In education trends today, the movement seems to be toward integrated classes. We are straying away from the restrictive Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, ... classroom regiment. We can not only integrate different areas of mathematics into a single class, we can also integrate other subjects. I would like to show you in my examination of some data that it is not difficult to combine science and mathematics.

In conjunction with a chemistry lab, have the students boil water and record its temperature every minute for 30 minutes. The students should then bring this data to the math class. By using a spreadsheet (Microsoft Excel, Lotus 1-2-3 Release x, Microsoft Works, etc.), instruct the students to enter the data into a spreadsheet. In this situation, the teacher is really aiding the students in learning or reenforcing several concepts. The students gain experience in the chemistry lab, in entering and using a spreadsheet to quickly manipulate data, and in finding the best fit curve (or line) to fit the data.

Let's consider the data taken by students previously. Click here to download an Excel file. If you cannot read an Excel file, there is a copy of the original data at the bottom of the page.

Assuming that you have looked at the data, the first step might be to graph the data on an XY-scatter plot.

Now, you must guide your students (depending on their level and experience).

How would a line fit this data?

How would a quadratic (parabolic) function fit this data?

How would an exponential function fit the data?

It would be good to have the students give answers to the question:

It may be necessary to guide your students to some conclusions. For some
hints about things to discuss, click here.

If I have learned anything through my limited teaching experience, the most important is definately about a teacher's expectations. The students can do whatever you expect of them (sometimes with a little coaching and motivation). It is very difficult to fit some data to a particular equation. However, with the use of the spreadsheet package the students can do these activities and get immediate results without relying solely on their computatioinal skills. The spreadsheet does the "grunt work" for them. This requires them to think about what the graph should look like and how to best simulate it. Using the charting function again speeds up the feedback, which the students love.

Just because data simulation can get difficult and involved, don't shy away from it in your classroom. Give the students a task and the tools to complete it.

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