Math Exploratorium

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Students will be able to apply math to science assignments.

Big Idea

Students are given a chance to think about the connections between math and science

Start Up

15 minutes

Group Lesson Planning

30 minutes

I give different science units to each group with some math suggestions to match.

For example, I might give out suggestions for “measuring the size of very small objects in scientific notation with appropriate units” as a match for unit 1, which focuses on reproduction, heredity and evolution. My hope would be that students apply their understanding of very small units and size with scientific notation to describe the size of the DNA they study in unit 1.

 The suggestions for unit 2 would relate the study of force and motion with linear systems (when will two objects or functions pass each other?) Unit 3 studies astronomy and is again a perfect example of scale and distance in relation to scientific notation. I am careful not to give out unit 4, as that is the focus of this project and quarter.

 Then I give out detailed layouts for units 1,2 and 3 to different groups. I also give out general descriptions of math units. I try and only give one science unit and one or two math units per group. These lists of standards are more than enough for a 30 minute period. If students might struggle with the process of sorting and filtering this information, I hand out smaller chunks of the unit or give more direct connections. For example, instead of giving them the entire layout for the evolution unit and the entire number sense unit in math, I would hand out something like “Genes and DNA” and “measuring the size of an object with correct units and writing small measurements in scientific notation.”

 They use their notes, texts and laptops to search for connections to each unit. Although I have been tempted to create a template for this process, I like to leave the activity open. Students have just enough time to find one or two possible connections. Essentially they are searching for several things:

  1. How can I apply math to better understand a science concept?
  2. How can I apply science to better understand a math concept?
  3. What questions can I answer that involve both math and science?

 I record their ideas and connections as I circulate and write these on a tablet or laptop (when I can project the answers) or use a notebook and document camera to project my notes or have a student write out some key ideas and connections on the whiteboard.

 They key is to record their observations and encourage them when they are stuck. I suggest connections when the students are at a loss. One quick way to do this is to meet with your science teacher and write at least one math connection per science standard. It might be a little tough at first, but once you get going your list will flow. 


15 minutes

I finish class by sharing their observations. We compare the findings from the class and talk about some of the connections between math and science. What is nice about this process is that students will find connections beyond your comfort zone and expertise. For example, one pair of students stumbled upon a function that measures the evaporation rate:

This equation is something that I have no experience with, but that is the greatest feature of this process. You are learning with the students. I never hide my ignorance. Since I have to learn about the meaning of this formula with the students, I can use this as a teaching moment.

 With an equation like this, I would ask the class, “what would I need to know to understand this equation?”

 Students respond, “we need to know what the variables are, we need to know what the symbols are, we need to know what this equation is measuring, we need to identify the independent and dependent variables, and so on.” The point is that we can only understand such complex equations by breaking down the language in which it is written. The fascinating thing about this formula is that it is empirical and based on observation. This begs the question, “what observations?” If students investigate this equation in their math Exploratorium, they will spend time analyzing the data that led to this correlation, most likely some type of line of best fit. This connects beautifully with the 8th grade common core standards and especially the practice standards. Students are modeling with mathematics.

 I finish the summary by discussing the upcoming unit. The goal of the class is to connect math with their 4th Unit: Science Exploratorium.  This lesson falls about two weeks into their science Exploratorium units, so I ask them to spend about 5 minutes writing down their science topic, question and if they can think of any potential connections to the math curriculum. They submit this work to me before they leave. I ask for this information early because it takes a lot of time and research to think about how I will facilitate these projects. I usually go through their proposals over a two week period and consult with the science teacher as needed.