Key Ideas

- The Digital Promise Learning Sciences Research team is developing resources and professional learning experiences for middle school science teachers to support mathematics in OpenSciEd, and conducting a pilot study of their impacts.
- Mathematics and science instruction in K-12 education have the potential to support each other in important ways, but this potential is not always realized in classrooms.
- The storyline-based approach of OpenSciEd curriculum materials can make mathematics consequential to science investigations, deepening students’ engagement with mathematics.

Mathematics and science, two of the disciplines under the combined science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) umbrella, have a tight relationship in professional practice. For instance, science provides rich contexts for applying mathematical thinking, while mathematical thinking is critically important for investigating and explaining science phenomena.

K-12 instruction has the potential to leverage these synergies between math and science. Despite these strong connections, K-12 education often places these two disciplines at arm’s length from each other. Mathematics instruction commonly lacks motivating real world contexts such as science phenomena; and when students are asked to use math in science class, it is often in a procedural manner, such as performing calculations or solving equations to get a right answer.

OpenSciEd curriculum materials offer compelling ways to engage students deeply with mathematics by making mathematical thinking an important part of how they engage in practice-based science. OpenSciEd uses a storyline-based approach that requires students to “figure out” science phenomena together. Over the course of a six-week science unit, students learn to generate increasingly sophisticated explanations of the scientific phenomenon, such as how sound waves can move objects at a distance. Students collect and make sense of data, develop their own scientific models, build consensus through class discussions, and revise their models based on new evidence.

OpenSciEd storylines can tie mathematics and science together by making mathematics concepts consequential to generating powerful explanations about the natural world. For instance, students must apply mathematical concepts such as proportionality and functions to strengthen their scientific claims. Mathematics can also help students refine a vague explanation of a scientific model such as “more velocity results in more energy” into something more precise and powerful, such as “when I double the velocity, the energy increases by a factor of 4.”

However, science teachers are not typically trained in mathematics pedagogy. To realize the full potential of OpenSciEd for math instruction, OpenSciEd teachers need professional supports that help them identify both the mathematical foundations underlying science phenomena and the mathematical pedagogy to help students use and advance their mathematical knowledge.

Now, mathematics and science education researchers at Digital Promise and the University of Colorado Boulder are designing resources and professional learning experiences to help teachers deepen their students’ mathematics reasoning through OpenSciEd investigations. The resources and activities for teachers will help them identify key connections between OpenSciEd and mathematics concepts, adapt instructional materials to highlight these connections, and plan lessons in ways that support students’ mathematics engagement.

These efforts are part of the research team’s broader investigation into how OpenSciEd materials can improve middle school students’ mathematics outcomes. In this study, which involves eighth grade teachers and their students in two school districts, researchers will engage directly with practitioners and students by:

- Observing classroom instruction
- Interviewing teachers about their classroom implementation and students’ engagement
- Measuring students’ mathematics learning and views about the relevance of mathematics

The team will refine the resources based on the study, then share them with the education community so other practitioners can use them, and other researchers can build on them.

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