Thursday, September 25, 2014

Change - A Concept That Connects Science and Social Studies (and everything else in the world)

     A critical component of learning involves helping students to think conceptually. When we can provide opportunities for students to apply the same concepts across disciplines, we provide a pathway to deeper conceptual learning in ALL contents involved.

Let me provide an example:
     In 3rd grade, students in my school district have just finished a science unit called Change: Life Cycles. Students start October with a social studies unit titled The Big City. In this unit, students examine change over time in the Denver Metro area. Consider how we might incorporate a classroom experience that connects students to the deeper concept of change. Here is what this might look like and sound like:
Public domain image (from

TEACHER: "Students, in our last science unit, we learned about changes in plants and animals. All plants and animals change and we use the term life cycle to describe the series of changes organisms go through as they grow and develop. Can you share the changes that take place for a plant or an animal?"

STUDENTS: Students share their understanding of change from Change: Life Cycles.

TEACHER: "We are going to keep giving some examples of change.  Let's think about ourselves as readers, writers, and mathematicians. Can you tell me how you, as students, will change as a reader from Kindergarten to 6th grade? Can you tell me how you will change as a writer from Kindergarten to 6th grade? Can you tell me how you will change as a mathematician from Kindergarten to 6th grade?"

STUDENTS: Students share this understanding of change as it applies to them as readers, writers, and mathematicians.  Teachers might consider listing these on a simple timeline that shows the PAST and the FUTURE.

TEACHER: "Students, we are going to start a social studies unit where we look at change in the city where we live. I want you to put yourselves into the shoes of your grandparents when they were your age. That was probably a long time ago. Now, I want you to imagine what they would say if they could tell you how our city has changed over time.  You might use these two sentence starters to help you describe how our city has changed over time.  A long time ago....   But today,.... " Model what this thinking and writing looks like.

STUDENTS: Students take some time to write down some examples. (BEST PRACTICE ALERT) Since we know students learn with the use of nonlinguistic representations, you might show students how to create a past-picture and present-picture to illustrate one of their statements.  Encourage students to talk with each other and find out what other ideas their peers plan to share. When finished, students present their statements and illustrations.

TEACHER: Consider showing this brief video (also seen below) to help students sense some ways that Denver has changed over time. The video includes WHY changes have taken place.