The Next Generation Science Standards were designed to be "rich in content and practice, arranged in a coherent manner across disciplines and grades to provide all students an internationally benchmarked science education." In practice, the NextGen Standards cover more than the science disciplines – the directives integrate all subject areas. The standards are so cross-curricular, you might sometimes think you’re reading a writing prompt for a language arts class or as a math story problem. Their nature makes them ideal for teaching in a project-based learning environment, where the goal is to synthesize curricular topics into one global learning experience. Nexgenscience.org provides a valuable resource on cross-curricular classroom sample tasks to get you started.
There are many ways to bring Science Standards into other disciplines and lessons. Think about presenting the science activities that are aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards as cross-curricular projects that will deepen student learning and engagement. For examples, consider the following 12 projects.
- Add visual and written documentation to a biology project. Kindergarten students are expected to learn and understand what things plants need to survive (K-LS1-1). The easiest way to teach this is to show them. Have students grow a plant in the window of the classroom. Track the growth (or death) of the plant by taking time-lapse photos with a classroom document camera, or use a time-lapse photo app like Lapse It. Then, replay the visual record of the plant for the class. Students could then draw or describe the effects that the water, sun, or lack of nutrition had on the plant.
- Meet Reading Standards while covering ecology. To meet some of the Ecological Standards (4-ESS3-1), the trick isn’t the cross-curricular process as much as it is finding appropriate resources for students to read. Using data from the EPA about air quality or emissions raises the text complexity and gives students exposure to great content-rich vocabulary (RI.4.4). It’s also great exposure to both author’s purpose and to primary sources. In the world of climate change literature, vetting the sources is a critical component of getting accurate information, and it aligns nicely with the Common Core Standards in reading (RI.4.8).
- Combine math problems with astronomy. The Astronomy Standards for first and fifth grades (ESS1) require that students learn about Earth’s place in the universe. Students can use the Star Walk app to find out what they are looking at in their night sky. Teachers can then help students create physical models of the celestial objects that they found or are studying. For first graders, this can be a good introduction to measurements in units such as miles or kilometers (1.MD.a.1). Fifth graders can work on building these models to scale, to understand visual fraction models and their use in solving real-world problems (5.NF.B.7a - c).
- Touch on history while covering earth science. The Earth itself is an important topic in second and fourth grades – specifically volcanoes, erosion, shells, fossils, and earthquakes (ESS1). These standards should rightly be connected to the history and science behind them. Geology by KIDS DISCOVER is a great app that highlights these principles through an interactive tour of the rock cycle. This interactive reading app will teach students how fossils form, and also includes fun features such as a virtual field trip to Stonehenge.
- Join descriptive language with the use of the senses. The NextGen Standard concerning the use of the senses to process information folds nicely into student writing using figurative language (L.4.5). The rich and robust words that bring student writing to life are the same types of words that demonstrate the activity of our brain processing information from our senses. Think of a lab experiment in which students smell different mystery items and have to describe them. The systems that transfer the information about the smell can be vividly described through strong vocabulary words, possibly even in a unique format like poetry or song.
- Put some mystery into matter. For the standard on matter and its interactions, fifth graders must make observations and measurements to identify materials based on their properties (5-PS1-3). Allowing students to develop a narrative piece of writing to go along with their opinion lets them be creative while mastering the standard. Have students develop a backstory as to where this mystery solution originated and what will happen to it if it gets into the wrong hands. Students could record these stories using a mobile device or the classroom document camera, and then play the stories for the entire class.
- Add math or virtual design to force and motion investigations. One of the fourth grade force and motion standards (4-PS3-3) covers objects colliding. What a fun standard to integrate! Among the concepts students learn is how the speed of the objects affects the energy and motion. Students are asked to make predictions and observations about the collisions. But you can make it more than just a bunch of balls bouncing around. Write the numbers 0-9 on ping-pong/tennis/golf/racket balls. On the floor, students in teams can make the balls collide, and after each collision they must call out the product of the two numbers colliding. Students could also virtually design structures and test them with various forces using the SimplePhysics App.
- Force and motion plus exercise. Many of the force and motion standards can be learned in the gym. If your gym still has a rope for students to climb, create a “human pendulum” to teach the third graders how to predict force and motion in a pattern (3-PS2).
- Wave applications and U.S. history. Humans have used patterns to transfer information for many years (4-PS4-3). Fortunately, this concept easily connects with many states’ Social Studies Standards for geography and history. The concept is much more abstract when it comes to current uses, such as how binary code is used within computers, television, and movies. Going back in time may help students understand the science concept more clearly. Morse code, which was used over a telegraph line, is an easier concept to teach and a good way to bring in U.S. history. Students can create Morse code using a free app like Morse It, a Morse code generator and reader.
- Models of matter and math. The creation of models to describe the structure and properties of matter (5-PS1-1) should be followed up by the next standard, which includes measuring and graphing the quantities that are created in the models. Put it all together by asking fifth graders to use their math skills to learn to measure weight and volume (5.MD.C.3). Once the models have been created, the students can measure and chart the data from the volume calculations in a Google Doc. The increase in weight from the creation of the solutions, such as dissolving sugar in a liquid, supports the original concept: that particles have been added but are too small to be seen.
- Energy models and technology. Technology integration comes simply and easily to students of this age. Students can use many different apps or tech tools to create models of photosynthesis or the food cycle (5-PS3-1). For formative assessment purposes, during centers or whole-group instruction, the IWB can be used to “drag and drop” the different parts of the food cycle into the diagram. When it’s time for a more independent or summative assessment, something like a Pic Collage would be an easy way for students to demonstrate understanding. If time allows, creating a Claymation could also be a fun and engaging way to understand the idea.
- Add counterarguments to arguments. Any of the NextGen standards that ask students to “support an argument” should at some point allow the students to do so. It’s logical to use a format similar to what is used in the classroom for any kind of opinion/argument piece. Although the ELA standards don’t change from opinion to argument until sixth grade, fifth graders are surely capable of incorporating one of the key sixth grade conceptual shifts. One that the standard specifically refers to is the idea that “plants get the materials they need from the soil.” Since students are supposed to understand that plant growth is also derived from air and water, this is a great opportunity to focus on the idea of a “counterargument” ‒ seeing it from another perspective. Visit Achieve the Core for some examples of how students’ opinion/argument pieces look at each grade level.
These 12 ideas merely scratch the surface of how the NextGen Science Standards can be used in a cross-curricular format. Teaching across curricular areas is a time-saving method of creating more efficient and high-level lessons.