Science and Literacy: An Interdisciplinary Teaching Approach

In last weeks blog I referenced Dr. Tony Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills. Dr. Wagner proposes the following seven skills as essential for: improving our teaching and learning strategies in education, and preparing students to lead lives as “civically engaged individuals” (Danielle Allen, What Is Education For?).

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  3. Agility and Adaptability
  4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
  5. Effective oral and written communication
  6. Accessing and Analyzing Information
  7. Curiosity and Imagination

I left us with the question: How do we account for Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills when selecting Big Ideas? This week, the Get Real! Science cohort is working on Stage 3 of the Universal by Design framework: developing a Learning Plan. As we begin to map our learning experiences and activities to our desired outcomes (Stage 2) and guiding principles (Stage 1) it is important to also reference interdisciplinary goals, the tenets of Nature of Science, and opportunities for learning and student action beyond the walls of the school building.

What types of learning experiences allow us to facilitate learning experiences that do all of the above?

A recent assignment tasked the GR!S cohort with reading a “non-fiction science book” of our choice. We were tasked with analyzing the theme, identifying the tenets of Nature of Science, and exploring possible uses for the story in our own classrooms.

I chose to read: The Boy Who Harnessed the Windco-authored by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. If you’re looking for a good read, check it out! The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind is a story of resilience, tenacity, and innovation. It is the privilege of the reader to join William Kamkwamba as he shares his story of growing up in the agricultural village in Malawi, Africa. William’s story is one of resilience through drought, famine, poverty, and lack of access to equitable education opportunities. Despite these hardships, William demonstrates tenacity as he works alongside his family in order to provide food for survival, and as he pursues learning opportunities through the local library when he can no longer afford to attend school. William is innovative, utilizing resources and materials in new ways in order to accomplish his goal: to bring electricity to his family’s home and village through the construction of a windmill.

As I begin to think about how I will engage my students in meaningful, interdisciplinary learning experiences I am eager to teach through stories like that of William’s. William begins his story by sharing a childhood game of toy trucks, a game where he and his friends made trucks out of empty cartons. William states: “Even though we lived in a small village in Africa, we did many of the same things kids do all over the world; we just used different materials” (Kamkwamba & Mealer). It is through stories like these that we can teach our students in ways that expand world views without drawing lines between “us versus them”. The diversity of concepts and content within the story line offer worthwhile and enriching interdisciplinary educational experiences.

How can teaching through story introduce learning experiences that prepare students to lead lives as scientifically literate, global citizens? Let’s think back to Dr. Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills. 

  • Reading inherently stimulates curiosity and imagination while requiring students to access and analyze information.
  • Stories have the power of introducing relevant characters who demonstrate agility, adaptability, initiative, and entrepreneruialism. 
  • When students have a voice and choice in the stories they choose to read educators can differentiate lessons focused on developing effective communication strategies to meet the needs of each student.
  • Stories have the power of inspiring action! Extension tasks can challenge students to think critically and take on problems in their own community which require collaboration across networks and the ability to lead by influence!
    • Learning communities can begin by getting involved with existing initiatives such as the Moving Windmills Project or by starting their own!

Most importantly, stories provide us an opportunity to explore new lenses through which we view the world around us (Neil deGrasse Tyson).

Looking for stories to incorporate in your classroom? Check out NSTA’s Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12: 2018Do you have recommendations to add? Please share in the comment section below!

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