Incorporating Technology for an Integrated Curriculum

Imagine you are in the arctic, watching baby penguins toddle around. You turn your head and spot a seal slipping across the ice! A familiar voice explains that the seal is using its fins to propel itself across the ice to move faster. You are in awe at this frozen wonderland, but you are toasty warm. An arrow appears in your vision, directing your attention to a tiny iceberg…that is actually a mountain of ice below the surface. This is the magic of virtual reality in the classroom.

This past week, while at a STEM expo in Enumclaw, I had the chance to experience Google Cardboard. They are inexpensive viewing glasses that attach to a smartphone (not so inexpensive) and allow students to look around and experience places they may never have the chance to visit, and certainly couldn’t go to on a field trip! Meanwhile, their teacher has access to information in order to provide the “tour” feel, and can direct attention to places of particular interest in the students’ fields of vision. She can also pause the “field trip” if things are getting a little too rough.

I wanted to talk about this for my blog post this week, because I think that the possibilities to include this kind of technology into an integrated curriculum are endless. The teachers can include any place in the world into their classroom at the touch of a button. With a little bit of added innovation, students can relive the journey of Lewis and Clark while listening to the narrative written by Lewis himself. They can explore and ask questions, and make connections to their lives and other knowledge with the experience right in front of them. One of the lessons I am planning for my 4th grade class is about the Ozette dig, where the Native American village of Ozette was discovered buried along the Washington coast. Washington State University has a virtual tour on their website to show students what it was like to be there. This is a supplemental lesson in their curriculum, meant to augment the reading they’ll be doing for social studies. I will be doing this lesson with the students, and while photos on the internet open up a lot of possibilities, think that a true virtual field trip could expand on that learning and excitement. With the ability to actually be in the place they are reading about, the students would be able to construct the knowledge for themselves rather than acquire it from a secondary source.

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Comparing and Contrasting for Critical Thinking

During my student teaching internship, and later as a new teacher, one of my primary goals is to encourage my students to be thinking critically about all of their work, regardless of the subject. In class on Monday, we discussed different methods of mapping comparing and contrasting ideas. While I am familiar with Venn diagrams, the double bubble map was new to me. It is similar to Venn diagrams in that it has a place to show common or unique qualities in two or more ideas, but I think that it allows for a bit more freedom of thought, since you aren’t limited to the space of a Venn diagram.

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Double Bubble Concept Map

Humans are comparing things almost as soon as they are born, when they learn to distinguish between mother and not-mother. We set objects against each other and identify what is the same and what is different, and in doing so are able to assimilate and accommodate new information more readily. The double bubble map is a way to record this thinking, and organize it in a way so that we can see how things relate to others in our texts, our work, and our lives. In an elementary classroom following the journey of Lewis and Clark, a double bubble map might be useful in comparing then and now. This could then lead to further activities, such as math-related concepts (what would a budget for a trip in our class look like?) or science concepts (how would we measure miles if we didn’t have a GPS?). In my classroom, I hope to use the double bubble map, among many other types of concept maps, to help my students organize their thinking and then take that information and apply it to new situations.

Integrating Curriculum in line with Standards

Our topic for this class has centered around integrating curriculum in the classroom. This has been a theme during the course of our program, especially in our methods classes. In order to have enough time during the day or week for all of the subjects we need to cover, it makes sense. It also makes sense to teach students in a way that is more authentic, since divided subject areas are unique to the school setting. However, this can be a challenge when the Common Core standards center around literacy and math for elementary students (and science for older students). I know many teachers who focus heavily on the tested subjects, especially when school funding relies on student performance. How can I justify spending extra time on social studies and science when these don’t “matter” with regards to school funding? How can I justify not spending time on these subjects? This is why I like the idea of an integrated curriculum, where tested and non-tested subjects are mixed in a way that allows for teaching the standards but also including the content and skills students should be learning to become good citizens. Drake and Burns (2004) describe an example that I think perfectly encapsulates the integrated curriculum: in it, a Virginia teacher asked her students to make choices about what they wanted to learn, but in order to justify these choices, they had to defend them with the state standards. In this way, not only do the students get to decide what they are learning (creating more interest and engagement in the subject), but they learn the standards and also practice forming an argument and providing evidence to justify it. This is a standard in and of itself, for math and science.

Drake, S., and Burns, R. (2004). Meeting standards through integrated curriculum. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.