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Making Natural Connections

Prairie falcon

Originally appears in the Summer 2009 issue

As teacher educators, we often tell pre-service and in-service teachers that to teach one subject in one lesson is to teach once; to teach two subjects in a lesson is to teach more than once. We encourage them to think about subject integration because we believe that it provides an opportunity for students to make natural and meaningful connections between and among multiple content areas. As Vars and Beane concluded, such an approach in this era of standards-based accountability is very helpful to students: “Almost without exception, students in any type of interdisciplinary or integrative curriculum do as well as, and often better than, students in a conventional, departmental teaching approach.”1

But can students learn ecology and biology concepts while also learning social studies and civics? We believe the answer to this question is an emphatic “yes” if teachers carefully choose the tasks they have students engage in.

In this article, we describe two lessons that integrate civics, science and mathematics, and invite students to make meaningful connections between social studies and ecology. The lessons are adapted from activities in the Project WILD: Science and Civics, Sustaining Wildlife Curriculum and Activity Guide. This science and social studies curriculum uses two strands of activities — Habitat Exploration and Participatory Democracy — that prepare students to undertake action projects that will benefit local wildlife. The two lessons presented here are representative of both strands. Both incorporate the principles of wildlife management in their conceptual frameworks and allow students to learn the importance of animal habitats and the factors that affect wildlife populations in continually changing ecosystems. In addition, students learn how personal and societal choices made today can affect the environment in the future. They also learn to track legislation through their state or provincial legislative process and discover how elected representatives can promote environmental protection.

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Susan Pass is assistant professor of social studies education at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Christine Moseley is associate professor of environmental education at the University of Texas at San Antonio.