There’s More to Science Education Than Just Teaching Science

Most secondary schools hire teachers for a specific subject area and schedule the subjects to be taught independently of each other. As a result of this fragmentation, students often miss the importance of applying what they learn in one class to what they learn in their other classes. In the teaching of science, communication and math skills should be incorporated into the curriculum; but not every science teacher does that. However, as a home schooling parent, you have a golden opportunity to give your child the interdisciplinary education that is necessary for future success while he or she is learning science.

One of the most frustrating things I encountered while teaching high school was student resistance to using proper grammar, or even full sentences, while writing their lab reports or doing homework. The protest “This is science, not English” would always get my blood boiling. How could they not understand that the results they got on their science experiments would be useless unless they could properly communicate them to others?

The same holds true for inaccurate math work. Many scientific conclusions are based on data that are summarized mathematically or in graph form. If the math work is performed incorrectly, or if the results are not displayed in the proper graphical format, the results are meaningless. Even so, many students will claim “foul” when the teacher corrects their math in a science class. After all, “That’s a different subject, isn’t it?”

It is not only students who have been trained to think of school subjects as separate from one another. My associate, Dr. Jan Pechenik of Tufts University, has even experienced resistance among science educators to being responsible for teaching the math or language skills that help students to better communicate “scientifically.” At a workshop he was invited to run a few years ago, entitled “Interdisciplinary Teaching,” he had teachers run a simple experiment to generate some data, and then talked about how to work with those data. There was an immediate objection from several of the teachers, who said very proudly, “That’s Math. I don’t teach Math. I’d have to bring in a math teacher to cover that in my class.” Jan had asked them to add 6 numbers and divide by 6, to calculate an average.

Later in the workshop Jan talked with the teachers about the importance of teaching students to write clear and complete figure captions. Again there were objections from a number of teachers: “That’s English. I don’t teach English. I’d have to bring in someone from the English Department to cover that in my class.”

When students earn credit for science work that has math errors or is written with poor grammar, they are being cheated out of developing the proper habits they will need in their college work and future careers. Communicating their ideas clearly is vital if they ever hope to have a paper published, win grant money, make a presentation at a conference or just earn credit for their work when they get to college. Even non scientific careers require clear communication of ideas and accurate reporting from professionals employed in the field. Science “class” is the ideal place to help students develop these skills. Besides, writing a clear and convincing job application is often the key to getting a good job in the first place

Moreover, thinking about the writing helps students think more carefully about the content they are writing about. Writing a good figure caption after doing an experiment, for example, forces students to think more carefully about what they did, and why they did it.

As a home schooling parent, you need to constantly reinforce language and math skills while doing science work with your child:

  • Require that every piece of written work be in full sentences using proper grammar.
  • Expect your child to write as often as possible and correct any mistakes
  • Rather than having your child answer 10 or so short answer questions from the text, have him or her incorporate the questions and answers into a few paragraphs of well written ideas.
  • Preparing a written synopsis of the text chapter, or section of a chapter will not only reinforce writing skills but also improve retention of the material
  • Lab reports should follow the proper format with a clearly written abstract and summary in addition to all the other required pieces
  • Be sure all math work is accurate and that results are displayed in the proper graph or chart format.
  • Never accept the comment “Why are you correcting my writing and math? I thought we were doing science.” Instead, explain why what you are doing is so important. Writing, calculating, and graphing are all part of doing science.

By taking these steps while teaching science, you will be preparing your child for future success in any endeavor that he or she pursues.