Teachers in some Nashville public schools are learning how to teach outside their comfort zones in an effort to bring science into other academic subjects.
They are participating in a new program in Nashville Public Schools intended to close the science gap by helping students and their teachers appreciate the relevance of science. If it works, students will improve their understanding of science and their test performance.
Last summer, a series of workshops helped to prepare participants to teach science, even though their primary work is to teach other subjects. During one session, teachers who specialize in English and history learned about bacteria, viruses, and antibiotics and meaningful and interesting ways to convey that information to their students.
The workshops are led by college professors with the Center for Science Outreach (CSO) at Vanderbilt University.
“What our program is is trying to help people understand the interdisciplinary nature of science, and how that pervades their entire curriculum,” says Dr. Jennifer Ufnar, a Vanderbilt biology professor who works with CSO.
Dr. Ufnar says many teachers are surprised to discover ways of including science, like one English Literature teacher who recently completed the program.
“She has taken the classics that she normally teaches at the high school level and says okay—in “A Rose for Emily” we talk about a decomposing body. So in our forensics science unit in the 10th grade, I can easily incorporate that into it and talk about everything that goes into the forensic science in that story.”
That’s quite a switch for many high school classrooms, in which each subject stands alone – the teacher focusing on the specific requirements of the course curriculum. Workshop participants like Brian Harrell admit it’s a big shift to do interdisciplinary teaching.
“You kind of get a little fearful because you want to make sure you hit all your standards and you’re not really sure how to this is going to fit into your classroom,” says Harrell. “ But if you really stop to sit down and think about how creative you can actually be you can actually hit your standards and reinforce other standards. It just takes a little bit of time and creativity and collaboration.”
Harrell teaches at Stratford High, a STEM school—that stands for science, technology, engineering, and math—all of which must be blended into other classroom subjects as part of Stratford’s unique curriculum.
“A lot of times we go into our cubbyholes of teaching where we’re only focused on English and the standards of English, and we’re only focused on history and those standards. But to finally be at the point to where we’re starting to make education make sense to these kids as to why it is you’re taking what you’re taking and how to apply what you’re taking to other disciplines. That really gets them to thinking. And that’s really where we are in education—trying to get our kids to be more creative.”
Teachers from Hillsboro High School are also participating in the Interdisciplinary Science and Research Program (ISR). The training is funded through Nashville’s Race to the Top grant money. School officials say the focus on No Child Left Behind on reading, language, and math has left a science gap. The ISR program and STEM schools are designed to improve science instruction and learning.