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Friday, September 14, 2012

Math and Biology: Math Every Day!

We must increase the use of biology mathematics in our lessons!

I am WAAAAYYYY up high on my soapbox today.  This is year #29 for me in the biology classroom.  I have been seeing this shameful trend for several years now..... Students cannot do math in the biology classroom!

In the past, biology was a largely descriptive science.  We had our students peer into microscopes day after day.  Lab reports consisted of many drawings, hopefully drawn in pretty colors with the "parts" accurately labeled.  Now don't get me wrong;  I still love a microscope.  I can sit for hours and look at drops of pond water.  It is still, after all these years, absolutely fascinating to me!  Moreover, my students still love these types of labs.  However, several years ago, I began to change the type of lab I use in my biology classroom.  I now favor a lab that is quantitative and requires the use of math in biology.

Math & Science:  The Problems I Face Each Day

This is what I see everyday in my classroom.  I know that science teachers everywhere will shake their heads in agreement with these problems.

  • Students cannot do even the simplest of arithmetic without a calculator!  Why, oh why, did we (educators) ever decide it was okay to let students learn math at the elementary levels by using a calculator?  I would like to be the leader of the "Ban the Calculator" movement.  Yes, I am being overly dramatic.  The calculator is a very useful tool, but many of our students are so "calculator-dependent" that they have lost the meaning of the math.

  • Students do not have any common sense when it comes to math.  In their minds, whatever comes up on the calculator display MUST be the right answer. They do not stop to think if the answer is reasonable.  
  • Students cannot do arithmetic.  I wager to say that if I passed out a test that required the use of long division, many of my students might fail.  Further, many students don't know their times tables.  Over and over, I will see a student reach for calculator to multiply two numbers that they should already know!  Funny (but not funny) is that many of my AP Biology students are excelling in AP Calculus, but can't do arithmetic!
  • In the middle school grades, we need to quite teaching algebra and geometry and teach fractions, decimals, and percents every single year.
The Course That I Now Teach? Mathematical Biology!

I am slowly, but surely, changing the types of materials that I use in my class.  I am making more of my labs, activities, worksheets, and homework assignments quantitative in nature.  I am sometimes restricting the use of a calculator during my class.  Recently I purchased a classroom set of four-function calculators.  They only add, subtract, multiple and divide!  When I do allow students to use a calculator in my class, this is the only calculator they get to use.

If you want to make your science class more math-based, I have several products that you might want to consider.  Let's start with the ones that are FREE!  Click on the links below and you can download these "math in biology" lessons for free.

This school year, I developed three new activities that are math-based.  I have already used these in my classes, and I am very pleased with the results.

Have Fun Teaching!


  1. I couldn't agree more! We have to incorporate math into science. Science is not just about observing and memorizing. Thanks for the resources!

  2. I teach elementary and we do not use calculators very often. Students are expected to master basic facts, which they do, eventually. Their number sense is not great, and I hope that common core emphasis will strengthen this area.

    My point, though, is that I have been enlisted to come back into my former students' lives as a tutor only to find that during middle school, they used calculators exclusively. I watched dumbstruck as students used a calculator for such challenging work as finding half of 100. Sad!

  3. kbenedick, Thank you so much for your comments. Your second paragraph is my point exactly. I see kids days after day grab a calculator for calculations that can easily be done mentally. It is almost as if the calculator is addictive. :)