My school district holds an “August Institute” every summer. It’s a chance for teachers to come back together and engage in professional development as they get ready for the new school year. This year I was asked to present a session on integrating math and science.
So I did.
I decided to build my session around a triple Venn diagram. One circle represents the Common Core Math Standards. The second circle represents science content. At the elementary level, our district supplies two hands-on units for each grade level. The units come in large boxes – called kits – and are shipped out to classrooms on a rotating basis. At the fourth grade, we teach Land and Water and Electric Circuits.
The third circle in my Venn diagram represents the Next Generation Science Standards. Since the NGSS are fairly new – at least in our district – I decided to focus on one particular aspect: the Crosscutting Concepts. These are the connections and intellectual tools that cut across all science content, such as patterns, cause and effect and energy and matter. As far as I’m concerned, they seem to offer the best way to start understanding these important new standards.
So that was the framework for my session: a triple Venn diagram representing the intersection of math standards, science content and the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts. My learning target was “collaborate on a lesson plan that integrates Common Core Math Standards, grade-level science content and the NGSS Crosscutting Concepts.”
I started off by having my participants (there were thirty of them) skim through the Crosscutting Concepts to see which one would lend itself best to integration with science. The hands-down favorite was number three: Scale, Proportion and Quantity:
In considering phenomena, it is critical to recognize what is relevant at different measures of size, time, and energy and to recognize how changes in scale, proportion, or quantity affect a system’s structure or performance.
I gave my people ten minutes to read and process Crosscutting Concept #3 in its entirety. Then I had them get into grade-level groups to discuss the science content at their grade level in order to determine which unit and which specific learning activity would be ripe for this integrated lesson. The fourth grade team, for example, pick the Land and Water unit and focused on an activity where students build a stream model and compare the erosion and runoff when the model is tipped at two different angles.
The next part of the session involved digging through the CCSS to find an appropriate math standard to address. The fourth grade team picked CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.4.MD.C.7:
Recognize angle measure as additive. When an angle is decomposed into non-overlapping parts, the angle measure of the whole is the sum of the angle measures of the parts. Solve addition and subtraction problems to find unknown angles on a diagram in real world and mathematical problems, e.g., by using an equation with a symbol for the unknown angle measure.
Essentially this group wrote a lesson in which the students compared the two stream angles, but added the task of measuring the two different angles. Normally, the directions call on students to create the slope by placing a text book under one end of the little tub, and then make it steeper by adding a second book. These teachers decided to have them make a five degree angle with the first book and raise it to ten degrees with the second books; a small tweak, perhaps, but entirely appropriate if the goal is to integrate math standards as well as Crosscutting Concept #3.
For the remaining 45 minutes, each group wrote their lesson, followed by a little sharing.
It was a successful session; not the last word on integration of math, science content and NGSS, but an important first step on a long, important process.