course were not 3D and did not develop the richness of connections that is called out for in the NGSS. To repeat, since this is also a misconception that some have, our old standards were discipline focused and there is a portion at each grade level that is already supposed to be integrated. This previous integration was a natural starting place for me. So, in 6th grade heat is naturally integrated with climate in both the old and new standards, and gravity is integrated with astronomy in 8th in both standards. A starting place is born, and my next step was to make these become the 3D learning that is called out for in NGSS in both grades. My cadre presented these integrated portions at our Early Implementer Institutes this past summer.
In order to make a smooth transition to an integrated program a district and a site will need to provide the support of time, professional development and resource acquisition so that a smooth implementation can occur. The LCAP plan at each district must include the support of implementation to new standards including NGSS, and so the LCAP can become a resource for achieving an integrated model, and an integrated model improves scientific literacy for Californians sooner rather than later.
Robert Sherriff is a member of the Science Expert Panel, the Co-chair of the CFCC (California Framework Curriculum Committee), an I.B. Science Teacher at Winston Churchill Middle School in the San Juan Unified School District, and a member of CSTA.
Posted: Monday, March 27th, 2017
The California Science Teachers Association (CSTA) stands with our science and science education colleagues in endorsing the March For Science and its associated activities.
The decision by the CSTA Board of Directors to support the March for Science was based on the understanding that this is an opportunity to advocate for our mission of high quality science education for all and to advance the idea that science has application to everyday life, is a vehicle for lifelong learning, and the scientific enterprise expands our knowledge of the world around us. The principles and goals of the March for Science parallel those of CSTA to assume a leadership role in solidarity with our colleagues in science and science education and create an understanding of the value of science in the greater community. CSTA believes that the integrity of the nature of science and that the work of scientists and science educators should be valued and supported. We encourage your participation to stand with us.
There are over 30 satellite marches planned for the April 22, 2017 March for Science in California (to find a march near you, click on “marches” in the upper right of the main page, select “satellite marches” and use the search feature). We encourage members who participate in the March for Science to share their involvement and promotion of science and science education. Feel free to promote CSTA on your signs and banners. For those on social media, you may share your involvement via Twitter, @cascience and our Facebook groups.
Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.
For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.
The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…