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Recently, my junior high school (aka middle school) reorganized their curriculum. Instead of teaching middle school physics, chemistry, and biology in that order, they reversed it. The logic was that older children have more mathematical knowledge and therefore are better able to absorb concepts in the physical sciences later. This parallels how I was taught in high school but I found it surprising my middle school made this observation so late.

Upon further reflection I realized, given that my middle school teachers were not as educated as my high school teachers, I am not surprised it took longer for them to discover this order was better. Most of the middle school science teachers I had were not particularly talented at mathematics. But I feel if they had more mathematical knowledge, they would have realized this order was better in the first place. I personally found learning Newton's law in sixth grade excruciating. It was as though my teacher use the concept of energy carelessly without ever defining it. I had no idea what it was! Now I study quantum fields. So clearly the problem was that teachers were dodging around the mathematics because they didn't think we could handle it.

My middle school's reorganization got me thinking: what if mathematics teachers had played an earlier role in helping to structure the science curriculum? For science teachers with less mathematical experience, suggestions from the math department could prove very useful.

My question: Do junior high math mathematics educators frequently establish dialogue with their science departments? How is this received by the science departments? Across junior high schools, is it often that the two departments work together to give kids the best math and science education possible? If not, why?

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    $\begingroup$ When I was teaching math in high school, there was no dialogue between us and the science department. There is even less between high school teachers and middle school. That is not to say that the administrators don't try to achieve vertical alignment, but I haven't heard about it in terms of being between math and the sciences--perhaps it should! $\endgroup$ – Jared Jan 3 '15 at 10:49
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    $\begingroup$ In Britain there is very limited collaboration, partly due to lack of time, but I think mostly due to the fact that a large portion of the mathematical content has been excised from the Science classroom. $\endgroup$ – nickjamesuk Jan 6 '15 at 20:48
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The answer to this question is likely to vary based on the way schools' departments are organized, the interests and motivations of the leaders/overseers of the math and science programs, the applicable standards for math and science courses, and many other variables.

I have some background to comment since I have taught both math (grades 5 and 6) and science (grades 8 and 9). But my experience is only representative of one PK-9 independent school in Massachusetts. At my school, there has been little or no discussion over what mathematics is expected to be known by students when planning science instruction in my 7 years at the institution.

On a few occasions, I have initiated conversations with science teachers when I have become aware that they are attempting to teach concepts that required certain mathematical understanding that most students did not yet possess. For example, teaching the density formula before students had an understanding of proportion.

The result of these conversations (in my experience) is often that science teachers ask the math teacher how they can explain/teach that concept concisely rather than rethinking whether it is appropriate for the students' current levels of development.

If you would like to investigate this question further, I would suggest comparing the Common Core State Standards for Math with the Next Generation Sciences Standards.

I am not familiar enough with the NGSS to know how familiar the authors are with the CCSSM or with math education in general, but it is likely that writers of the NGSS are more likely to have considered background mathematics knowledge than the average teacher of science. A cursory (5 minute) search of the NGSS website revealed no reference to math education.

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