Scientific Poetry: The Benefits of Cross-curricular Lesson Plans
By Monica Fuglei
In 2001, I was a poet with writer’s block and without metaphors. As I browsed the shelves of my local bookstore, I picked up a text that shifted my paradigms as a writer: a children’s physics question and answer book.
Over the course of the next few months, I engaged on a fun learning and writing project that took physics principles and facts and applied them to poetry. I learned about total energy, Coulomb’s Law, and Shroedinger’s Cat, and understood them in a far deeper way than I ever did in ninth grade physics class. I was engaged in a process of cross-curricular learning and investigations and it paid off, both educationally and creatively.
Cross-curricular investigations break down walls between math, art, science and English
Cross-curricular learning is an exceptional trend in breaking down walls between traditional topics of instruction. Historically, math, English, and science were taught from different curricula, sometimes even with different classrooms and teachers. The increase of STEM learning and the newly-coined STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) reflect a trend toward integration in education.
Cross-curricular investigations and assignments that include both humanities and STEM subjects reflect what STEM Education Coalition Executive Director James Brown calls the “soft skills of art and design” and highlights the importance of creativity and integration, skills that are increasingly necessary in modern employment.
As we hear about the importance of STEM/STEAM, research also shows a decrease in science instruction time, particularly at the elementary school level, and the negative consequences on student learning in the absence of science. As such, it’s important to recapture science instruction time in meaningful, cross-curricular exercises that allow the teaching of science alongside other more traditionally-supported subjects like language arts and mathematics.
Collaborate with teaching colleagues to create cross-curricular lesson plans
Science appears to marry quite well with math instruction, but there are other ways to incorporate science into lesson plans. Collaborative and interdisciplinary teaching requires alignment and cooperation. If possible, connect with other teachers in your school to discuss how cross-curricular investigations can be folded into the curriculum and embraced within the school culture.
The ultimate goal of this learning strategy is to give students deep conceptual understandings of their topic. This requires a depth of knowledge for teachers that demands collaboration and alignment. When students are given various routes to understand a subject, they have an opportunity to wallow in complexity and really struggle with various topics and concepts. This is something that they might not be used to but that demands a student-centered learning approach that they can quickly come to embrace.
ELA and astronomy: The science of poetry
Books like Science Verse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith or The Blood Hungry Spleen and Other Poems about Our Parts by Allan Wolf can introduce students to scientific ideas through poetry. Having students read — and create — poems inspired by biology, chemistry and astronomy might sound odd, but it can be successful in two important ways:
- Students are challenged to deeply understand scientific concepts in order to apply them as metaphors or convey them in verse
- It’s a great way to push past writer’s block or engage reluctant writers who may be more scientifically-focused
If you don’t wish to combine a poetry and science unit, consider utilizing scientific issues or controversies formulti-modal writing assignments or persuasive essay writing. Students practice persuasion and write language-arts essays, but they are also engaged in research into scientific issues and can even be assigned tasks of evaluating primary sources for their adherence to the scientific method.
Color wheels and water cycles: Combining visual arts and scientific principles
Language arts might seek metaphors or stories in science, but other classes could benefit from collaborative work as well. Visual arts can combine with scientific principles, particularly as students study art, pigments, and light. Students can create visual representations of a variety of scientific principles from the color wheel to the water cycle.
Additionally, students can be shown how to organize information about scientific principles using visual organizers such as mind maps. They might already be doing this in their science classes, but with limited time for such projects, collaboration with their arts teachers can help expand understanding.
Cross-curricular lesson plans can even include the gym or music room
Even music and physical education teachers can get involved in cross-curricular investigations. Imagine a collaborative project on sound waves, pitch, tone, and how instruments make music that ends with students making drums or guitars in science class. Physical education teachers can expand curriculum to include nature hikes, the physics of exercise, and even nutrition education.
It’s important to expand our science, technology, engineering, and math programs, but at the same time, they can have the most significant influence on student learning when they become cross-curricular exercises that allow students to participate physically and creatively, empowering them to understand science as a principle apparent in every aspect of their lives.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.
Rolf K Blank, What is the impact of the decline of science instructional time in elementary school?, The Noyce Foundation
STEM Education, CSPAN
Ben Johnson, Deeper Learning: Why cross curricular teaching is essential, Edutopia
Loriana Romano, Lisa Papa, and Elita Saulle, How to Integrate Science Across the Curriculum, TeachHub