The word integration has many different meanings. Integration in science typically means making connections among the science disciplines. For example, teachers can discuss the human circulatory system when teaching about typical biology concepts and physics concepts, such as laminar flow. Integration of science and math usually means using math to teach science. For instance, the use of
v = d/t
in physics or balancing chemical equations in chemistry is viewed as integrating math.
We are calling the connections between science and math correlations as proposed by West and Tooke (2001) who suggest that teaching certain concepts in one discipline can enhance the understanding of specific concepts in the other discipline. However, the notion of correlation expands integration to create a lesson in which concepts from both disciplines are almost equally taught. An observer would not be able to classify the correlated lesson as either science or math; whereas an observer of an integrated science lesson recognizes it as science that incorporates traditionally integrated science and math activities and uses math as a tool. Thus, a correlated science lesson is characterized as an integrated science lesson in that it may incorporate traditionally integrated activities and use math as a tool. However, a correlated math-science lesson also
- has the pertinent math and science objectives aligned with state standards; and,
- teaches parallel science and math ideas equally (e.g., zero and no acceleration in science are parallel to zero and no slope in math).
In this article we provide suggestions for correlating science and math in the classroom.
Reviewing the literature
The practice of linking science and math curricula to improve students’ performance is a popular notion that intuitively seems appropriate and effective. A review of literature, however, provides limited evidence about the effectiveness of connecting math and science instruction. Nevertheless, both the National Science Education Standards (NRC 1996) and the Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (NCTM 2000) recommend integration of science and math curricula. [See Table 7.1 of the National Science Education Standards (p. 219), which provides examples of math that students should use and understand for grades 9–12.]
We have been able to find only one study that focused on the incorporation of math content into a science class. Judson and Sawada (2000) reported statistically significant higher math scores, but there was no difference in science performance. Also noteworthy is that Judson and Sawada incorporated math into a science class. We could find no studies targeting the inclusion of science content into a math class and no research on the effectiveness of a true correlated course where neither math nor science dominates.
Process and content are intimately linked in both science and math. Similar to the research on the integration of content, few studies measured the impact of integrating science and math processes on student performance in either of the two disciplines. None report any significant difference in science or math performance between the experimental and control groups.
Obstacles to correlating science and math
Minimal research and inconsistent results in the existing research parallels the situation that teachers face in correlating science and math. Teachers cite many obstacles to correlating science and math including lack of planning and implementation time, difficulty in coordinating teacher teams and students, limited availability of instructional models and/or materials, and weak content knowledge.
Although some logistical concerns may have to be dealt with at each individual school, global problems related to pedagogy can be addressed. For example, the use of team teachers, one science and one math, might enhance the integrated or correlated teaching and learning due to greater content expertise. This is consistent with research—and the common-sense view—that when teachers have more content expertise their students experience higher cognitive gains (Goldhaber and Brewer 1998; Hawk, Coble, and Swanson 1985). A review of existing instructional resources found that incorporating science into a math class usually means simply using science examples as real-world applications. Similarly, science courses that reference and use formulas cite this as an effort to incorporate math. Existing instructional models like these are not truly indicative of correlating science and math. Moreover, the instructional materials do not allow teachers to go beyond this sparse model that can perpetuate the content knowledge barrier.
How to develop a correlated science and math lesson
Teachers interested in developing a correlated science and math lesson are encouraged to follow these steps:
- Find a math teacher partner to work with. It is best to find a math teacher who is willing to devote the time needed to develop the correlated lesson. Your math partner should have a diverse math background in order to include traditional math concepts such as algebra and geometry and emerging, technological ideas such as networks, and also a willingness to connect science and math content.
- Choose a science concept. Pick a science concept that aligns with your state standards and is fundamental and essential for other science concepts. This will make it easier to build upon and to develop other correlated lessons. In order to make yourself feel comfortable you may want to pick a concept that contains one of your favorite lessons or activities or one that you believe already incorporates a significant amount of math. We began with the idea of “Physics First” and selected “Position” as our first lesson with subsequent lessons on typical physics concepts of motion, speed, acceleration, energy, heat vs. temperature, etc.
- Teach the science concept to your math partner. Find a block of time when you can conduct a mini-teach of the science lesson to your math partner. Be sure to do the mini-teach as you would with students; don’t make assumptions that your math partner knows what you are talking about even if they have a good science background. In addition, include a clear description of the terms that you use.
- Identify the pertinent math concepts. This is primarily the responsibility of your math partner, but you may find some as well. Be sure to think about the math concept in its entirety. No assumptions should be made regarding the math or science students’ previous knowledge.
- The math teacher teaches the math concepts to the science teacher partner. Again, this is primarily the responsibility of your math partner. Your math partner should develop the concepts as she/he would normally do to enable you to completely understand the math concept. Time must be set aside to discuss definition of terms. It is important to our students that we use the same language in both subject areas.
- Co-develop the correlated lesson. Below is a list of questions to help you develop the correlated lesson.
A. What math is usually used in teaching this concept? Expand on these math concepts.
B. Are there terms that need to be clarified? Clarify all terms using strategies that incorporate examples from both disciplines.
C. Are there assumptions being made regarding math background knowledge? Include math activities that address these assumptions.
D. Are there any parallel ideas? Address these ideas emphasizing both the science and math perspectives.
E. Are there any existing correlated resource materials? There are many resources available that can be adapted as needed. Examples include Real World Math Made Easy (Brueningsen et al. 2005), Hands-On Math Projects with Real-Life Applications: Ready-To-Use Lessons and Materials for Grades 6–12 (Muschla and Muschla 1996), and Through Mathematical Eyes: Exploring Functional Relationships in Math and Science (Ritchhart 1997).
- Decide the mode of instruction. You may choose to have your math partner come in to your science class and team-teach the correlated lesson with you or you may choose to do it alone. In any event, you may want to invite other teachers to observe to give you feedback about the lesson or you may consider videotaping the lesson for later review and lesson revision. Be sure to focus on the lesson not the teacher(s). The mode of instruction decision depends on the existing schedule for both subjects. Or, with administrative support, a schedule can be designed that provides the science and math teacher with classes either occurring at the same period, or better yet, double-blocked periods so that structure is in place whenever they decide to team-teach correlated lessons. Both science and math course sequences will play a large role. The following science and math courses seem logical to team: Physical Science/Algebra I, Chemistry/Algebra II, Physics/Geometry or Algebra II, and Biology/Algebra I.
Benefits of science/math connections
It may seem that correlating science and math may require a significant amount of time and energy. Consequently, you may wonder if it is worth doing. It is! In our experience, the benefits of the process and product for both teachers and students definitely outweigh the costs. Making these connections for students helps them see that science and math indeed have linkages. Furthermore, these linkages exist naturally and provide students with a more realistic learning environment and thus better preparation for life and/or college. Developing and teaching effective correlated science and math curricula must be a long term commitment. Evaluating your correlated program may be done with appropriate student pretest/posttest and comparing annual state test scores in science and math over time.
Another significant benefit is the fun we teachers have in deepening our understanding of our own and another discipline. We also have the satisfaction of using this type of correlated science and math curriculum to help students become better problem solvers and perhaps become the scientists, mathematicians, engineers and technologists that our nation and world so desperately need.
Selina Vásquez-Mireles (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an associate professor of mathematics and Sandra West (email@example.com) is an associate professor of biology, both at Texas State University–San Marcos in San Marcos, Texas.
American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS). 1993. Benchmarks for science literacy. Washington, DC: Oxford University Press.
Brueningsen, C., B. Bower, L. Antinone, and E. Kerner. 2005. Real world math made easy. Dallas, TX: Texas Instruments Incorporated.
Bybee, R. 1993. An instructional model for science education. In Developing Biological Literacy. Colorado Springs, CO: Biological Sciences Curriculum Study.
Goldhaber, D.D., and D.J. Brewer. 1998. When should we reward degrees for teachers? Phi Delta Kappan 80(2): 135–138.
Hawk, P.P., C.R. Coble, and M. Swanson. 1985. Certification: It does matter. Journal of Teacher Education 36(3): 13–15.
Judson, E., and D. Sawada. 2000. Examining the effects of a reformed junior high school science class on students’ math achievement. School Science & Mathematics 100(8): 419–425.
Muschla, G.R., and J.A. Muschla. 1996. Hands-on math projects with real-life applications: Ready-to-use lessons and materials for grades 6-12. West Nyack, NY: The Center for Applied Research in Education.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). 2000. Principles & standards for school mathematics. Reston, VA: NCTM.
National Research Council (NRC). 1996. National science education standards. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Ritchhart, R. (Ed.). 1997. Through mathematical eyes: Exploring functional relationships in math and science. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
West, S.S., and D.J. Tooke. 2001. Enhancing mathematics K–5 TEKS by teaching science: Correlations between mathematics and science. Texas Science Teacher 30(1): 36–38.