Activities for Integrating Math & Science in the Classroom

Instructor: Jennifer Rosenthal

Jen has taught science at the high school and college level and has a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction in Science Education.

This lesson explores the current trend of integrating math and science instruction into the classroom. We'll also look at various examples of activities you can use to engage K-12 students in learning science and math.

We Are All Scientists and Mathematicians

Although it may be difficult to believe, we are all scientists and mathematicians. Consider the following scenario. You try to turn on your flashlight, and when you press the on switch, nothing happens. What do you do? Well, you might first check to see if there is a battery in the flashlight, or whether or not the battery has been placed in the correct position, or if in fact the battery is working. If you don't find anything wrong with the battery, you might continue checking to see if the light bulb is working in the flashlight, until finally you come up with the conclusion that it was a burned out bulb to blame.

By going through this process, you used what some might consider the scientific method, a linear process that is used to describe the way scientists think. More commonly today we describe this process as an iterative, meaning continuous and cyclical, 'scientific way of thinking.' Scientists try to answer questions that can help us better understand the world that we live in. By asking general and specific questions about why the flashlight was not working, you too were acting like a scientist. Similarly, as we collect precise and repeatable information, or data, we are also acting like mathematicians. One of the roles of mathematicians is to gather and analyze data, similar to scientists.

It is in fact difficult to separate math from science, and one of the current trends in education has merged these fields with engineering and technology. This is referred to as STEM, an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. There are various ways to integrate math and science through practical experiences that incorporate engineering and technology into the classroom. The next section will suggest some specific examples.

Classroom Activities

Incorporating science into the classroom might begin by igniting a sense of wonder by asking students to make close observations. An observation is a way to use your senses to closely examine the world around you.

Elementary School Activities

In the elementary classroom, students might be given mixture of cornstarch and water, known by some as oobleck or gak, and asked to use their senses to describe it and its properties. They might say the substance is sticky, soft and hard all at the same time. They might notice that when they put it in their hands, it flows like a liquid, and when they put it between their hands, they can form it into a hard ball. The key here is to introduce something new and allow students to explore it without being restricted.

Making careful observations helps students develop a sense of wonder.
Gak activity

You can incorporate mathematics into this activity by adding an additional element of data collection. This might involve having students place similar sized balls of oobleck on a table to measure the width that the ball spreads out to. Students could then record and graph their findings. Students could also use smaller and larger sized balls of oobleck and make predictions to test based on their data.

Middle School Activities

Students at the middle school level can become excited about science and mathematics by being involved in solving real-life problems. By looking into your local community and working collaboratively with your students, you can easily find problems that need solving. Recycling might be a real-life problem that needs to be solved in your school community. If your school is not currently recycling or might be able to do it better, you could have the students begin by researching what the school recycles and what is being put into the trash.

There are various ways that a project such as recycling could also incorporate data collection and analysis. Students can create surveys for students and staff, or they can conduct a garbology study or inventory of the trash that is created in specific common locations, such as the school cafeteria. Students could then analyze their data and come up with suggestions that might be brought to the school council or principal.

High School Activities

High school students can also benefit from involvement in real-life problems, albeit at a higher level of comprehension, data analysis and reach. Focusing on more complex problems that involve collaboration with the broader community, organizations or the world are pathways to evoke excitement about math and science in high school students.

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