Holistic Approach to Teaching Senior Science: An in-depth look into the methodology and pedagogy necessary to teach senior science courses

students in lab

Author: Antik Dey

Having experience in teaching all three specific disciplines, I will argue that the distinctions between them, although artificial, are necessary. I will also rationalize the need for a holistic approach to teaching senior science courses.

The recurring theme or idea embedded in all three senior science courses is change. Biology focuses on the change of living things over time based on their relationships with other species and their environments. Chemistry, likewise, studies the change of matter through various chemical systems and states. Similarly, physics monitors the changes of entities, from particles to planets, and the forces that govern their changes (The Ontario Science Curriculum, 2008). Science attempts to understand and explain these changes using the scientific method.

In the classroom, my approach to teaching the specific disciplines has been quite similar. I have employed the scientific method, illustrated by Chiappetta and Koballa (2015), very effectively. Regardless of the discipline, students are encouraged to think scientifically, which requires one to be able to create a hypothesis; make thorough observations, while taking detailed notes; analyze results; compose findings in a report with sufficient evidence to either support or reject the primary hypothesis (127).

In the classroom, I have prioritized the teaching of scientific literacy using the project/inquiry-based learning methodology. In these activities, students were invited to explore a variety of topics that were cross-curricular. For example, in the equilibrium unit in chemistry, students were asked to examine the chemical systems in the respiratory or the digestive system. They analyzed their findings objectively, which required numerical evidence. All three disciplines rely on numerical evidence. In biology, a student may have to measure the length of a leaf in centimetres using a ruler. The same student, in chemistry, would be required to measure the exact volume of HCl solution in millilitres using a graduated cylinder. And when that student enters the physics class, he/she may need to measure the Force of an object using a Newton scale.

Although measuring and calculating using instruments is a common practice in all three disciplines, the type of instruments, in many cases, differ. In biology, microscopes, and Petri-dishes are common, while in chemistry, various types of flasks, and burettes used during titration are common. In physics, anything from a wooden ramp to a stop-watch can be utilized to enhance student understanding. It is necessary to point out that, although some instruments differ, there are others that are similar. For example, an analytical balance, or a Bunsen burner, are the two most common instruments used in all three courses.

Now that we have looked at the instruments, it is equally important to examine the substances being studied using those instruments. In my practicum biology classroom, to examine DNA, along with other chemicals, we used bananas as our substance of study. In chemistry, to study acids and bases, we conducted a titration between NaOH and CH3COOH solutions. And in physics, to incorporate kinematics and dynamics, students designed their own model car out of wood and plastic, and tested it on wooden ramps.

Because all three courses have a laboratory component, it is important for teachers and students to understand safety, and practice it in the laboratory. Science teachers are responsible for the safety of the students, and could be considered liable and vulnerable to a legal suit, if injuries were to occur (Chiappetta and Koballa, 268). If animals are used, biology teachers and students must approach dissections with care and respect (275). On the other hand, chemistry teachers and students must be knowledgeable about the proper storing and disposal of chemicals (279). And in physics, teachers and students must address safety hazards relating to electrical equipments that could lead to electric shocks (281). Although these are only a few examples, the point remains: safety has to be prioritized in all of the science courses.

After examining the vast similarities in pedagogy embodied in all three courses, I would like to propose a hybrid system to science teaching, where students in grade 11 take biology, chemistry, and physics as distinct courses to develop a foundation, and then in grade 12, have the option to enroll in more integrated courses, such as environmental science, biochemistry, physical chemistry, to list a few. Due to reasons given earlier, science should be taught holistically, where students appreciate the inter-dependence of the three courses. Change, our recurring theme, should be addressed holistically because change can happen to anything and anybody, and is influenced by physical, chemical, and biological principles. Change is a continuum, so science should be as well.


Chiappetta, E., Koballa, T. (2015). Science Instruction in the Middle and Secondary Schools: Developing Fundamental Knowledge and Skills. Pearson Education Inc., 127, 268-281.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2008). The Ontario curriculum grades 11 and 12: Science. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/secondary/2009science11_12.pdf.

Categories: Cross-curricular teaching; Senior Sciences (Biology, Chemistry, and Physics)

Author: Antik Dey

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