Friday, 16 March 2018

Should Math & Science be Taught Together?

Last year I was reading through my school EQAO scores from the Grade 9 Math test from the previous year.  The Academic students were doing very well, however the Applied students were falling well behind provincial standard.  At the time I had been watching Michael Moore’s documentary Where to Invade Next.  Moore travels the world finding the best systems (education, employee benefits, prison, etc.) and discovers why these work so well.  A common theme was how the decisions seemed illogical at first (like allowing a criminal to live in a house as opposed to a maximum security prison), but upon further investigation these “illogical” decisions produce exceptional results for those countries.  What if we applied the same “illogic” to Math class?   

Math classes in high school have been taught in isolation for… ever?  As I pondered solutions to the underperformance of the students I thought of the root cause.  Were the students engaged? Were the challenged enough?  Did they recognize the value of what they were learning?

I also thought about my own experiences in Science (I am qualified to teach both Math and Science, but have taught mostly Sciences over my career).  I reflected on two key issues: Math and Science were taught separately and at my school they were most often scheduled in opposite semesters as to not overburden the students.  I discovered in my Grade 9 Science classes that I pulled back on the amount of math, including data analysis, because “the students were not there yet” in terms of mathematical capability.  I have my own extensive curriculum standard to cover, and I would have to sacrifice some of my curriculum to covered the Math curriculum.

So here was my “illogical” idea.  Teach Grade 9 Math and Science together.  

Naysayers might argue that this would put too much homework and stress on students at that level.  I would agree that it would be best not to schedule their English course in the same semester, and would be better to schedule them with a non-exam course in the same semester.

Naysayers might argue that this would take a lot of coordination between teachers.  Of course!   Shouldn’t we be working together?  Better yet, utilize the teachers that have both Math and Science teachables to implement this.  These teachers would have a foot in both departments, knowing the challenges of each.  These teachers could bridge the concepts between courses and design lessons, units and assessments the involve both disciplines.  

YAYsayers, like me, would look at this as an opportunity to build deeper relationships with students since the group would be with the teacher for two periods a day instead of one.  Students would have more opportunities to learn and practice concepts, to receive feedback and guidance.  I imagined a classroom that fluidly moved between a science lab, to graphing the data, into a math lesson.  I pictured the two possible paths for these students… I prefered the version of these often disengaged students working collaboratively on more interesting, challenging and relevant problems.

My next posts will explore my Experimental Design for how this might look and a model for examining connections between Math and Science curriculum expectations.

[Brain clip art from PhotoClipz]

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