The connection between science and math instruction and science careers

There is a great deal of discussion about how to best prepare students for success in science education which can determine the foundation for success in science related careers. However, even with all the science instruction – it’s the success in mathematics instruction that is a significant predictor of performance in science. For many students, it can be the lack of math skills that deter them from successfully entering a science career.  

  • How do you connect science and math instruction in your classrooms?  
  • What do you see as the science and math connection for students moving into science based careers? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, and lesson plan ideas. 

Kathy Tracey


One way to help learners make connections in science and math is to create productive discussions around math topics.  When teaching a math topic, ask learners if they know where in the real-world they can see or observe the math they are learning?  Can they draw a picture about it?  Can they say more about it?  By engaging in these types of exercises I have found that I am opening learner's Math Eyes to the world around them and engaging them more in the how and why.  If math makes sense of the world around us, then science can explain the same world.


I am a training coordinator for a TANF program working with single parents and adjunct college classes at the community college where our program is located. For both types of learner, ABE and college, I find a few things make a difference.

One is if I can tie a math "skill" to something they already do - then I can explain that they already know how to, we are just learning the math language version. An example is with my adults  - we talk money or cooking a lot to relate decimals and fractions.

Another is relating the different types of Math to different languages - I tell my students that Algebra is like learning a language, when they are in Geometry or Calculus - it is talking in a different Math language.

A third is letting them use technology to do the calulations and emphasizing interpretation, which mirrors what will happen when they move their math skills into Science classes and careers. I spend time teaching how to really use their scientific calculators, how to look for formulas and you-tube videos on the internet and how Excel works to take raw data and produce graphs with meaning and how to interprete that meaning. 




These are all great ideas on how to incorporate career-related thinking into math and science classes.  I'm curious to hear about other examples of contextualized instruction ABE and ESL teachers have used to develop career awareness and exploration into math and science classes.  There are different definitions of contextualized instruction, but here is the one that I am considering:

A diverse family of instructional strategies designed to more seamlessly link the learning of foundational skills and academic or occupational content by focusing teaching and learning squarely on concrete applications in a specific context that is of interest to the student. (Mazzeo et al., 2003, pp. 3–4)

Mazzeo, C., Rab, S. Y., & Alssid, J. L. (2003).  Building bridges to college and careers: Contextualized basic skills programs at community colleges. Brooklyn, NY:  Workforce Strategy Center.


Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator

Hi all,

I've been thinking about math and science connections for a while, but it's been difficult to nail down the topics that are most useful for our students and can be integrated easily into the science content they need for HSE. On the TASC exam, which New York State uses, exponential growth is a math topic that shows up on the science test. I wrote a lesson plan on bacteria population growth and have taught it a few times as a guest teacher. I'm still working out the kinks, but I've shared the lesson in hopes that other teachers will try it. My goal is help students experience how quickly doubling a quantity can make it grow. The main question is how long will it take for one E. coli bacteria to become one million bacteria. This eventually leads to 2n as a way to model the growth and predict the population after a certain amount of time. The lesson can also be an introduction to mitosis, microorganisms, etc.

Please let me know if you use the lesson.


CUNY Adult Literacy/HSE Program

I agree that it is important to contextualize the math that we teach. Connecting to science concepts and practice is a logical step to make. I find that there are many ways to bring the two together, even if I am not teaching a lesson with a specific scientific topic.

Math is a language that models much of what happens in our world. It can describe scenarios in words, equations, charts, graphs, tables and diagrams. I talk about the fact that how we show the information we are looking at tells a story in different ways. The units we pick to measure with, how exact we choose our measurement to be (rounding), and how the data we choose to use or to display affects our understanding and that of the people we are sharing the information with.  Sometimes I bring in  news articles that have numbers or charts in them (I have loved the articles about space or atomic discoveries) to have students read the information and see what they can learn from the diagrams and charts, and decide what data was gathered in order to make those charts and graphs. I brought in a chart about cancer patients once, from a class I was taking myself, and had students decide what they could conclude about the study, the patients health and other information just from looking at the chart. They were surprised how much information they could get from "reading" the numbers, headings, ranges, etc.

One lesson that I did as a beginning of the session, get-to-know you lesson turned out to be a good math/science lesson. I had students fill out very simple, anonymous questionnaires asking things like age, years in school, years out of school, distance from school, how many children, what country they were from, what their career goals were, and other types of questions. We then proceeded to play with our "data", grouping, finding averages, means, medians, ranges, graphing compatible items that would tell something interesting. I "framed" part of it to the class as, "What if we needed to write a report to the agency that rents us this facility to explain to them who our adult learners were? What information would they want to know? What do we think they should know? How would we display it for them to help them understand it easily?"

A couple of interesting discussions came up. One was when we graphed the ages of students in class, we found that there were a lot of people around 30 years old. We got to hypothesize as to why that age was so represented. Some answers were that some people were lying about their age... didn't want to be older. Some figured that maybe that was an age where kids, maturity, or reality hit and people decided to make a change. We talked about how we might be able to find out which of our hypothesis were true and had a great discussion about further questions we could ask people, or the need to ask more classes of students to get more data to see if our sample size was really big enough to have a true picture of adult ed students ages. It was a very good discussion about scientific research, sample size, looking at data to see what you could find out, not find out, ask questions for further research, etc.

Another fun "surprise" was when we graphed ages versus years out of school. I was pleasantly surprised, but I guess should not have been, that the graph was a beautiful scatterplot with a general slope of 1. It makes sense since for every year you grow older, you are one more year out of school, but still, the students were surprised at the picture. It also correlated to how many years of school someone had had to begin with. They could see the range of numbers and the trend, and we could talk about why, and it was a nice graphing and reading exercise.

Of course there are beautiful opportunities to take science formulas for physics or physical science, like gravity or pressure-temperature-volume and practice solving for unknowns while talking about science concepts.

It's fun. And students love to learn about the world around them.


Instructor, Pima Community College ABECC

Tucson, Arizona

Hi, Katy -

Thanks for sharing this great example!  I like it because it's simple, and it builds upon a 'getting to know you' activity that most instructors already do at the beginning of their classes.  There are so many applications you can (and did) explore with students from your age example, and it includes both numbers and data analysis, as well as reading and writing skills.

Thanks again for sharing with us.  Who else has an example of a contextual instructional practice they have used with learners?

Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator 

I love the ideas shared! It is critical that students see the connection between science and math at the beginning of math instruction. As it was mentioned, placing math into real word context - such as science examples - makes math 'doable' for our students. Think about our most basic math (and reading) students where they are learning to count, order, and classify shapes. They are learning to measure items. These are math AND science skills. Some say that science is the application of math.  

In an Edutopia blog post by author Ben Johnson, he champions the connection between math and science instruction. Although he is speaking of the traditional K-8 learning enviromnent, he does ask a very thought provoking question. What happens with the math and science instruction when these subjects are taught by different instructors at the same program. He ends his post with a question I would like to pose to this group: What are ways you work with your companion subject teacher (math or science) to help students understand math and science better?

Hi Kathy, 

You asked: What are ways you work with your companion subject teacher (math or science) to help students understand math and science better?

I have had a couple of sessions where three of us teaching at the same center decided to teach similar topics in our reading/writing classes the same semester. We teach different levels of reading, writing and math, and we do sometimes overlap students in our different subjects. We planned together, but adapted the lessons to the speed, interest and level of our classes. It was intended for the reading/writing classes, but I found that the topic would creep into my math classes if it was appropriate to what we were working on. What was great was when something that I was doing in my math class would trigger a student from a different teacher's reading class to chime in, "Oh, we were just doing that in reading yesterday!" The connections were fantastic. The students liked it as the concepts were reinforced. We even had joint speakers visit and went on joint field trips. A community building experience.

It is not always practical or easy to plan together with other teachers, but the synergy of the situation makes it worthwhile.


Pima Community College ABECC

Tucson, AZ

Katy, your terrific description reminded me of a professional development presentation I heard a few weeks ago by an adult basic skills and technology teacher, and a program administrator, from a community-based program in Massachusetts. If I recall correctly, this was a learning project that had several purposes: a request for information about the students from the program's board, as communicated to the students by the program administrator; the teacher's  interest in showing students how some digital tools might be useful; and an opportunity to practice some math and science skills. The students: 1) created a survey to address the board members' questions, 2) surveyed students in the class, and then, I believe, the whole program, 3) used a spreadsheet to tabulate students answers, and 4) created graphs from the spreadsheet data that they used in their slide presentation to the board.

Both your example and this one emphasize engagement of learners, real problems that they might care about, and -- the basic math, science and technology skills for gathering, analyzing and presenting information.

I think this is what adult basic skills education should have as a predominant teaching/learning model. In K-12 in Finland one of the world's top-performing education systems is redesigning itself, eliminating subjects and organizing learning primarily or entirely around projects that, of course, include skills and knowledge from subjects such as science and math. That's a very radical -- and inspiring -- institutional change. The only example I am aware of that approximates it in adult basic skills education in the U.S. is a community college ASE program in New York City that organized learning around themes and, incidentally, the students had extremely high performance on their HSE test.

Thanks, Katy, for your great description on how you integrate math, science, and engagement in learning with your students!

David J. Rosen


If you want to know how these principles work in action, check out Unlimited Learning in Cortez, Colorado. Leecy Wise (a familiar name on LINCS) and Ann Miller have developed a hands-on curriculum based on four scientific themes: Electrical, Thermal, Fluid, and Mechanical. They have applied the "big picture" ideas to job training in health care (think of these four as nervous system, body temperature, blood flow, and muscle/bone structure) and similarly in oil/gas production. I was so excited by their presentation at the CAEPA conference here in October!

Dorothea Steinke

Lafayette, CO

Thanks for alerting us to this curriculum, Dorothea. Perhaps Leecy and/or Ann will share more of the details of this wonderful program. I'm curious if the curriculum is aligned to the CCRS, and if so, which standards are targeted.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, College and Career Standards

Thanks for sharing! I hope Leecy will share some of her information with us. It's always a great feeling when participants leave a session excited. What were some of your take-aways' from the conference session? Did you modify any of the information presented to fit your program? 


Thanks for mentioning STEM Prep, Dorothea. Our project is designed to prep students to succeed in later training to enter health and industrial-trades careers. The project site is

Our physical world, including out bodies, operates through the four "energy" systems you mentioned, each with its own "prime mover." The project is designed around eight stations, with two stations for each system. Students first complete simple lab experiments to grasp how each system operates. Following the lab experiment, they then complete reading, writing, and math modules related to the concepts, terminology, and computations they experienced in the lab. We are also starting to have students practice test-taking skills related to the Accuplacer, which is why I brought up the question in other forums about recommended sites for students to practice those skills.

Adults learn to the extent that what they are being given relates to their interests and/or needs, as we know from basic andragological principles, first introduced by Malcom Knowles and expanded since by those who either support or disagree with those pioneering theories. As inferred in this discussion, learning math or science without applications in life is a chore, which is why we lose so many students!

We are just completing the STEM Prep modules (8 stations in two tracks, for a total of 48 modules) after a long period of development and training of developers to create super innovative curricula. We got permission from the state to license all content as OER. (Of course, the labs need to be purchased separately.)

Susan, we have not yet matched content to CCRS but hope that happens in the long run. I have formatted all content for online access in a Moodle system which I administer. That means that students can access everything online, except, of course, for the lab experiments, whose instructions are also online. Instruction is designed to be highly independent, with coaches available in each lab to support students if they need help.

Funding for this project came from the first Colorado initiative to fund Adult Ed activities. Prior to that, all funding for Adult Ed in CO came from federal sources. We took a big risk starting something so new, given that we are implementing it in vast, multicultural, rural area, with very limited access to trained professionals. We've learned a whole lot!!! Developers were all regular Adult Ed teachers with no experience in curriculum development, with one exception - the Instructional Dean of the School of Energy  in one of our neighboring colleges, who developed the industrial-trades lab. Developers learned a lot, too. We are still tweaking and learning, tweaking and learning, on and on.

If you would like more information about STEM Prep or want access to the content, you may contact me at We are in the process of applying for additional funds to create a similar project, but targeting students at even lower reading levels (3rd-6th) so that students are encouraged to commit to career pathways earlier in their journey with us. We are also adding an instructional module to our electrical-system labs, in order to prep students to work with slot machines in two casinos in the area, which are big employers. Fingers crossed. Leecy