The Harbour School

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Real World Math

  • Middle School
  • Teachers
Arathi Talreja, MS Math Teacher and Coordinator & Samuel Mathews, MS Math Teacher

It’s often a challenge to incorporate Project Based Learning (PBL) in Middle School Math classrooms as students need to learn how to do the math before they can apply it in projects. They can’t learn it all through inquiry and it’s hard to find real-world applications of some concepts and operations in math. Consequently, we introduced biweekly PBL lessons in the Middle School where students work on shorter math and interdisciplinary projects that are aligned with standards.

When COVID-19 forced us to adjust learning environments, we knew that it was crucial to maintain high levels of student engagement to keep their math classes stimulating and exciting. This presented an opportunity to think outside the box, to tailor instruction for the better, and to give students opportunities to learn the subject hands-on, remotely.

Next Stop, Wall Street 

Free money? Many of the students in the class asked, perplexed at the idea that ratios could be used to earn them money. Often abstract mathematics can be off-putting for many students with many asking how the maths learned will be used in real life. However, give an eighth grader $100,000 and the knowledge of ratio, data and graph analysis and they are invested and passionate learners.

We signed Grade 8 up to a stock simulator that follows the real US stock market with real companies for the students to invest $100,000 in. (Not real currency, much to the students’ dismay). Each week, the students were taught different mathematical concepts such as line graphs, percentage profit and moving averages to improve their decision making when buying and selling the stocks.

After six weeks of buying, selling, profits, losses, and lots of analysis, the class had a variety of results, but one of the largest successes was one student who was able to earn an impressive $50,000 profit. Though the project has finished, a few inspired students requested to keep the trading simulation going and are still trading today.

Engineering and Geodomes 

Nature's strongest shape, the triangle, is seen everywhere in engineering. In this project, Grade 7 were shown the image of a geodome, a spherical structure made out of triangles, and were tasked to figure out how it could be constructed.

After a good deal of planning, the groups created blueprints to their structures with each group taking slightly different structural design plans. The next step was to create the structure, to see how well their plans would work. By rolling up old newspapers into tight rolls, the students created struts and combined them together to form the structure based on their blueprint designs.

Trial and error during construction meant that students have to overcome calculation problems and structural decisions.  By having to reevaluate their designs, they come to a far greater understanding of the rigorous nature of design.

Mathematical thinking through Origami

The art of folding paper, origami has a great potential for its use in teaching and learning mathematics. Teaching in origami, by nature and convention, is cooperative, applied, and student centered. Teaching the creation of a model involves communication, either orally or through directions (text and diagrams).

Origami encourages students to consider beforehand what will be the results of making a fold and to visualize it 'in their minds'.  It encourages them to pose generalizations on the effects of folds and keep track of symmetries in models as the folding proceeds.  For example, folding an edge to a parallel edge divides an area in half. 

Origami activity motivates the explicit use of geometric terms. However, it is important to keep in mind that mathematical learning can take place even in the absence of mathematics terminology. 

Future Projects

It has been a privilege to have inspired and contributed to the students' understanding and learning of mathematics in real world applications. We are excited for future projects that will include introducing the students to game theory, as well as applications of probability.

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