Are there similes in science?

All our junior high LA, Social Studies, Science, and Math teachers have been devoting some instructional time to teaching interpreting figurative language.  This is part of our critical reading and thinking strategies.  I’ll be the first to admit, though, that I really had no idea what this would look like in science or math.  It’s pretty easy to see how figurative language fits in novels and short stories.  Even in Social Studies, similes, metaphors, and personification are scattered throughout the textbooks and add imagery to the Aztec world and Canadian history.

But, are similes and metaphors even found in science or math?  More importantly, would teaching them in those subjects help improve students’ critical thinking?  My initial reaction was no.

Image from Pixaby, licensed under Creative Commons

When we gathered to mark our formative assessments on this strategy, I was ready to be taken to task about the value of this in math and science.  The Language Arts and Social Studies assessment was fairly typical, identifying the figurative language and how it affected the meaning of the passage.  Many students could identify the literary device, but some students had trouble explaining how the figurative language affected the writing.  These findings were not unexpected.  The purpose of this across-all-subjects reading instruction is to deepen students’ critical thinking.

The Science assessment was very interesting, though.  Students were asked the size of the moon in relation to the earth, and then they had to represent this comparison in literal and figurative language.  Others were asked what percentage of the earth was covered in water and then to represent this in literal and figurative language.  We had a variety of responses, from profound to humorous to literal.

In Math, students were given a problem to solve, but had to identify the figurative language first.  Almost all the students had no problem identifying the simile.  And I have to admit, it stuck out like a brightly coloured pop-up ad in the midst of all the literal language.

After we marked, we discussed the value of figurative language in our respective subjects.  What was intriguing was that our science teachers discovered that working with similes and metaphors in science helped students write better technically.  It enabled them to determine when to use more precise, scientific language and when to leave the imagery out.  That was a benefitI hadn’t thought about before, but it makes sense.

However, the math teachers sheepishly admitted that they cold not come up with any potential benefit for working with figurative language in math.  But, none of us could.  Similes and metaphors seem a little out of place in the mathematical world.  So, this strategy will be one that we will flag for further discussion next year.

What benefits might come from teaching figurative language in math?  Is this something that really has no place within the math world?

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About Sherry Langland

I have been teaching English for 15 years and am passionate about teaching students to read critically, think critically, and live purposefully. I am also the lead teacher for our junior high department and am thankful to be part of such a dedicated group of teachers who are committed to collaborating around the most important part of our job: student learning. My biggest blessing is being the mother of 2 young men who are in their 20s and discovering their purpose.
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