I particularly enjoy helping my science students connect the dots between different disciplines, such as science and math. Inevitably, I get the question, "Why do we have to do math in science?" I convey to my students that there are underlying, powerful, natural connections between different learning disciplines such as math and science, and proceed to illuminate those connections. I believe it is incumbent upon educators to assure students that we don't just make this stuff up or create rules out of thin air—that the interdisciplinary connections are real and have a noble purpose.
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An example of these connections can be found within the concepts of independent and dependent variables, which can be quite abstract, dreadfully boring, and quickly forgotten if just memorized. So how do we help these concepts better stick (transfer) in the student mind? Play connect-the-dots!
I've done this in my science classroom as follows: I frame all experiments and all discussions of research questions, data tables, and graphs entirely in terms of independent and dependent variables; constantly reinforce; and never waver...
- Write research questions in the form of, "How does _____ affect _____ ?" where "How does (the independent variable) affect (the dependent variable)?" becomes our standard template.
- Construct data tables where x (the independent variable) is the first column of data and y (the dependent variable) is the second column of data. (Subsequent columns of data are y1, y2, y3, etc.)
- Create graphs where the x-axis shows the independent variable and the y-axis shows the dependent variable.
- Constantly ask students, "Which variable depends on the other?" because "y depends on x." Purposely create false (and silly) combinations to help students make the distinction: "Does the height of the mountains depend on the air temperature? Wouldn't that look funny to see the mountains go up and down as the temperature changed?"
If you are interested in a printable copy of Connect the Dots for your classroom, visit here.