Originally posted on August 24, 2013 at 12:25 AM
I’m offering this idea to Junior High Math instructors, Academic program designers or anyone else who may aspire to influence the course of Middle School Aged learning progress. I think there are many students who start out in Grade school, very interested in science but don’t carry through with the interest to the college level. I also think there is a very good, or perhaps bad; reason for this. If you ask a cross section of folks what should a person do if she or he is good in Math, a frequent response will be “Go into science.” The problem is, until one reaches 11th Grade or so in high school, science as generally taught, has very little to do with math.
Science in Grade school and Junior High, is full of fascinating facts, fun experiments and a fair amount of “gee whiz” value. Arithmetic and Mathematics however tend to be fairly dry, unappetizing subjects, satisfying perhaps for those who do it well but fairly deadly for many of the same kids who eat up the science experiments with a spoon, (well, hopefully not in a literal sense.) This tends to set up what we might call an Expectation Gap wherein one starts reading the qualitative science books around third or fourth grade then in high school and college, we can run up against the “Here also be Maths!” disillusionment.
We certainly don’t want to make elementary science less interesting and though many have tried, it’s difficult to make Math quite as yummy as say, Art Class. I think though that the real problem stems from the division of Math and Science early on and the solution may lay in bringing the two subjects together much earlier than is customarily done.
There is a fascinating genre of learning which speaks to both math and science which is simply the realm of Formulae (Formulas) Formulae are in general algebra at an understandable level and convey a great deal of power to those who learn to use them.
Customarily we teach arithmetic then we get into algebra with it’s integers and variables and exponents, it’s Xs and Ys with very little attention given to what we use this stuff for in the long run. Yes there are story problems in grade school arithmetic books and much fewer of them in algebra texts. Still algebra is all around us. We talk about Length and height and weight all the time (L H and W) and every half bright kid knows that H2O = water. Let’s design a course in Formulae pure and simple and let it serve as a pre-algebra course.
One needn’t be a propulsion expert to calculate the areas of rectangles and circles. Anyone who can do multiplication can also calculate the volume of solids such as cylinders, cones and even pyramids.
Simple demos with hollow shapes and graduated cylinders of water could help classes see that their numbers are correct or at least close. Elementary Trig could be done with a board, and angle measure and a measuring tape. How big a board do you need to cover this side of the slanted roof. Clubhouse builders would love it! Starting with cooking recipes we could move fairly directly into calculating how much oxygen you need to combine with two grams of hydrogen to get 18 grams of water. (Basically look at the formula and have a look at the Periodic Table.) Before Course’s end we could be able to calculate things like how much kerosene do you need to burn to heat a tubful of water from whatever the cold tap gives us to a temperature we wouldn’t mind using for a bath. Lots of cool, hands-on stuff here and nothing all that expensive. Kids love knowing how to do things, what things are made of, how to mix things together and come up with exciting new things. Let’s get formulaic and take the myth out of science and the snore out of math!