Because of the way our education system is structured, many students come to think of Math as a distinct subject, a different stream of thought to Science or Physical Education or English. But in reality, mathematics – the name of which is derived from a Greek word meaning “knowledge” or “learning” – is the common thread in everything we learn. After all, mathematics is fundamentally the study of patterns, and patterns are found everywhere.
Grasping this concept is a big step for students. Learning to see the mathematics in the everyday turns the subject from a complex obstacle into a fun and practical tool. Dwyane Wade, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Lawrence, the animators of Spongebob Squarepants – they’re all mathematicians. In the same way, a student who hates math and loves history is still a mathematician – they just don’t realize it yet.
If you integrate mathematics into every class, you can teach mathematical concepts to even the most reluctant student (and they won’t even know you’re doing it).
Math and History
History is an excellent arena for learning mathematics. Learning about dates and eras lends itself well to simple tasks like addition and subtraction (for example, how many years ago was the Gettysburg Address? What does “four score and seven years ago” add up to?). You can integrate even further by studying the history of math itself; learning about the philosophers of Ancient Greece makes a great segue into Pythagoras’ theorem or Archimedes’ principle.
Math and Science
Science and math are perhaps the two subjects that align the closest: science is, in essence, the practical application of mathematics. Every scientific principle or experiment – acceleration and velocity, the periodic table, chemical reactions – draws upon and reinforces mathematical concepts. Cooking and gardening are both excellent for combining math and science in an elementary school setting.
Math and Physical Education
Students apply mathematical principles in the field of physical education without even thinking about it. Throwing a basketball into a hoop requires a mental calculation of distance, speed and force. Swimming laps in a pool demands an awareness of arithmetic. How many laps of a 25m pool make 100m? If you breathe on every third stroke and take 20 breaths per lap, how many strokes will you take? Sporting equipment can also be useful for pattern-based games, e.g. sorting different cones by color, size and shape.
Math, Art and Music
Artistic skills are already broadly employed in elementary math: drawing and making patterns, building with blocks, cutting snowflakes to learn symmetry and mixing different ratios of paint to create new colors. Music also lends itself well to mathematical learning. Musical notation, with time signatures and notes of varying lengths, is a mathematical language. Music can also be used as a mnemonic to help memorize mathematical information such as multiplication tables.
Math and English
The hardest subjects to integrate are perhaps English and math, but it’s not impossible. Poetry, for example, is generally based upon patterns of rhyme that can be identified and analyzed by students. Word puzzles (both solving and creating) are good practice for both subjects, teaching students to identify key words and develop grammatical skills while thinking mathematically. Books for young children often involve counting and patterns, and can be a fantastic way to learn reading and basic arithmetic at the same time.
Nick Nedeljkovic is a freelance writer and blogger from Sydney. With a love of learning and more degrees than he can afford, he’s a passionate advocate for education in all its forms.