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Journal of Education and Learning; Vol. 6, No. 4; 2017ISSN 1927-5250E-ISSN 1927-5269Published by Canadian Center of Science and EducationWhy Teach Science with an Interdisciplinary Approach: History,Trends, and Conceptual FrameworksHye Sun You11CREATE for STEM Institute, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USACorrespondence: Hye Sun You, CREATE for STEM Institute, Michigan State University, East Lansing,Michigan, USA. Tel: 1-512-413-0177. E-mail: [email protected]: April 21, 2017doi:10.5539/jel.v6n4p66Accepted: May 24, 2017Online Published: June 5, 2017URL: http://doi.org/10.5539/jel.v6n4p66AbstractThis study aims to describe the history of interdisciplinary education and the current trends and to elucidate theconceptual framework and values that support interdisciplinary science teaching. Many science educators haveperceived the necessity for a crucial paradigm shift towards interdisciplinary learning as shown in sciencestandards. Interdisciplinary learning in science is characterized as a perspective that integrates two or moredisciplines into coherent connections to enable students to make relevant connections and generate meaningfulassociations. There is no question that the complexity of the natural system and its corresponding scientificproblems necessitate interdisciplinary understanding informed by multiple disciplinary backgrounds. The bestway to learn and perceive natural phenomena of the real world in science should be based on an effectiveinterdisciplinary teaching. To support the underlying rationale for interdisciplinary teaching, the present studyproposes theoretical approaches on how integrated knowledge of teachers affects their interdisciplinary teachingpractices and student learning. This research further emphasizes a need for appropriate professional developmentprograms that can foster the interdisciplinary understanding across various science disciplines.Keywords: integrated science curriculum, interdisciplinary science teaching, interdisciplinary understanding,professional development1. IntroductionToday the term “interdisciplinary teaching” is widely used in all K-12 educational fields due to a growingawareness of the inherent value and benefits of interdisciplinary teaching. Many contemporary science educatorshave also begun to become aware of the necessity of interdisciplinary learning and teaching in K-12 scienceeducation (e.g., Cone et al., 1998; Johnston, Riordain, & Walshe, 2014; Knapp, Desjardins, & Pleva, 2003;McComas & Wang, 1998; Munier & Merle, 2009; Nagle, 2013; Rice & Neureither, 2006). Cone et al. (1998)described interdisciplinary teaching as an approach that integrates two or more subject areas into a meaningfulassociation to enhance and enrich learning within each subject area. There is no question that the complexity ofthe natural system or its corresponding scientific problems necessitate interdisciplinary understanding informedby multiple disciplinary backgrounds that a singular discipline is unable to provide or is possibly incapable ofproviding. In science, the best way to learn and perceive complex phenomena of the real world should be basedon an interdisciplinary approach. Science disciplines are not isolated from one another, and separation creates anartificial way to teach science, one that is not a reflection of its true nature.Over the past few years, several U.S. science standard documents at the national level have shown evidence insupport of interdisciplinary learning and teaching. The National Science Education Standards (NSES) (NationalResearch Council [NRC], 1996) stated this approach to interdisciplinary curricular and instruction: “Curriculaoften will integrate topics from different subject-matter areas—such as life and physical sciences—[and] fromdifferent content standards—such as life sciences and science in personal and social perspectives” (p. 23), and“Schools must restructure schedules so that teachers can use interdisciplinary strategies” (p. 44). “A Frameworkfor K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas” (NRC, 2012; hereafter referred toas “the framework”) and the Next Generation Science Standards ([NGSS]; Lead States, 2013) presented a moreholistic view and meaningful association across various specific subjects of science. Specifically, the two nationaldocuments emphasized a conceptual shift for American science education-crosscutting concepts (CCCs) as66

jel.ccsenet.orgJournal of Education and LearningVol. 6, No. 4; 2017“unifying themes” that establish meaningful connections across multiple scientific contexts. The CCCs show coreideas in science and how students make connections between ideas from different disciplines.Interest in interdisciplinary learning and teaching practices in K-12 school systems has been growing in severalAsian countries. A number of programs for interdisciplinary learning and teaching have been planned andcarried out in several countries such as China and Korea. The State Council of China (SCC, 2001) completed acurriculum reform in elementary and middle schools nationwide. The new curriculum strengthened the linksbetween different subjects and the connection between course content and students’ real-life experiences. TheKorean government has launched a reformed curriculum in which the government heavily promoted theintegration of school science with other disciplines through Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, andMathematics (STEAM) education (Jho, Hong, & Song, 2016). Although the swing of the educational pendulummoves in a direction that is more favorable to interdisciplinary education, most science educators have realizedthat science lessons today focus on learning in discipline-based structures, which allows students to have limitedand fragmented knowledge (Singh, Granville, & Dika, 2002; Smith, Deemer, Thoman, & Zazworsky, 2014).Interdisciplinary education could be achieved through a considerable amount of help and guidance from teachers.For high-quality interdisciplinary teaching, teachers need to develop an interdisciplinary understanding of aspecific concept and notice a meaningful pattern of information. One of the roles of science teachers in regard tointerdisciplinary instruction is to help students deal with natural phenomena and associated real-world problems,which are not easily comprehensible or resolvable from a single disciplinary framework. Teaching science that isfocused on interdisciplinary science topics and problems rather than on an isolated discipline has a potential for avariety of learning benefits. For example, interdisciplinary teaching facilitates higher-order thinking by students(Newell, 1998, 2002), which include freedom of inquiry, critical thinking, deductive reasoning, reasoning byanalogy, and synthetic thinking through integrated education. Horton (1981) argued that interdisciplinary teachingleads students to a more meaningful learning experience, which enables them to reach higher levels of academicachievement. The benefits of interdisciplinary teaching provide a rationale for the necessity of interdisciplinaryteaching. Students understand the big picture of a given concept or problem with knowledge from multiple sciencedisciplines.This paper aims to explore the historical and current trends in interdisciplinary learning and teaching in scienceeducation and to review the key literature to comprehend interdisciplinary teaching in an empirical context. Thisstudy also provides an opportunity to explore interdisciplinary understanding regarding K-12 science education.This study is divided into several sections. The first section describes the historical background on thedifferentiation of natural science disciplines. The second section explains the history of the interdisciplinaryscience curriculum and shows that the movement toward curriculum integration in the late twentieth centuryintended to deny the full-fledged boundary of science disciplines and bring a paradigm shift towardinterdisciplinary-based science education. The third section describes the importance of interdisciplinarylearning and teaching as shown in the national standards for K-12 science education. The fourth sectiondiscusses learning theories and the conceptual frameworks that support the rationale and justifications forinterdisciplinary teaching such as “expert-novice theory” and “knowledge integration”. The last sectionsummarizes the literature in terms of interdisciplinary learning and teaching in the areas of science.2. History of Science Discipline DifferentiationTracing the history of the emergence of science disciplines and the transformation to their present-day formsprovides a basis for a discussion of interdisciplinary-oriented education. The differentiation of the natural sciencedisciplines into physics, chemistry, biology, and geoscience has a relatively short history of three hundred years(Stichweh, 2003; Weingart, 2010). Until the Renaissance, the current classification system of disciplines did notexist, and a variety of knowledge was integrated under an umbrella called natural philosophy. From theeighteenth century on, the growing specialization and professionalization in science gave rise to new academicdisciplines (Nye, 1993). For example, the term biology was first coined by Gottfried Reinhold Treviranus in1802 and since then has developed as a separate science discipline (Coleman, 1971). It is true that thisdifferentiation process of science disciplines has provided a powerful way to organize knowledge due to theexcessive amount of scientific knowledge present throughout every discipline. Humans’ cognitive limitationsmake it easier for them to handle knowledge separated into specific disciplines (Stichweh, 2003). The growingspecialization of science had been further accelerated by the dominance of reductionism up to the first half of thetwentieth century. Reductionism is a belief that a larger system can be explained by breaking it down intosmaller constituent elements. Thus, reductionists analyze a phenomenon or human behavior by breaking it downinto pieces (Van Regenmortel, 2004).67

jel.ccsenet.orgJournal of Education and LearningVol. 6, No. 4; 2017Although science has been developing for centuries with a dominant discipline-based structure, there has alwaysbeen the need to overcome the closed boundaries of varying science disciplines (Klein, 1990). At the beginningof the 1930s, the “unity of science movement” was initiated by natural scientists and philosophers of sciencewho argued that knowledge has more varied and multifaceted perspectives than the rigorous classification andcompartmentalization of specified disciplines. This movement led to the assertion that a discipline-boundapproach is no longer the crucial framework for the delineation of knowledge (Hurd, 1991). The followingsection explains the history of the interdisciplinary science curriculum and shows that the movement towardcurriculum integration in the late twentieth century intended to deny the discrete nature of the sciences and tobring a paradigm shift toward interdisciplinary-based science education.3. History of Interdisciplinary CurriculumThe term “interdisciplinary” appeared in the 1920s in curricular contexts (Klein, 1990) and has been widelyadvocated (Vars, 1991). Tyler (1959) saw integration as the horizontal connections necessary for a coherentcurriculum, and Bloom (1958) also advocated for an inquiry-oriented, integrated curriculum. With the growingrecognition of the importance of interdisciplinary learning and teaching, the term “interdisciplinary learning” iswidely used throughout educational fields today, which pertain to grade levels K-12 and college due to agrowing recognition of the inherent value and benefit of it (Boix Mansilla & Duraisingh, 2007; Boix Mansilla,Miller, & Gardner, 2000; Clarke & Agne, 1997; Golding, 2009; Jacobs, 1989; Klein, 2002).During the seventeenth century, Jean Rousseau applied the interdisciplinary concept to child-centered educationto improve the unity of knowledge of children (Henson, 2003). The Herbartian movement, which began in thelate 1800s, showed actual curriculum integration for interdisciplinary learning (Drake & Burns, 2004). Tointegrate segmented and isolated subjects, Tuiskon Ziller, a follower of Herbart, supported the idea of“integration of studies” around particular themes (Klein, 2002). In 1985, the followers of Herbart organized theNational Herbart Society for the Scientific Study of Education and proposed a comprehensive approach tocurriculum integration (Kliebard, 2004). Since then, Herbart’s key idea concerning the integration of a variety ofschool disciplines has become the basis for the concept of interdisciplinary curriculum and has helped studentsgain a coherent understanding of the world within modern day American education (Wraga, 1996).Additionally, during the first half of the twentieth century, the underlying concepts of interdisciplinary learningcan be seen in the history of the progressive education movement in the United States. This movement has beendivided into two competing groups: administrative progressivism and pedagogical progressivism. Administrativeprogressives focused on the scientific and differentiated curriculum and acknowledged the existence ofdevelopmental differences in children of the same age groups (Labaree, 2005). The administrative progressivesemphasized that the curriculum outcomes and the roles of children should only meet the needs of society(Labaree, 2005). Interdisciplinary learning today is much closer to pedagogical progressivism thanadministrative progressivism. Basically, the pedagogical progressive philosophy highlights the idea that theneeds and interests of the children should be established in the curriculum and instruction. This can be achievedby integrating disciplines that correlate with socially relevant themes (Labaree, 2005). Two importantcomponents in pedagogical progressivism are developmentalism and holistic learning (Hirsch, 1996). If learningis natural, then teaching needs to acclimate to the learner, which means that a careful selection of subject topicsand skill levels has to be coordinated to steadily follow a student’s pace of development. “Developmentallyappropriate” practices and curricula are fundamental in pedagogical philosophy. The second component ofpedagogical progressivism states that authentic natural learning only occurs in a holistic manner, where severalrealms of skill and knowledge are integrated into units, topics, and projects rather than taught as separatesubjects. Several prominent figures spearheaded and represented pedagogical progressivism, including JohnDewey, G. Stanley Hall, William Kilpatrick, and Harold Rugg. Out of all of them, Dewey was a pioneer who ledthe pedagogical progressivism educational movement and provided insights into major implications for currentinterdisciplinary learning. Dewey (1938) advocated a child-centered learning environment, where theeducational experiences of children involved the principles of “continuity” and “interaction”. He believedcurriculum based on personal experiences led to natural connections between prior knowledge and the learningof new material. In contrast, intentionally separated subjects may prevent children from finding and establishingthe relationships among the relevant subjects. Although the movement of curriculum integration faded awayafter the launch of Sputnik (1957), educators have tried to find a balance between specialization and integrationsince the 1990s. Additionally, they have designed interdisciplinary curricula and conducted research projectsassociated with interdisciplinary learning and teaching based on the nature of interdisciplinary theories andmethods (Klein, 1990).68

jel.ccsenet.orgJournal of Education and LearningVol. 6, No. 4; 2017A historical perspective on the root of interdisciplinary learning allows us to realize that the most critical aspectof the interdisciplinary curriculum is the notion that the curriculum has to be child-centered in the pedagogicalprogressive philosophy. In an interdisciplinary curriculum, students can acquire related concepts found in severalrelevant disciplines, which helps them make sense of the multitude of issues and problems in a real-life context.Many reformers and researchers today attempt to imbue ideas of interdisciplinary learning and teaching into thecurrent education system.4. Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching in National Standards for Science EducationVarious U.S. national standards have proposed the need for interdisciplinary learning and teaching in scienceeducation. After the back-to-basics movement in education in the late 1980s, ideas for integrating sciencedisciplines became widespread again. The California Science Framework stated, “in order for science to be aphilosophical discipline and not merely a collection of facts, there must be thematic connection and integration”(California Department of Education, 1990, p. 2). The teaching standards for grades K-12 published by theNational Science Teachers Association (NSTA, 1998) revealed the influence of integrated curriculum instructionand provided a framework called “crosscutting ideas”. College Board Standards for College Success (CollegeBoard, 2009) also proposed a similar term of “unifying concepts” in science. The NGSS (Lead States, 2013), andthe framework (NRC, 2012) showed the same conceptual shift, emphasizing meaningful connections acrossmultiple scientific contexts and providing CCCs. The CCCs encompass the nature of intertwined aspects ofknowledge and an interdisciplinary understanding of science, which could be defined as the themes that bridgephysical, life, Earth/space sciences, and engineering. According to the NGSS (2013), the CCCs allow students tobuild organizational schemas to interrelate knowledge from various science fields and aid in the development ofinterdisciplinary understanding in a comprehensive way.Besides the United States, numerous Asian countries have proposed the need and direction for interdisciplinarylearning and teaching through innovative curriculum integration. The State Council of China published anofficial document that encourages K-12 schools to adopt interdisciplinary teaching approaches (SSC, 2001). Insimilar curricular reforms, the Minister of Education in Taiwan implemented curriculum reorganization in 2001,in which K-12 school teachers were encouraged to apply interdisciplinary approaches to their teaching practicesand the Ministry of Science and Technology of Korea drove the integration of school science with otherdisciplines through STEAM education in 2011 (Park et al., 2016). The purpose of STEAM education is to drawthe interest and curiosity of students to science and technology through an interdisciplinary teaching system(Park et al., 2016). Under official curriculum policies of several Asian countries, interdisciplinary teaching hasencouraged teachers and schools to conceptualize relationships between science subjects and other disciplines sostudents can have an interdisciplinary understanding of key complex concepts.5. Conceptual Framework of Interdisciplinary Science TeachingDetails of the theoretical perspective of novice-expert theory and knowledge integration provide a supportiveargument and theoretical foundation on how teachers develop interdisciplinary understanding (Foss & Pinchback,1998).5.1 Expert-Novice TheoryWithin the expert-novice paradigm, numerous studies have attempted to identify the characteristics of experts inrelation to novices in terms of a specific domain and problem solving (Chi & Bassok, 1989; Chi & Ceci, 1987;Chi, Glaser, & Farr, 1988; Chi, Hutchinson, & Robin, 1988; Collins & Evans, 2007; Ericsson, Charness,Feltovich, & Hoffman, 2006; Ericsson, Nandagopal, & Roring, 2009; Kuchinke, 1997). These studies haveshown that experts possess more extensive and organized knowledge, which makes them more efficient inperceiving meaningful patterns, manipulating relevant information, and enabling them to perform excellently inpractice compared to the novice. For example, experts solve a problem faster and more accurately and useknowledge structures that are more organized and easily accessible to them than novices do (Bransford, Brown,& Cocking, 2000; Lehrer & Schauble, 2006).Understanding the differences in cognitive processes between experts and novices could provide a basis forrecognizing the nature of interdisciplinary learning. Experts tend to find core concepts and central theoreticalconstructs in the cohesive framework of related concepts and then transfer them further from one domain toanother to solve problems that are related to the given concept. On the other hand, novices tend to possessshallow concepts and isolate them as separate factual knowledge, which prevents them from comprehending orsolving complex problems with an interdisciplinary approach. According to the schema theory suggested bySweller, Van Merrienboer, and Paas (1998), a complex schema is constructed by incorporating a large number of69

jel.ccsenet.orgJournal of Education and LearningVol. 6, No. 4; 2017interacting elements into a single element in long-term memory. Schema construction is formed through themerging of lower level schemas into one higher-level schema, which plays a critical role in reducing the workingmemory load in regard to learning processes. However, not all people have the same process of schemaconstruction. Multiple knowledge structures on a lower level for one person may be perceived as a single entityfor someone more knowledgeable and well informed. The main difference between an expert and a novice is thatthe former has a wider range of existing knowledge than the latter in terms of long-term memory. This causesdifferences in the cognitive construction in regard to interdisciplinary understanding. Experts are superior tonovices when making inferences on how to fit new knowledge into existing knowledge clusters (Chi & Ceci,1987). The corresponding ability allows learners to better perceive a grouped, meaningful pattern of theinformation and acquire more thematic knowledge. For example, the Simon and Chase (1973) study showed thatexpert chess players could identify isolated patterns and perceive an integrated configuration of chess piecepositions. In contrast, novice players did not link interconnected constructs. Rozin (1976) proposed a “theory ofaccess”, which illustrated the difference in the ability to access a learner’s knowledge structure. Even thoughlearners have a relevant amount of knowledge in their long-term memory, there might be differences in theability of novices and experts to access a wider range of the knowledge structure. The arguments of Simon,Chase, and Rozin have potential implications for interdisciplinary learning and teaching. Interdisciplinarylearning helps students create strong relationships between a particular discipline and other disciplines, and theinterconnected knowledge allows them to apply students to new situations and further allows them to learn in amore efficient manner (Ivanitskaya, Clark, Montgomery, & Primeau, 2002). This is the ultimate goal ininterdisciplinary science education.5.2 Knowledge IntegrationThe Knowledge Integration (KI) perspective for interdisciplinary teaching emphasizes the role of teachersbecause it is their responsibility to encourage students to establish a successful conceptual change by integratingprior knowledge with new ideas and practices, which inevitably results in a more coherent understanding ofscience and math (Linn, 2006; Liu, Lee, & Linn, 2010). As a result, KI theory provides a rationale for theguiding mechanisms, which pertain to the acquisition, connection, and redefinition of the learner’s knowledgeunder a constructivist view of learning (Bransford et al., 2000; Linn, 2006). Linn and Eylon (2006)conceptualized four general processes that can promote KI: eliciting current ideas, adding new ideas,distinguishing among ideas, and sorting ideas.Linn, Slotta, Terashima, Stone, and Madhok (2010) adapted the framework of the process of KI and developedfive processes of KI, which are as follows: Eliciting ideas: The process of learning elicit students’ prior ideas, backgrounds, and experiences,which enables them to create relevant connections to new ideas from already existing ideas in alearning context. For example, in a curriculum focused on the design of fuel, teaching can elicitstudents’ existing observations and everyday ideas about energy and chemical reactions. Manystudies have shown the benefits of eliciting ideas (e.g., Hewson, 1992), so students can develop arepertoire of ideas about scientific phenomena using their observations, experiences, and intellectualefforts. Adding new ideas: Learning environments traditionally aim to add ideas through some kind oflearning activity, which allows learners to explore the relationships among all of their existing andnew ideas to eventually form connections between them. Distinguishing ideas: After adding ideas, students are required to carefully distinguish productiveideas from unproductive ones to connect scientifically relevant and normative ideas. Sorting out ideas: Students need opportunities to prioritize the numerous, often contradictory,existing ideas and sort out the various connections among these ideas to develop a coherentunderstanding of the subject. Developing criteria: Students need to develop criteria for the relationships between ideas. Thecriteria encourage students to coordinate productive ideas of target phenomena and demonstrate acoherent and durable scientific understanding (p. 5).Shen, Liu, and Sung (2014) considered three special processes in interdisciplinary knowledge integration:translation, transfer, and transformation. The translation process involves specialized terminologies and jargondeveloped within each discipline, which should be interpreted differently in other disciplines. Transfer refers tothe process where students apply explanatory models and concepts learned from one disciplinary context to70

jel.ccsenet.orgJournal of Education and LearningVol. 6, No. 4; 2017another. Transformation indicates the potential to apply explanatory models and concepts learned from onediscipline to a new system in a different discipline. Thus, the KI process implies that a “deep transfer” of theknowledge of teachers is a crucial step in drawing on their interdisciplinary understanding rather than onlyfocusing on adding new ideas between disciplines. The transformation process requires both integrations ofrelevant disciplinary knowledge and the appropriate transfer. Linn (1995) suggested a method of teaching called“scaffolded knowledge integration”, which can encourage students to develop interdisciplinary understanding,especially of a complex domain, by enabling them to develop a more coherent scientific literacy. The goal ofinstruction is to motivate students to integrate new models with existing views and to distinguish among themodels. In interdisciplinary instruction, students can have a cohesive view of a domain while identifying aprocess that will allow them to add more sophisticated models to their repertoire and then apply their ideas torelevant problems. Davis (2004) analyzed changes in knowledge integration for one prospective science teacherin a unit of instruction. He characterized the prospective teacher’s knowledge in terms of the knowledgeintegration processes, found in the work of Linn and Hsi (2000), which includes adding new ideas, making linksamong ideas, and distinguishing between ideas. The prospective teacher had relatively well-integrated sciencesubject matter knowledge, adding ideas to her repertoire and identifying weaknesses in her knowledge, but shedid not consistently use her strong and well-integrated science content knowledge for teaching. Ma (1999)argued that teachers need robust and well-integrated knowledge that could be used in a meaningful manner. Inparticular, because science has an intrinsically interdisciplinary nature, Ma (1999) highlighted that scienceteachers have a greater need for the professional interdisciplinary understanding of content knowledge. Heargued that combining several processes provides promising ways to improve science instruction. Lederman,Gess-Newsome, and Latz (1994) found that the subject matter and pedagogy knowledge structures of thepre-service science teachers showed developmental changes as they went through the professional teachereducation program. Their initial knowledge structure representations showed listings of discrete science topicswith a lack of coherence. However, their knowledge structures became more interconnected and complex duringthe teacher education program.6. Discussion and ConclusionsSince the mid-twentieth century, the demands of the interdisciplinary aspects in educational fields have allowedthe paradigm to shift from disciplinary to interdisciplinary. The history of the U.S. science curriculum provesthat interdisciplinary pedagogy is not new to education but is a spontaneous process that is intrinsic to learningscience. In recently released science standards, the NGSS (Lead State, 2013) highlighted that students need tointegrate modes of thinking and knowledge informed by a variety of science and engineering disciplines.Many science topics in secondary education are highly interdisciplinary with connections to chemistry, physics,geoscience, and biology because real scientific issues are rarely confined by the artificial boundaries of academicdisciplines. In science, students need to deal with complex problems and natural phenomena that are not easilycomprehensible or resolvable from a single disciplinary framework. However, the discipline-based teachingsystem in science is still the norm in middle and high school classrooms. This system prevents studen

Keywords: integrated science curriculum, interdisciplinary science teaching, interdisciplinary understanding, professional development 1. Introduction Today the term “interdisciplinary teaching” is widely used in all K-12 educational fields due to a growing awareness of the inherent value and