Ohio Resource Center

An Integrated Approach to High School Science

(From the Ohio Department of Education draft, April 2007)

Model Overview

The integrated model addresses grades 9, 10, 11, and 12 benchmarks and indicators of the Ohio Academic Content Standard, K-12 Science. Students explore the nature of science and learn science the way scientists do science - by using scientific processes, by inquiring. In addition to the process skills of observing, inferring, and hypothesizing, the integrated model focuses on developing cognitive abilities such as reasoning, critical thinking, and using evidence and logic to form explanations (Bybee, 2006).

Research suggests that learning is enhanced when facts and information are presented within a clear conceptual framework. With an integrated framework, all students learn the core content of life sciences, chemistry, physics and Earth and space sciences in a standards-based, inquiry-oriented curriculum. The coursework utilizes the connections that exist between physical, life, and Earth and space sciences to enhance student conceptual understanding. Instruction is organized so that students meet the benchmarks needed to prepare for the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) at the end of grade 10. A third course, Inquiry into Natural Systems, is an option for the 11 th or 12th grade. However, this model also provides for courses in chemistry, physics, and advanced biology as well as Advanced Placement courses at 11th and 12th grades. All courses are laboratory courses that provide opportunities for authentic student inquiry into the discipline and encourage extension of content knowledge to real-world applications and technological design scenarios.

Learning about science includes opportunities for students to investigate the development of historical examples to learn how new ideas are limited by the context in which they are conceived; how they may be initially rejected by the scientific establishment; how they often are derived from unexpected findings; and how scientific concepts and theories usually change over time through the contributions of many scientists. Authentic, standards-based essential questions, case studies and problem-solving facilitate the development of student understanding of the unifying concepts of Earth and space, life and physical sciences. By answering real-world questions, students develop a deep understanding of the scientific processes and of science content through scientific inquiry. The model includes core content in life sciences, chemistry, physics, and Earth and space sciences as students learn about the development of scientific concepts and the nature of science through investigations.

Model Rationale

A large body of research indicates that active involvement with the learning process enhances student learning. In addition, engaging students with content that is relevant to their real lives improves attitudes toward science as well as achievement. This model builds student understanding by using scientific processes, or inquiry, to examine and explain natural phenomena. Because inquiry is the foundation of science, this approach enables students to experience and understand the nature of science and science as a way of knowing.

The integrated model is grounded in two critical perspectives that ensure students develop essential skills and a thorough foundation of scientific knowledge:

  • Science is a way of knowing about the world that is reflected in real-world experiences and applications; and
  • Understanding the historical developments of science concepts is essential to understanding modern day science.

The very essence of science is that of a body of knowledge - a system of theories, ideas, data, and hypotheses. However, much of our teaching of science is fragmented by topic, giving students the impression that science must be understood as sets of memorized facts organized by discipline. Although the requirements of curricula and scheduling often require that courses be taught sequentially, it is essential that such curricula have a framework that enables students to experience the overall nature of scientific knowledge, specifically the way in which essential science understandings span multiple scientific disciplines. Through an understanding of these connections students realize the ways in which science is relevant to their daily lives (Krueger and Sutton, 2001; National Research Council, 2000).

By understanding the interconnections between essential science concepts, students are encouraged to think scientifically about natural phenomena within the context of content-specific knowledge and unifying scientific principles. Students also benefit from an understanding of science as a way of knowing in which fundamental concepts are modified over time as new knowledge is attained. Furthermore, students realize that many concepts cannot be fully understood in the context of only one discipline. An integrated approach provides a logical framework for the teaching and learning of scientific concepts, because the interconnections among living, physical and Earth and space sciences concepts are made explicit for students.

With an integrated approach to science curricula, students learn about scientific concepts, not as isolated bits of information but rather as an interconnected body of knowledge. Students develop lifelong skills that allow them to think critically and to make informed decisions about their world and the social implications of science. An integrated approach also emphasizes connections between science and human activity. An integrated approach encourages scientific literacy and helps students connect science to their own lives improving attitudes towards science facilitating more informed choices about science-related careers.

An integrated model addresses both content knowledge and process skills. Through an integrated approach, students gain an understanding of how scientific knowledge develops. This deeper knowledge of science can stimulate interest and excitement about scientific fields of study, opening up pathways to careers in science. The skills learned through a process-based approach are transferable to other fields of study and help develop critical thinking skills (Krueger and Sutton, 2001; National Research Council, 2000). Because students who connect school science to the real-world are more likely to continue in the study of science (Krueger and Sutton, 2001), this model may encourage more students to gain the scientific skills and knowledge needed by Ohio’s future workforce.

Model Description

The integrated model engages students in the exploration of the nature of science and in learning science content using specific scientific processes and connections between foundational science concepts. The integrated approach in the grade 9 and 10 courses, Physical and Earth Sciences and Biological and Earth Sciences, form the foundation for further study by grounding students in fundamental science concepts and processes. This approach is extended in the 11th and 12 th grades through chemistry and physics courses, which continue integrated and historical approaches. Students study historical examples to learn how new ideas may be limited by the context in which they are conceived, specifically, how new ideas are often rejected initially by the scientific establishment (germ theory of disease); how many discoveries are random or unanticipated (penicillin); and how scientific ideas usually develop slowly over time through contributions of many scientists (plate tectonics). By applying science to real-world experiences, students develop a deeper understanding of the scientific processes and of science content. Schools can also offer students the option of a year-long inquiry-based science course, Inquiry into Natural Systems, to complete the three-year requirement for graduation, as a transition course to physics, chemistry or advanced biology courses, or to assist those students who have not yet passed the OGT.

Courses for the Integrated Model

Courses Grade
Physical and Earth and Space Sciences 9
Biological and Earth Sciences 10
Inquiry into Natural Systems 11
Advanced Biology 11 or 12
Chemistry: Understanding the Interactions of Matter 11 or 12
Physics in the Natural World 11 or 12
Advanced Placement Courses 11 or 12
International Baccalaureate Courses 11 or 12
Other Science Elective Courses 11 or 12

Each course is organized into units or “quests” that include: (1) enduring understandings and sample essential question(s), (2) a suggested historical perspective, and (3) examples of guiding questions. The essential questions are authentic, rooted in the Standards and apply and extend the science content in each quest to a real-world context. The historical perspective focuses on the development of scientific ideas and theories over time leading to the current knowledge base in science. The guiding questions provide examples of how to organize or sequence the learning. Each quest addresses science process standards and each is aligned to appropriate content benchmarks and indicators. Ideally, quests are guided by research-based curricular materials that suggest appropriate essential and guiding questions and historical perspectives for each discipline.

Benchmarks and indicators for Scientific Inquiry, Scientific Ways of Knowing, and Science and Technology are embedded in each quest. In Quest 2 (Forces, Motion and Energy) of the 9th grade course, students could design a roller coaster and analyze changes in potential and kinetic energy to understand the conservation of energy. In Quest 1 (Cells) of the 10th grade course, students could identify the ethical issues involved in stem cell research. This quest engages students in the Scientific Ways of Knowing and specifically addresses the benchmark on ethical scientific practices. Further, in several of the real-world applications, students have opportunities to connect science with technology and to gain an understanding of the dependency of scientific breakthroughs on technological advances.