I remember fondly the day, more than 30 years ago, when the principal of the middle school in which I taught suggested that we offer a unique experience to our students and connect mathematics and science into a “magnet” course. Since we were living in a world of separate subjects, it seemed to be a stretch from what we knew. With little to go on – there was no internet that we could access to see if there were models out there – we began to seek out the places where mathematics and science informed the world. And we found that there were places to show the connections not only between those two subjects, but also among other real contexts.
Fast forward to 2015, and it has been a very fast ride. We are now part of a world where everything is connected, thanks in part to the technology that has developed since that day. We can now connect to others very quickly, even while eating our breakfast at the kitchen table, on devices that fit into our pockets. We learn immediately about happenings in the world and receive alerts when we have a new email waiting. We can quickly find out the weather forecast where we live or in central Florida or northern Italy. And in schools, we now have the renewed opportunity to connect the learning for our students; not only connecting that learning within the school walls, but also connecting our students with each other and globally. We can maximize this learning by sharing what we have in common and keeping our students grounded in the context of life.
We have long believed that if any subjects belong “together”, it would be mathematics and science. They are the technical subjects, not in the same category as English and social studies. There is even a relatively new acronym “STEM” that is used interchangeably when anyone speaks about them. Today, when we look at the CCLS for mathematics, we see many standards that specifically lead us to see the connections to “science work”. We begin in Pre-K and Kindergarten with measuring length and weight, moving to measuring liquid volumes with beakers in third grade, and to understanding concepts of volume measurement using a cubic centimeter hexahedron (a cube) while exploring the volume of solid figures in fifth grade. And then there’s the multitude of standards that ask students to apply math in real-world contexts, many leading naturally to the world of science. Science teachers have always seen the implications for knowing mathematics; now is the right time to make the connections deeper and more meaningful for students. See how the math standards are introduced by grade and their connection to science instruction.
Another connection takes us beyond the content standards to the Standards for Mathematical Practice and their connections to the Scientific and Engineering Practices and to what the ELA Standards identify as the “capacities of the literate individual”. In mathematics and science, the practices tell our students what it looks like to be a mathematician, scientist or engineer. The ELA capacities identify what it means to be literate, which is more than simply being able to read and write. The practices offer another look at what learning is about for our students. View a podcast about the connections between these standards.
As I suggest that teachers work closely in a math and science partnership, it is also important that our students work with each other to practice mathematics. The CCLS promotes learning in a context, as part of the world in which we live. That involves practicing mathematics with others, to solve problems and share strategies that work. Just as we teach the math and science content including the practices, we need to provide problem-solving scenarios where our students learn the skills needed as part of a team. Read more in this Teachthought article “Why Social Interaction is Essential to Learning Math.”
Because not all group work is Cooperative Learning, a recent reminder of the importance of cooperative learning can be found in this Educational Leadership article from ASCD, “Making Cooperative Learning Powerful.”
Thankfully, teaching is no longer the isolated sport it was when I began my teaching career. I am grateful for the years I spent with a science colleague who helped me see the connections that I hadn’t seen before. As teachers, we can work together to help our students become the insightful, enlightened and literate individuals we want them to be. It’s up to us to connect the pieces and help our students to do the same.
Anne Marie Voutsinas