April 29, 2021

Science Can Accelerate Math Learning

Dr. Holly Pope

Part 2 of a 3-Part Series

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed how deeper learning in science can accelerate learning in Mathematics and English Language Arts. This post digs deeper into the relationship between science and math. Let's see how Tyto Online can strengthen math learning and combat learning loss.

Side Note on “Learning Loss”: This term, used to describe the interruption in typical schooling, is complicated. We all had to abruptly stop our original plans for teaching this year in order to save lives. However, children still continued to learn. They learned academic subjects, as well as more valuable lessons, such as compassion, resilience, grace, and creativity. I recognize that federal funding is directly tied to reversing "learning loss" and I appreciate that our government cares about our children. However, learning is never lost. Instead, as we emerge from the pandemic, we should focus on creating deeper learning experiences that solidify understanding and spark interest. Let’s give children the chance to enjoy learning for learning’s sake. We are living through a global pandemic after all.

Deeper learning in science requires mathematics understanding

Scientists use math to understand the phenomena they are interested in learning more about. Consider the following examples: 

  • Quantity and Magnitude. How heavy is the sun? How big is an atom? Scientists need an understanding of quantity and magnitude to make sense of our vast universe. 
  • Measurement. Weight, length, mass, velocity, capacity - there is no scientific study without a way to measure what you are studying. Scientists use measurement tools to gather data from experiments, simulations, or the natural environment.
  • Data Analysis, Statistics and Probability. Once you have all the measurements, what do you do with it? Scientists arrange the data on charts, tables, and graphs to look for patterns and relationships that might help to explain a phenomenon.

I could go on and one with more examples. I have enough evidence for this claim:

There is no science without mathematics.

Common Core State Standard for Mathematics (CCSSM) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

A scan of the NGSS Science & Engineering Practices (SEPs) and Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs) will quickly reveal how mathematics is embedded within them.  Comparing the NGSS and the CCSSM really makes this clear. The graphic below shows which NGSS SEPs and CCCs are related to each of the CCSSM Practices.

Each of the CCSS Math Practices share some features of the NGSS SEPs and CCCs. For example, Math Practice 2 states that mathematically proficient students can "reason abstractly and quantitatively." This directly relates to the NGSS SEPs 4 and 5 as well as CCCs 3 and 7.

Not included in the graphic is the CCSS Math Content Domains, which are also very relevant to this discussion. One particular CCSs Math Content Domain for grades 6-8 is Statistics and Probability, a topic that is essential to doing science. Including the CCSS Math Content Domains would have made this post way too long!

Math and Tyto Online

Mathematics Education leaders and experts agree that data literacy, or data science, is crucial to 21 century learning and should have a more prominent place in K-12 mathematics curriculum

Tyto Online presents many opportunities to engage in mathematics. Data analysis is represented particularly well in the game. Collecting and analyzing data is a huge part of scientific inquiry and is directly incorporated into Tyto Online’s storylines and sandboxes. Players analyze graphs and tables, looking for patterns in the shape of the data. This gives them evidence for supporting claims about a phenomenon. 

An Example of Math in Tyto Online

Weather & Climate module Storyline 4, “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish!” is driven by this question:

  • What is causing mass coral bleaching events on Earth?

Players complete a series of quests to help them explore this question. In the third quest in this storyline, “To Bleach Their Own,” students analyze graphs to find a correlation between coral bleaching events in Earth’s history, rising global temperatures, jelly bean consumption, and the popularity of the name Doris.

A screenshot of a data analysis task from the Tyto Online quest "To Bleach Their Own"

Then they make the claim that rising temperatures and rising jelly bean consumption correlate with bleaching events. Using evidence from the graphs analysis, they build an argument to support their claim.

In the next quest called “Coral Correlations,” the player runs a simulation to determine if jellybean consumption and rising temperatures have an effect on holographic coral specimens.

Screenshot of the simulation in Tyto Online quest "Coral Correlations"

As you can see, because Tyto Online is designed for engagement in three-dimensional learning through the NGSS, players are also addressing many of the Math Practices. A math teacher could use this experience as a jumping off point for a Statistics unit. The storyline teacher guide also has extension activities for further exploration that either the science or math teacher could use. One cool online resource from the teacher guide is this coral bleaching data exploration from National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service. It uses real time data!

Screenshot of the NOAA Coral Bleaching data discussed above.

This is especially useful since math can be exceptionally powerful when not taught in a disconnected way, but using real, authentic problems. Tyto Online provides a starting point for these relevant, connected phenomenon. Personally, I think that math and science teachers should be working more closely together, but that is a discussion for another day!

The third and final post in this series will examine the relationship between NGSS and CCSS for English Language Arts. Stay tuned. 👋

Read the next article: Accelerating Learning in ELA Through Science

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant # IIP-1853888 to the American Society for Engineering Education. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or the American Society for Engineering Education.

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