In Veronique Paquette’s second grade classroom, content-integrated learning starts with apples.
The Eastmont School District teacher weaves together science, mathematics, English language arts (ELA), and social studies into her curriculum throughout the school year. After her students learn about maps and the life cycles of plants, Paquette dives into specifics about apple trees, as she notes that her school district, located just north of Wenatchee, is in “apple country.”
“Kids should be walking and living what they’re learning about,” Paquette said.
Paquette is one of hundreds of educators participating in a statewide project by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to integrate science learning with other academic content areas. The project, funded by federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) dollars, is intended to support student learning in the sciences and promote well-rounded learning for all students. (Read more about the project, including research that supports content-integrated learning.)
Along with creating six Integration Pilot Teams, the project has established two Teacher Cadres and two Leader Cadres to further explore content-integrated learning and leadership. Paquette is a member of one of the Teacher Cadres, which work to share information and resources for content integration in elementary schools.
There’s a wide variety of ways that teachers can approach content-integrated learning in their classrooms. Below, OSPI details the methods of three educators across Washington.
Eastmont School District
Paquette designs her curriculum to follow a line of inquiry aligned with what her students are encountering in everyday life. After learning about the life cycle of apples in early fall, Paquette applies that knowledge to teach her students about pumpkins in October.
She then builds on her students’ earlier knowledge of maps to examine maps of Washington state specifically. Her students start to recognize that the land and water features they’ve already learned about are present in Washington.
Right before winter break, Paquette introduces her students to the concept of phenomena, and asks her students how Washington state got all its trees.
“I’ve been bringing pinecones in during that week; they come from coniferous trees,” she said. “Then we start doing all these investigations with our pinecones: we weigh them, we measure them, we learn about non-standard and standard measurements. Now you can see where all the math is coming into it. We take all that math and we create story problems to go with them.”
She asks her students to consider what happens to pinecones when they fall into the snow, and simulates that by leaving them in water overnight. Paquette’s students then discover that water closes pinecones, which sparks more questions for the class to explore together.
“It’s this whole process and it takes a long time to build it up,” Paquette said. “But in that building up, math lessons are coming out of it, and we’re writing about it, and we’re having conversations about it, and we’re comparing and contrasting. It’s bringing in every different element of all the different curriculum areas all under this whole, same umbrella.”
Paquette, now in her 35th year of teaching, has always taken the approach of content integration. All learners have different needs, and she said content integration can engage all learners where they are.
“They can’t wait to see the next step is in the process,” she said. “Because it’s so engaging, it keeps them so motivated that they want to keep going.”
North Thurston Public Schools
Jana Brock, an instructional specialist for North Thurston Public Schools, sees content-integrated learning as an opportunity to engage students in subjects they might otherwise want to avoid.
Previously a kindergarten teacher for 20 years, Brock said she’s had students tell her that they’ll never be good at math or that they can’t write. Doing a siloed math or writing lesson then causes the student to shut down.
“Pulling away from those siloes honors our individual students,” Brock said. “It shows that all content areas are integrated. We model what will happen when they leave the education system.”
Indeed, Brock noted that content is not siloed in adult life.
“You may not be going into a science field or a math-heavy field, but at some point during your life, you may need to use geometry or you may need to understand the life cycle or ecosystem of a specific plant,” Brock said. “That might come your way if you want to plant something in your front yard.”
To integrate content across the school district’s elementary schools, Brock is focusing on a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field studies experience that all students participate in. She hopes that these early experiences will help students feel successful.
“If I, as an instructor, through integration, through conversation, through multiple hands-on opportunities with success — if I can reshape and help them see themselves as successful … maybe I’ve given them a gift they can carry through with them for the rest of their lives,” Brock said.
Vancouver Public Schools
Meagan Graves, also a member of a Teacher Cadre, uses environmental science as the basis for content-integrated learning in her classroom. She said she noticed a shift in her students when they took their education outside.
“When you have kids outside, it feels different,” said Graves, who teaches fifth grade in Vancouver Public Schools. “Hanging out with friends or going for a walk; you’re in a different environment. Some of those stereotypes or preconceived ideas of what education is and how you should be performing in it, you’re able to set it aside outside.”
A teacher for more than 20 years, Graves also integrates science learning indoors, especially with ELA. She said she uses texts about science or the environment to teach the ELA skill of inference.
“The text is the observation, that’s our factual information, and the inference is what we’re taking [from it],” Graves said. “That’s a huge learning piece. Just having the kids do that through science content that’s safe, … then they have that skill. I can make that connection to that previous experience, and then we’re on board. They’re tackling really complex texts without sitting there thinking, ‘I can’t do this.’”
It’s natural for students to be curious, ask questions, and make inferences, Graves said. Content-integrated learning, she added, is built for students to lean into those tendencies.
“We want to teach kids to become lifelong learners, and to me, that’s the best way to do it,” she said.
This story was written by Chelsea Embree, Communications Strategist at OSPI. You can contact the Communications Team at email@example.com.