Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Exploring the Science Framework: Making Connections in Math with the Common Core State Standards

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Exploring the Science Framework: Making Connections in Math with the Common Core State Standards

Article excerpt

The vision for science education set forth in A Framework for K-12 Science Education (NRC 2012) makes it clear that for today's students to become the scientifically literate citizens of tomorrow their educational experiences must help them become mathematically proficient. "The focus here is on important practices, such as modeling, developing explanations, and engaging in critique and evaluation" (NRC 2012, p. 3-2). Mathematics is fundamental to modeling and providing evidence-based conclusions. The Framework also includes "using mathematics, information and computer technology, and computational thinking" in its list of eight essential practices for K-12 science and mathematics (NRC 2012, p 3-5). But what does it mean for students to become mathematically proficient in the context of science? And how can science teachers help students develop that proficiency? This article addresses these questions.


To many Americans, mathematical proficiency means being able to robotically calculate or apply algorithms. Yet, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) highlight a very different view. "Mathematically proficient students can apply the mathematics they know to solve problems arising in everyday life, society, and the workplace" (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices 2010, p. 7). It's this view of mathematical proficiency that permeates the three dimensions of science presented in the Framework.

Inherent in this view is quantitative reasoning, which includes (a) the act of quantification where students identify variables within a context, with attributed units of measure, (b) the use of mathematical concepts in ways that enable description, manipulation, and the generation of claims from quantifiable variables, (c) the use of mathematical models to discover trends and make predictions, and (d) the creation and revision of mathematical representations of phenomena (Mayes, Peterson, and Bonilla 2012).

Science, engineering, and mathematical practices

To provide a glimpse of how this view of mathematical proficiency will become an important element of the future science education of K-12 students, let's focus on the Framework's Scientific and Engineering Practices and the Mathematical Practices of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS-M). (Their alignment is shown in Figure 1.)

Asking and investigating questions

Developing students' ability to ask well-formulated questions is basic to both science and engineering (Practice 1) and mathematics (Practice 1). The CCSS-M call for students to be able to determine the meaning of a problem and find entry points to its solution, which requires analyzing givens, constraints, relationships, and goals, with the purpose of making conjectures (i.e., formulating hypotheses) to be tested. Just as science requires formulation and refinement of questions so they can be answered empirically, mathematics attends to questions that may be quantified and then addressed mathematically. Making sense of problems and persevering in solving them (Mathematical Practices [MP] 1) calls for the conjectures to be followed by planning a means to reach a solution. Students should consider analogous problems, test special cases, and decompose the problem into simpler cases. This parallels the science focus on designing experimental or observational inquiries (planning and carrying out investigations, Science and Engineering Practices [SEP] 3). This process begins by quantifying the situation being studied through identifying variables and considering how they can be observed, measured, and controlled, as well as considering confounding variables. Students should be engaged in investigations that emerge from their own questions about real-world grand challenges, such as availability and uses of energy resources or biodiversity loss, which are related to their community or region. The interdisciplinary nature of such questions will lead naturally to linkages between science and mathematics. …

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