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Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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6

The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

Scientists and engineers engage in investigation and work to solve problems in ways that are often interdisciplinary in nature. The same in-terdisciplinarity applies to children’s science and engineering learning and activity. Children use both language and literacy and mathematics (and other content areas) as they engage in science and engineering. They talk, sketch, draw, and write as they observe, design, and communicate their thinking. Additionally, they draw on texts (including diagrams, television shows, and simulations) constructed by others as they ask questions and develop explanations (e.g., Duke, 2016) and use measures and quantitative comparisons as they develop understanding of phenomena (e.g., Lehrer and Schauble, 2015). Making connections across content areas can be challenging, but takes advantage of affordances of the structure of preschool through elementary teaching and learning systems. Children work with teachers who support their progress across multiple content areas. Time can be used more fluidly without the need for bells and movement to new classrooms that characterize the middle and upper grades.

Interdisciplinary connections can be capitalized on in ways that are supportive of children’s learning within science and engineering, as well as in content areas like English language arts (ELA), mathematics, and social studies, and in other areas like social-emotional learning, approaches to learning, and executive function (Bustamante, Greenfield, and Nayfeld, 2018; Bustamante, White, and Greenfield, 2018; Pearson, Moje, and Greenleaf, 2010). In the chapter, the word domains is used to refer to these academic content areas and other areas related to children’s learning, such as social-emotional learning. Interdisciplinary connections across domains support learning in science and engineering and learning in other areas.

That said, drawing connections across these domains, both disciplinary content and other areas related to learning, can be challenging and must be done with care. Each content area discipline has core ideas and practices that need to be developed deeply and systematically (Clements and Sarama, 2021b; English, 2016; Lederman and Niess, 1997; Picha, 2020; Rich et al., 2020). And connecting learning across domains is seldom addressed systematically in curricular materials and professional learning initiatives (see Chapters 7 and 8). This chapter offers some starting points for considering such instructional connections.

This chapter begins with a brief description of approaches that have been taken when science and engineering are promoted in connection with other domains (notably content area domains and the area of social-emotional learning). This discussion is followed by summaries of the evidence base regarding connections to specific content domains, including language and literacy, mathematics, and computational thinking and computer science. The chapter argues for the benefits of making meaningful connections to be made and presents guidance for doing so.

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

APPROACHES TO CONTENT INTEGRATION

There are a number of different approaches to the integration of content (Moore, Johnston, and Glancy, 2020). Terms like interdisciplinary and integrated are often used interchangeably to describe approaches that connect learning across content domains (Czerniak et al., 1999; National Research Council [NRC], 2014b). Based on a review of the literature (e.g., Couso, 2020; Czerniak et al., 1999; English, 2016; Moore et al., 2020; NRC, 2014b; Rennie, Wallace, and Venville, 2012; Sarama et al., 2017), the committee proposes four main approaches that have typically characterized efforts to connect content domains:

  1. Superficial Connections (Add-On or Sequential)—activities that showcase another discipline is added into a unit with little connection other than the topic.
  2. Partial Integration—Two or more domains are addressed simultaneously, sometimes with one playing a supportive role.
  3. Full Integration—All major domains are combined in every major lesson, instructional activity, or project. An overarching, usually real-world problem situates the use of multiple domains, but domains may not be fully supported.
  4. Interdisciplinary Integration—Domains are connected sometimes via partial and other times full integration, with the criterion that each retains their core conceptual and epistemological structures so that connections serve the goals of each discipline.

Henceforth, the term “connection” is used to indicate linkages between domains of any depth and type. “Integration” refers to designs where the connections are more than superficial (i.e., the second, third, and fourth categories, above).

Both within and across these four categories, there is variation in types, degree, and depth of integration and pedagogical structures. Approaches to integration may differ in terms of the authenticity of context used, the intentionality of the connections, and the capacity for maintaining the integrity of the disciplines involved. Table 6-1 provides an overview of the features and learning goals of the four approaches to integration and identifies the number of domains connected and how domains are selected for integration.

Although at first glance these categorizations may appear to constitute a scale of increasing pedagogical efficacy, existing evidence does not support such a hierarchy (Rennie, Wallace, and Venville, 2012). Instead, research suggests designing to make connections where activity across domains is mutually supportive of learning in each domain, with different approaches

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

TABLE 6-1 Dimensions of Connections in Domain Integration

Features and Learning Goals Number of Domains Connected Selection of Domains to Connect
Superficial Connections (Add-On or Sequential)
May involve only context integration in which one discipline uses a problem from another discipline as the context, but only attempts to achieve learning goals in the primary discipline. Children do not experience the other discipline’s core ideas or practices as useful.

Alternatively, the two domains may be applied to the problem, but only sequentially.
2 or more Less intentional selection
Partial Integration
Content integration achieves learning goals in two or more disciplines simultaneously.

Often, one domain as the primary driver of the practices, concepts, and development, with the other used in support. Children’s experiences within the secondary domain(s) may involve only review or skill application

Alternatively, the two domains may be more connected, explicating some related concepts and shared practices.
2 or more Intentional selection
Full Integration
A complex problem that requires multiple domains drives instruction.

Ideas and practices are brought in as they are useful for addressing the problem.

Often these are not based on learning trajectories in any domain and children’s engagement and learning can vary widely across domains.
All domains Potentially less intentional
Interdisciplinary Integration
This approach blends the integration approaches and adds specific pedagogical principles.

Classes are organized into multiple blocks of time, for each content domain, as well as integrated experiences, so that each domain retains its core conceptual, procedural, and epistemological structure but also fully connects to other domains in crosscutting concepts and practices. Thus, educational experiences integrate two or more domains whenever, but only, when it serves the goals of each.
2 or more Intentional selection with criteria for selection
Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

being appropriate in different situations. The committee sees value in partial integration, full integration, or interdisciplinary approaches, but suggests eschewing superficial connections or add-on approaches without any meaningful integration.

Although research is limited and varies in quality, the STEM Integration in K-12 Education report (NRC, 2014b) and other relevant literature suggest four promising principles for connecting science and engineering with other domains:

  1. Engage children in investigation and design experiences that draw on multiple domains. When instruction situates children’s science and engineering learning in meaningful and rich contexts, children engage in activity that recruits—and potentially deepens—practices, skills, and knowledge developed in other parts of the school day and may build positive identities in science and engineering (e.g., English, 2016; McClure et al., 2017; Moore, Johnston, and Glancy, 2020; NRC, 2014b).
  2. Make integration explicit in designs and teaching. Even in meaningful contexts that call for activity that transcends disciplines, integration may not automatically support productive learning experiences (NRC, 2014b). Therefore, designs need to consider the potential learning and identity development within the multiple domains, and make relationships across domains explicit for children.
  3. Support children’s knowledge in individual disciplines. Domains often need to be learned in and of themselves, with dedicated time for each subject and a basis in a learning trajectory for children’s development of central understanding and practices (Clements and Sarama, 2021b; English, 2016). For example, teaching science within the context of literacy can be reduced to “content-rich literacy,” where the target literacy knowledge and practices drive the work, and children do not learn meaningful science content or develop an understanding of science and engineering practice.
  4. More integration is not necessarily better. Research comparing various types of integrated curricula does not always support full integration (NRC, 2014b). Focusing on opportunities to use the disciplines in mutually supportive ways can help to ensure that children are learning and developing practices in each.

These principles offer entrance points for beginning the work of content connections and integration in the preschool through elementary ages.

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

APPROACHES TO INTEGRATING WITH SPECIFIC DOMAINS

Choices about connections and integration should be based on the contexts, disciplines, and learning goals. Consistent with the committee’s charge to examine instructional approaches that support and enhance learning in science and engineering, the next sections discuss empirical evidence for productive connections between science and engineering and other domains.

Table 6-2 summarizes the committee’s findings from the literature around a set of key questions:

TABLE 6-2 Connections and Evidence of Efficacy

Justification for Integration
English Language Arts
  • Language and literacy help children develop tools and practices for making sense of and communicating about the world.
  • Children can use reading, writing, drawing, and speaking to acquire ideas and communicate their thinking about science and engineering.
(Drawing on Cervetti et al., 2006; Duke, 2000; Lee and Stephens, 2020; Lemke, 1998; Palincsar and Magnusson, 2001; and others.)
Mathematics
  • In preK–5, mathematics is one main tool for modeling in science and engineering.
  • Science practices involve counting, measuring, spatial thinking, working with data, multiplicative thinking and scaling, identifying patterns, and mathematical and logical reasoning.
(Drawing on Gelman et al., 2010; Lehrer and Schauble, 2006; and others.)
Computational Thinking
  • Computational thinking (CT) can support learning across domains and disciplinary learning provides a meaningful context for engaging in CT.
(Drawing on Cooper and Cunningham, 2010; Grover and Pea, 2018; Weintrop et al., 2016; and others.)
Social Studies
  • Potential connections to social issues as well as disciplinary practices in history.
(Drawing on Davis and Schaeffer, 2019; Herrenkohl and Cornelius, 2013; Marino, 2019; Tzou et al., 2019; and others.)
Social-Emotional Learning
  • Effective approaches to learning are positively associated with improvements in science.
(Drawing on Bustamante et al., 2018.)
Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×
  1. What are overlaps and connections in disciplinary activity in science/engineering and the other domain? What justifies integration between these domains?
  2. How have science/engineering and the other domains been connected or integrated in preschool through elementary settings? What is the evidence that learning in science/engineering and learning in the other domain are mutually beneficial?
  3. What are key productive opportunities for integration in preschool through elementary school?
Evidence of Effectiveness Opportunities for Integration
  • Substantial evidence that integrating literacy and science can support more time for science/engineering learning without detracting from children’s literacy learning, including for emergent multilingual learners.
  • Building both process and content knowledge in science facilitates literacy development.
  • Use texts to support explanation and understanding.
  • Use texts to support understanding of science and engineering practice and help children develop identities and interests.
  • Help children generate texts and inscriptions to represent their reasoning.
  • Support for integration of science or engineering with mathematics is more logical than empirical.
  • Empirical evidence suggests that quantification is central to an understanding of matter and that understanding distribution and chance is central to understanding life sciences concepts.
  • Help children engage in quantification (distinguishing and developing measures for attributes).
  • Help children engage in data analysis and representation.
  • Emergent
  • Use science or engineering contexts to highlight CT practices.
  • Use CT as the method for exploring a science or engineering concept.
  • Emergent
  • Use socioscientific issues and complex socioecological and political systems, across multiple social sciences (e.g., civics, economics).
  • Connect disciplinary practices like argumentation in history and science.
  • Emergent
  • Emergent
Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

By far, the most literature is available for language and literacy and mathematics. However, because of the nature of teaching and learning in preschool through elementary classrooms, the committee thought it would be important to review the literature in other areas, as well. Emerging connections deserve further investigation and hold promise in areas such as computational thinking. The committee determined that the connections to social studies and social-emotional learning are too scant to warrant full inclusion and only a brief treatment is done, but notes the importance of further research in these areas. Regarding social-emotional learning, Bustamante and colleagues’ (2018) work suggests the potential of early science learning in relation to positive approaches to learning in young children.

With regard to social studies (which includes the study of civics, economics, geography, and history), work situating science and engineering in socioscientific issues and complex socioecological and political systems, including work in secondary school classrooms and informal settings, suggests the potential for connecting science and engineering with social studies in elementary classrooms (Bang et al., 2012; Davis and Schaeffer, 2019; Morales-Doyle, 2017; Tzou et al., 2019; Zangori et al., 2020). This body of work, though emergent, suggests that connections between science and social studies in terms of socioscientific issues might be particularly relevant to justice-oriented science and engineering instructional approaches aiming to situate learning in contexts relevant to children’s lives, supporting learning both of natural science and engineering and of ideas and practices related to the social sciences. Additionally, other work in social studies and science focuses on disciplinary practices such as argumentation across disciplines (Herrenkohl and Cornelius, 2013; Marino, 2019; Rebello, Asunda, and Wang, 2020). This work suggests that similarities across disciplinary practices related to argumentation in science and history, in particular, could have affordances for children’s learning and disciplinary work.

The sections that follow review the literature that helps to elaborate the answers to the questions: What are key productive areas of overlap and opportunities for integration in preschool through elementary school? What are potential pitfalls of that integration? These two questions are addressed for language and literacy, mathematics, and computational thinking.

Connections to Language and Literacy1

As described throughout this report, science and engineering are social and multimodal enterprises. The collective development of understanding

___________________

1 Portions of this section include content from a paper commissioned by the committee, titled “The Integration of Literacy, Science, and Engineering in Prekindergarten through Fifth Grade” (Palincsar et al., 2020).

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

and solutions relies on communicating through, for example, talk, writing, and visual representation. Further, scientists and engineers—and “regular people” doing science and engineering—draw on others’ ideas by engaging with a variety of genres of text, such as field guides, research articles, and graphs. Rather than starting from scratch, they draw on and evaluate established ideas and make connections between their developing questions and findings and others’ texts. Finally, people tend to draw on conventions and purposes for various text genres as they use and communicate scientific understanding in persuasive text, informational text, fiction, memoirs, and even poetry.

Literacy and language are practices. However, ELA, as a content area, is often taught separately from other areas. Increasingly, literacy educators question the wisdom of this instructional design. Cervetti and colleagues (2006) write, “In a perfect (or at least better) world, language and literacy—like learning—would be regarded as a means to learning in the disciplines rather than an end unto itself” (p. 3). For example, research shows that emergent multilingual learners are more likely to understand and learn English when it is embedded in meaningful, authentic science and engineering learning activities (NASEM, 2018a).

ELA is represented in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and is heavily included in accountability structures in states, districts, and schools in preschool through fifth grade. The CCSS for ELA and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have important areas of connection and overlap. The CCSS emphasizes that the teaching of literacy skills (e.g., identifying main ideas, drawing inferences, using text structure to summarize text) needs to occur in the context of reading disciplinary-specific texts for disciplinary-specific purposes. Children need to learn to engage in “close, attentive reading” of challenging text, including informational text in science. Furthermore, argumentation, including supporting claims with evidence, is identified as a central strand of the CCSS and is one of eight science and engineering practices in the NGSS, though the nature of evidence in the two subjects is different (see Lee [2017] for a discussion of distinctions). Indeed, although the eighth science and engineering practice of the NGSS—Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information—has the closest connection to much of the work in literacy, most of the other science and engineering practices also intersect with language and literacy practices (e.g., engaging in evidence-based argumentation; developing and using models).

Approaches to Connecting Domains and Evidence of Effectiveness

Numerous programs have been developed to productively connect or integrate science/engineering and ELA, and these can serve as supports for

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

educators interested in connecting across content areas. Tables 6-3 and 6-4 summarize those programs that have a substantial literature base, including quasi-experimental and experimental studies, pre-post studies of learning in literacy and/or science, and close, qualitative descriptions of children’s engagement and reasoning. This work is more extensive in the connections between ELA and science. The work in science has provided evidence of outcomes in science, literacy, and noncognitive domains, while work to date in engineering has focused on learning in science and engineering but has not examined literacy outcomes.

Integrating science and literacy may be particularly beneficial for emergent multilingual learners. For example, third grade science domain knowledge was significantly associated with third grade reading comprehension, particularly for students classified as English language learners (Hwang and Duke, 2020) and particularly for higher-level comprehension skills such as building a situation model and building inferences (see also Best, Floyd, and McNamara, 2008; Droop and Verhoeven, 1998). As Hwang and Duke (2020) argue:

Reading instruction can be more effective when it is situated in knowledge-building goals than in a generic context (e.g., Guthrie et al., 2004; Halvorsen et al., 2012). In this study [Hwang and Duke, 2020], science domain knowledge played a more important role in reading comprehension development in students who are ELs than in students who are monolingual. The results support recommendations of Lesaux and Harris (2015) to situate much of the instruction provided to students who are ELs within a content area context. Results of this study also call into question the practice of pulling students who are ELs out of content area instruction in order to teach them basic reading and language skills at the expense of content knowledge development. [emphasis added] (pp. 1213)

Although this body of evidence is nascent, the committee draws attention to the implications: emergent multilingual learners would benefit from remaining present for science instruction, rather than being removed for remedial English instruction (also see NASEM, 2018a).

Taken together, research on programs that make strong connections between science or engineering and literacy show evidence that integrating can support more time for science and engineering learning without detracting from, and indeed making critical contributions to, children’s literacy learning. Knowledge affects how one processes vocabulary, handles new vocabulary, makes inferences, handles incoherence, and creates a situation model of texts. Therefore, building both process and content knowledge in science facilitates literacy development (Anderson and Pearson, 1984; Hwang and Duke, 2020; Kintsch, 2013).

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

Opportunities for Integration

Opportunity 1: Incorporate text to help children develop and deepen explanations and to situate reading in conceptually coherent, meaningful pursuits of understanding and solutions.

Text—broadly defined to include a range of materials and genres—can be an important resource for helping children extend and deepen understanding developed as they explore empirical systems and engage with data. In addition, the data needed to support some scientific explanations is not possible or accessible within elementary classroom work. For example, consider the difficulty studying the solar system or directly observing organisms’ different strategies and behaviors in tropical rainforests, temperate forests, and the Arctic.

There is evidence that this approach can support literacy learning and reading comprehension as well (Cervetti, Wright, and Hwang, 2016). For example, fourth grade children reading a set of conceptually coherent text sets demonstrate greater understanding, vocabulary knowledge, and learn more from a new text on a related topic than learners engaged in similar instruction with a variety of unconnected texts (Cervetti, Wright, and Hwang, 2016). Further, children benefit from support to understand the features of informational and multimodal text and to learn to navigate these forms of text effectively (Jian, 2016; Prain and Waldrip, 2006). Duke (personal communication, August 27, 2020) points out that science and engineering texts have particular informational text features that other areas of study do not. Therefore, using text to deepen understanding and explanations explored through first-hand investigation with data is a productive context for building children’s comprehension and their motivation for reading to find out, and children’s use of text features in the service of developing understanding (see Box 6-1). Literacy learning benefits from motivation, opportunity to build background knowledge, and conceptual coherence. Science learning benefits from incorporating understanding of text features and ways to help children learn to navigate expository text. Providing text to help children deepen their explanations after engaging in investigation, design, and sensemaking supports ongoing sensemaking without usurping it (as providing expository text prior to investigation or design might do). Opportunity 2, below, describes additional designs and uses of text.

Multimodal text (including representations, videos, photographs, interactive diagrams, and simulations) can play an important role in supporting children’s learning. These forms of text can be approached as something children connect to phenomena and problems and learn to engage with critically (Dalton and Palincsar, 2013; DeFrance, 2008; Easley, 2020; Henderson, Klemes, and Eshet, 2000; Varelas and Pappas, 2006, 2013; Wilson and Bradbury, 2016). Texts can also facilitate connections

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

TABLE 6-3 Features of Integrations of Science and Literacy Interventions in Preschool Through Fifth Grade

Features of Integrated Curricula: Opportunities to… In Science, for PreK–2
actively engage with scientific phenomena or engage with engineering design ScienceStart!a
SOLID Startb
Science Literacy Projectc
Integrated Science Literacy Enactments (ISLE)d
Grades 1–2 Science IDEASe
read and discuss a variety of texts: informational texts, including read-alouds, for preK–2, and informational, narrative, and hybrid texts, for 3–5 ScienceStart!
SOLID Start
Science Literacy Project
ISLE
Grades 1–2 Science IDEAS
learn and apply comprehension strategies*
draw and/or write about science or engineering (including the practice of dictating to an adult) ScienceStart!
SOLID Start
Science Literacy Project
ISLE
Grades 1–2 Science IDEAS
discuss scientific phenomena or engineering design problems ScienceStart!
SOLID Start
Science Literacy Project
ISLE
Grades 1–2 Science IDEAS
have an extended block of time for science instruction that replaces ELA instruction take home learning opportunities with family members Science Literacy Project
ISLE

NOTE: *Comprehension strategies include making predictions, using text structure, learning new vocabulary, identifying main ideas, asking questions, making inferences.

aFrench (2004), Peterson and French (2008)

bWright and Gotwals (2017)

cSamarapungavan, Patrick, and Mantzicopoulos (2011)

dVarelas and Pappas (2013)

eRomance and Vitale (2001)

fGuthrie et al. (2004)

gCervetti, Kulikowich, and Bravo (2015)

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×
In Science, for 3–5 In Engineering, for PreK–5
Science IDEASe
CORIf
Seeds of Science/Roots of Readingg
ML-PBLh
Engineering is Elementaryi
Project Lead the Way Launchj
PictureSTEMk
EngrTEAMSl
LEGO Engineeringm
Science IDEAS
CORI
Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading
ML-PBL
Engineering is Elementary
Project Lead the Way Launch
PictureSTEM
Science IDEAS
CORI
Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading
ML-PBL
Science IDEAS
CORI
Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading
ML-PBL
Engineering is Elementary
Project Lead the Way Launch
City Technologyn
PictureSTEM
EngrTEAMS
Science IDEAS
CORI
Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading
ML-PBL
Engineering is Elementary
Project Lead the Way Launch
City Technology
PictureSTEM
EngrTEAMS
Science IDEAS

hFitzgerald (2018, 2020)

iAguirre-Muñoz and Pantoya (2016); Cunningham et al. (2020); Hertel, Cunningham, and Kelly (2017)

jhttps://www.pltw.org

kGuzey et al. (2014)

lDouglas et al. (2018)

mhttp://www.legoengineering.com

nBeneson, Stewart-Dawkins, and White (2012)

SOURCE: Adapted from Tables 2, 3, and 13 in Palincsar et al. (2020) commissioned paper.

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

TABLE 6-4 Learning Gains from Integrations of Science and Literacy in Preschool Through Fifth Grade

Gains Following Use of Integrated Curricula In Science, for PreK–2
Science or Engineering Content ScienceStart!
SOLID Start
Scientific Literacy Project
Science or Engineering Practices SOLID Start
Science Vocabulary ScienceStart!
SOLID Start
Reading Achievement
Connections Across the Unit and to Children’s Lived Experiences ISLE
Noncognitive Gainsa ScienceStart!
Scientific Literacy Project
Long-Term Benefitsb

aNoncognitive gains include reading motivation, reading engagement, attitude toward science, attitude toward reading, self-confidence, motivation, and engagement.

bLong-term benefits include benefits specific to science knowledge and reading comprehension measured years later.

SOURCE: Adapted from Tables 4, 5, and 14 in Palincsar et al. (2020) commissioned paper.

across home and school (Shymansky, Yore, and Hand, 2000; Strickler-Eppard, Czerniak, and Kaderavek, 2019).

Opportunity 2: Incorporate text describing doing and using science and engineering to provide expansive views of science and engineering and help children develop identities and interests.

Text can also be an important resource for helping children develop an understanding of the connections of science and engineering to their lives, including constructing images of the practices that scientists and engineers engage in, developing understanding of who is and can be a scientist and engineer, and understanding the problems that science and engineering have relevance for. In classroom studies that have supported teachers to use text, children developed broader and more nuanced understanding of who does science, where science is done, and what activities scientists engage in, and

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×
In Science, for 3–5 In Engineering, for PreK–5
CORI
Science IDEAS
Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading
ML-PBL
Benenson, Stewart-Dawkins, and White (2012)
Cunningham et al. (2020)
ML-PBL Benenson, Stewart-Dawkins, and White (2012)
Cunningham et al. (2020)
Douglas et al. (2018)
Hertel, Cunningham, and Kelly (2017)
Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading
Science IDEAS
CORI
Seeds of Science/Roots of Reading
ML-PBL
Benenson, Stewart-Dawkins, and White (2012)
CORI Science
IDEAS
Aguirre-Muñoz and Pantoya (2016)
Science IDEAS

the nature of scientific understanding—for example as tentative and social (Farland, 2006; Tucker-Raymond et al., 2007).

Studies that analyzed the content of science texts designed for young readers have demonstrated that teachers and curriculum designers must choose text carefully and then support engagement with text to develop expansive views of what science and engineering are and who does science and engineering (Ford, 2006; Kelly, 2018; Rivera and Oliveira, 2021). Texts are more likely to represent science knowledge than the doing of science and to present knowledge as facts (Ford, 2006; May et al., 2020), emphasize experiment or observation over other methods of science knowledge development (Ford, 2006), and represent scientists as white and/or male (Kelly, 2018; May et al., 2020). They vary widely in their reference to science practice and science knowledge development, with biographies and other books that emphasize the “lived lives of sci-

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

entists” through fictional accounts of science work, descriptions of the history of science ideas, and descriptions of contemporary science problem solving more likely to provide descriptions of science practice (Kelly, 2018; May et al., 2020).

Integration may also generate new genres of text. Palincsar and Magnusson (2001) conducted a program of research that culminated in the development and study of an innovative genre of text—one written as a scientist’s notebook—that was specifically designed to support children and teachers to approach science text as an inquiry. A hybrid of exposition, narration, description, and argumentation, the notebooks included multiple ways of representing data, including tables, figures, and diagrams. The authors’ quasi-experimental study found that both the traditional texts and these “notebook texts” supported learning, but that the children found the notebook texts more enjoyable. Subsequent observational research revealed

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

the ways teachers used notebook texts to help children more effectively represent data from their own first-hand investigations, assume a more critical stance toward texts, and acquire vocabulary.

Opportunity 3: Support children in producing texts and inscriptions to represent their reasoning for themselves, the classroom community, and the wider community.

Children’s ongoing work to document and share their thinking, observations, designs, and findings in science and engineering is a natural fit for developing multimodal composition strategies (which support literacy). Similarly, recent research has found multiple benefits to young children engaging in multimodal composition (e.g., drawing, creating models) to document science observations, including deepening thinking and learning with data (supporting science and engineering).

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

Thus, first, supporting learners in engaging in multimodal composition supports their learning. Traditional definitions of literacy often consider the four primary modalities of literacy to be reading, writing, speaking, and listening (National Governors Association, 2010). However, many literacy scholars have encouraged expanding the modality of “writing” to include multimodal composition, including using drawing or other image-based media (e.g., images, symbols, audio, graphical displays, and/or animation) to represent ideas (Dalton, 2012; Dalton and Palincsar, 2013; Siegel, 2006), which is similar to what professional scientists do (Krajcik et al., 2021; Lemke, 2004; Suárez, 2020).

In preschool through elementary school, science journals or notebooks provide young children opportunities to observe closely and to represent their observations of objects and phenomena (Brenneman and Louro, 2008; Romance and Vitale, 2001). Engineering programs similarly involve children maintaining some variety of engineering journal or notebook, either hand drawn (Cunningham et al., 2020; Douglas et al., 2018; English and King, 2017; Hertel, Cunningham, and Kelly, 2017; King and English, 2016) or digital (Wendell, Andrews, and Paugh, 2019). Children are often guided with prompts, graphic organizers, suggested headings, or other supports, and reflective prompts support children’s learning of key understanding and development of vocabulary (Rouse and Rouse, 2019).

Second, supporting learners in writing explanations and supporting claims with evidence engages and develops science and engineering concepts and also literacy skills relevant to writing persuasive text and supporting claims. Research on written explanations of learners in grades 3–5 suggest that writing explanations and descriptions of engineering designs supports improved understanding of engineering and science models and ideas (Chambliss, Christenson, and Parker, 2003; Rouse and Rouse, 2019; Songer and Gotwals, 2012) and improvement in learners’ explanations and understanding of evidence (McNeill, 2011; Yang and Wang, 2014). This research indicates the need for a coherent and dual focus on the science/engineering and literacy practices. For example, a teacher might engage children in developing explanations in contexts where there is more than one plausible explanation and so they must generate their own explanation/rationale (Zangori and Forbes, 2014), supporting children to both connect and distinguish everyday and scientific argumentation (McNeill, 2011) and providing supports, including models and peer feedback, for particular linguistic features of scientific explanations (Chambliss, Christenson, and Parker, 2003; McNeill, 2011; Seah, 2016).

Other uses and genres of text can also be beneficial. Numerous studies have documented the role of drawing—both observational records and engaging in developing and revising models—in supporting children’s learning in science (e.g., diSessa et al., 1991; Fox and Lee, 2013; Samarapungavan

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

et al., 2017). Science and engineering can be a context where children write persuasive texts to convince community members of the importance of problems and propose solutions (Calabrese Barton and Tan, 2010; Davis and Schaeffer, 2019). Finally, some work explores imaginative narrative-based writing, theater, poetry, and art as a context for children to deepen and explore science and engineering (Danish and Enyedy, 2006; Gallas, 1995; Varelas et al., 2010).

Potential Pitfalls

One key pitfall is that even with curricular materials that have been designed for integration, teachers may still experience difficulties with supporting both literacy and science and engineering practices. Another area of concern is that at times, “best practices” in literacy and science/engineering seem to be contradictory. Although full treatment of these pitfalls is beyond the scope of this report, the committee names two issues, based mainly on committee members’ work in classrooms and with teachers and children.

  1. The “I Do, We Do, You Do” model of literacy instruction—emphasizing teacher modeling, then scaffolded support to engage in a practice together, then children using that practice independently—comes in tension with models of science and engineering instruction that emphasize children engaging with ill-structured problems, putting forward their own tentative design ideas and explanations, and revising those through activity. Teachers may be able to navigate this apparent tension through using interactive modeling to support children in learning new aspects of science practice (Arias and Davis, 2016; Hapgood et al., 2004; Palincsar and Magnusson, 2001) but allowing more child-driven investigation of phenomena.
  2. Vocabulary practices can seem at first contradictory but have been negotiated with success (e.g., Warren et al., 2001) when there is a focus on sensemaking (NASEM, 2018a). For example, in literacy, particularly with emergent multilingual learners, teachers often preteach key vocabulary, often perceived as a recommended strategy in English language development. In science, teachers promote experience with a phenomenon and develop conceptual underpinnings about it, then introduce the “science term.” Supporting language-rich sensemaking could take the form of recognizing that it can be useful to know certain kinds of words (e.g., the names of tools being used, such as “thermometer” or “hand lens”) and holding off on preteaching other kinds of conceptual vocabulary (e.g., “conductor” or “adaptation”) until children have made meaning of the concepts embedded in these terms.
Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

In contrast, the early literacy practice of “invented spelling,” which emphasizes that children learn word patterns as meaningful chunks and rules and reveal their understanding through trying out writing, is more consistent with resource-based accounts of children’s development of understanding (Russ and Berland, 2019). Teachers may need support to make sense of apparent differences and contradictions, as well as areas where literacy and science/engineering are well aligned.

Connections to Mathematics

Mathematics is an essential foundation for engaging in any domain of science and engineering. Many models in science and engineering are mathematical in expression (ideal gas law, models in climate science) or rely on mathematical relationships (simulations of predator/prey relationships; exponential growth). Engineers develop models of bridges and apply mathematical models of stress to them. Scientists and engineers collect numerical and categorical data and make use of mathematical ideas and tools to tabulate, organize, and interpret data.

A goal of mathematics education is for children to view mathematics as sensible, useful, and worthwhile—to see themselves as capable of thinking mathematically and to appreciate the beauty and creativity that is at the heart of mathematics. One way to accomplish this is to have mathematics be learned and applied to help address questions from the other STEM domains. Ideally, children gain exposure to prerequisite math competencies in an appropriate sequence and then science serves as a context for children to experience mathematical concepts and skills as meaningful and useful. Similarly, engineering relies on mathematics, but also has contributed to mathematics with its inventions (from physical to digital) and, perhaps most significantly, can be a meaningful context for learning mathematics, although empirical results are mixed (National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council, 2009).

The NGSS and CCSS for Mathematics have areas of overlap that are relevant to children’s work. Two of the science and engineering practices highlighted in the NGSS are mathematical in nature (analyzing and interpreting data and using mathematics and computational data). Furthermore, a crosscutting concept focuses on scale, quantity, and proportion. The CCSS have a strand focused on measurement and data. From kindergarten to second grade, children engage with different representations (e.g., bar graphs, picture graphs) and ask and answer questions using graphs. In third grade, children begin to scale measurements and graphs and ask and answer comparative questions (how many more, how many less) and explore measurements for attributes such as volume and weight. Over grades 3–5,

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

children solve problems using and comparing measurements, and compare and convert between units.

Approaches to Connecting or Integrating and Evidence of Effectiveness

Mathematics is often included in most contexts in which children learn science or engineering. Science and engineering curricula regularly engage children, for example, in comparing attributes or measures, working with measures of length, height, area, volume, or weight, examining graphs, and making calculations. The types and depths of these connections (as described in Table 6-1) often vary substantially. For example, some uses of mathematics (e.g., measuring the distance traveled from the bottom of a ramp) demonstrate the usefulness of mathematics but are unlikely to serve learning goals in mathematics. In other contexts, connections are designed so that mathematical understanding and practices are deepened by providing contexts for considering what children are doing and why (Clements and Sarama, 2021a; Lehrer and Schauble, 2006). Making the role of mathematics explicit by repeatedly foregrounding the desired mathematical content and temporarily backgrounding other STEM content is one way that all disciplines might be advanced—a principle of the interdisciplinary approach of Table 6-1.

Unlike ELA, there are few programs that have systematically sought to support the integration of mathematics and science or have collected evidence on children’s learning in both mathematics and science/engineering, though a few programs of research have sought to examine how mathematical reasoning and skills contribute to the learning of a particular science understanding at the preschool and elementary level. Wiser and colleagues (2006, 2009) developed a learning progression for understanding of matter, positing that quantification is central to an understanding of matter. They describe the progression of understanding of attributes and measures of matter, from the idea that objects have properties (weight, length, area, and volume) that can be described, compared, and measured to weight as an additive property that can be measured and is a function of both volume and material. These ideas, in turn, support the development of ideas such as transformations of matter that conserve weight or that matter exists even when broken into pieces too small to see. Lehrer and Schauble (2004, 2012) have argued that (a) identifying and relating attributes and (b) developing understanding of mathematical models of distribution and chance are central to understanding core concepts in the life sciences; this research shows that elementary-age children benefit from engaging with identifying and mathematizing attributes.

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

Opportunities for Integration

Opportunity 1: Help children engage in quantification (distinguishing and developing measures for attributes).

Measurement is an important topic in mathematics, science, and engineering, and helps develop other competencies, including reasoning and logic. By its very nature, geometric measurement (length, area, and volume) connects the two critical domains of mathematics, geometry and number, and also connects mathematics to science and engineering. In particular, science and engineering are contexts where children can come to see and distinguish attributes as they wrestle with which attributes are important for helping them answer questions or orient design (Jin et al., 2019; Lehrer, Giles, and Schauble, 2002). These attributes include basic units such as length (height, perimeter, girth, etc.) and weight, as well as derived (computed) units such as density, speed, and acceleration. This work to distinguish attributes and determine a unit of that attribute are critical components of the development of measure. Unfortunately, typical measurement instruction in the United States does not address these components, and many children are taught to measure in a rote and decontextualized fashion, engaging in tasks such as children seeing a picture of a pencil above a ruler (aligned at the zero point) and asked to tell the measure (reading the numeral at the other end of the pencil).

Children investigating science phenomena or designing solutions to engineering problems, however, are measuring for a purpose in situations in which the principles of measurement must be constructed, followed, and articulated. Science and engineering can provide a context where discussions—about what to measure, how to measure, and whether measurements are comparable—are meaningful, as children recognize that their measurement tools and methods have import for what they can see and conclude (Lehrer and Schauble, 2012; Lehrer, Giles, and Schauble, 2002; Masnick and Klahr, 2003; NRC, 2008). Measuring in meaningful contexts requires accuracy, resulting in feedback that is intrinsic to the situation itself, and building concept images (Vinner and Hershkowitz, 1980) that provide firm conceptual foundations for future development.

The teaching of measurement within science or engineering projects can benefit from consideration of the mathematical principles of measurement and the learning trajectories that have been developed within mathematics education (Barrett, Clements, and Sarama, 2017; Clements and Sarama, 2021a). These learning trajectories explicate levels of thinking along a birth to sixth grade development progression that, if ignored, can lead to rote use of measurement tools within science and engineering. These trajectories describe how children can be supported to discuss attributes and amounts in their play and learn to measure, connecting number to quantity in both

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

geometric measurement—length, area, volume, and angle/rotation (Barrett, Clements, and Sarama, 2017; Clements and Sarama, 2021a; Gao, 2001)—and other scientific measurements, such as mass (weight) and time. They uncover the work of learning to measure, identifying an attribute, developing a concept of the attribute, identifying and iterating units of measure, understanding how a particular tool would allow one to measure that attribute, and using measures to make meaningful comparisons between objects and processes. As children begin to explore new science contexts, they can be supported to engage in this work. For example, Lehrer, Giles, and Schauble (2002) reported how the “size” of a pumpkin was initially taken to mean height for some first graders and width for others. This difference provided a context for the teachers to help children discuss similarities and differences in attributes and consider how each might be measured. Such work is precluded in curricula that choose measures for children to use.

Opportunity 2: Support children in transforming and analyzing data, as well as in understanding the foundational concepts of data representation and statistics.

Each year of mathematics in elementary school often includes a unit on graphing, with children typically collecting preferences or conducting counts in their classrooms (e.g., what classmate’s favorite meal is, how many pockets children have) or examining, calculating with, and interpreting pre-made graphs. In contrast, organizing and interpreting data to solve a problem is central to work in science and engineering contexts, where a key strategy for managing uncertainty and error is to look for patterns and aggregate across cases. For example, Lehrer and Schauble’s program of research demonstrated that mathematical and scientific reasoning can be mutually supportive in the context of children’s inventing and revising representations related to plant growth, as shown in Box 6-2.

Potential Pitfalls

This work must be carefully constructed to understand the contexts where children find it sensible to draw on mathematical ideas and to make sure that they have developed the prerequisite skills and understanding, which are sometimes best accomplished outside of the context of a complex phenomenon that children are seeking to understand and explain. From a mathematics perspective, mode, median, proportion, and measure are concepts (rather than simply procedures or calculations). Many science curricula introduce and ask children to use mathematical representations and processes (e.g., bar charts, line plots, calculating the mean of multiple trials) to help children efficiently see what they are supposed to from an investigation, without much attention to whether children understand the

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

reasons for these processes or have been introduced to them systematically. For example, statistical concepts such as mode and median (and related calculations) are not introduced until sixth grade in CCSS, based on a principled development of ideas over time—but children in grades 3–5 are often asked to use line plots and calculate means or modes in their science work.

Three key pitfalls warrant particular attention. As with ELA, full treatment of these pitfalls is beyond the scope of this report.

  1. Sequencing of ideas: Mathematics, in particular, often suffers from attempts at STEM integration (Clements et al., 2021; English, 2016). This can happen if simple application of already-learned
Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×
  1. math procedures within a STEM project are accepted as the mathematics children are “learning” for an extended period; such a design can serve to trivialize aspects of math learning. Another concern is the way that mathematical understanding and skills might be integrated into science and engineering activity before children understand their conceptual underpinnings and in a way that undermines the development of those ideas.
  2. Developing conceptual (rather than utilitarian) understanding of attributes: Sometimes easy-to-measure numerical attributes are used as a stand-in for more powerful conceptual values; this can inhibit children’s sensemaking (Manz and Renga, 2017).
  3. Treatment of early mathematical ideas and practices in the NGSS: Several authors have critiqued the development of mathematical concepts and practices within the NGSS appendices and performance expectations, in particular at the early grades—arguing that mathematical ideas and practices, including ideas related to quantification, proportion, and scale, are often implicit or unevenly treated at the early grades (Jin et al., 2019; Osborne et al., 2018).

Connections to Computational Thinking2

Compared with ELA and mathematics, research on the remaining domains for potential integration with science and engineering is relatively nascent. This is true for computational thinking (CT). Wing (2006) defines CT as “a universally applicable attitude and skill set” that helps solve problems and design solutions in ways that make them amenable to being solved with computational systems (p. 33). CT involves a range of skills including problem solving, logical and algorithmic thinking, abstraction, pattern generalization, and others (Dong et al., 2019; Grover and Pea, 2013; NASEM, 2021). Most of the research on CT has focused on middle and high school students; there is, however, an emerging body of literature focused on preschool and elementary aged children (e.g., Metcalf et al., 2021). For example, ScratchJr and KIBO (a tangible robotics kit) have been developed to support children in engaging in engineering in early childhood spaces. These programs allow children to learn and apply programming concepts, design, and problem solving even before they can read (Bers, 2018; NASEM, 2021).

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2 Portions of this section include content from two papers commissioned by the committee, titled “The Integration of Computational Thinking in Early Childhood and Elementary Science and Engineering Education” (Ketelhut and Cabrera, 2020) and “The Integration of Computational Thinking in Early Childhood and Elementary Education” (Moore and Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2020).

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

Some scholars argue that CT can support learning across content domains (Grover and Pea, 2013; Henderson, Cortina, and Wing, 2007; Lee et al., 2020; Weintrop et al., 2016) and that disciplinary learning provides a meaningful context for engaging in CT (Cooper and Cunningham, 2010). For example, using computational tools has been shown to support learning science (e.g., diSessa, 2001; Hambrusch et al., 2009; NASEM, 2021).

Overall, there are few empirical articles that investigate the integration of CT with science and/or engineering at the preschool through elementary levels (see NASEM, 2021). Several projects investigate these connections, but most are not yet mature enough to have empirical publications. What research there is tends to focus on less rich forms of connection (as briefly described in Table 6-1). Some of this work maps children’s activity back onto CT practices, using science or engineering contexts as a way of highlighting CT practices. For example, Ehsan and colleagues (2020) created an engineering design exhibit (“build a puppy play yard”) at a family science center. They then analyzed the actions of ten 5- to 7-year-old children as they interacted with this exhibit to see if they demonstrated computational thinking. As one example, the authors identified the CT skill of abstraction when a child said they would build something for the puppy to play with and add a fence in response to the repeated parent question of what they will build. Other studies did something similar: look at curriculum or children’s behavior and then map it onto CT practices.

In other work, CT is an integral part of lessons and activities—the method for exploring a scientific or engineering concept. In many cases, this integration is enacted through programming—learners use a developmentally appropriate programming environment to create models, test scenarios, and design solutions within disciplinary topics. For example, Dickes et al. (2019) created a 15-lesson unit where third grade children explored an ecosystem within an immersive virtual environment. Children were also engaged with a 2D agent-based modeling environment where they used programming to control the behaviors of animals as they saw the outcomes in the ecosystem. The authors demonstrated different moments where children transform the disciplinary content from one type of representation to another. Overall, this implementation resulted in children advancing their understanding of both the scientific concepts of the curriculum and the purpose and mechanisms of computational models.

WORKING TOWARD EQUITY AND INTEGRATING ACROSS DOMAINS

At a basic level, increasing opportunities for and access to high-quality science and engineering is a matter of instructional time (Approach #1). As argued in this chapter, integration is one important way to address the

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
×

issue of instructional time, a problem that is exacerbated in lower-resourced schools, which tend to serve more Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other children of color.

Integration has the potential to improve achievement, representation, and identification with science and engineering, as well (Approach #2). Texts can help to increase representation (Kelly, 2018; May et al., 2020); for example, children’s books can show the work of Black scientists or illustrate girls following their interest in engineering. Such representation allows a broader range of children to “see themselves” in these disciplines. Integrating science with ELA can also help to improve achievement outcomes for emergent multilingual learners (Hwang and Duke, 2020).

Integrating science and engineering with language arts and mathematics can expand the concept of what constitutes science and engineering, and how these subjects are done (Approach #3). Multimodal text can be used to support children’s learning, and children can also generate multimodal ways of expressing their ideas. These approaches provide multiple ways of engaging children’s sensemaking (e.g., Cunningham et al., 2019). Similarly, allowing multiple ways for children to make measurements gives them a range of ways of representing their observations and their ideas (e.g., Lehrer and Schauble, 2012).

Finally, integration has potential for helping to make science and engineering an integral part of justice movements (Approach #4). Children can use literacy practices to generate texts that reach a broader audience than the classroom (Calabrese Barton and Tan, 2010; Davis and Schaeffer, 2019)—a way of working collectively toward justice in a public way (e.g., for the neighborhood or community). The committee also notes the potential for the integration of science or engineering with social studies in working to help children see science and engineering as part of justice movements while benefiting children’s science and social studies (e.g., history, civics, economics) learning; however, the committee did not find much research here, and so calls out this area as one for future research.

SUMMARY

Children often have a disjointed experience of the school subjects throughout the day, perhaps because they have limited opportunities to synthesize their learning across content areas or make connections among them (Stevens et al., 2005). Integrating science and engineering with other content areas and domains of importance in the preschool and elementary day has the potential for addressing this issue and enhancing the amount of instructional time spent in science and engineering, as argued throughout this chapter. Table 6-5 summarizes some of the ways integration may

Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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be undertaken. These approaches may support educators in embarking on making these connections with children.

TABLE 6-5 Integrating Science and Engineering with Other Domains

Key Ideas
Overarching Principles
  • Engage children in investigation and design experiences that draw on multiple domains.
  • Make integration explicit in design and teaching.
  • Support children’s knowledge in individual disciplines.
  • More integration is not necessarily better.
Integrating with English Language Arts
  • Use texts to support explanation and understanding.
  • Use texts to support understanding of science and engineering practice and help children develop identities and interests.
  • Help children generate texts and inscriptions to represent their reasoning.
Integrating with Mathematics
  • Help children engage in quantification (distinguishing and developing measures for attributes).
  • Help children transform and analyze data and understand data representation and statistics.
Integrating with Computational Thinking (CT)
  • Use science or engineering contexts to highlight CT practices.
  • Use CT as the method for exploring a science or engineering concept.
Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Page150
Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Suggested Citation:"6 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Integrating Across Domains." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Science and Engineering in Preschool Through Elementary Grades: The Brilliance of Children and the Strengths of Educators. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26215.
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Next: 7 The Role of Curriculum Materials and Instructional Resources »
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Starting in early childhood, children are capable of learning sophisticated science and engineering concepts and engage in disciplinary practices. They are deeply curious about the world around them and eager to investigate the many questions they have about their environment. Educators can develop learning environments that support the development and demonstration of proficiencies in science and engineering, including making connections across the contexts of learning, which can help children see their ideas, interests, and practices as meaningful not just for school, but also in their lives. Unfortunately, in many preschool and elementary schools science gets relatively little attention compared to English language arts and mathematics. In addition, many early childhood and elementary teachers do not have extensive grounding in science and engineering content.

Science and Engineering in Preschool through Elementary Grades provides evidence-based guidance on effective approaches to preschool through elementary science and engineering instruction that supports the success of all students. This report evaluates the state of the evidence on learning experiences prior to school; promising instructional approaches and what is needed for implementation to include teacher professional development, curriculum, and instructional materials; and the policies and practices at all levels that constrain or facilitate efforts to enhance preschool through elementary science and engineering.

Building a solid foundation in science and engineering in the elementary grades sets the stage for later success, both by sustaining and enhancing students' natural enthusiasm for science and engineering and by establishing the knowledge and skills they need to approach the more challenging topics introduced in later grades. Through evidence-based guidance on effective approaches to preschool through elementary science and engineering instruction, this report will help teachers to support the success of all students.

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