Math & Science: Should they have separate rooms?

I had the opportunity to talk to a high school industrial technology teacher last week. He was proposing a new program for his school – Project Lead the Way. He had initially wanted to start it in high school, but as he had learned more about the project, he was proposing to start it at the middle school level with plans to move it to the high school year by year.

Not knowing much about the industrial technology curriculum, I admit at first I wasn’t particularly interested. However, as he spoke, it became clear to me that this program fits exactly with 21st Century Skills concepts and with the increasing emphasis on STEM programs. It also just MAKES SENSE.

This teacher spoke eloquently about the integration of math and science in the PLTW programs, and in the engineering classes he currently teaches. These classes, he said, are “…the first time students see how geometry applies to daily life.” He explained a project where students had to use principles from both geometry and physics in order to build something.

Schools are the only place where math and science are put in separate rooms,” he said. This sentence floored me. Duh. It’s totally obvious, and so totally obviously WRONG. Why are math and science traditionally taught separately? I highly doubt this happens anywhere else, except perhaps the college classroom.

Here’s a quote from the PTLW site:

PLTW classes are hands-on, based in real-world experience, and engaging for students and teachers. They are most often offered as electives and complement required classes in science and math.

I love the real-world experience idea, and if you read more on their site, you see how they combine the disciplines and emphasize creativity, collaborating, and critical thinking. Sound familiar? Yup – 21st century skills!

But WHY should this be taught as an elective that complements “required classes in science and math?” Couldn’t the required science and math content be integrated into a class?

Teaching science this way could potentially pull kids who have lost interest in the traditional math/science curriculum. It baffes me how they expect kids to stay interested in algebra and higher level math when it’s taught completely outside of any real application.  Some kids are fascinated by the math itself, but I bet many other kids retain interest if they could see how it could be applied and used.

As an example (this blog is from a parent’s perspective!) my daughter is far more interested in creative curriculum (music, art, English) than math and science. For her, math is learned in a vacuum – there is NO context, no application, no visualization. It’s a bunch of numbers on paper with no meaning. It’s a struggle and she can’t WAIT to be done with the required math science courses so she can take courses where she feels more comfortable. With the current emphasis on STEM learning, perhaps kids with this learning style would be more engaged in classes that had creative problem solving, that required collaboration and communication.

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