When students walk into my classroom and find “science” listed on the daily schedule, the energy in the room goes up a few notches. Kids love hands on science, and they live for the portions of our week dedicated to predicting, investigating, and learning in a kinesthetic way. Unfortunately, due to lengthy required reading and math blocks, most elementary teachers aren’t allotted much time in their schedules to teach science. Because of this, I often look for opportunities to integrate science into the study of other subjects.
Math lends itself well to integration with science, since (as I tell my students) numbers are science’s language. One way to integrate the two subjects involves adding a hands on component to a math unit in which students must investigate a question. For example, during a unit on area, I ask students to create an investigation to find out how surface area affects the number of weights a raft can hold. Each team needs several lengths of tin foil, a tub or sink of water, and uniform weights (such as pennies or metal washers). They can experiment with different sizes of rafts, making sure to figure out the surface area of each one and record the number of weights it holds before sinking. Data can be graphed as a class, and patterns can be analyzed. Do different shapes of the same surface area hold the same number of weights? How does lengthening each side of the raft by one centimeter affect the total surface area? Does a raft with doubled surface area hold double the number of weights? Students will begin to make connections on their own, and their understanding of surface area will be greatly enhanced.
Another example of a science/math investigation can take place during a unit on geometric shapes. Ask students to design a tower using squares, triangles, rectangles, and/or other shapes the class is studying. The tower should be as tall as possible and still be able to hold up a ping pong ball. Materials can consist of whatever items you have in your classroom (straws, pipe cleaners, tape, paper clips, craft sticks, etc . . .). Discussion questions might include: How do engineers design towers? What shapes do most towers have incorporated into their design? When do towers need to hold up lots of weight? When do they need to be tall?
As an assessment, ask students to draw a sketch of their tower, naming the geometric shapes used and the reasoning behind the design. They can also analyze the tower’s performance in reference to the shapes they used. What shapes seemed to be best for building a successful tower? Why? Older students can be asked to choose one shape in the tower and measure its angles using a protractor. How should the angles add up if they measured a square? A triangle? A hexagon?
For more ways to integrate science with math, try one of the following lesson plans.
Integrating Math and Science:
Students examine ecosystems in this lesson. Working in groups they make a list of what they would need to live in the classroom for different time increments, including a day, week, and year. They discuss worldwide use of resources. They discuss how much paper is wasted in their class, and ways to reduce usage.
In this fun experiment students use various balls to determine which one bounces the highest. They then graph the results.
This lesson has students compare the size of the solar system to that of their community. They discuss the importance of learning about the solar system, and discuss how math skills are used to study scientific experiments.