Using mathematics from other subjects in your mathematics lessons
How do you feel about using mathematics from other subjects in your own maths classroom? You might feel enthusiastic, but struggle to know where to start, particularly if you currently don’t spend much time meeting with staff from other subjects. In this article you will get some practical ideas that won’t take long to plan but will make a big impact with your students.
Why should I use mathematics from other subjects in my classroom?
It’s worth taking a moment to think about why you want to bring maths from other subjects into your classroom. If you are clear about the benefits, it will make it much easier to incorporate into your lessons.
Here are some reasons:
- Pupils are motivated when they see maths in context.
- They will become more fluent at using maths in unfamiliar situations and will be better able to apply their skills throughout school and in daily life.
- As a teacher, it is both enjoyable and professionally rewarding to teach a topic with new examples and contexts.
- If you are still in any doubt, it is part of the National Curriculum and recommended by Ofsted. Here are some key passages from what they say:
The programme of study for key stage 3 mathematics states that pupils should:
“…develop fluency, mathematical reasoning and competence in solving increasingly sophisticated problems. They should also apply their mathematical knowledge in science, geography, computing and other subjects.” National curriculum in England: mathematics programmes of study - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Ofsted’s research review on science contains a section on the coherence between mathematics and science and states it is:
“… important that teachers do not assume that pupils can easily transfer their learning from mathematics to the science classroom. Pupils will need to be taught how to use mathematics in science.” Research review series: science - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Appendix 3 of the Combined Science national curriculum Combined science: GCSE subject content (publishing.service.gov.uk) is a list of the mathematical skills required for biology, chemistry, and physics specifications and contains some very familiar topics: standard form, solve simple algebraic equations, find the gradient of a tangent to a curve to name just three.
Three ideas to get you started
I want to concentrate upon the mathematics content to be found in the science specifications and consider three ideas you may consider using in addition to the tasks found in the mathematics textbook, to stretch and support students.
1) Proportional Reasoning
We have all posed questions such as:
I need 120g of flour to make 4 cakes.
How much flour do I need to make 15 cakes?
We may produce something like this during our explanation to look at different connections and may use terms like ‘unitary method’
Students will be required to use the same mathematics in chemistry lessons when performing molar calculations.
I have 240g of carbon.
How many moles of carbon do I have?
At first sight, the mathematics teacher may shy away from this question. However, with just a little knowledge we can use this question in a mathematics lesson, after all, this is what our students are expected to do!
What do we need to know?
- Carbon has an atomic mass of 12 grams (this is given on the periodic table)
- We have one mole of carbon when we have 12 grams of carbon
The calculation is the same as the cake question. If we have 240g of carbon, then we have 20 moles of carbon.
Could we use examples such as this when teaching proportional reasoning in mathematics?
Try this next example. What problems do you encounter? What knowledge will you need to use this example?
I have 6g of ammonia.
How many moles of ammonia do I have?
What do we need to know?
- Ammonia – chemical formula NH3 (a nitrogen atom and three hydrogen atoms)
- Atomic mass of nitrogen is 14, hydrogen atomic mass is 1 (these can be found in the periodic table). Ammonia therefore has atomic mass of 14+1+1+1 = 17
- We have one mole of ammonia when we have 17 grams of ammonia.
Our solution may look like this: