Magazine article Techniques

A Twist on the Basics

Magazine article Techniques

A Twist on the Basics

Article excerpt

ENGLISH, MATH AND SCIENCE HAVE LONG BEEN THE SACRED COWS OF ACADEMICS. BUT THERE'S ALWAYS ROOM FOR INTERPRETING THEIR DELIVERY. ADD SOME LIVELY, HANDS-ON LESSON PLANS AND YOU'VE GOT THE LATEST IN APPLIED TEACHING. TRY A COUPLE OF THESE IDEAS IN YOUR CLASSROOM.

Start drawing angles on the blackboard and talking sine, cosine and tangent and most of your students will start drifting, guarantees John Milam, an applied math teacher at DuPont High School in Charleston, W.Va. Start scribbling long geometry proofs onto the overhead projector and you'll lose their attention for sure. Milam's solution? Take it outside.

"Say the word 'trigonometry,' and students start to snooze," Milam says. "So one of my best lessons is to do like George Washington did-compute the length of a 'line'-like a stream-by using geometry equations, trig functions and a compass. This way [students] learn how to apply their geometry and trigonometry lessons to real problems and also learn how surveyors mapped out distances back in George Washington's day."

Applied Math 1 and 2, staples at DuPont for 10 years, have drawn high marks from students and area employers who applaud the real-world aspects of the classes. The school, which will merge with another high school in the spring, plans to offer more applied classes in geometry, chemistry and other subjects.

"Many students can't learn from just sitting at their desks and watching a teacher explain math problems and techniques on the board," Milam says. "They need to see it being used and solve real problems with it-not just on paper. Then they're able to apply their math skills to future jobs. Students seem to retain more math skills from their applied classes than regular ones."

Applied math teaching methodology, which uses real-world settings and hands-on activities to teach basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, probability, statistics, estimation and problem solving, is gaining popularity in schools nationwide, according to a new study on mathematics instruction from the National Center for Education Statistics. More than half of all math classes in the United States have used some applied math techniques in the last decade, the study reports.

Though traditional teaching is deeply entrenched in most schools, applied methods are creeping into daily instruction, says Michael Jameson, associate director of the National Coalition of Mathematics Instructors and a former math teacher. "The curriculum itself is evolving too," he says. "Whereas before applied math lessons focused more on entertaining, hands-on activities, which still is an important way of engaging students, more teachers are now preparing lessons to teach math with a job-related focus."

Math all around

In Applied Math 1, Milam focuses on problem solving, estimation, measurement, geometry, data handling, simple statistics, algebra and trigonometry-combining lectures with weekly field trips (onand off-campus) and hands-on activities. For example, one lesson takes students to the school's track where they learn to compute speed by running and timing themselves on distances they've measured.

Applied Math 2 builds on the skills learned in its prerequisite by progressing to work-related scenarios. Milam revisits the lesson at the track by taking students to the West Virginia Water Plant, where his students use math formulas to compute water pressure, volume, speed and distance traveled between two disclosed points. …

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