Much of the talk around the Next Generation Science Standards has focused on how science and engineering education will need to change to keep up with the new standards.
Less talked about, but equally important, is the need to make sure that as educators bring next generation STEM instruction into their classrooms, they don’t treat science, ELA, and math as stand-alone disciplines.
This is because truly effective STEM instruction integrates ELA and math skills in a variety of ways.
For example, effective STEM instruction requires that students read, speak, and write clearly, logically, and effectively. ELA skills are present as students read nonfiction reading, participate in Socratic dialogue, and write out their scientific plan in their lab notebooks (or templates depending on the grade level).
The "lab notebook" is an important part of the science and engineering processes, and it also integrates ELA and math. It’s important to point out that the lab notebook isn’t note taking. Instead, it’s where students create their scientific plans. This involves using ELA skills to communicate each step in the process, and math skills to collect, analyze, and interpret data from the experiment or prototype testing.
Math also helps students make sense of problems, reason abstractly, construct a viable argument, and critique others using evidence.
Developing vs. Following Procedures
There is an important distinction to make here regarding Common Core ELA standards for scientific texts. Most people, especially in middle school STEM instruction, give students procedures to follow. Following procedures is not science or engineering: it’s actually an ELA standard. It’s also not engaging students in the practices of science and engineering.
Students need to be developing their own procedures, rather than following those that are given to them.
Science, ELA, and Math
ELA and math skills are all essential parts of the STEM package, and what students should be doing in the classroom regardless of the subject.
What brings these subjects together is that at the core of every content area are creative, evaluative and analytical thinking skills. (This also means history, music, and art can be easily integrated as well.)
These higher order thinking skills provide students with the opportunity to go beyond memorizing facts so that they can take what they have learned and apply it to new contexts and scenarios. This is ultimately the goal of education—not that students come away with discrete bits of information, but that they learn to think critically and can approach novel situations with the ability to create, evaluate, and analyze—and integrating ELA, math, and science is an essential part of this process.