Students in Jermaine Bowe’s seventh-grade honors math class had grown tired of ordinary equations on worksheets, and he began to wonder how the students would best grasp the math concepts they were being taught.
“How does this stuff work in real life?” Bowe asked. “What will they know?”
Looking for ways to have students apply what they were learning to real-life situations, the teacher decided he wanted to have them tour a local manufacturing plant and collect a set of data they would then use as the basis of a class project.
The local Whirlpool plant agreed to give the students a tour.
The students had just completed a unit in which they were learning about percentages, including factors like unit rate and percent of change.
After dividing them into groups, Bowe had students decide what data they needed to collect. As they toured the plant, they took notes on how the factory was constructed, what environmental impact it had on the area, how many jobs had been created and how the company’s sales aligned with other financial factors, such as taxes.
Using the data they gathered, students used the principles of finding a percentage of change or a unit rate and wrote papers to reflect on their visits. Working in groups of four, they created special presentations that all attempted to answer the project’s “essential question.”
Bowe said he often challenges students to find an answer to an “essential question” with each unit he teaches. The Whirlpool project’s question was this: “What impact has Whirlpool had on the community?”
While several students who were asked about their findings did not remember the exact facts and figures of their presentations, many said they remembered how they had arrived at their conclusions.
Student Alex Kyle said a “major” part of Whirlpool’s impact has been in the area of local job creation, and he was also impressed by the amount of waste the plant recycles instead of throwing it away.
Other students said they liked the fact they got to conduct their own research on the plant while they were there instead of just searching the Internet. The project also gave them the freedom to present their data however they chose.
“It kind of let us interpret it,” student Kate Gualtney said. “We had to put in real world thinking and such.”
It is not often a whole group of students gets excited about math class, but the students in the class can rest assured that not every day of the school year will be full of traditional lectures, worksheets and tests.
Student Shaw Kertesz said he felt he got the concepts better when he was able to do things in a hands-on way rather than when he just had to sit and listen to learn.
“He [Bowe] makes it fun,” Kertesz said. “Like, you want to do it.”
Bowe said what could have been an ordinary field trip turned out to be a good teaching tool because students were able to gain ownership of their work by calculating data they had gathered, instead of crunching numbers they found in a textbook or online.
He added that how a student learned has a lot to do with how well students might learn to gather data and calculate it in the future.
“You and I may not see the effects of it now, but, when they get into real life, it will matter,” Bowe said.
The class has since moved onto a new project related to the Run Now Relay, an event in which 26 Cleveland runners are making a relay-style trek to Boston in support of the victims of last year’s Boston Marathon bombing. Calculating distance, speed and other factors, the students will be making predictions about the runners’ abilities to meet their goals and comparing the predictions to the actual results.