We are still working on the sediment size data from Muncie Creek. It has taken us 3 weeks to weigh 5 sieves, put the data in a table, subtract one column from another, calculate percent retained on each sieve, and attempt a graph. I had hoped to do 5 subsamples the first week and 5 more the next week. That was clearly unrealistic.

After a bit of frustration, Mrs. Loeffler and I discussed what is going on with the kids. They know how to add. They know how to subtract. They know how to divide and multiply. What is the problem? Why is math in science class somehow a completely different animal than they’ve seen before? I have an idea.

It seems to me that mathematics in primary and middle school are taught or at least are understood as operations. If you give most kids 100 problems and tell them to divide or multiply or add or solve, they can do it. They understand or at least can do the operations separately, or even in some order, so long as you tell them what operations are required. In science classes, we tend to approach math from a different direction. We have a question that we want to answer, and we need to do some calculations to answer that question.

It became painfully clear to me after answering the same procedural questions over and again that it wasn’t clicking for the kids. Were they adding or subtracting this column from that one? Which ones are we dividing again? What do I do next? We went over what the columns and rows in our data table meant. We spent extra time with each group demonstrating and explaining that we get the weight of the sediment by subtracting the empty sieve weight from the full sieve weight. We talked about why we might use percentages to compare among sieves instead of the weights. Sometimes they just got tripped up on things I hadn’t considered. For example, at least 2 kids had problems rounding 3.6blahblahblah to the nearest whole number – not because they couldn’t round, but because the other whole numbers they had just rounded were all 2 digits (42, 29, 23). They weren’t sure if they should round 3.6 to 4 or to 10. Others had problems writing the table into their journal, because they just couldn’t get the spacing on their columns right, and they never got around to the data.

I think the kids just are not invested in this question, which I completely understand. The frustrating part was that I had hoped to go through this one fast enough that we could use it as a springboard to start looking at questions that came from them directly. We’ll get there. I just need to be a little more patient.

About 2/3 of the kids ended up with a graph, but after 3 weeks, I’m not sure they ever want to look at it again.