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Partnership Building: Integrating Math & Life Sciences in Baltimore City High Schools


This paper addresses the following claim(s):

"One BRAIN-STEM hypothesis is that integrating of concepts from discrete mathematics and molecular biology in the high school curriculum will result in improved student learning and achievement in Biology and Algebra. Preliminary analysis of data suggests that teachers understood the utility of integrating mathematics and biology and believed that this integration was important, particularly since both of these subjects were tested in the High School Assessment given by the state. Several teachers saw that integrating mathematics and biology concepts in their classroom instruction could deepen students' understanding of the content and contribute to increased performance on standardized tests. Teachers' perceptions of the feasibility of the integration of mathematics and biology in the high school curriculum were mixed. Some teachers identified structural barriers related to scheduling and teacher competency. Several pointed out that since different students would be in different classes, it would be very difficult to implement integrated lessons systemically or even school-wide, unless administrators would be willing to address these student scheduling issues. In addition to these structural barriers, teacher content knowledge was also another key concern for teachers. Many teachers felt that they lack sufficient content knowledge, particularly in the subject that they are not certified to teach, that would be required to teach interdisciplinary modules. Hence, increased professional development opportunities, particularly those that allowed teachers to be a part of sustained learning communities, would be critical to the successful implementation of integrated curricula. Teacher data also suggests that they believed strongly that the challenge to integrated curricular implementation was worth the potential gains to student achievement, which contradicts earlier research that suggested that teachers are resistant to implementing integrated mathematics and science curricula.

Analysis of integrated mathematics and biology modules developed by teachers revealed that the teachers in this project adopted a view of integration in which one of the subject areas always appeared to be dominant. In most cases it was the science that was dominant and the mathematics was secondary. This is consonant with teachers expressed view that mathematics is a tool of science. The four modules developed in this workshop related to inheritance of family characteristics in humans, rate of spread of disease in flu epidemics, inheritance in horse populations, and incidence of asthma in an urban population.

Some of the major challenges of creating and sustaining interdisciplinary partnerships reflect the differences in the communities of practice of each of the disciplines and between those of scientists and educators. We have found that in order to successfully build interdisciplinary partnerships, there must be a concerted effort to build a "mutual discourse" at every phase of partnership building activities. One of the major challenges we faced is sustaining partnerships with school systems when school structures and administrations change, which is particularly an issue in the current climate of school reform in both mathematics and science. We are currently creating strategies that can address these challenges in order to continue to build and sustain the BRAIN-STEM partnerships. We will share some of our initial strategies at the LNC."