Everyday math takes a bow in final exam at Henry Clay
Author: Tammy L. Lane • First Posted: Thursday, December 17, 2015
In Sarah Zehnder’s college prep math class, the final exam looked more like a show-and-tell day at Henry Clay High School. That’s because the assignment gave students freedom to choose their topic and time to develop their ideas – as long as they demonstrated finding mathematics in the real world. “I’m not a huge fan of math, but with this project, I realized math is in everything, including my favorite thing,” said senior Ethan Raleigh, who focused on music.
Ethan borrowed a guitar for his presentation, in which he pointed out several math connections such the two numbers in the time signature indicating how many beats per measure and fractions designating the note values. He also illustrated differing wavelengths with lines on the chalkboard. “When you hear music, you’re listening to sound. And when you’re listening to sound, you’re listening to vibrations,” Ethan explained as he plucked the strings.
Zehnder has used this approach for several years with different age groups, though this was the first time collaborating with colleagues Amanda Hurley and Felica White in a guided-inquiry format. The two librarians had set up stations for students to explore resource materials, such as magazine articles, books, and manipulative math games like the Rubik’s Cube. After selecting a topic of interest, each student came up with five guiding questions to flesh out their project. Then they spent a day researching details and devising ways to present their work. Zehnder also allowed each class to design their own scoring rubric and expectations. One group, for instance, required each student to deliver five facts and three references, show creativity, deliver in a loud and clear voice, and respect others’ efforts. Classmates could earn bonus points if they added humor or entertainment value.
Amari Moore and Meredith Tanner, who teamed up, likely scored a bonus with their parting gift for classmates: bite-size Snickers bars wrapped in baby diapers. “We tried to make it interesting so that’s why we went with the candy,” Meredith said afterward. Their OB-GYN presentation showed how these doctors incorporate math in their routine, such as calculating a woman’s due date based on her last menstrual cycle. With a PowerPoint display and a poster in hand, the girls also noted how math plays into the length and interval of labor contractions, as well as prescription doses of medication. “I didn’t realize they used so much math,” Meredith said. “It is in everything, so it’s helpful to know.”
Another duo, who happen to be members of the Blue Devils’ team, highlighted how math figures into ice hockey – with three periods in a game; six players on each side; a rink with circles, lines, points, and trapezoids; a 3-D cylindrical puck; and angles to position a player for optimal performance. Other topics ranged from personal budgeting and the history of money to Albert Einstein. “This is by far the coolest it’s ever been. With the librarians really working together with me, the students have come up with good ideas,” Zehnder said. Another byproduct is that students now seek out the librarians’ help with other assignments. “It’s been neat to see how our relationships with these kids have blossomed through this experience,” Hurley added.
This college prep class is the senior math course for students who have long struggled with this subject, and Zehnder hopes the hands-on model for a final exam makes an impact. “About 95 percent of them hate math, and that’s why we do this project,” Zehnder said. “I want them to see math is used in a variety of ways – not just what we do in the classroom. Math isn’t all about pencil and paper tests. It’s more about critical thinking and problem-solving. Math is everywhere we look. Even if you don’t see it, it’s behind the scenes somewhere.”