Out of My Element: Forming Bonds Between Science and Language Arts

Learning, Learning Innovations, PreK-12 / by

I’ve always considered myself a willing and even eager collaborator with teachers of almost any discipline.  As someone who tends to see the big picture, intentionally or not, I notice connections among disciplines so often it almost feels second nature to me. Yet in my practice, I have mostly integrated subject areas within my own classes and under my own control. Now, the headmaster at my school has suggested I collaborate with a colleague who is interested in exploring ways to unite our Science and Language Arts curricula. I can’t think of a more exciting – or more daunting – challenge.

Mutual Inspirations

As it turns out, my science colleague and I are both entranced by the student engagement generated by the meaningful problem-solving of John Hunter’s World Peace Game (see my comments on this in an earlier blog post). Working to implement and ultimately revise “student learning teams” in my classes, I have come to value even more Hunter’s approach to empowering students and building their capacities for independent learning.

Yet, I admit, I am mostly a literary snob, someone who has spent much of her life and career tending to the art of the elegant sentence. Additionally, I see myself as an educator who focuses on the skills of all varieties of communication as crucial to all our lives. As a citizen of the world, I find myself acknowledging that the study of science lies at the foundation of most of the burning issues of our day.

Ever since I attended Alan November’s summer conference, Building Learning Communities, in July of 2010, I’ve been chewing on J.F. Rischard’s “Twenty Global Issues, Twenty Years to Solve Them” (recapped at The Globalist). More than two years have passed since then (longer since Rischard published his book, High Noon, in 2003), with little progress on the concerns Rischard raises. I’m still pondering how I can integrate Rischard’s challenge into my work with students of Language Arts. Last summer, I became captivated with the work of student activists for Taking IT Global, and I wondered how I could bring their global awareness and concerns to my middle-school students in Houston. As an avid TED consumer, I was stunned by the passion of Stephen Ritz and how that passion inspires his students to design walls of harvest-able greenery in unlikely places like the Bronx.

Stephen Ritz: A Teacher Growing Green in the South Bronx

But how would I ever integrate these concerns, I dithered, into a traditional Language Arts curriculum?

Attending Educon 2.4

Last January I had the privilege of attending Educon 2.4 (see this overview by Jeffrey W. McClurken for The Chronicle of Higher Education) at the Science Leadership Academy.  On the first day of this innovative conference, a school day, attendees tour the host institution and view learning in action. I observed a chemistry class in which student reading groups discussed the science in science fiction books, then shared their own science fiction stories based on their understanding of scientific principles. My interest piqued by the way two seemingly unlikely disciplines had converged, I studied the school’s sequenced thematic approach to its curriculum — focusing on identity, systems, change, and creation, sequentially, in the high school years.  This curriculum, I felt, could be mined by multiple genres for rich learning experiences. I also came to admire SLA’s versatile rubric and how it paid attention to design, knowledge, application, presentation, and process – all elements of learning that speak equally to language arts and to science.  Now, how could I find ways to collaborate this meaningfully into my own work, I wondered.

Doing My Homework

Challenged with the prospect of designing collaborative activities with a respected colleague of the scientific persuasion, I conducted a quick online search for science-language arts collaborations. My search hasn’t yielded much. This tells me either that I am looking in the wrong places or that there is a dire need for building this kind of bond in education. I’ve selected some reading to help me dig in:

Our work ahead is exciting. Let the learning begin.

Susan Lucille Davis

Susan Lucille Davis

Susan Lucille Davis teaches 5th and 6th-grade Language Arts at St. Mark's Episcopal School in Houston, TX, and is a part-time instructor for CTYOnline, a program for gifted students hosted by Johns Hopkins University. Susan also contributes to the group blog Voices from the Learning Revolution, which features stories by educators who are making the shift to 21st century learning. Follow Susan on Twitter at @suludavis.