Cross-Curricular Math Tips that Rock

Teaching the Standards for Mathematical Practice in concert with other subjects

In the 80's, when some of us were sporting our gigantic rocker hair and leg warmers, good old standards-based education reform began. Then by 2000, each state had developed its own standards for individual subjects. But research also supported cross-curricular instruction that built connections in the brain. How could we possibly fit all of this into our lessons? Thank goodness the states banded together to find a solution. We needed a new "rock star" on the scene…along came the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

It seems like the Common Core's theme song is "no more curriculum that's a mile wide and an inch deep!" Fewer math skills per grade are included in the CCSS than in state math standards. The Common Core Math Standards also guide us, through the Standards for Mathematical Practice within, to teach that content in more depth. Similar to the NCTM's process standards published in 2000, the Standards for Mathematical Practice articulate "processes and proficiencies" that students must internalize to thrive in the 21st Century.

Are you wondering exactly what it means to teach in more depth? No worries, the Standards for Mathematical Practice will help you ensure that you develop students into stars. The good news is you can easily teach each math domain in a cross-curricular way for richer, higher-order thinking. Here are some ideas for integrating the 8 Standards for Mathematical Practice with other subjects:

1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

Cross-curricular connection idea: English language arts (speaking, listening and writing)

Students must be able to explain how the problem was solved and if their answer makes sense. This is not achieved by completing a worksheet and passively turning it in to the teacher. Our classrooms must facilitate math discussion. Collaboration and communication are essential. Peers must interact and have the vocabulary to do so effectively. Math journals are an excellent tool for recording reflection and understanding. Teachers can "read" a child's approach to solving problems.

2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

Cross-curricular connection idea: science

This process involves creating pictures or visual models. Manipulatives are one of the keys for mastery, and science is an ally in this journey. Early learners love labs and experiments. Students can measure and mix, and then record data on the process and results. They can graph processes such as weather or plant growth. You can lead students to see the math in their world.

3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

Cross-curricular connection idea: English language arts (writing)

Critical consumption of data and theory is paramount in the information age. Statistics and reports saturate the Internet. Understanding and creating validity is more important than ever. Use this challenge to teach students to write paragraphs and essays. Paragraphs containing a topic, supporting and a summary sentence are excellent vessels for mathematical reasoning. More proficient students can progress to essays and more complicated mathematical concepts.

4. Model with mathematics.

Cross-curricular connection idea: English language arts (speaking and listening)

We must move away from the mindset that problem solving is just a component of mathematics; mathematics IS problem-solving! Everyday life presents us with perfect problem solving scenarios for modeling. Better yet, enlist business partners to provide some real-life scenarios from the work world. For example, you might give students a budget to purchase classroom supplies. Challenge students to work collaboratively to discuss and develop their spending plan. (If students are at a lower level, present them with a finite set of supplies and have them distribute the items fairly/equally.)

5. Use appropriate tools strategically.

Cross-curricular connection idea: science and technology

Tech it up! Scientific calculators, digital microscopes, document cameras and new interactive whiteboard technology are no longer restricted to only well-funded campuses. Technology can be affordable and easy to implement into your lessons. One example: students can use a digital microscope to observe specimens from nature. Then, they can measure certain features of the specimens, analyze them by calculating ratios, or even look for geometric patterns.

6. Attend to precision.

Cross-curricular connection idea: English language arts (vocabulary)

Students must learn the correct math terms in order to communicate precisely to their peers. Math vocabulary is critical. Dr. Linda Ventriglia's Rule of Three is an excellent way to teach vocabulary. Students begin by rehearsing a word (snapping, spelling and defining). The second step is analysis. Students manipulate, classify or consider the word's features. Production is the final stage. Children use the word in context, make a visual representation or show understanding in a number of ways.

7. Look for and make use of structure.

Cross-curricular connection idea: music, literature, art and science

Patterns are keys to mathematical understanding, but they're a central theme in many other subject areas too. Students can relate fractions to beats in a measure and analyze the patterns in poetry and art. Cycles, honey combs, magnets and prisms all have a system, or pattern, as part of their organization. Challenge students to develop deeper understanding by analyzing patterns throughout our world.

8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Cross-curricular connection idea: science

While performing a series of operations, students may notice patterns or repetition in their calculations. They can also use these patterns (or shortcuts) to continuously evaluate how reasonable their answers are throughout that problem-solving session. The same holds true in scientific research. Patterns in research results can be extrapolated to draw related scientific conclusions or pose new hypotheses.

As the Standards for Mathematical Practice appear on the stage, we can almost hear the cheers from the audience. Now the math curriculum rocks! It has been transitioned from a mass of unrelated skills to a nexus of true, deep understanding across the curriculum. With a thorough grasp of math "processes and proficiencies", students will know the answer to the question, "When will I use this?" Instruction in mathematics no longer prepares students for just a math test; it prepares them for learning up and down the curriculum, for college, for career…and for life!