Thursday, April 27, 2017

Expecting the Unexpected: When Math and Science Collide

My plans for our math lesson did not go in a direction I ever would have expected, but in a student-centered classroom one never knows where a lesson might go. The objective of the lesson was for students to convert one metric unit of mass.

I asked students what conversions they knew, and wrote them on the board. I then asked why a scientist might use mass. Blank looks faced me. Students had an opportunity to discuss in small groups reasons a scientist uses mass. States of matter was mentioned, leading me to ask about chemical and physical reactions.

The infamous soda and Mentos experiment was the foundation of our conversation. Is this a physical reaction or a chemical reaction? Students pondered this and came to the conclusion it was a chemical reaction because it causes an explosion. Students had various reasons of why this was the case, stating their claim. Imagine their surprise when I asked how many people in the room thought it was a chemical reaction, and every single person’s hand went up BUT MINE.

This experiment is actually a physical reaction. I shared the reasoning behind this, asking them to think about wood. When you burn wood is it still wood when the fire dissipates? It turns to ash! When you do the soda and Mentos experiment does the soda and Mentos change or are they still soda and Mentos? Lots of things to think about!

Connecting this back to our objective we examined the periodic table of elements. We discovered what this was and used the periodic table to convert the elements’ mass to different units. I was asked is this still math? Isn’t this science now? I asked her, “What do you think?” And the class realized it is both. We are using science to talk math!

Students were excited and engaged to convert elements’ mass. There was a real world application to our lesson. I certainly did not see the math lesson heading in this direction. Expecting the unexpected is one of the best parts of learning and teaching. Students today discovered way more than converting metric units.  

Students told me they learned the following in this lesson:
§  The mass of different elements
§  Reviewing reading whole numbers and decimals
§  Using measurement conversions
§  The periodic table and science and can be connected to mass and math
§  Practice rounding numbers
§  There are a lot of elements on the Periodic Table
§  Periodic table does not have an order that is as complicated as it seems
§  There is a lot of math in science

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