Interdisciplinary Science in the Classroom

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Session 14 -- Education I
Oral presentation, Monday, 10:30-12:00, Dwinelle 155 Room

[14.05] Interdisciplinary Science in the Classroom

L.M. French, V. C. LoPresti (Wheelock College), P. Papali (Park School)

The practice of science is by its very nature interdisciplinary. Most school curricula, however, present science as a "layer cake" with one year each of biology, chemistry, earth science, and physics. Students are too often left with a fragmented, disjointed view of the sciences as separate and distinct bodies of information. The continuity of scientific thought and the importance of major ideas such as energy, rates of change, and the nature of matter are not seen. We describe two efforts to integrate the sciences in a middle school curriculum and in an introductory science course for prospective elementary teachers.\\Introductory physical science for eighth graders at the Park School has three major units: "Observing the Sky", "The Nature of Matter", and "The Nature of Light". The course moves from simple naked-eye observations of the Sun and Moon to an understanding of the apparent motions of the Sun and of the Earth's seasons. In "The Nature of Matter", students construct operational definitions of characteristic properties of matter such as density, boiling point, solubility, and flame color. They design and perform many experiments and conclude by separating a mixture of liquids and solids by techniques such as distillation and fractional crystallization. In studying flame tests, students learn that different materials have different color "signatures" and that the differences can be quantified with a spectroscope. They then observe solar absorption lines with their spectroscopes and discover which elements are present in the Sun.\\Teachers of young children are potentially some of the most powerful allies in increasing our country's scientific literacy, yet most remain at best uneasy about science. At Wheelock College we are designing a course to be called "Introduction to Natural Science" for elementary education majors. We will address special needs of many in this population, including science anxiety and poor preparation in mathematics. A broad conceptual understanding of a few key concepts will take precedence over rote memorization of facts.

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