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Ask A REL Response

February 2017


What research has been conducted on the efficacy of teaching single subject science in middle school compared to teaching integrated science courses?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on teacher professional development. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed the effects of professional development on teacher performance and student outcomes in K-12 education. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Harrell, P. E. (2010). Teaching an integrated science curriculum: Linking teacher knowledge and teaching assignments. Issues in Teacher Education,19(1), 145-165.
    From the abstract: "A number of factors affect successful implementation of an integrated science curriculum, including various outputs and inputs related to teacher quality such as professional development experiences, adequate planning periods, and adequate content preparation of teachers with regard to content knowledge associated with the curriculum taught. This study examines factors related to teacher quality inputs (coursework, grade point average, and teacher test scores). Specifically, the focus is on teacher knowledge related to eighth grade science in Texas, which uses an interdisciplinary science curriculum consisting of topics in life science, chemistry, physics, and Earth science. (Contains 4 tables and 3 figures.)"
  2. Krajcik, J., Codere, S., Dahsah, C., Bayer, R., & Mun, K. (2014). Planning instruction to meet the intent of the next generation science standards. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 25(2), 157-175.
    From the abstract: "The National Research Council's "Framework for K-12 Science Education" and the Next Generation Science Standards ("NGSS Lead States in Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states." The National Academies Press, Washington, 2013) move teaching away from covering many isolated facts to a focus on a smaller number of disciplinary core ideas (DCIs) and crosscutting concepts that can be used to explain phenomena and solve problems by engaging in science and engineering practices. The NGSS present standards as knowledge-in-use by expressing them as performance expectations (PEs) that integrate all three dimensions from the "Framework for K-12 Science Education". This integration of core ideas, practices, and crosscutting concepts is referred to as three-dimensional learning (NRC in "Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education." The National Academies Press, Washington, 2014). PEs state what students can be assessed on at the end of grade level for K-5 and at the end of grade band for 6-8 and 9-12. PEs do not specify how instruction should be developed nor do they serve as objectives for individual lessons. To support students in developing proficiency in the PEs, the elements of the DCIs will need to be blended with various practices and crosscutting concepts. In this paper, we examine how to design instruction to support students in meeting a cluster or "bundle" of PEs and how to blend the three dimensions to develop lesson level PEs that can be used for guiding instruction. We provide a ten-step process and an example of that process that teachers and curriculum designers can use to design lessons that meet the intent of the Next Generation of Science Standards."
  3. Linn, M. C., Gerard, L., Matuk, C., & McElhaney, K. W. (2016). Science education: From separation to integration. Review of Research in Education, 40(1), 529-587.
    From the abstract: "Advances in technology, science, and learning sciences research over the past 100 years have reshaped science education. This chapter focuses on how investigators from varied fields of inquiry who initially worked separately began to interact, eventually formed partnerships, and recently integrated their perspectives to strengthen science education. Advances depended on the broadening of the participants in science education research, starting with psychologists, science discipline experts, and science educators; adding science teachers, psychometricians, computer scientists, and sociologists; and eventually including leaders in cultural studies, linguistics, and neuroscience. This process depended on renegotiating power structures, deliberate funding decisions by the National Science Foundation and others, and sustained, creative teamwork. It reflects a growing commitment to ensure that all learners are respected and that all students learn to address the complex scientific dilemmas they face in their lives. This chapter traces the evolution of research on science education in the United States with a focus on 5- to 17-year-olds. It highlights trends in the view of the learner, the design of instruction, the role of professional development, and the impact of technology. The chapter closes with recommendations designed to realize the full potential of these advances."
  4. National Research Council (NRC). (2007). Taking science to school: Learning and teaching science in grades K-8. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
    From the abstract: "What is science for a child? How do children learn about science and how to do science? Drawing on a vast array of work from neuroscience to classroom observation, "Taking Science to School" provides a comprehensive picture of what we know about teaching and learning science from kindergarten through eighth grade. By looking at a broad range of questions, this book provides a basic foundation for guiding science teaching and supporting students in their learning. "Taking Science to School" answers such questions as: (1) When do children begin to learn about science? Are there critical stages in a child's development of such scientific concepts as mass or animate objects?; (2) What role does nonschool learning play in children's knowledge of science?; (3) How can science education capitalize on children's natural curiosity?; (4) What are the best tasks for books, lectures, and hands-on learning?; and (5) How can teachers be taught to teach science? The book also provides a detailed examination of how we know what we know about children's learning of science--about the role of research and evidence. This book will be an essential resource for everyone involved in K-8 science education--teachers, principals, boards of education, teacher education providers and accreditors, education researchers, federal education agencies, and state and federal policy makers. It will also be a useful guide for parents and others interested in how children learn. The table of contents is as follows: Part I, Introduction, contains: (1) Science Learning Past and Present; and (2) Goals for Science Education. Part II, How Children Learn Science, contains (3) Foundations for Science Learning in Young Children; (4) Knowledge and Understanding of the Natural World; (5) Generating and Evaluating Scientific Evidence and Explanations; (6) Understanding How Scientific Knowledge Is Constructed; and (7) Participation in Scientific Practices and Discourse. Part Part III, Supporting Science Learning presents: (8) Learning Progressions; (9) Teaching Science as Practice; and (10) Supporting Science Instruction. Part IV, Future Directions for Policy, Practice, and Research: contains (11) Conclusions and Recommendations. Appended are: (1) Overview of Learning Progressions for Matter and the Atomic-Molecular Theory; (2) Biographical Sketches of Committee Members and Staff."

Additional Organizations to Consult

National Academies Press -
From the website: "The National Academies Press (NAP) was created by the National Academy of Sciences to publish the reports of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, operating under a charter granted by the Congress of the United States. The NAP publishes more than 200 books a year on a wide range of topics in science, engineering, and medicine, providing authoritative information on important matters in science and health policy. The institutions served by the NAP are unique in their ability to attract leading experts in many fields to join panels and committees charged with providing policy advice on some of the nation's most pressing scientific, technical, and health-related issues."

National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) -
From the website: "The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), founded in 1944 and headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, is the largest organization in the world committed to promoting excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all. NSTA's current membership of 55,000 includes science teachers, science supervisors, administrators, scientists, business and industry representatives, and others involved in and committed to science education."


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Integrated science courses, middle school
  • Integrated science course instruction
  • Integrated science curriculum
  • Middle school science instruction

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2001 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.