History and Social Studies Integration with STEM

This blog post was authored by Judy Boyle.

NGSS, STEM, STEAM, and Common Core all speak of the importance of the integration of science with ELA, math, and art. However, we are missing one more layer needed to achieve the goal of total integration. We should also look at the integration of social studies and history with science.

Let’s step back for a moment and take a look at science and our world. We’ll begin this perspective at the altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level. Our world and our lives are controlled by science. Take away astronomy, chemistry, biology, botany, meteorology, geology, physics, and others, and there is no planet Earth. Take away engineering and technology, and we have no advancement. Looking through the lens of history, we can see the planet’s natural history is driven by science and humanity’s history is driven by science, technology, engineering, and math.

This idea is clearly reflected in our performing and visual arts, and documented through the writing of playwrights, poets, authors, and scientists of our various time periods. Examples of this are exposed in the art and oral stories of our indigenous people, the evolution of technology and architecture of the Egyptians, the advancement of medicine during the Renaissance period, and links science application and engineering which catapulted countries into the Industrial Revolution. We see it in the notebooks of our scientists and engineers in which they have documented their thoughts and ideas, and we can demonstrate to our students the impact these scientists, engineers, and pioneers have had on our history and our lives. One of my favorite books to share with my students is Notable Notebooks: Scientists and Their Writings by Jessica Fries-Gaithersburg. The book highlights scientists and their notebooks with actual photographs of pages from these notebooks. Through the integration of history with science, students can learn how our tools and technology have evolved, how our understanding of the human body has advanced medicine, how our quest for the moon has brought us beyond what we thought possible. Most importantly, our students can gain a clear understanding that success is achieved through mistakes and perseverance. To teach STEM in conjunction with history allows our students to understand the webbing of science, technology, engineering, and math at a much higher level. For, through the integration of STEM, our students will be able to visualize the application of science, and gain the understandings needed to solve a problem or meet a need through engineering. Let’s look at the topic of plastics. We found a need and solved it. However, we now realize the ramifications of this invention. Through this lens, students have the ability to reflect on the future human impact of engineering design.

Integrating history and social studies with STEM is very impactful when it is presented on a local level. My students perform water quality testing on our local river. Teaching them the local history of our area, allows them to see the impact of mining gold, forestry, and agriculture on the river, and we discuss the future of the river and its needs in preserving it from future impact. Our river supplies a city twenty-three miles from our small, rural town with about sixty-five percent of its water. The diversion dam is located in our town. Its was built in 1899 and needed to be reconstructed. My students performed a human impact study on the reconstruction of the dam. We studied the history of the town and the dam including a major flooding incident. We were given a tour of the pump house which was also built in 1899 and was in its original state. The pump house still housed all of the pumps from 1899 to the present. The students were amazed at the advancement of the mechanics and the decrease in the sizes of the pumps.

Through social studies, we are able to study people by looking at the natural resources they use. We study their climate and weather, vegetation, renewable and non-renewable resources, customs and traditions, and their stories. In other words, we are studying the geology, meteorology, biology, hydrology, agriculture, and numerous other sciences to obtain a better understanding of our world and theirs.

Many elementary students have a love for dinosaurs and this history can link your students to a career path as a paleontologist or as an archaeologist studying the peoples of the past linking engineering, technology, and science. Studying space and space travel can also link your students to STEM and many inventions and discoveries.

Below are just a few of the NGSS that can be used for integrating history and social studies with STEM.  Whenever you look at the Disciplinary Core Ideas, reflect on how you can integrate history and social studies with them. There are many other standards that can be used opening many possibilities!

How have you the integrated history and social studies with science in your classroom? I’d love for you to share!

K-2-ETS1-1 Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.

K-ESS3-1 Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants and animals (including humans) and the places they live.

K-ESS3-3 Communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air and/or other living things in the local environment.

3-3ESS3-1 Make a claim about the merit of a design solution that reduces the impacts of weather-related hazard.

4-ESS3-1 Obtain and combine information to describe that energy and fuels are derived from natural resources and their uses affect the environment.

4-ESS3-2 Generate and compare multiple solutions to reduce the impacts of natural Earth processes on humans.

5-ESS3-1 Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment.

Judy Boyle is the K-8 teacher at Divide School in Divide, Montana. She is the president of the Montana Science Teachers Association and serves on the NSTA Board of Directors as the Preschool/Elementary Division DIrector. She is an MPRES/NESSP Teacher Trainer providing professional learning on the NGSS and its Framework to teachers in Montana. She is Montana’s 2016 Presidential Awards of Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST) awardee for science, and a 2018 Montana Teacher of the Year finalist. Find her on Twitter @sagemountaintr2

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