How to Teach Math in Science – A Few Examples

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Trying to teach math in science? First, measure multiple properties. Second, use computation. Third, look for patterns. And fourth, graph. Read on for a few specific examples.

Mr. Grow Learns How to Teach Math in Science

Once again, Mr. Grow sat at the side table with Ms. Sneed. A year had passed since he did his student teaching in her class. Now, he taught a fifth grade class of his own.

As he tapped the tip of his pencil on the table, Ms. Sneed stared at him. “So,” she said, breaking his trance. “What science practice are we discussing today?”

With a sigh, he said, “How to teach math in science.”

“What?”

“Well, I looked at the NGSS science practices. The fifth standard is using mathematics and computational thinking.”

Without missing a beat, Ms. Sneed pulled out her laptop. With just a little clicking, she found the document. “Let me summarize,” she said. “First, it looks like we should make quantitative measurements of multiple physical properties. Second, kids should use computation. Third, look for patterns. And finally, graph.”

“In my opinion, these points overlap with the last standard we discussed, analyzing and interpreting data.”

Ms. Sneed nodded. “I agree. Especially the parts about using computation and graphing. Do you mind if I use some examples to explain these points?”

“Sure. Whatever it takes. Evidently, I need to know this stuff. Furthermore, I should be using it in my teaching.”

Measure Multiple Properties to Teach Math in Science

“Let’s start with measurement. Sure, we covered this the last time we spoke. But as I look at this section on teaching math in science, I notice more. For example, they specifically mention area, volume, weight, and time. Although we talked about volume, mass, and time, we never even thought of area.

“This makes me think of a lab we did on rocks. Actually, it was called Pet Rocks. Remember those? They used to be a thing.”

Mr. Grow stared at her blankly, so she went on. “Anyway, each kid had a rock. In addition to making qualitative observations, they measured its properties.”

When teaching math in science, ask kids to measure multiple properties. For example, they can measure circumference, volume, mass - and even the area that the rock sets on.
Are you feeling “pinspired”? Feel free to pin images from this post.

Length

Ms. Sneed walked over to her science cabinet and opened the door. After rummaging around, she pulled out a rock. “You tell me,” she said. “In order to teach math in science, first you’d have them measure length. How would that work?”

Mr. Grow picked up the rock and rolled it around in his hand. “Hmm. No flat sides. I’m not sure.” After a few seconds, he said, “Wait! I know. Kids can measure circumference.”

“Good. How would they do that?”

Again, he paused. Then he smiled. “With a tape measure.”

Volume

Smiling, Ms. Sneed went on. “How about volume?”

“That’s pretty easy. Kids would use a graduated cylinder. What an easy way to teach mathematics in science.”

Mass, or Weight

“In the standards document, they call the next property weight. But I always say mass. In any case, how could they measure the mass of this rock?”

“Easy again: with a balance scale.”

Ms. Sneed nodded.

Area

“Now,” she said. “Here’s a tough one. How could you incorporate area into this lab?”

Again, Mr. Grow rolled the rock around in his hands. Then he placed it on the table. “Is it okay if I grab a piece of graph paper from the cabinet?” he asked.

“Sure.”

When Mr. Grow returned, he laid the paper on the table. Then he set the rock on top of it. Slowly, he traced around the rock with a pencil.

“If kids count the squares, they can find the area this rock needs to set on a table.”

Ms. Sneed’s face lit up. “Brilliant!” she exclaimed. “Bravo! I’m pretty sure that you’re going to be good at teaching math in science.”

Use Computation

After she returned the rock to the cabinet, Ms. Sneed faced her laptop. “Next, we’ll talk about computation. Do you remember that day and night activity you did?”

As she pulled it up on her screen, Mr. Grow nodded.

“In my opinion, this is a great example of how you can use computation to teach math in science. Actually, I like the fact that it doesn’t just require simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. Instead, kids figure elapsed time.” She pointed to the answer sheet.

Teach math in science with computation! In this example, kids figure elapsed time using sunrise and sunset data.

Look for Patterns When Teaching Math in Science

“This also provides a great example of looking for patterns. After students figured elapsed time for early and late December, they could see some definite patterns. If you look at the beginning of December, the length of daylight decreases rapidly. Then it slows down.”

She flipped to the next page. “But then it stalls out – for ten days! (Even I didn’t expect that!) Afterward, it slowly begins to increase. The math geek in me just loves this!”

“I see,” said Mr. Grow. “Computation provides numbers when teaching math in science. Then patterns help kids draw conclusions.”

“Exactly!”

After completing these sunrise and sunset tables for Chicago, kids can see that daylight hours decrease at the beginning of December then increase at the end. Looking for patterns is an important science practice.

Graphs Let Us Teach Math in Science

“The next concept in teaching math in science is graphing,” Ms. Sneed continued. “Although we didn’t graph elapsed time in the day and night activity, it would have been a cool thing to do.”

“Yeah, a double line graph of Chicago and Hobart, Australia. That sure would have been interesting.”

“Can you think of any other labs that required graphing?” Ms. Sneed asked.

“Hmm. How about that hydrosphere activity? It wasn’t a lab, exactly.”

“Interesting that you should mention that. Remember how we were talking about the broadening of science practices? This is a great example. Kids need a variety of experiences to learn about science – and to learn science concepts. But please tell me about the graphing activity.”

Mr. Grow opened his laptop and found the hydrosphere file. Scrolling to the last page, he explained. “In the activity, kids read about distribution of water on Earth. Then they pulled figures from the text and put them in tables.”

As he pointed to the top of the worksheet, Ms. Sneed nodded. “Tables. Numbers. Great!”

“Finally, they created pie graphs like these. Now that I take a little time to look at them, I see that they clearly illustrate water distribution. I agree with the NGSS: Graphing is important.”

When you add graphing to your science labs, you're also adding math! This hydrosphere activity asks kids to create pie graphs for the amount of water, salt water, fresh water, and accessible water on Earth.

Enjoy Teaching Math in Science

“No pun intended,” Ms. Sneed said as she pointed to the hydrosphere page, “but I think what we discussed today was just the tip of the iceberg.”

Mr. Grow smirked. Yep, he could always count on Ms. Sneed for corny puns. But all of this made him enjoy teaching even more.

“So,” his mentor said. “Looks like it’s time to go home. Before we do, let’s wrap it up. What can we do to teach math in science.”

Mr. Grow held up one finger at a time: “One – measure. Two – compute. Three – look for patterns. Four – graph. And five – probably a whole lot more.”

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