published April 11, 2014

"Natural Connections" in K-5 Education

Christine Marie DeCarlo, NCSCE

Thanks to an emerging collaboration of representatives of the National Center, SENCER, the SCI-Chesapeake Bay, and the Virginia Department of Education that got stimulated by the SCI-Chesapeake Bay regional meeting at Front Royal, VA last fall, we were invited to attend an elementary education conference entitled "Natural Connections: Interdisciplinary Strategies for Teaching and Learning." The conference was held in Richmond, Virginia on the expansive grounds of the Lewis Ginter Botanical Center on March 28th and 29th.

"Natural Connections" attendees spent most of their time in one of four strands, choosing to focus on energy, mapping, geocaching, or space. Each strand's scientific learning objectives were also integrated with objectives in social studies, math, and language arts. Virginia Association of Science Teachers Region I Director and "Natural Connections" coordinator Kim Dye explains why the organizers made this change:

This year our decision to move to four strands instead of choosing different sessions all day came from the need to show a flow of integration. The whole idea behind our "Natural Connections" conference was to show a seamless flow of adding other contents like reading, writing and social studies after you ignite student [interest] with science. ... Integration has got to be the key to students gaining more meaning out of their school day and the message we send them as teachers. If we aren't careful, school becomes a race to remember a set of disconnected facts that we all soon forget.

Virginia Department of Education Science Specialist Barbara Young, who helped organize "Natural Connections" and who has agreed to consult for a prospective NCSCE initiative that would apply the SENCER method to K-6 STEM instruction, also emphasized the importance of educators clearly stating how subjects are connected, rather than relying on students to make such connections on their own.

During the opening remarks, Kim Dye invited Kaleela Thompson, one of her former students, to the stage. Thompson told the audience that her fascination with science began at age four, when her mother gave her a small butterfly habitat. Now, at age 14, Thompson has already written her first book, Oh Where, Oh Where is My Swallowtail?, which is both a reading guide and instructional resource about, in addition to other local wildlife, the tiger swallowtail butterfly, Virginia's state insect. She has also founded "My Home, My History, Our World," an organization that helps educate youth about the environment.

Thompson is a great example of what students can achieve when they see the natural connections not only between the subjects they learn in school, but also between those subjects and society.