Friday, March 2, 2012

It's..... butter?

Teachers are often encouraged to implement cross-curricular strategies in their classrooms.  But what does cross-curricular mean to the teacher who is transitioning from an industry position to education?  Not a lot.  And what "curriculum" are we supposed to be crossing? The longer I teach the more I hear references to test scores in Math, Science, Social Studies and Writing.  We are encouraged to require writing in every class.  We are encouraged to reinforce math in each of our courses.  We are encouraged to incorporate science and social studies as much as possible - but how?

Integration across subject matter is promoted by teacher educators because it benefits learners of all ages and backgrounds yet new teachers are not specifically taught how to integrate alternative curricular content into their lessons (Cuero, Ruiz & Thornton, 2010). And there is a "need for professional development that assists teachers in changing their conceptual perspectives to integration while also building pedagogical knowledge related to integration of science, mathematics and literacy: (Douville, et. al., 2003, p. 388). 

For those of you now lost in the vocabulary: "Pedagogical content knowledge identifies the distinctive bodies of knowledge for teaching. It represents the blending of content and pedagogy into an understanding of how particular topics, problems or issues are organized, represented, and adapted to the diverse interests and abilities of learners, and presented for instruction. Pedagogical content knowledge is the category most likely to distinguish the understanding of the content specialist from that of the pedagogue" (Shulman, 1987, p. 4).

Definition of Pedagogy: the art, science, or profession of teaching; especially education.

I always attempt to incorporate cross-curricular information into my lessons. Specifically, I try to incorporate Math, Science and Writing.  This week I think I succeeded.  Not only did my students see science and math, but they had an "aha" moment.

First, I told students the capacity of a glass jar. ie, this jar holds 4 oz.  I explained that they would need to add a liquid to the jar and would need to have room for that liquid to move sufficiently.  They should fill the container between 1/3 and 2/3 full. Then I had them do some math! and convert ounces to kitchen measurements so that they could measure the appropriate amount of liquid into their jar.  They also had to incorporate ratios - they need to add a certain amount of solid matter to the jar and it had to be in ratio to the liquid (Yes, I'm avoiding giving you the actual measurements on purpose, I don't want to give away any secrets).  So, Math... check.

Now for science (and a secret). What happens to cream when you shake it?  You incorporate air, you "whip it" making... whipped cream! (imagine that)  Now, what if you whip that cream beyond recognition?  You obviously don't have whipped cream anymore.  You are changing the chemical structure of the cream.  By slamming molecules off one another (and adding a little salt) you encourage carbon chains to become saturated.  What saturated fat comes from milk?  Butter.

After 5-10 minutes of math and science I've taken my students from "Why are we shaking a jar of cream?" to "Hey, is it butter? Can we eat it?"

Yum.... cross-curricular instruction never tasted so good!


Cuero, K. K., Ruiz, E. C., & Thornton, J. S. "Integrating literature in mathematics" a teaching technique for mathematics teachers." School of Science and Mathematics 110.5 (2010): 235+.

Douville, P., Pugalee, D. K., & Wallace, J. D.  "Examining instructional practices of elementary science teachers for mathematics and literacy integration." School Science and Mathematics 103 (2003): 388-396.

Shulman,  L. ( 1987).  Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform.  Harvard Educational Review, 57(1), 1-22.

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