In a previous blog I wrote about our initial foray into linking the way maths was taught in the science department to the maths department.  This was also the focus of my recent #mathsconf13 session.

Workshop 1

I need to thank Miss Norledge who constructed the amazing session summary you see on the left.

The session looked at a number of interesting examples from GCSE and A-level science lessons where students would apply mathematical concepts in a new way.

This gives the opportunity to see how well students can apply their maths learning to new situations – an opportunity that the maths department was missing out on in our school, as we found out in our recent maths and science CPD session:

  • We realised that science teachers were teaching maths skills within science lessons, but their focus was on meeting their exam requirements. They were more interested in application first and transferable understanding second.
  • There were some fantastic, attention-grabbing ‘real world maths’ activities. I did see some ‘old fashioned’ maths teaching ideas too, but there was a real willingness to work to a common approach.
  • The science teachers also felt that if they could cover the mathematical concepts more effectively, students would make better progress.
  • Maths teachers were missing out on great opportunities to get assessment insight from the science department on how students are able to apply their maths.

The good news is that there is some very quick action that can be taken, which shows almost immediate benefits to the progress of some students. In the CPD session, we spent some time unpicking misconceptions and sharing assessment feedback, and came up with the following tips for making maths work in science:

A dab of white paint is applied to a snail
The capture/recapture technique is a good example of using maths in science
  1. Set up complementary schemes of work
    The ideal situation is that students meet mathematical concepts in maths and then apply them in science. In some Year 7 and Year 8 classes this was not the case. Reviewing the science and maths schemes of work and identifying what maths is needed when in science meant we could make some fairly simple changes to the teaching order in Year 7 and 8.
  2. Use a common approach
    So when we introduce, for example, working with formulae, do you substitute in values before you rearrange the formula or after? Are we using formula triangles? Whichever approach you use, make it consistent across both subjects.
  3. Use a common language
    Are you ‘cancelling’ or are you ‘dividing by’ when you simplify? Is there such a thing as ‘cross multiplying’? Do ‘two negatives make a positive’? As above, make this consistent across both subjects.
  4. Find out when there are pre-existing opportunities for assessment of these mathematical skills in science and share them across the department
    We are still wrestling with the technical side of this, but surely there is a simple way of porting across the scores from assessed work from the science markbook to the maths markbook without duplication. However, that technical patch aside, getting feedback from the science department has been really useful in picking up mathematical misconceptions that students have.

I would strongly recommend having a conversation with your science department. See if you can visit some science lessons and invite them to visit yours in return.  Have a look at the lessons in science when these topics happen in the table below, or ask them to come to your first lessons on algebra or formulae. For us it has really helped our students and removed some of the confusions around maths in science.

Table showing A summary of GCSE Science topics with a mathematical core
A summary of GCSE Science topics with a mathematical core