The increasing integration of the science curriculum has been underway for a few decades. At one time, introductory science courses were “general science” courses—survey courses covering the physical and life sciences as separate studies. Today, introductory science is often a taught as “integrated science”. An integrated science curriculum covers the major branches of science—typically physics, chemistry, biology, Earth science, and astronomy. But an integrated science course also covers topics that show how the major branches of science intersect. For example, you might find astrobiology or biophysics chapters in an integrated science course. [Read more…]

The motivation for subject integration is that the divisions between the science disciplines do not reflect the real world. For science to mirror nature, science should be taught as a continuum rather than a series of ideas in separate boxes.

But subject integration is not the only way in which educators have integrated science curricula in recent years. Science as practiced in the field and lab is typically intertwined with math and technology, and it is often applied to engineering. Hence, we see the rise of “STEM”. STEM learning is science integrated with technology, engineering, and math. Most science educators no longer teach science without the curriculum connections STEM calls for. Indeed, current teaching standards from NGSS to the California Science Framework call for the STEM approach.

Newer than STEM, there is STEAM. STEAM is what you get when you combine science, technology, engineering and math with art. Teaching science as STEAM brings creativity and individual expression into the curriculum. This makes learning science more fun, engaging, and meaningful for many students.

Newer and rarer still is the notion of combining science education with social-emotional learning (SEL). Social-emotional development is essential for student’s growth and well-being and research shows it is intertwined with academic success too. Turbulent emotions and social distress subvert the calm concentration needed for mastering science content. As of this writing (2018), SEL is a relatively new element of the public school curriculum. The SEL movement is strongest in preschool and elementary school. Middle school is catching on quickly, due in part to the prevalence of bullying. Generally speaking however, high school curricula are still mainly focused on the cognitive domain, with SEL as an optional add-on. In sum, the growth of SEL is steady if gradual in public schooling and inversely related to the ages of students.

Given the newness of the SEL movement, and the culture of science teaching, it is perhaps not surprising that SEL is barely present in science classes. The culture of science education has long been focused on the cognitive side of things—thinking rather than feeling. In some quarters, science educators resist embracing the “softer” side of human nature (betraying a cultural and gender bias.) Despite this, it seems likely that SEL will gain prominence even in science classes. As science teachers can observe by watching their colleagues in other departments, SEL strategies are important. They positively impact classroom climate, promote equity, enhance content learning, improve classroom management and, yes, they feel good. And in the end, it’s not just what we think, but how we feel, that matters.