New Project Aims to Fuse Elementary Science Learning with Other Subjects Across Washington

Four children examine a leafy plant growing outside. One child takes notes.
Photo Credit: Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

Strong foundations in science knowledges and skills have the potential to better prepare students for post-secondary education, fast-growing careers, and everyday life, but many students lack equitable access to science learning experiences in the elementary grades.

Across the U.S. and in Washington, content-siloed learning is a common learning model in early childhood and elementary classrooms. In this model, instructional time is allocated to separate academic content areas like English language arts (ELA), mathematics, science, and social studies.

To support student learning in the sciences and promote well-rounded learning for all students, OSPI has launched a project on integrating science learning with other academic content areas. This project is funded by federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds.

In the classroom, content-integrated learning could look like posing a question to students, using scientific skills to make predictions based on evidence and reasoning, using mathematical skills to design and conduct an investigation, and using writing and speaking skills to present findings.

“Taking an integrated-content approach to learning in the elementary grades provides for a vision where learning experiences are engaging, connected, and meaningful for students,” said Kimberley Astle, Associate Director of Elementary Science at OSPI. “Content-integrated learning also develops students’ ability to apply all content areas together as tools and resources to understand and make sense of the world they live in and their own relationships with that world. This vision is within our reach, and integration is one way we can work together to make this vision a reality for every student in Washington state.”

A large body of research supports content-integrated learning in elementary schools. Integration approaches like project-based learning have been shown to improve student performance in science assessments. Furthermore, integrating science with other content areas can enhance connections between content areas while also providing a model to increase instructional time for science learning.

Under the current content-siloed approach, student achievement in science has been negatively impacted as schools focus instructional time on ELA and mathematics. This is particularly true for students who receive academic supports, students with disabilities, students from low-income families, and students who receiving English learner services. These students are more likely to be pulled out of or excluded from science learning experiences to receive other supports.

This finding holds true for all students. According to the 2019 National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP (also known as the Nation’s Report Card), science scores for fourth graders have declined, with the number of students performing below the basic achievement level increasing while the number of students performing at the proficient level decreasing.

Washington’s state-level content integration project is being carried out by six Integration Pilot Teams, which explore content-integrated learning within their school or school district using grade-level Open Educational Resources (OERs) as a tool for common learning. There are a total of 90 members, and the teams have been formed at the level of an individual elementary school or a school district. Participating district-level teams are in the Kennewick School District, Olympia School District, and Tacoma Public Schools, while school-based teams are at Barbara McClintock Elementary School (Pasco School District), Darrington Elementary School (Darrington School District), and Evergreen Elementary School (Peninsula School District).

The project has also established two Teacher Cadres and two Leader Cadres to further explore content-integrated learning and leadership. The Teacher Cadres have the goal of promoting learning about content integration and applying that learning in the classroom. The Leader Cadres are working to identify barriers to content-integrated learning and brainstorm ways to overcome those barriers, as part of an overall goal to create systems-wide cultures that support high-quality integrated learning opportunities for all students.

The Teacher Cadres have a total of 138 members, consisting of teachers for grades K–5, teachers on special assignment (TOSAs), and coaches representing every region in the state. The Leader Cadres have a total of 107 members who represent statewide leaders at the levels of schools, school districts, regional educational service districts, and the state.

The ESSER project will run through May 2023, but the work is ongoing to support equitable access to well-rounded learning experiences for all of Washington’s students.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction

Led by Supt. Chris Reykdal, OSPI is the primary agency charged with overseeing K–12 education in Washington state.