Why the math teacher in me loves the science teacher in me

I spend 9 months of the year being a math teacher and two weeks every year being a science teacher. As time goes, it is hardly a comparison, but I’m beginning to see those two science weeks as an absolutely essential part of supporting the rest of the math year.

For better or worse, my brain has but some boxes around the two disciplines. Science provides the contexts, math helps to generalize them. Science provides the data, math analyzes it. Science gives you a story to support evidence. Math gives you the tools to predict the future or to theorize the past.

I understand those are debatable points. The real borders between math and science are not nearly so cut-and-dry.

But I can’t get away from this generalization: science is story-telling. Some of the stories are exciting. Some of the stories are gruesome. Some of the stories are tragic. But, science has made its business to gather evidence and to create a story that puts all the evidence into a logical explanation. If you look at the evolution of the models of the solar system or the atom you can see the story-telling. Evidence gets a story. More evidence changes the story. The more evidence we have, the more detailed and accurate the story becomes.

People like stories. Story-telling is an ancient practice. A good story is captivating. It draws you in and makes you want to hear what’s coming up next. Sometimes the math I teach gets a little quantitative. Sometimes it gets a little emotion-less and dry. Sometimes I forget that behind every good rule, law, theorem, there is an application, a context… a story.

And it is definitely possible to create a math class that includes story-telling. A simple Bing search for #3Acts math will reveal a variety of math lessons in the 3 act model that most movies use. This type of problem was first designed by Dan Meyer (@ddmeyer) and as he has explained the process further and provided examples, many other talent math teachers have added their own contributions to the online supply of math problems that use the same engagement model as story-telling.

And now, we’ve crossed the half-way point and the summer starts rolling downhill toward the beginning of the next school year. These two weeks remind me of my job as a story-teller. That it is my job to give the students math to explore. That is my job to draw them into an experience. The best science teachers are masters of experience and discovery. They are expert story-tellers and they are experts in giving the students a bit of evidence and allowing them to write and tell their own stories.

Perhaps that’s true of the best math teachers as well.

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4 thoughts on “Why the math teacher in me loves the science teacher in me

    • It’s helped that I have been able to get through the frustration of not knowing how enough to be able to appreciate it. That isn’t true for all things. In fact, social studies was my nemesis in school. I appreciate a bit more of history now (mostly thanks to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History Podcast), but in school, history, geography, government… ugg.

      But, perhaps as time progresses, perhaps you’ll be able to see how you possess a basic understanding of math and science and will appreciate the value the way that I’ve learned to appreciate the value of history… maybe?

      Thanks for the comment, though.

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