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Deepening the Connection Between Science and Math


Many science majors see math classes as a hoop they have to jump through. However, BYU Professor Steven Jones of the Department of Mathematics Education hopes to change that perception with his current research.

Jones’ research was published in The Journal of Mathematical Behavior and focuses on definite integrals and their use in applied sciences.

“Most of our calculus students are science majors of some kind,” Jones said. “I want to know how . . . students use their knowledge of integration in other course work.”

Jones conducted his research by giving students science problems they could solve with integrals and noting how they solved them.

“I wanted to focus on how students are connecting [science] to math,” Jones said.

His research revealed that out of the three ways commonly used to teach about integrals, the Riemann sum-based concept—the most applicable to science fields­—is the least taught and the least emphasized in classes.

“The biggest thing that I hope BYU students will benefit [from my research] is coming out of their math courses with actual tools to be able to use in their other disciplines,” Jones said.

Along with his research on definite integrals, Jones has also written an article on students’ dynamic reason and their understanding of limits and infinity, which was published in the International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology.

“I looked at applied concepts of limits in [different contexts],” Jones said. “To see if students thought of things in dynamic terms, or happening over time.”

Jones said this helps students make sense of limits in science contexts.

Jones received his undergraduate and master’s degrees in mathematics, which was mainly theoretical. With a PhD in mathematics education, however, he can now apply his passion for math to the classroom.

“I’ve always really like the applied side of mathematics. I missed being able to connect [math] to science. I hope [my research] can impact classroom instruction,” Jones said. “We can teach in a way that [the students] can move into their science coursework and use the math they have learned productively.”