What Exactly IS Science? and Math? Is That What is Being Taught?

This is my first year to teach technology after 5 years of science and 3 years of math before that. I’ve had a lot on my mind about STEM and the connection of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math part. Even throw in an “A” for Arts and make it STEAM. To me they can all fit together seamlessly. Think about it. Science is this ongoing process of testing knowledge, it test the “unknown” as well as the “known.” Math is that “known” science of space, quantity, and numbers. In my tech class our definition of technology is having scientific knowledge, skills, or tools to perform or improve a task. We discuss how only 1/5 of tech is actual hardware, rest is that knowledge and skill. Lastly, engineering is the combination of math and science to design real world solutions. The “A” in STEAM focuses on the art of the design. So no way you can argue these do not fit together.

Now lets look at it from a classroom perspective. Look at a school day. A typical math classroom. A typical science classroom. Maybe a computer lab class. Do they fit together seamlessly? Look at standards, benchmarks, and standardized tests. Are they completely separate? Does the science class fit the definition above about “ongoing process of testing knowledge?” Are math classes focused on just the number part or all three listed above? Do technology labs focus on learning hardware or scientific knowledge and skill? Is that skill tangible? Do you use all of these skills to design and build? Well if you live by standards, probably not. If your students have to take benchmarks that are pure memorization or formulas, probably not. I can be as guilty of this as the next guy. It’s hard not to fall into that trap. Benchmark asks “which biome __?” You fall into “here is the facts…” Be science is not facts, knowledge yes, facts, no. When I taught math “memorize this formula” not “take info and ___.”

So here is what is the problem. School and real definitions do not match. Matching is a 1st grade (or was when I taught first grade) math skill, so we all should know how to do it. I could sit here all day and point fingers and say we need it to be __ way. But common sense tells us, “we ain’t doin it right.”

This month the 2012 PISA scores came out. PISA measures scholastic achievement in math, science, and reading in nations around the world, and ranks them by comparison. According to the rankings, the US fell below average in science and math. *sigh* People want to blame teachers, poverty, etc. Please don’t blame teachers. Teachers are told “teach __” those blanks do not usually match those definitions of science or math mentioned above. Students are tested on __. Those skills tested do not match the definitions above. So of course when we are assessed on our global knowledge of science and math we are not really “doing” math or science.

This past week was Computer Science Education Week. During this week there was a big push for all students to spend one hour this week coding. The Hour of Code was promoted by everyone from President Obama to Mark Zuckerburg. But for every teacher who had students participate I have to wonder how many teachers did not because “it didn’t fit the curriculum.” When looking through information about Hour of Code I heard coding called “the one thing not taught in schools.” I first I wondered why then realized, duh, there is no “standard” that says “Learn to code” and so often if it is not on the benchmark test or written word for word in the standards we feel like we can’t spend time on it. I’m sure many teachers thought it was insane to waste an hour on it this week. But that idea has got to change. I saw a lot of praise that half of US students participated in Hour of Code, that is so exciting, but what about that other half? Half is not acceptable. But it is a start.

The technology and engineering takes those math and science skills makes them practical. It brings them out of the text books and off the paper and into real life skills. The state I live in does not follow Common Core State Standards (CCSS), we have College and Career Ready Standards (CCRS) so I’m not 100% sure what all the CCSS are, but when I look them, and the CCRS, I see these math abstracts that are right on with higher level Blooms domains using words like “model” and “reason” but then you see the standards and we are back to “understand” and “solve.” When you have all these basic levels it is hard to focus on the higher level skills, ones you know may not be on the multiple choice test. This is why STEM needs to be in place in schools. It allows for the “create” and “evaluate” domains to come first. It allows for taking that basic and giving it a place for practical use. This week my state announced that computer science will now be accepted as a high school math elective. This is definitely a step forward to the matching and combining. The state superintendent Bice put it perfectly “These courses are rigorous and are an innovative way to teach our high school math curriculum. In these courses, students will learn the core concepts of mathematics, but they will go one step further and apply these concepts to real-world situations.” Ta-da! That’s what we need!

When it comes down to it, I wish STEM programs were not a separate class or after school program. I wish it was a huge few hour combo of math and science. We need to stop separating it. We need to have “standards” that stop with these nit-picky skills instead of knowledge. When we teach these classes, we need make this a focus. We heard over and over about tech integration, but lets make that tech integration more than “google your answer.” Let that tech me the 4/5 of technology that is not exactly tangible. Let’s take that knowledge and design and create to support it.

Lastly, this video was recorded in 1996. It is of Carl Sagan an advocate for science and science education who died in 1996. He was a little radical but this video did a pretty good job predicting science education. 

One thought on “What Exactly IS Science? and Math? Is That What is Being Taught?

  1. The problem beyond ones listed here is that they are seen as INDIVIDUAL: courses, standards, … Maybe our thinking about STEM or STEAM will allow serious integration – such as PBL for example. One thing I’ve not seen mentioned in the Hour of Code is the notion that coding (or even algorithmic thinking) works best when dealing with real world problems – multidisciplinary, input with uncertainties, modeling, math beyond closed form, outputs with uncertainties, testing, … As I recall my 50-year post-BS career, I only remember ONE time when I used my extensive math education to TRY to get a closed form solution!!!!

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