Teaching Science with Integrated Experiences

Teach science with integrated experiences. That way, kids see connections between earth, life, and physical science. Then processes in our natural world make sense.

Include a variety of science practices to get kids thinking (and acting) like scientists. When you add engineering design, they understand how humans interact with science. Finally, interdisciplinary activities let you focus on two or more subjects in one activity.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Teaching Science with Integrated Experiences

Integrating Earth, Life, and Physical Science

Whenever you plan a unit, include integrated science experiences. As you teach a lesson, emphasize connections to concepts in other branches of science. This approach helps kids understand more than the individual concepts you’ve addressed.

Integrated science experiences connect concepts from earth, life, and physical to explore big ideas.

In upper elementary grades, for example, kids explore processes that occur in the geosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere. As they consider interactions between Earth’s spheres, understanding of this powerful system occurs. Let’s take a look at how individual concepts fit together in this instance.

Image by the Painted Crow

Teaching Earth Science

Students explore weather, the water cycle, and slow changes to Earth’s surface.


In third grade, kids usually learn about the weather. They analyze data to describe conditions expected during a specific season. In addition to temperature, students consider clouds, wind, and humidity. All of these things affect (and/or are affected by) land (geosphere), water (hydrosphere), and living organisms (biosphere).

The Water Cycle

Although many standards for teaching science don’t dictate it, learning about the hydrologic cycle helps students understand interactions between the the spheres. Water from the hydrosphere and biosphere evaporate into the atmosphere. Clouds form. Then, in the form of rain or snow, precipitation falls back to the hydrosphere and geosphere. As it runs off of the land, weathering and erosion occur. In the biosphere, the water provides a necessary component for photosynthesis.

Slow Changes to Earth’s Surface

By fourth grade, most kids study slow changes to the surface of our planet. Specifically, they explore weathering, erosion, and deposition. It’s easy for them to see how plants (biosphere), precipitation (atmosphere), and waves (hydrosphere) cause these changes.

Teaching Life Science

As they learn about plants and animals, kids consider additional connections.


Fourth graders explore plant structures and functions, while fifth graders learn that plants get the materials they need from water and air. These concepts pave the way for a simple introduction to photosynthesis. From that, students begin to understand another big picture phenomenon: the movement of energy from the Sun through an ecosystem.


Due to the immense variety of animal structures, as well as their adaptations, you won’t be able to cover them all. However, to help kids make connections, you might consider ideas like these:

  • Animals’ waste removal structures affect the environment. For example, if they pee on limestone, chemical weathering occurs. (biosphere -> geosphere)
  • Animals inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, which is the opposite of plants. (biosphere -> atmosphere -> biosphere)

Again, connecting concepts helps students understand interdependence in the natural world.

Teaching Physical Science


In fourth grade, students learn about forms and transfer of energy. They focus on sound, light, heat, and electricity. Additionally, kids this age explore speed and energy.

In fifth grade, kids’ understanding of photosynthesis deepens. They learn how energy from the Sun fuels all life on Earth. First, photosynthesis allows producers (plants) to use the Sun’s energy to convert carbon dioxide and water to glucose. Then it moves to consumers to decomposers.


As fifth graders investigate matter, they learn that it:

  • is made of particles too small to be seen,
  • can be identified based on specific properties,
  • may be combined to form new substances (chemical change), and
  • does not change mass regardless of type of change.

Learning about chemical change helps them understand photosynthesis even better. Furthermore, kids explore how matter moves between producers, consumers, and decomposers in an ecosystem.

Promoting Awareness of Integrated Science Experiences

After kids explore all of these concepts, they’re ready to pull it all together. To do this, simply ask them to explain interactions that occur between Earth’s spheres. For example:

  • A volcano in the geosphere emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Plants in the biosphere use the gas for photosynthesis.
  • Rain from the atmosphere falls on the geosphere. Runoff erodes rock and deposits it elsewhere.

Teaching Science Practices

Integrated science experiences occur by doing. Instead of just reading from a textbook, kids should investigate using scientific methods:

Asking Testable Questions

An experiment begins with a scientific question. To make it testable, kids compare only one variable. Additionally, the question must allow them to predict, investigate, observe, and measure.

For example, a question about growth of a tomato plant would compare only one variable, AKA the independent variable. Perhaps kids would investigate how the amount of water or light affected the plant. However, they can only choose one – water or light. Everything else must be kept the same: the variety, size, and age of the tomato plant; the container; the location; etc. These are the controlled variables.

Therefore, a question like “Will a beefeater tomato plant grow better with 10, 20, or 30 milliliters of water per day?” is testable. However, something like “Does water or light affect a tomato plant more?” is not.

Developing and Using Models

The traditional scientific method focused exclusively on using a fair test. In other words, kids asked testable questions and conducted experiments to answer them.

Unfortunately, additional forms of investigation are sometimes needed. Therefore, when teaching science in the 21st century, we now include models. Integrate science experiences that let kids explore things that are too big, small, complex, or far away with models!

Planning and Carrying Out Investigations

This science practice focuses on the scientific method. Kids use a fair test to investigate a testable question. In a nutshell, they:

  • compare (independent variable)
  • control (controlled variables)
  • observe, measure, and record (dependent variable)
  • draw conclusions

Conducting the experiment more than once (replicating) validates the results.

Whenever you can, provide opportunities for fair tests in your classroom.

Analyzing and Interpreting Data

Don’t be tempted to let kids draw conclusions from raw data. When they organize information in tables and graphs, patterns in data appear. That way, their conclusions are more accurate. Additionally, they’ll sharpen their math skills.

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking

Integrate science experiences with even more math! Measure. Compare through computation (add, subtract, multiply, and divide). Include problem solving strategies, such as making an organized list.

Constructing Explanations

Whether they’re building models or conducting experiments, kids will draw conclusions. You can push them to make broader generalizations.

Engaging in Argument from Evidence

Integrate science experiences that let kids talk and write about their conclusions.

First, encourage them to debate in their lab groups. Before they write conclusions on their lab sheets, ask each child to share and explain. That way, students clarify what they’re thinking – and hopefully correct any misconceptions.

Second, ask them to write informative paragraphs. After stating their conclusion, kids will provide evidence to support it. Again, they clarify. Additionally, they practice writing with an authentic task.

Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

This three-pronged practice can be restated as “research, think critically, and share.” First, kids find information on a topic or concept. Second, they compare and analyze it. Finally, students write, create, and/or speak to share what they’ve learned.

When teaching science, include short research projects. Even younger students can learn the difference between reliable and unreliable sources. Furthermore, they can understand that more recent information may be more valid.

Integrating Science, Math, and Engineering Design = STEM

When teaching science, also provide STEM activities that integrate math and engineering.

When teaching science, include STEM activities that also include technology, engineering, and mathematics.

As kids move through these challenges, they use design processes:

  • Defining a problem – Kids state the issue at hand. Additionally, they identify criteria (what’s necessary for a successful solution) and constraints (limitations).
  • Conducting a fair test – Finally, kids fix failure points by redesigning. To find the best design, they conduct a fair test. This requires them to change and test only one variable at a time.

STEM activities encourage kids to consider how humans interact with the natural world. For example, kids might design solutions that protect humans from weather or natural disasters. They may develop a system for growing plants with only air and water. Or perhaps they will plan a water purification device.

Teaching Science with Interdisciplinary Activities

To make the most of your science block, you may also integrate ELA skills.

Take an interdisciplinary approach when teaching science. This allows you to kill two birds with one stone.

For example, when reading about science concepts, kids can learn about informational text. Specifically, they can:

  • answer questions with textual evidence;
  • find the main idea and summarize;
  • determine word meaning with context clues, appositional phrases, and glossaries;
  • identify text structure (description, sequence, compare-contrast, cause-effect, problem-solution);
  • interpret diagrams, graphs, timelines, and other text features.

Additionally, you can incorporate writing into your science lessons.

Enjoy Teaching Science

Make the most of your science program! Integrate multiple branches, subject areas, and skills. When you give kids meaningful experiences and connect learning, you’ll enjoy teaching science much more. Next up, planning your math and ELA blocks.

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