Teachers learn new ways of
melding math, science

By Loretta Fulton
Abilene Reporter-News Staff Writer


Rosemary Abila just thought she was munching on a crisp, fresh carrot.

In reality, she was learning math and science. She hopes her fifth-grade students at Dyess Elementary School will be just as fooled next fall when they are introduced to the teaching tools Abila is learning during a seminar at Abilene Christian University.

Thanks to a $75,000 Eisenhower Higher Education Grant that two ACU professors received, 19 area teachers are taking part in the three-week session free of charge.

The emphasis of the class is on integrating math and science instruction because both subjects can be taught through the inquiry or hands-on approach, rather than a lecture method, said Patricia Hernandez, ACU biology professor and one of the seminar leaders.

"It's a new trend," Hernandez said. "They lend themselves to each other so well."

On one class day, Hernandez brought carrots, lima beans, kernels of corn and other plants for demonstration. As they chowed down on carrots, the teachers learned they were gnawing through the outer cortex en route to the central conducting area.

But that was only the science part of the lesson.

"Where's the math?" asked Lymeda Singleton, an ACU math professor and seminar co-leader.

The teacher-students quickly figured out how to teach radius, circumference, diameter and conversions from one measuring unit to another by use of a single carrot slice. The melding of science and math suddenly was crystal clear.

"When you're doing one, you can really do both at the same time," Abila said.

That will be especially helpful for teachers who teach more than one subject or those who coordinate their lessons with other teachers. From one carrot slice, students could learn math, science, reading, writing, problem solving and even art, which is appealing to teachers strapped for time.

"What we're looking for is one activity that covers a bunch of things," said Jimmie Bell, a sixth-grade math teacher from Colorado City.

One reason the teachers are eager to spend part of their summer in school is that science will be added to the fifth-grade Texas Assessment of Academic Skills test in 2003. Currently, science isn't included until the eighth grade.

The teachers are getting a head start by learning to teach through the inquiry method in hopes that children will grasp science and math more quickly. The inquiry approach allows children to figure things out for themselves rather than telling them how it's done, said Colorado City's Bell.

Math already is tested in grades three through eight, Bell said, but the new TAAS test in 2003 is expected to be much harder than the current one.

The teachers agreed that they don't like placing so much emphasis on the TAAS test, but that it's inevitable. They noted that passing the test is required for earning a high school diploma and that schools are ranked by results.

"When you get in the classroom, you teach the TAAS," said Lana Montgomery, a resource teacher at Madison Middle School in Abilene.

Montgomery said the integration of math and science is a natural way to make both subjects more interesting and easier to learn. Students can create graphs that show plant growth and learn to estimate the growth rate.

Madison teachers already use a team-teaching approach, Montgomery said, that allows students to apply different disciplines to one topic. For example, they might employ math to determine how many kilometers it is from one country to another, while at the same time they're learning about the culture of each country.

Even though she's already using the integrated method, Montgomery said it's imperative to keep abreast of the new techniques to do her job well.

"The only way I can do that is to keep learning," she said.

Contact learning writer Loretta Fulton at 676-6778 or fultonl@abinews.com


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Last update: June 18, 2001
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