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10 Ways to Teach Leadership Through Math and Science

How do we inspire a new generation of great mathematicians and scientists? One way is to create curiosity about how leadership fits into math and science.

Leadership connections are abundant and easily recognized in reading and social-studies lessons. Using teachable moments to discuss characters in books and world leaders happens with little to no prompting. As teachers, we can do the same thing in math and science if we are intentional and plan for the teachable moments.

Math and science are important subjects for students to understand, and they can also provide opportunities for us to teach students leadership skills.

Here are 10 suggestions and examples.

1. The scientific method starts with asking a specific question. Effective leaders always begin with a purpose or an “end in mind.”

2. The procedures used in an experiment have a specified order. The skill of prioritization is a valuable leadership habit.

3. Scientists and mathematicians often work in groups to complete research. Leaders value others’ opinions and listen to learn from their peers.

4. Chemical reactions can create totally new products. This is comparable to leaders working together to create a completely new idea that no one had thought of individually.

5. The languages of the Eight Standards for Mathematical Practice in the Common Core contains multiple connections to leadership.

    • “Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.” When students are involved in this process they learn respect, critical thinking, and communication skills. In some Leader in Me Schools, student groups use a “Talking Stick,” inspired by a Native American tradition, where the Talking Stick is passed from student to student. Each student speaks without interruption, and all other students listen intently until everyone has had a turn and feels understood.
    • “Model with mathematics.” Use mind maps, graphic organizers, or foldables to reinforce mathematical models and to help students lead their own mental constructs. This standard helps students organize and take leadership of their own learning.
    • “Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning. The student maintains oversight of the process while attending to the details.” Leaders always keep the big picture in mind while attending to the details, and this standard helps students practice that skill.

      Teaching leadership through math
      Students drew house plans to practice planning skills while learning area and perimeter.

6. When teaching the area and perimeter of shapes, many teachers have students draw house plans. Planning is an important leadership skill.

7. Tracking academic goals with multiple data trackers helps teach valuable graph- and chart-reading skills while simultaneously motivating students to reach for their personal best.

8. Current leaders of math or science can provide examples of leadership for students. Students can keep a yearlong journal or blog about these individuals and write about how they exhibit leadership qualities.

9. Many trade books are available for math and science content. As students read these books, teachers can be intentional about using leadership language. NSTA recommends several trade books here: http://www.nsta.org/publications/ostb/ostb2014.asp

10. Some grade levels have science standards related to environmental issues. The leadership skill of thinking in a mutually beneficial way could be applied here. For example, Westwood Elementary in Arkansas recycles Capri Sun pouches and donates the money to help dig water wells in Africa.

Math and science skills are the building blocks of a healthy economy. As you teach these subjects through the lens of leadership, you do more than share facts and formulas. Just imagine—you may inspire the next Albert Einstein, George Washington Carver, or Marie Curie!

I’ve shared my ideas for integrating leadership lessons into math and science, and I’d love to hear yours. Share them in the comment section below.

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Written by Shelly Hollis
Shelly has 20 years of educational experience including 10 years in the classroom as a high school science teacher. For the past 10 years, she directed the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative (AMSTI) for the University of North Alabama. Shelly holds the following degrees/certifications:
  • BS in Biology
  • MAed in Chemistry
  • Administrative Certification
  • National Board Certification in Adolescent and Young Adulthood Science
While directing the AMSTI program, Shelly developed and delivered training of trainer modules, secured grant funds for the introduction of professional learning communities in AMSTI Schools, and coordinated summer institute training for hundreds of teachers. She also directed the activities of 15 staff members to provide materials and onsite support for math and science education. Shelly is a full time delivery consultant and coach for “The Leader in Me” process. From her personal experience, Shelly knows the importance of a healthy school culture for relationships and academics to thrive. She fully believes “The Leader in Me” process meets this great need. Shelly is married to Tim and has two amazing children (Hannah & Caleb) and one extremely handsome grandson. She makes her home in beautiful Florence, AL. She loves teaching and speaking at women’s events and maintains an active blog.

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