Maths in Science is vital …. but are we testing science or maths?

Science A levels are in the news again.  This time Score (Science community representing education) have been looking at the range and depth of maths in A level science exams. 

 They found that in many cases the maths needed for the subject, and specified in the syllabus, wasn’t included in the exams.  As, realistically, students will study what is tested, and may skimp on areas that are not in the exams, it is easy to extrapolate that students are not being equipped with appropriate maths for the level they have reached, and will struggle to progress in these subjects

 Unless they are also doing maths A level, of course.  In which case the problem is not whether the maths is covered, but that students may lack the contextual learning for their maths – it is done in isolation in maths classes, but not included in science lessons.

 I am a strong supporter of maths being taught and learned up to 18 .  I also believe that many students find it easier to learn and understand maths when it is presented in a context relevant to them and their interests.  This can be done in maths lessons, eg Bowland Maths, through cross curricular teaching such as the International Primary Curriculum or the RSA’s Opening Minds Curriculum.  

 I have always stood up for contextual teaching and learning of maths, whether in D&T, science, geography, even music and drama.  However, my all-out enthusiasm has been tempered by my son’s experience looking for a Saturday morning theatre class.  Most offer drama, dance and singing.  My son does not want to sing, and he would rather not do a class at all than go to one that insists he sing.  For other teenage boys it may be dance that is the sticking point.  He’s now with MAD Skills Performing Arts School where he does drama and dance …. and he’s loving it.

 But am I letting him down?  Should students choose what to learn, or should they learn what’s ‘good for them’?  Obviously there is a difference between an A level qualification and an extra curricula theatre group.  However, I am facing a similar question as we plan courses for Vivo D’Arte – a new theatre arts training organisation of which I am a founder member.  We will be offering ‘behind the scenes’ courses as well as an ‘on stage’ experience during our summer youth workshop.  But should those working on lighting and sound also be expected to cover set design and build?  Make up and hair? Production and publicity? 

Is it right to shy away from things that are seen as ‘hard’ or ‘less fun’?   And I do know that maths in science lessons could be seen as both of these.  Or is it our responsibility as teachers, or youth theatre leaders, to enlighten our students that these areas can be made accessible and interesting.  Hmm.  Noble sentiments ….. but I can’t see my son taking up singing!