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: Saturday, January 14th, 2017
The Council of Math/Science Educators of San Mateo County will be hosting the 41st annual STEM Conference this February 4, 2017 at the San Mateo County Office of Education. This STEM Conference is the place to get lots of new lessons and ideas to use in your classroom. There will be over twenty-five workshops and a variety of exhibitors that provide participants with a wide range of practical and realistic ideas and resources to use in their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs from Pre-K to grade 12. With California’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards, we are dedicated to ensuring that we prepare our teachers to take on these educational policies.
Teachers, administrators, and parents are invited to explore the many exciting aspects of STEM education and learn about and discuss the latest news, information, and issues. This is also an opportunity to network with colleagues who can assist you in building your programs and meet new friends that share your interests and love of teaching. Register online today!
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
Achieve has launched and is facilitating an EQuIP Peer Review Panel for Science–a group of expert reviewers who will evaluate the quality and alignment of lessons and units to the standards–in an effort to identify and shine a spotlight on emerging high-quality lesson and unit plans designed for the NGSS.
If you or your state, district, school, or organization has designed NGSS-aligned instructional materials, please consider submitting these in order to help provide educators across the country with various models and templates of high-quality lesson and unit plans. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
An upcoming Perry Outreach Program on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at the Orthopaedic Institute for Children in Los Angeles, CA. The Perry Outreach Program is a free, one-day, hands-on experience for high school and college-aged women who are interested in pursuing careers in medicine and engineering. Students will hear from women leaders in these fields and try it for themselves by performing mock orthopaedic surgeries and biomechanics experiments. Learn More…
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
by Jessica Sawko
January 2017 has proven to be a very busy month for science education policy and CA NGSS implementation activities. CSTA has been and will be there every step of the way, seeking and enacting all options to support high-quality science education and the successful implementation of CA NGSS.
California Department of Education/U.S. Department of Education Science Double-Testing Waiver Hearing
The year started with California Department of Education’s (CDE) hearing with the U.S. Department of Education conducted via WebEx on January 6, 2017. This hearing was the final step in California’s efforts to secure a waiver from the federal government in order to discontinue administration of the old CST and suspension of the reporting of student test scores on a science assessment for two years. As reported by EdSource, the U.S. Department of Education representative, Ann Whalen, a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary John King Jr., committed to making her final ruling “very shortly.” Deputy Superintendent Keric Ashley presented on behalf of CDE during the hearing and did an excellent job describing the broad-based support for this waiver in California, the rationale for the waiver, and California’s commitment to the successful implementation of a new high-quality science assessment. As previously reported, California is moving forward with its plans to administer a census pilot assessments this spring. The testing window is set to open on March 20, 2017. For more information visit New CA Science Test: What You Should Know.
Posted: Friday, January 13th, 2017
by Jessica Sawko
The early-bird registration rates for the 65th NSTA National Conference on Science Education in Los Angeles is just days away (ends Feb. 3). And as the early-registration deadline approaches excitement is building for what is anticipated to be the largest gathering of science educators (both California and nationwide) – with attendance expected to reach 10,000 or more. If you have never had the pleasure of attending the NSTA National Conference, I recommend you visit their website with tips for newcomers that describe the various components of the event. A conference preview is also available for download. Learn More…