Educational research -- not to mention experience and common sense -- tells us that students learn best and make better sense of what they're learning when they can make connections with previous learning or with different areas of learning. In response, instruction is shifting from an emphasis on isolated “subject-specific” skills to teaching skills that enable students to solve complex problems which require a convergence of knowledge from across contents.
Integration is making connections. It is the creation of links between previously separate concepts, skills, knowledge. Mathematics integration is the blending of mathematics content with other areas of the curriculum in order to enhance the meaning and relevance of mathematics as well as promote reciprocal reinforcement of each discipline included in integration efforts.
Mathematics integration also includes helping students connect mathematics with the real world. Students recognize that mathematics is embedded in their life from the moment the alarm clock rings. Students estimate the amount of toothpaste to use or cereal to eat. They make sure to save money for ice cream and share a snack equally with their friends...the list is endless.
Integration can happen serendipitously. But, integration in the K-3 classroom should be well-planned and deliberate; making certain the teaching/learning process addresses appropriate standards and is designed to meet expectations for mastery. Integration depends on teachers making curricular and instructional decisions based on research, knowledge, and professional wisdom.
There are numerous opportunities for mathematics integration throughout the school day. Read aloud The Doorbell Rang during reading block and discuss the division that occurs throughout the story while also encouraging a dialogue about story elements. Include “number of the day” activities in concert with a daily morning message. Ask students to listen to three versions of the Gingerbread Boy, vote on which they like the best and, then, graph the responses. When students practice fluent reading, ask them to work with a partner to graph the words per minute overtime and then, compute the increase.
Mathematics and science offer opportunities for students to make relevant connections and reinforce new learning in one discipline by including related learning in the other. Numerous activities, like identifying patterns and symmetry in nature, recording and graphing the weather statistics for a week, or experimenting with forces needed to move a toy car, are examples of a perfect blend of science and mathematics. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is an example of efforts to integrate mathematics, science, and technology in ways that make learning more meaningful, useful, and valuable for students.
The content presented in Social Studies lessons lends itself to students reading and interpreting graphs, identifying trends and analyzing information. Map and geography skills include using latitude and longitude, computing mileage and distance, and comparing states and continents. Exploring past cultures like the Mayan and Aztec civilizations provides a background for the present monetary and calendar systems that students use every day. Reviewing and graphing data from presidential elections, war statistics, and economic data all lend that real world relevance to the students’ lives.
The arts also support mathematics learning and integration. Reviewing and identifying the geometric patterns and symmetry in artworks and architecture reveals to students that math content can be found in unusual and unique places. Students, just like artists, can use coordinate grids to identify particular shapes, lines and colors. The beat, rhythm and tempo of music is purposeful and mathematically arranged. Patterns in dance steps, counting baskets, computing scores, sports statistics – all of these integrate those math skills.
Mathematics integration is not an additional task a teacher must somehow “work” into the school day. Mathematics integration is a way to “find” extra time and opportunities to reinforce and practice mathematical skills while, at the same time, teaching other related content. Integration helps students clearly see and make relevant connections between and among what they are learning.