Thursday, March 09, 2006


I'm curious to know to what extent other departments are cross-curricular. The recent push is for all departments to read and write within their content area. I see great benefit for students to be able to express themselves mathematically. For someone to be able to teach or explain a math concept clearly, they really have to know that concept at a higher level. As a math teacher, if I give a writing assignment, I'm a little out of my comfort zone in grading this in the same way a language arts teacher would grade it. Instead, I look for understanding of the ideas, not so much the punctuation, spelling, structure, or other elements of writing. Honestly, I have a hard time with expressing myself concisely and elegantly (as you can see from this post).

Mathematics naturally lends itself to using science applications or historical references, even music, as a theme for a lesson. But, to what extent can other departments use math in their lessons. I know that at the college level, social sciences use high level mathematics to model data. I just don't think most high school teachers would be comfortable using math at a high level, just like I'm uncomfortable grading a written assignment. How much are we expected to do? Is it enough to just have the students write (or do math) outside of their normal settings?


Blogger Jared Robinson said...

The only time I remember doing any math (other than very basic calculations) outside of the math class was in physics, when I used my AP calculus skills to solve problems rather than using vectors. My teacher got mad and gave me a low grade even though I arrived at the right answers.

I personally think cross-curricular learning is very important. I figure I do as much history discussion as literature discussion in my American literature class. I consider it a shame that American lit. and American history are taught different years, because there is so much potential for cross-curricular cooperation. I understand that there are deep and sanctified traditions, but I would love to see that conversation started (again).

One of my very favorite classes in college was, of all things, a science class. The class was about genetic biology, but instead of being organized by principles, it was taught as a history class where we studied the life of each scientist, learned the methods he/she used to make discoveries, and then learned the principles discovered. We started with Gregor Mendel and continued to the Human Genome Project. For the first time, science made sense to me. It was a brilliant teaching job that continues to impact how I see the world around me and how I see teaching.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Michael S. said...

Let me begin this response by pointing out that the theory of cross-curricular teaching begins and ends with reading and writing across curriculums. Not math. I mean, where can I use math? Balancing a checkbook? My wife handles that. Paying bills? Again, my wife. Calculating surface area of a wall in order to purchase the right amount of paint? Um, wife? Calculating the volume of a planting bed in order to buy the right amount of planting materials? Um, forget it. I'll just make a few extra trips. Any extra material, I'll let it sit in my driveway until my homeowners association fines me. Then I'll dump it in my neighbor's yard.

The idea of cross-curricular teaching is at the heart of relevance. No science teacher needs to be an expert in language arts in order to assess a student's ability to make a scientific point in a writing assignment. I do not need to be a math expert to ensure the legitimate use of statistics in a research paper. If we refuse to acknowledge the importance of other subject areas, we reinforce the student theory that what we teach really does not matter. I don't need to teach math, science, visual art, history or technology. But I do need to acknowledge the importance of each, implement each when appropriate and ensure proper student understanding when necessary.

In my previous job, I had the luxury of teaching The Hot Zone, a book about the Ebola virus and a near outbreak in the U.S. The book combines history and geography with science and literature to create a horrific tale about some of the deadliest viruses known to man. How could I have my students read this without learning about biology, human physiology, history and geography? I am not an expert in any of these disciplines, but as a class, we culled our resources and we learned together. It was truly powerful learning for all of us.

Could content area teachers use more training in creating, implementing and assessing writing assignments that fit with their discipline? Absolutely. Should we provide that training? Absolutely. But until that happens on a grand scale, I offer my services to any teacher, new or otherwise. As long as someone helps me figure out how much landscape rock to buy this spring.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Melissa Mindell said...

One thing that I have found to work in my math classes to incorporate reading and writing is two things. I have been doing this for a while and for the most part I think they like it?? I have students explain/teach to an audience that I choose. Sometimes I pick a college professor and sometimes a third grader. MY students then have to think about their vocabulary and the way they explain themselves. Another thing I have done in the past and this year is have them do a project, or an elaborate problem and then on an overhead I have them explain their thinking process. They aren't very good at this at first but after a while they get pretty good at writing about math and their thinking process/problem solving. I am sure there are many more opportunities in other classes to write about math/content and I would love to hear some more?? :)

2:07 PM  
Blogger Mwiebe said...

I think this lack of cross-curricular teaching is one of the major waeknesses of our schools today. We have all of these "experts" in different subjects who teach about thier subject area for 58 minutes, then its on to another "expert" to receive more knowledge on another seemingly unrelated topic for 58 more minutes ...
This causes the students to think that they only have to write well in English class, and they only have to work with numbers in math class. Being a Science teacher, I expect my students to have the necessary math and writing skills, but I've learned that they may not. I think it is important to take the time make sure they know how to solve for x, or cross-multiply.
It is worth the time to assign writing assignments and actually grade the grammar, punctuation and spelling. It doesn't matter how much my students know about biology if they can't clearly express their knowledge in writing. I have found that if I grade students not just on their ideas, but also on their writing, that sets the expectation early that they do have to write well in my class and then it isn't much of an issue on later assignments.
It is worth the time to give the students reading strategies. Even if they are successful readers they can always benefit from more knowledge.
All of these are small ways in which we all can improve connections across content areas. I my ideal world, however, we would do much more. In graduate school, I spent some time observing at a private school in Boulder (a great setting for an idealist school) that taught each trimester under one overarching theme. This theme was used to teach every subject and it was very clear that in the real world, math, science, reading, writing, government, history, politics, language, sociology, etc. mesh together all the time. Our world is not full of isolated subjects like our schools are. This school reminded me of elementary school, in that each class had one or two teachers who taught all of these subjects. I was very impressed with the work that the students were putting out and with their level of knowledge.
At Arapahoe it would take a lot to achieve this, but if we can get teachers from different departments collaborating on unit plans, or at least knowing what is going on in other classes, we can take steps to achieving this sort of model.

8:23 AM  
Blogger jaredr said...

I feel some (not all) of us feel the importance of cross-curricular lessons. Hopefully, this will lead to teaming up for a unit, maybe two or three departments and collaborating, each being an expert in their own field and how their discipline can fit into a unit?

7:49 AM  

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