We developed and applied an integrated learning module for Grade 9 science and geography. Since both courses are compulsory for all Grade 9s and many of the learning expectations overlap, we felt it was an ideal opportunity to provide a cross-curricular, hands-on learning opportunity for students to deepen their understanding of ecological issues and methodologies used to acquire and evaluate data.
We developed a unit to address the expectations of the sustainable ecosystems unit in SNC 1D and the liveable communities expectations of the geography curriculum. We were fortunate to have students scheduled periods 1 and 2, so students could use time in both classes to work on the overlapping curricula. We used the ARCGIS mapping system (available online at no cost) to have students map their local community. Students also travelled to these locations within the community to assess air quality with equipment purchased through the grant. With this information, students assessed levels and types of human impact and their effects on community living and environmental sustainability.
Finally, students travelled to the escarpment to hike and observe the biodiversity found in this natural ecosystem. Students were then asked to debate the merits of the proposed building of a highway through this ecosystem. Drawing from their previous knowledge, students effectively argued to strengths and weaknesses of the plan, incorporating many of the topics covered in the science classroom (biodiversity, air and water quality) and the geography classroom (sustainable communities) to their positions.
Halton District School Board
Halton District School Board
Professional Learning Goals
Robert Bateman has identified six goals that the school as a whole is concentrating on to improve student engagement and learning. As a professional teacher, I was looking at ways to improve my teaching by focusing my lessons through these six identified goals.
For example, Goal 3.4: Students demonstrate a wide range of transferable skills, such as teamwork, advocacy, leadership and global citizenship.
As a teacher, working collaboratively with fellow teachers within and between departments, as well as with the community, created an environment that was respectful of the ideas and different values each of us brings to the discussion. Modelling collaborative teaching demonstrated to students what it takes to be effective team members. The topic of study naturally lent itself to improved student understanding of their role as global citizens while simultaneously teaching them why it is necessary to advocate for the health of our planet.
Activities and Resources
One of the key factors that led to our success was our ability to co-plan and co-teach. We were able to look at the key learning objectives within each of our classes and determined where they overlapped and where we needed to focus our teaching/activities. With this information, we could design activities where key ideas were repeated in the context of our classrooms to improve student understanding in both knowledge and application of that knowledge in real-world settings.
Co-planning and co-teaching also allowed us to ensure that sufficient background knowledge was covered and assessments and evaluations overlapped to increase learning and reduce student overload.
The second key activity that increased success was the ability to take learning outside into the community. We were able to take the students on key field trips as well, allowing them to research communities within the local transit system. This encouraged students to see the importance/relevancy of school to the real world.
Finally, we were able to have students interact with other professionals in the community. From the bus drivers helping them find their way, to the water systems engineer at the waste water treatment facility, to the volunteers with the Niagara Escarpment, these people were able to demonstrate the complexity of our city and the many different roles people need to play in keeping communities safe and healthy.
The biggest challenge was implementing the unit within the time frame allotted. Ideally, the ecology unit would have taken place as the last unit in the semester, during better weather. However, due to timelines, this unit was done in March, which led to difficulties with weather.
Enhancing Student Learning and Development
Authentic collaborative outdoor learning experiences that incorporate learning through both a scientific lens as well as a social perspective will enhance student understanding of their community and foster a sense of responsibility and hopefully action-orientated responses to increased urban expansion and environmental degradation.
We plan to continue our integrated study unit in the fall of 2016. Our principal has asked us to share our learning with the staff at a PD, to encourage other teachers to collaborate on delivering the program.
Student’s “Sense of Place” was self-evaluated, before and after the unit. Analysis of the data indicated that there was no significant difference between the pre- and post-evaluation. Although we could not quantify success using this method, we were able to obtain feedback from the students, indicating a positive attitude towards the methodology. For example, typical student feedback included statements such as “I felt that the integrated science/geography unit was quite interesting to see how the two topics could be related and studied together. I enjoyed going on the trips and applying what you learned from them to science and geography class,” “I enjoyed how we combined science and geography” and “it was very fun and useful and you got to learn both subjects at the same time.”
From a teacher’s perspective, unit tests results indicated a high level of understanding and learning. The unit test average was 83 per cent, indicating a high level of understanding. More indicative of their understanding and ability to apply their learning were the results from the debate. The students were able to integrate both science and geography concepts to effectively articulate their positions. Students were so eager to participate in the debate that in order to hear all their views, the debate needed to be extended an extra day. Students were highly engaged and eager to participate. They were well-prepared and could articulate sound rebuttals to other positions. Without question, I would say that this was the most encouraging indicator of a successfully integrated unit.
Tutorials for ARCGIS online mapping systems.
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