Posted on 10th May 2022

Teaching maths in science: The Science Mastery approach

Date.
4:37 PM, 10th May 2022
Teaching maths in science: The Science Mastery approach

Teaching maths in science: The Science Mastery approach

The latest programme from Ark Curriculum Plus, Science Mastery, provides teachers with everything they need to support high quality planning, delivery and assessment of KS3 science, alongside the subject specific professional development and bespoke school support.

Here, the Head of Secondary Science Mastery, Shauna O’Brien, discusses how Science Mastery tackles the issue of maths in science.


    It is well documented (see examiners’ reports for science GCSEs over the past 10 years, for example) that the average secondary science pupil does not perform well in the mathematical aspects of their science exams. Many students report a lack of confidence in their ability to tackle maths problems in science, and these questions are amongst the most likely to be left blank in assessments. In our work with secondary science teachers, they often cite a lack of confidence in maths, and the lack of high quality professional development on teaching maths in science, as a barrier to overcoming this problem. Further to this, the gender disparity in students pursuing Physics post-16 has been attributed to the lack of confidence many girls feel in their maths skills (Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2018). For all of the various resources that have been made available online to support science teachers in this area over the years, this problem has persisted over time.

    There are a number of factors that contribute to the current problem. Usually the teaching of science and maths is done in isolation with little collaboration between subject teachers. This can lead to confusion where methods, teaching approaches and language varies between subjects for the same concepts. The sequence of learning is developed independently in each subject area, so that each doesn’t take account of the other.

    In science, sadly, often too little time is spent with a focus on maths skills. Teachers might assume that the students already have these skills from their maths lessons, or the teacher (not being a maths specialist) might not have the confidence to deliver that maths teaching to the required standard.

    Following an audit of existing resources (both our own and others), the available research and publications (such as the brilliant The Language of Mathematics in science: A Guide for Teachers of 11-16 science (2016), by The Association for Science Education), and in collaboration with a panel of expert teachers, we formed our strategy to fix the problem of maths in science. It consists of 4 parts, each of which I’ll provide more detail on below:

    1. Address supposed contradictions in mathematics and science.
    2. Ensure consistency of language in maths and science.
    3. Teach maths skills explicitly at appropriate points in the science curriculum.
    4. Ensure adequate ‘coverage’, practise and interleaving of maths skills across the Science Mastery curriculum.

    1. Address supposed contradictions in Mathematics and science

    Examples of contradictions addressed:

    • In mathematics the symbols in an equation represent a number, whereas in science symbols such as F, m and a represent specific quantities and have units.
    • A ‘line’ in maths refers to a straight line, whereas in science it can mean a curved or straight line. A ‘line of best fit’ is always a (straight) line in mathematics, but can also be a curve in science
    • ‘Range’ is a numerical value in mathematics, but a quantity in science, linked to a specific variable.

    How Science Mastery addresses the problem:

    Teacher guidance (within curriculum overview and/or lesson resources) gives specific information and/or instruction to teachers regarding the supposed contradiction.

    Resource design (both teacher or student facing) deliberately avoids presenting the science/maths in a way which confuses/contradicts their maths education.

    2. Ensure consistency of language in maths and science

      Examples of specific language we addressed:

      • Equation/Formula
      • Mass/Weight
      • Estimation/Approximation
      • Line graph/Scatter graph
      • Mean/Average

      How Science Mastery addresses the problem:

      Through the ‘maths in science’ professional development resources for teachers, we ensure that

      • We have a consistent and agreed use of these terms across the student and teacher facing resources.
      • Teacher guidance specifies the correct language to use where appropriate and advises where teachers should be mindful of students using these terms incorrectly.

      3. Teach maths skills explicitly at appropriate points

      How Science Mastery addresses the problem:

      We identified those maths skills that students will need explicit instruction in. To do this, we looked at the requirement for the science GCSEs, as well as the expected skills from KS2. We also agreed with teachers a list of skills that teachers often mistakenly assume students have (such as reading scales), and a list of skills that experienced KS5 teachers feel are usually lacking in new AS students. This work formed our list of skills (part of the Science Mastery Practical, Enquiry and maths skills list)

      For each skill, we either created a standalone ‘maths in science’ lesson that focuses solely on that maths skill and inserted these lessons at an appropriate stage in the curriculum (informed by the Maths Mastery/a typical maths curriculum map), or explicitly teach the skill as part of another lesson.

      In collaboration with expert teachers across our Network, we developed an agreed process/method for the teaching of each of these maths skills in science that can be applied consistently for all ‘maths in science’ resources.

      Examples of maths skills to addressed in this way:

      • Construct and interpret frequency tables and diagrams, bar charts and histograms
      • Make order of magnitude calculations
      • Understand and use the symbols: =, <>, >, ∝ , ~
      • Determine the slope and intercept of a linear graph
      • Calculate areas of triangles and rectangles, surface areas and volumes of cubes

      4. Ensure adequate ‘coverage’, practise and interleaving of maths skills across the Science Mastery curriculum.

      How Science Mastery addresses the problem:

      We have carefully mapped the maths skills teaching across the curriculum – identifying for teachers both where first teaching occurs and where we have planned opportunities for interleaving. Each maths skill is taught first in a maths context within a ‘maths in science’ lesson, and then applied to scientific contexts.

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      References

      Becker, Kurt H., Park, K (2011), Integrative Approaches among science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Subjects on Students Learning: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of STEM Education, Vol 12 No 5

      The Language of Mathematics in science: Teaching Approaches (2016), The Association for science Education

      The Language of Mathematics in science: A Guide for Teachers of 11-16 science (2016), The Association for science Education

      The Language of Measurement (2010), The Association for science Education

      Webb, Norman L. (1997), Determining Alignment of Expectations and Assessments in Mathematics and science Education, National Institute for science Education Brief, Volume 2

      Furner, Joseph M., Kumar, David D., (1997) The Mathematics and science Integration Argument: A Stand for Teacher Education, Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, science & Technology Education, 2007, 3(3), 185-189

      Stohlmann, Micah; Moore, Tamara J.; and Roehrig, Gillian H. (2012, "Considerations for Teaching Integrated STEM Education," Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research (J-PEER): Vol. 2: Iss. 1, Article 4.
      https://doi.org/10.5703/1288284314653

      Fllis, A., & Fouts, J. (2001). Interdisciplinary curriculum: The research base: The decision to approach music curriculum from an interdisciplinary perspective should include a consideration of all the possible benefits and drawbacks. Music Educators Journal, 87(22), 22–26, 68.

      King, K., & Wiseman, D. (2001). Comparing science efficacy beliefs of elementary education majors in integrated and non-integrated teacher education coursework. Journal of science Teacher Education, 12(2), 143–153.

      How can we increase girls’ uptake of maths and physics Alevel? (2018) Institute for Fiscal Studies

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