Intersecting Learning Standards: The Power of adding Social Studies Concepts to Science Lessons

Some science standards are so boring that after reading them three or four times, the purpose of the standard loses its meaning. Recently I was looking over the Next Gen Science Standards (NGSS) for Matter and Its Interactions and encountered a standard about synthetic materials. Most units that cover this standard for middle school include students finding a synthetic material and researching how it is made. I can’t imagine torturing myself by reading all of those research papers! 

This summer, it occurred to me that when I find myself faced with a standard that is daunting like this, I can create my own content. Why not? I’ve been teaching for thirteen years and in my years teaching elementary, I created cross-curricular content frequently. The catch? I usually lack the time to design a set of lessons or a unit that I can live with. 

One morning this summer, I sat down with the NGSS standards and an extra-large cup of coffee and decided to tackle the synthetic materials standard (MS-PS1-3: Gather and make sense of information to describe that synthetic materials come from natural resources and impact society.).

Here’s a run-down of how I created content for this standard:

  1. I started with the standards. I’m pretty much never NOT going to say this as step one of creating content. In this particular standard, I noticed that I needed to pick a synthetic material and I had to think about what natural resources are used to make it and how it impacts society. Plastics is a favorite topic for this standard, without a doubt. I wanted to use a different synthetic material, something highly relatable to students. I picked synthetic sweeteners (aka “fake sugar”). 
  2. Look at the language arts standards connected to your content-area. As a middle school science teacher, I’m so thankful that my state finally adopted NGSS for many reasons, but mainly because it includes cross-cutting concepts and specific language arts standards to cover in each science standard. If I am supposed to include the cross-cutting concept, “Cause and Effect,” I can easily find a place to add this skill. 
  3. Go cross-curricular. If you’re a science or language arts teacher, check out the social studies standards. If you’re a social studies teacher, do the opposite! In my synthetic sugars lesson, I chose to create historical fiction-style texts. I looked up newspapers from the time when synthetic sugars started to be widely used and ads for these types of sugars. I fired up my Canva account and made my own, original versions of these items to include in the lessons. Adding historical fiction artifacts can make the lesson more engaging for students. 
  4. Think hands-on, minds-on. Finding the activities for reading and writing skills and working with the standards will take the bulk of your time. If possible, create some hands-on, minds-on activities to connect to the content. Is there a great lab related to synthetic sugars that has been created by another motivated teachers. 

The more you create, the more creative you become. The product I created for the NGSS Matter and Its Interactions standards ended up being twenty pages! It supports Common Core language arts standards for citing textual evidence, claim, evidence and argument, and the cross-cutting concept Structure & Function. Students will learn about a fictional artificial sweetener and will get in the way-back machine to 1958 with the historical fiction crosswalk. 

Check this resource out at Teachers Pay Teachers!

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