This math methods course is my fourth methods course at Nazareth College. I have previously taken a social studies, a literacy, and science methods course. There are a few ideas that each of these courses – as well as one or two courses where the ideas were briefly engaged – have in common. Two of these ideas that I would like explore are: (1) the idea that each content area specialist advocates strongly for an emphasis on their particular content area; and (2) the idea of the importance of integration across content areas.
It is not surprising that professors who teach methods courses in a given content area and who were, generally, specialized teachers in that content area, often emphasize the importance of their specific content areas. And I realize that, like younger students, adult learners have talents, abilities, and proclivities for certain content areas – I certainly enjoy and have talents in the creative arts more so than for some of the other content areas. It will be likely that in my future classrooms, I will use the creative arts more so than teachers who might not be so comfortable with them in their own lives – though I can almost guarantee that music (or at least “music” that comes out of my mouth) will not have a prominent place in my classroom because of my utter lack of ability in that art form. This emphasis is reassuring in that it allows for teachers to bring their talents and interests into the classroom. It also reinforces the idea that when we teach what we love – and students are able to see and appreciate our enthusiasm – students are not only drawn in by our interest, but they are also exposed to an adult member of a community of practice and initiated into that community through the practice of the norms and standards of that community. There’s a cliché that states that students do not care what teachers know, until they know that teachers care. I assume this generally refers to students being aware of teachers caring about them, but I believe that this would also apply to content areas. A teacher who disdains reading – or any other content area or field of study – cannot engage students in that content area or get students excited about that field of study.
Reflection on the idea of specific content areas being stressed or focused on – a sort of themed pedagogical style – necessarily leads to the idea of incorporating all content areas into the focused area, as well as the idea of integration of all content areas. Some content areas have a more natural-seeming and obvious association. The pursuit of inquiry-based science without the use of mathematics seems impossible to me – imagine observations and notation and measurement and representation without the use of numbers and math. Likewise, social studies and history are filled with dates (as place markers) and patterns and statistics. Other content area pairs might require a little deeper probing to reveal the associations. Math and art are not typically seen as associated. There are, however, numerous examples of possible connections, e.g., patterns and tessellations, mandalas, fractals, the use of the physical tools and mathematics by artisans/craftsmen to create works of art, etc. The integration of content areas – in opposition to the idea of content areas in isolation – allows students to realize that these academic areas are related and connected, provides a broader context for the study of and in these areas, promotes a deeper understanding of the various concepts, and develops a more internalized realization of the value of the various concepts because they are encountered and explored in different but related ways.