Making an Impact
By Janet Wright, Nicola Robertshaw & Matthew Lambourne
Birley Community College, Sheffield
Located in the south east area of Sheffield, Birley Community College is a secondary comprehensive school with over 1200 pupils. The school was designated a specialist technology college in 2000.
In January 2007 three teachers from Birley Community College, aIn January 2007 teachers Janet Wright (maths ast), Nicola Robertshaw (physics) and Matthew Lambourne (biology ast) maths teacher, a physics teacher and a biology advanced skills teacher, worked together to develop a lesson that was built around an exciting science experiment with the aim of teaching a particular concept in maths. This lesson was then delivered during science week to a group of Year 7 pupils over 2 consecutive lessons.
Through a collaborative STEM project the teachers aimed to remove barriers between maths and science in the following areas:
Student perceptions: students often create barriers between lessons and compartmentalise their subjects. This is especially apparent when attempting maths in science lessons
Curriculum: the curriculum areas work independently and are unaware of each others programmes of study, by creating resources for the teaching of maths in a scientific context they aimed to facilitate closer working relations.
Through discussion the teachers involved in the project decided they wanted to do a practical science investigation with maths embedded into it. They felt that this approach would most effectively engage the students and have an instant impact. The subject that they chose for their stimulating science and maths lesson was investigating the impact that meteorites have on the earth.
1 - Deep Impact
The lesson began in the science lab by showing film clips from Armageddon and Deep Impact to spark the student's interest. After the clips the teachers did a power point presentation introducing the students to what meteorites, comets and asteroids are along with their patterns of movement.
The presentation explored what would happen if they impacted on the earth, which objects may collide with Earth, the consequences and how and why craters are formed. Throughout the presentation students were presented with questions to get them actively thinking and real life examples to enthuse students, for example: in Russia in 1908 witnesses documented a huge fireball in the sky, it is now thought to have been a meteor of over 50 metres in diameter.
2 - Cooking Up a Comet
The teachers then 'made a fake meteorite out of dry ice, water, soy sauce and sand' (Year 7 Pupil). The model of the comet stimulated and engaged the pupils, whilst also providing meaningful data that could be analysed and interpreted.
The kids loved it, it really caught their imagination. They were so enthusiastic and were asking and answering lots of questions [Pupil]
3 - The Splatter Investigation
The comet demonstration was followed by a small scale investigation to see what would happen if the meteorite impacted on earth. The pupils used plasticine and sand to model what effect changing the size and weight of the plasticine meteorites would have on the diameter, depth and debris splatter from an impact.
My favourite bit was when we dropped the plasticine balls and the splats went everywhere, there was this little cloud of white dust everywhere. [Pupil]
The plasticine balls were 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 grams, we had to see how deep the crater was and how long the splat length was, we had to take the 3 longest measurements and work out the average. We added them together and divided by three...because there could be one that was rogue that could have gone miles out. [Pupil]
The pupils used their mathematical skills to take measurements, record data, draw graphs and to analyse and interpret the data. This work was then continued in the maths classroom, where the scientific theme was continued using snippets from the science lesson to emphasise that what they did in the science lesson is used in maths as well.
Benefits of Collaboration
The teachers involved in the project felt that there is a lot of overlap in maths and science that not all teachers are aware of. Through taking part in this collaborative programme, the teachers involved felt they gained a greater awareness of different teaching and learning approaches and how different topics can be utilised in and across both subjects.
I didn't realise that you analyse results for an experiment in maths the same way that you do in science, the measurement and graphs were a result of the work that we did in the science lesson, although we might call it maths it is done in science as well. So hopefully the outcome for the kids was that saw that they saw that those outcomes are familiar to both [Science teacher]
It makes me think of using different approaches to teaching in maths and using more science, ideally we would use a lot more topic subjects to link together, it has made us much more aware [Maths teacher]
An advantage of combining maths and science is that learners can apply the graph skills they have been taught in maths to a real life situation in science where a graph is a good way of representing results. Both the teachers and pupils involved in the science and maths lesson agreed that it made them more aware of skills that cross between subjects.
The students, have massive difficulties with skills that cross between the subjects, even between lessons within biology, chemistry and physics they struggle to bring knowledge that they've learnt from one to the other, so bringing it from maths to science, it breaks down those barriers, so they can see that what they've done in maths is a tool that can be used elsewhere [Science teacher]
Working with science teachers gave the maths teacher confidence to research her own questions and to use her increased knowledge of the science to extend the maths beyond the previous lesson
I had more knowledge myself of the science behind it, before I wouldn't of gone anywhere near Armageddon or Deep Impact and talked about the meteorite. I can use it in loads of situations now. [Maths teacher]
For the pupils, they thought that they learnt 'more than when we do normal lessons'. They found that the science helped them do maths 'because you really knew what they [the meteors] were'. Having a longer lesson also gave them the 'chance to learn more and do more fun stuff'
It was more fun than the other lessons, combining the two instead of just thinking about them separately, it helped us remember it better because we think oh that was a really good lesson, we did this and this and we will remember it for ages. [Year 7 Pupil]
Both the teachers and pupils felt that a longer three hour lesson was more effective and enjoyable than the normal hour periods.
The realisation that skills used in science and maths overlap also expanded the pupils understanding in terms of STEM jobs:
It lets them see that maths fits into several different careers, at least scientific careers instead of being a mathematician. I don't think they always understand that there's quite a lot of maths involved in being an engineer for example [Science teacher]
There are not many jobs that you do just maths or science in, except if you're just a maths or science teacher, usually you need both [Pupil]
It is planned that the resources created will be used by teachers next year in both departments when they are teaching the respective topics. The teachers felt that with a list of equipment and the power point presentations the lesson would be easily replicable. The main constraint that the teachers considered was the time that it took to plan the lesson. The school itself is planning to move towards longer cross-curricular lessons in the future. The effectiveness of 'Making an Impact' has therefore provided a great example of best practice and the advantages of collaboration.
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