Last year, when my daughter was in 11th grade, she was working on a research paper for a local math fair. Her topic was Pascal’s Triangle. One night, I walked into her room and looked over her shoulder as she worked. When I saw what looked like a comprehensive article about the topic, I asked her what database she found it on. No database, she explained; she had simply Googled the subject. After I finished gasping, I began my librarian lecture about reliable search practices, and tried to show her how simple it is to access databases. Everyone uses Google for their math fair papers, she protested, and (worse), the math teachers said it was fine. Whether or not that was actually true, it frustrated me to no end that math teachers were clearly not getting the research support they needed.
It’s only my third year as a librarian in my high school, but I feel as if I’m familiar with the majority of the teachers who work in my building. Lately, I’ve realized that the ones I don’t know are predominantly math and science teachers. As librarians, when we talk about collaboration, we tend to think of English and social studies. Those subjects lend themselves to research with their exploration of literary texts, primary sources, and worldly events. With math and science, there is not as much obvious need for instruction in research and information literacy.
As education continues to evolve and academic curriculums morph into variations of their traditional formats, it’s more important than ever to teach our students and teachers the value of interdisciplinary instruction. While the requirements for most math classes call for a somewhat rigid structure, especially in light of state and national tests, there are great benefits to including even brief research lessons in the curriculum.
Which is why I was thrilled when the coordinator of the math department at my school contacted me last June to ask about a future collaboration with her department. As soon as the new school year began a few weeks ago, she put me in touch with the teacher of the Math Research class, (whom I had never met!) and together we planned a research lesson in the library.
The main focus of the Math Research course is to prepare a research paper that will be presented at the Long Island Math Fair (the same one for which my daughter had been writing her paper). Though there are an endless number of topics from which to choose, they all must relate in some way to the study of mathematics. Writing about mathematics is, in a sense, not that different from writing an English or history paper. They all strive to convey specific concepts to the reader in a way that uses evidence and clear language. Students who have a love of math will likely pursue it in college, and then possibly move on to a related career. Not only will they have to write about more sophisticated and complex math topics, but they will be required to discuss and present their findings. It’s important to help students solidify their research foundation, not only through the lens of language arts and other related subjects, but as critically thinking, problem-solving mathematicians.
For my library math research lesson, I created a Google Slides presentation that highlights paths to find credible information relating to mathematical topics. I plan to introduce Sweet Search, a useful academic search engine, and Google Books, where they can find relevant e-books. Then I’ll instruct them on how to use three specific databases that will lead them to scholarly journals. In addition to these traditional research methods, I’ll also present a few math podcasts, a digital tool that they can use during initial research to help them gain a broader perspective of their topics. I hope to convey to them and their teacher that math is largely about ideas, and being able to communicate these ideas responsibly to others is an invaluable skill no matter what the subject.
I’m excited about my breakthrough into the math department and look forward to opening up opportunities for more partnerships. As for the science department, that’s my goal for the upcoming months.
Author: Karin Greenberg
Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.