Program helps make math fun

Friday, October 28, 2011

A group of Bloomfield Jr./Sr. High School freshmen from Julie Evans' math class gave the Bloomfield School Board a presentation on their latest project at Thursday night's meeting.

Cole Knight, Monica Hudson and Katie Rojas -- minus their group partners Heath Hinkle and Nick Puett -- had to use two mathematical equations to solve a problem without the direct help of their teacher.

Evans said this project-based learning was taught to her and other teachers in the area in accordance with the Greene MAPP 2 grant for the professional development of math teachers.

The project, titled "Rocket Boys Investigation," was based off the movie "October Sky," where the rocket boys were arrested for allegedly setting fire to a woods after they set off a rocket.

One of the boys in the movie used mathematical equations to prove their innocence.

The students were given values for the height, wind velocity and gravity, and had to find the total distance the rocket traveled.

"They are going to pretend like you guys (board members) are the court, and try to prove they didn't start the fire," Evans explained to the board.

The students concluded, with a very detailed slide show, they could not have set the fire because it was 1.5 miles away and their rocket only went approximately 1.1 miles.

The students previously had to present their findings to Greene County Prosecutor Jarrod Holtsclaw, Greene County Deputy Prosecutor Kevin McIntosh, Greene County Math Coach Jennifer Lee, and Indiana University representatives.

Along with the presentation, the students had to prepare a detailed formal letter to send to the courts to prove the rocket boys' innocence.

Superintendent Dan Sichting asked the students how the project was different, and if they liked this better than the normal learning style.

All three students agreed it was a fun, yet challenging way to learn.

"We worked in groups and had to explain it to the class," Hudson said.

Knight added, "I liked this because it was more hands on, instead of just sitting at a desk."

Evans said this was an excellent learning experience for the children, but it was hard for her.

"It was really hard to step back and watch them struggle ... but it showed me they can do it and they can learn from it," Evans explained.

She added that four sets of people would have to get used to this form of learning: The teacher, students, parents, and administrators.

"If you would have came in my classroom that week, it would have seemed chaotic," Evans explained. "It's definitely a very different classroom, but in a good way."

Evans said another good outcome with this project is she feels like the students feel more comfortable with each other. The students had to work closely together, and be prepared to present to several different groups.

Evans has plans to do another similar project in the spring semester. She said Lauren Bohnert -- who also took part in the MAPP 2 grant sessions -- will be utilizing the project-based learning in her science classes.

"I think she (Bohnert) will be concentrating more on the units. I was more concerned with making sure they knew how to solve the problem," Evans noted.

She said the Project Based Learning is a short-term variation of Problem Based Learning, which usually lasts three to four weeks.

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