Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Making Math More Like Science

This is my second time teaching Grade 7 Science, and once again I am blown away with the simplicity of the material but how it "blows our brains" as my students explain. As a class we have spent days talking about The Particle Theory. These 5 postulates have caused us to question everything from why does it take longer to make a cold tea than hot to the fact that we are made of the same stuff of dinosaurs. What would seem like 5 simple rules has caused all students in the class to question, explore and expand their thinking.

Having taught math for the majority of my career, I am used to parents and students feeling that the same enrichment and challenge only comes from the exploration of material beyond the curriculum. We have to leave the material of Grade 7 so that a student can become equally engrossed and inquisitive about the material as their peers. However, from observing my Science students I challenge this full heartedly. As we explore the same concepts of Science, each student is driving their thinking forward from their own questions. No new material is being presented to them, but they are using their current knowledge to ask questions and see how they can apply this thinking to the world around them. The difference I see from this and a math class is that math does not encourage student driven questions. There is a sense that an order must occur in the learning of material and that the teacher should guide it. I want to put this thinking in the garbage this year and make it so that math and science are structured in the same manner; the presentation of foundational concepts and the time for students to explore and make connections on their own.

This will be a challenge. I know from personal experience that students are taught to ask questions in science since these exhibit wonder and excitement about the material. Asking questions in math class could have a very different reaction from peers and the teacher. It could indicate an inability to grasp the concept, not able to focus on the prescribed task or "not what we are thinking of at the moment". Students, and parents, are trained to learn, practice and then perform rather than the science of learn, question, explore and perform.

To do this I have made my students first math project to be one where they need to ask their own question where proportional reasoning is the base. How far they push and go with the ideas is up to them. My last blog post goes into more details of the project. However, over this past week I am more convinced that a great exploration and student driven activities are necessary in math classes to develop the math students my high school coworkers are hoping to have come their way. They are wanting to have the thinkers, and not just the calculators.

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