A Petition Against Integrating The Middle School Sciences

Middle school science teacher Emily Williams has a petition expressing opposition to the proposed “integration” of the middle school sciences in California. Her concerns are similar to my own.

Since the last standards were adopted 15 years ago science teachers have been building their expertise and honing their craft to teach science with a focus on a specific domain. Earth Science at 6th Grade, Life Science at 7th Grade and Physical Science at 8th grade…

During middle school, science moves from a fun activity done during a separate activity time once a week as in elementary school, to a daily endeavor to understand and make sense of the surrounding world. Because of the increased frequency of classes and more aggressive approach to integrating science into our curriculum, this need for consistent and linear storytelling becomes vital to the students ability to understand and embrace the content.

That being said, the petition does have some kind words for the Next Generation Science Standards, so I’m not sure I can bring myself to sign it.

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  1. Posted August 29, 2013 at 1:09 PM | Permalink

    Hi Paul,

    I’m not sure I understand this concern. The current CA science standards are already “integrated” with standards from multiple disciplines at each grade level. They are under a loose umbrella of a particular content discipline but if you look at the actual content standards many of the connections back to the “primary” content area are (to me) fairly weak. Is this integrated arrangement not how they’re currently taught? Are you opposed to the current structure?

    Comparing the proposed NGSS organization with the old CA standards I don’t see the new arrangement as being significantly different in terms of degree of integration. Are you opposed to the particular arrangements of content within the grade levels?

    My personal feeling is that integrated courses can be tricky to get right but they can be done well if handled with care. And of course teachers will need support, but that’s true with any major change to standards and curriculum.

    • Posted August 29, 2013 at 2:28 PM | Permalink

      Obviously any arrangement that includes multiple areas of content will be “integrated” to one degree or another. The question is about what arrangement is most useful. What will usually be most useful for young students is “integrating” more closely-related areas of study, since less-closely related areas – by definition – offer fewer opportunities for conceptual reinforcement and tend to have connections that require greater stores of background knowledge and larger inductive leaps to make. In general, the connections between the different areas of, say, life science are easier to make – especially for middle school students – than between, say, “cells and organisms” and “climate” (as is being proposed for 6th graders).

      And, of course, the fact remains that many teachers are more skilled with one or two particular content areas or prefer one or two content areas, and those skills/preferences, in practice, are more likely to correspond to the traditional arrangement of content. (In part because, in reality, most actual scientific study in the real world is not nearly as “integrated” as the proposed MS standards.)

      • Posted August 29, 2013 at 3:25 PM | Permalink

        OK, so it sounds to me that you’re not opposed to integration necessarily, but you prefer the integration in the current California standards to what they’re proposing to do for the NGSS in California. Did I get that right? Or would you really prefer a straight-up life/earth/physical arrangement?

        In general I agree with your points re: integration, and I do think the current CA 6th grade arrangement of topics makes more sense than what’s being proposed. The current arrangement seems to do a pretty nice job of blending in related content areas, which I would think should be possible w/ NGSS as well, your many other NGSS objections aside :).

        • Posted August 29, 2013 at 5:41 PM | Permalink

          I suppose if people want to call our current arrangement “integrated” and the proposed arrangement “more integrated”, I don’t have a huge problem with that language. There are some half-hearted attempts at integration in the current arrangement that are a mixed bag. I think “chemistry of life” is an intuitive inclusion in 8th grade: carbon chemistry fits in well with the other 8th grade content and students remember enough about, e.g., DNA from 7th grade. Other integrations – like light/optics in 7th grade – are more questionable and should probably be rethought.

          I agree that you could take the NGSS and arrange them similarly to the way CA does now.

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