April 10, 2017

Why We Love Integrated Units (And You Should, Too!)

As teachers, we need to help kids make the connection reading and writing go together. The analogy is simple; as peanut butter is to jelly, reading is to writing. Kids cannot afford to read without writing. Research states writing is the ultimate skill of reading. When our children write, they are showing us what they have understood, and their aptitude as readers and writers. If this is true, why do many teachers teach one subject over the other? Kids need to see the connection among subjects. The effect of teaching subjects in isolation has caused many kids to experience difficulty in reading and writing. As kids go up in grades, this gap becomes wider and more visible. So, what can we do to remediate this phenomenon? The answer is simple! One way is by integrating reading and writing into content areas such as science and social studies. Integrated units make this such a breeze!

Here is a lesson focusing on types of circuits while integrating reading and writing skills. The science goal was for my kids to understand the different types of circuits by identifying its characteristics. After doing some research on different types of circuits, I decided to compare make models to understand this abstract concept. This easily translated into the kids writing a response that would allow them to showcase what they have learned about circuits.

According to what I tell my kids, science is full of abstract concepts, they are invisible things happening all around us. To bring these invisible concepts to life, we created circuits models out of paper.We read and defined each type circuit. It’s a good practice for kids to relate new information to concepts they already understand for new knowledge to be acquired. We started the lesson by reading statements about electricity. The kids colored one of the boxes to tell if they agree or disagree. This naturally led us to discuss key science concepts.

I moved on to show the kids how light bulb turns on and off using the close and open circuit models. By making these models they understood how breaks in a circuit makes the light bulb turn off. The color coding on the models made it easy to follow the charged electrons making the light bulb turn on. Throughout the unit, we made different circuits models to explore the characteristics of each type of circuit. These models provided a visual that helped further their understanding of circuits.

As we continued learning about circuits, I wanted them to make connections with circuits and
electricity. On our previous lesson, we learned about static electricity and its characteristics. I started by introducing our reading skills. It was a great way to recap some of the highlights of static electricity. The kids also made their own interactive Venn Diagrams in their notebook. We decided to chunk the information into pieces by making comparisons after every two circuits. This was also a perfect time to introduce literature into the lesson. I couldn’t pass the opportunity to highlight Ben Franklin achievements to the science of electricity. As we read and compare Ben Franklin’s Big Ideas and discoveries to our study of electricity, this book easily extends our learning to other areas of science.

While learning about different circuits models, we stopped and look back at our predictions; It was great to see the kids ask if they can change their answers. The reflections and readings sparked discussions which paved the way to our written responses. Before starting, we learned about the types of comparisons scientist make. We discussed the difference between surface level and deep level comparisons. This quick explanation came in handy when it was time to support our answers with details. Our writing instruction began with mini-lessons on writing responses that compared two different subjects. I first modeled how to use the paragraph frames on our notes to write a model response. Throughout the lesson, I had four different checkpoints where we would work on answering each of the four statements. As the days passed, the kids gain familiarity and confidence with their writing skills. It was very handy to use the writer’s checklist at the bottom of the page to remind them of what to keep an eye out of, during the writing process.

Our unit would not be complete without making some circuits of our own. Learning about circuits inspired us to make our circuit toolbox. Based on what we learned, we used paper circuit to make different types of circuits. Each circuit toolbox had guided models and the tools necessary to make our own. The tools in the circuit toolbox were found at our local hardware stores although they can be easily purchased online. We first started with guided models and worked our way through to create our own. These paper circuits were easy and fun to make.

The kids had a blast making them. I loved how easy it was to walk them through the scientific method without them noticing. All the kids became experts in making these models quickly. You know, the lesson was a success when all the kids identified and labeled all the parts of the circuits. This activity was one way of bringing simple concepts of electricity to life.

 Don’t forget to check back on how we are continuing to integrate different subjects to make the connection between reading and writing. Grab the label to make your own circuit toolbox. Make sure to download the freebie because it's editable! If you want this whole lesson, stop by our teacherspayteachers store.

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