See how they go
together with these activities about eye color and vision!
You're probably aware
of the call to integrate math and science. The "Benchmarks for Science Literacy:
Project 2061" report, published last year by the American Association for
the Advancement of Science, even said that the ideas and practice of science
and mathematics are so closely linked that they can't really be taught well
But just how do you
bring science and math together successfully? In this article, you'll
get the help you need. You'll find:
The Skills Math and
A comforting word about
integrating math and science: It's easier than you think. After all, the
two subjects are close cousins, sharing such skills as:
- Collecting, Recording,
and Organizing Data
- Recognizing Space/Time
- Interpreting Data
Three Golden Rules
for Integrating Science and Math
As you think about ways
to integrate science and math, keep these three ideas in mind:
- Plan lessons that
use two or more of the skills listed above. Work
from the basic principle that both math and science are about problem-solving.
- Make hands-on activities
a priority. When kids work with manipulatives, they gain the concrete
experience that is so important to concept development.
- Make science and
math personal for kids by introducing activities with anecdotes, questions,
or demonstrations that involve kids' local environments, whether it's
their homes or the lake on the edge of town.
Activity 1: What
Color Are Your Eyes?
Individuals have varying eye color.
predicting, collecting data, counting, graphing, computing and interpreting
2-inch-square pieces of white paper, assorted crayons, chart paper, a
glue stick, masking tape
- Get personal.
I like to begin science activities with a question, demonstration, or
anecdote that connects to my students' lives. For this activity I tell
them that when I was pregnant with my first baby, I predicted he or
she would have brown eyes just like Mom and Dad.
Was I ever surprised to meet my blue-eyed son! Then I pass around a
snapshot of my husband and me and our three blue-eyed children. I confide
that people often ask, "Where did those blue eyes come from?" I tell
the class we're going to explore that question.
- Make predictions.
Next, I invite students to create hypotheses to answer two questions.
First, "Which eye colors are represented in our class?" It's important
that kids establish the eye colors they think will be found, because
this prompts them to make observations of one another's eyes. The second
question is: "Which eye color will we find most frequently among this
- Form a
living graph. I give each student crayons and a 2-inch-square
piece of paper, and ask them to draw a picture of their eyes. I put
a line of tape on the floor and invite the whole class to form a series
of single-file lines according to eye color. Students note the length
of each line and compare their predictions with the actual results.
an eye-catching chart. Now we convert our living graph into
a bar graph. Along the bottom of a piece of chart paper, we list the
eye colors found in our group. Students use a glue stick to post their
drawings in the appropriate columns. I ask students how the results
compare with their predictions and challenge them to state something
they have learned from the graph.
story problems. I invite students to write (or dictate) a story
problem based on the data, and then compile the problems into a booklet
for students to swap. Children are highly motivated to solve story problems
that involve information they collected themselves. One first grader
dictated: "Which eye color has the most?" A third grader posed: "We
have 24 kids in our room. Eight of us have hazel eyes. How many of us
don't have hazel eyes?"
- Graph it
again. Now I help students make a more abstract version of
their graph by asking such questions as: What symbol could you use instead
of your drawings? How could you convert the bar graph into a line graph?
(Mark a dot at the top of each column of drawings and then connect the
- Widen the
net. I ask students what would happen if they collected more
data on eye color, increasing the sample size. Would their results change?
How could they find out? One teacher I know, Ted Smith of Liberty Valley
Elementary in Danville, Pennsylvania, had his second graders survey
the entire student body! They compiled their data on a hallway graph
for all to see. Whether you poll a few grades or your entire school,
this activity will get across the concept that increasing the sample
size of any survey will give you a truer representation of the population.
Activity 2: Does
Brown Always Rule?
A person's eye color is determined by each parent's eye-color genes. Brown
and hazel are dominant over blue.
observing; predicting; comparing; collecting, recording, and organizing
- Focus on
family matters. As a take-home activity, I have students list
or illustrate the eye colors of family members. Then I ask them such
questions as: Does your eye color match your parents' eye color? Your
grandparents'? Your siblings'? When students bring in their data, I
again show them the snapshot of my family and ask, "Where did those
kids get their blue eyes?" I then give them a simple lesson in genetics,
basic genetics. I explain that for every characteristic from
our eye color to the shape of our big toe each
parent contributes one gene. The gene may be strong (dominant) or weak
(recessive). For example, with eye color, brown and hazel are dominant
over blue, which is recessive. If even one of the two eye-color genes
a person receives is brown or hazel, then his eye color is brown or
hazel. But if a person receives a recessive gene (blue) from each parent which
was the case with my children then that person
will have blue eyes.
- Chart those
baby blues. On the chalkboard, I draw the matrix shown below
and then plug in the Kepler family eye colors. (Since we have blue-eyed
kids, my husband and I obviously both have a recessive gene.) As you
can see, there was a one in four chance that each Kepler child would
have blue eyes. How could students express that as a fraction? As a
Activity 3: How Can
We See in the Dark?
Children love to learn
about the peepers of creatures from a spider's set
of eight to glow-in-the-dark cat eyes. In this activity, kids learn about
their own night vision and compare it to nocturnal animals' keen eyesight.
Animals possess varying abilities to see at night.
observing, predicting, counting, classifying, making a table, computing,finding
12 pairs of socks, including a variety of dark colors (black, navy, brown)
and light colors (white, tan, pink).
- Present the challenge.
I tell kids that their task is going to be to sort socks long
pause in the dark! I ask students to write in
the sock colors on a chart.
- Gather students
in a circle. I place the mixed-up socks in the center of the group and
then have the kids establish where we will place the socks once the
lights are out.
- Lights out. Students
go to work! I make sure each child has a chance to place a sock in what
he or she thinks is the correct color pile.
- Find out the score.
When all the socks are sorted, I turn on the lights just long enough
to tally the number of socks correctly placed in each pile. Students
record the number on the chart.
- Lights out again.
Sitting in the dark, I tell kids we're going to try the sock sort again
and ask them to predict the results. Some students may predict they
will do better this time, noting prior experience in the dark. I deliberately
spend ten minutes or so talking with the kids, so their eyes have time
- Sort the socks.
When children are finished, I turn on the lights and we record the results.
We compare the two scores. Did the length of time spent in the dark
improve their ability to see in the dark? Why? Were some colors easier
to sort than others? Why is this so? (The lighter colors which
reflect more light are easier to see than the
- Talk about nocturnal
animals. Now that children have a sense of their own night vision, they
can appreciate the eyesight of nighttime creatures. I have students
list animals that they know have good night vision. Why might it be
advantageous for these animals to see at night? I ask students to discuss
their ideas and then explain that nocturnal animals' eyes reflect much
more light than ours. Their eyes contain many more tiny cells called
rods than the eyes of day animals. These rods allow them to see well
at night. I ask kids: Thinking back to the socks, who do you think would
do a better job of sorting in the dark an owl
- Launch a study
of night animals. At this point kids are all set to investigate animal
vision. There are many good resource books available: click here for a few of my favorites. Use the principles
you've learned here to develop math and science-linked vision activities
of your own.
Great Science and
AIMS (Activities Integrating Math and Science) Education Foundation offers
32 different publications, including a monthly magazine. Call (209) 255-4094
or write P.O. Box 8120, Fresno, CA 93747-8120.
GEMS (Great Explorations
in Math and Science) is a hands-on math and science curriculum for PreK-10.
Write to GEMS, Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California, Berkeley,
CA 94720, or call (510) 642-7771.
Science Place and
Math Place (Scholastic) are new K-6 hands-on curricula designed for easy
integration. For information, call (800) 325-6149.
Better Vision Institute
offers a free teachers' guide and poster about eye health and vision.
Call (800) 424-8422.
Benchmarks for Science
Literacy: Project 2061 (American Association for the Advancement of Science,
Oxford University Press, 1993). To order, call (800) 451-7556.
Eyes by Judith Worthy (Doubleday, 1988)
One Eye, Two
Eyes, Three Eyes, Four . . . The Many Ways Animals See by Dorothy
Leon (Messner, 1980).
by Allan Fowler (Children's Press, 1991).
Kepler (Science), a science writer and consultant based in Pennsylvania,
also works in the classroom as an elementary-school teacher.