Teaching Science:

SalmonWatch1811-72Share Your Standards to Integrate Your Teaching

by Jim Martin
CLEARING Associate Editor

Let’s say you wish to incorporate an activity in the neighborhood of your school into a unit you are planning in science, and have been thinking about asking the math teacher if she would be interested in working with you. Then you learn from a friend that plants on the bank of a stream, when they are in leaf, pull water from the ground to use for photosynthesis. In fact, she tells you, they pull so much water up that the level of the stream drops visibly. This observable change in the height of the stream seems to you to be a door to math, writing, science, and perhaps even art. So, you begin thinking.

There is a creek which runs past the southeast corner of the school grounds, and you decide to use it as the site where your students will make their observations. You check it out, and find a spot where they can set a meter stick on a flat bottom rock to take their measurements. The creek is no more than twenty inches deep at its highest level on the bank, so you don’t have to be overly concerned about student safety while they take their measurements, and you decide to plan for doing the work.

Students will work in groups of four, which, for this class, means seven groups. If the creek traveled farther through the school grounds, you could have each group set up its own measuring site. Since that’s not the case, you decide to have the groups make quick depth measurements so that you can walk to the creek, take measurements within 15 minutes, and return to the classroom. As they wait their turn, each group estimates the percent leaf cover, based on what they think 100% leaf coverage would look like. You could have had the groups observe different aspects of the creek, but decided that would involve too much planning and confusion. This is your first effort outside the classroom, and you just don’t want to make it more complicated than it already is. A wise decision.

Now, you have to work out how the observations they will make tie to more than one curricular area. This is the tricky bit. You decide to have each group hang a data sheet on the classroom walls, depicting the data they have taken in ways they feel best illustrate their observations and interpretations. To enable them to do this, you and a math teacher help them learn to make data tables, how to organize these tables to make best sense of the data, learn to graph the data and how to make decisions about what to place on the x- and y-axes. As the work progresses, you and the math teacher have students review and assess their tabulation and graphing practices. Here’s a question for you: Are any of the above activities covered in the math standards?

As students move through this work, you coordinate with their language arts teacher to build in writing and reading activities which are tied to standards that teacher is working on. For instance, you want your students to describe what the project is about, how they are making their observations, what they think these will show them, and how this whole system works from the time rain falls from the clouds until it is either incorporated into carbohydrates, or enters the creek. How many disciplines’ standards describe this kind of work?

Thinking about this, you decide to ask their art teacher if there are ways they can use her curricula to communicate student work in this project. She replies that she’ll think about it, and may be able to work it into what they will do later in the year. Encouraged by this, and the willingness of the math and language arts teachers to work with you, you decide to start exploring standards to see how they play out in the work as you’ve visualized and planned it.

What follows are three broad phases of this project, and up to three standards each addresses in each discipline. I chose 6th grade because it is at the middle of the K-12 experience. Note that the standards named in each area were chosen from a myriad of possible standards. Some may involve more than one part of the project, but are mentioned only once. Here they are:

• Choosing the location for the project, discussion and decision to estimate leafout and measuring depth of the stream, the processes it will involve, and who will carry them out. Students perform a preliminary assessment of the site via sketches which will inform an annotated collage/painting produced in the final stages of the project. Together, they involve aspects of these standards:

Art – Make connections between visual arts and other disciplines. Create a work of art, selecting and applying artistic elements and technical skills to achieve desired effect.

Language Arts – Apply more than one strategy for generating ideas and planning writing. Generate ideas prior to organizing them and adjust prewriting strategies accordingly (e.g., brainstorm a list, select relevant ideas/details to include in piece of writing). Delegate parts of writing process to team members (e.g., during prewriting, one team member gathers Internet information while another uses the library periodicals).

Mathematics – Use variables to represent two quantities in a real-world problem that change in relationship to one another. Model with mathematics. Describe the nature of the attribute under investigation, including how it was measured and its units of measurement.

Science – Explain how the boundaries of a system can be drawn to fit the purpose of the study. Generate a question that can be answered through scientific investigation. (This may involve refining or refocusing a broad and ill-defined question.) Describe the water cycle and give local examples of where parts of the water cycle can be seen.

• Students make their observations and carry out the plan for their investigation. This involves these standards:

Art – Choose and evaluate a range of subject matter, symbols and ideas. Recognize and describe how technical, organizational and aesthetic elements contribute to the ideas, emotions and overall impact communicated by works of art. Describe how elements of art are used to create balance, unity, emphasis, illusion of space and rhythm-movement.

Language Arts – Maintain a journal or an electronic log to collect and explore ideas; record observations, dialogue, and/or description for later use as a basis for informational or literary writing. Understand and apply new vocabulary. Use multiple resources regularly to identify needed changes (e.g., writing guide, adult, peer, criteria and/or checklist, thesaurus).

Mathematics – Graph ordered pairs of rational numbers and determine the coordinates of a point in the coordinate plane. Represent a problem situation, describe the process used to solve the problem, and verify the reasonableness of the solution. Find a percent of a quantity as a rate per 100 (e.g., 30% of a quantity means 30/100 times the quantity).

Science – Plan and conduct a scientific investigation (e.g., field study, systematic observation, controlled experiment, model, or simulation) that is appropriate for the question being asked. Work collaboratively with other students to carry out the investigations. Predict what may happen to an ecosystem if nonliving factors change (e.g., the amount of light, range of temperatures, or availability of water or habitat), or if one or more populations are removed from or added to the ecosystem.

• Students are conducting the analysis and synthesis of their data, and constructing, critiquing, and presenting their reports. This work involves these standards:

Art – Respond to works of art, giving reasons for preferences.

Language Arts – Use a variety of prewriting strategies (e.g., story mapping, listing, webbing, jotting, outlining, free writing, brainstorming). Produce multiple drafts. Publish in a format that is appropriate for specific audiences and purposes.

Mathematics – Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others. Analyze the relationship between the dependent and independent variables using graphs and tables. Determine whether or not a relationship is proportional and explain your reasoning.

Science –Summarize the results from a scientific investigation and use the results to respond to the question or hypothesis being tested. Organize and display relevant data, construct an evidence-based explanation of the results of an investigation and communicate the conclusions. Recognize and interpret patterns – as well as variations from previously learned or observed patterns – in data, diagrams, symbols, and words.


To me, the project, outside and inside the classroom, appears to act as a vortex, drawing several disciplines into it; integrating them in the process. The effect of this activity in the students’ brains must be related to their involvement and investment in the work, and empowerment as persons that teachers and others report when they describe student work in the world about. In most cases, this outcome is also associated with success in passing the annual tests students take to measure their accomplishment of state and national standards.

It takes courage for a teacher in today’s schools to attempt something like this. What we need are teachers and environmental educators who have done this kind of work to mentor those who haven’t, but would like to. A good place to start that would be at annual state science teacher conferences, and at state and regional environmental educator conferences. I know from my own personal experience teaching and working with teachers that a little help goes a long way. If you’re interested in the idea, leave a comment. Or, better yet, write an article and post it here. Or (where did I find this thought?) be a conference presenter.

jimphoto3This is a regular feature by CLEARING “master teacher” Jim Martin that explores how environmental educators can help classroom teachers get away from the pressure to teach to the standardized tests,and how teachers can gain the confidence to go into the world outside of their classrooms for a substantial piece of their curricula. See the other installments here, or search Categories for “Jim Martin.”