Friday, October 12, 2012

Real World Math

Year after year, students make the steady ascent along the rocky trails of Math Mountain. Arithmetic gives way to algebra. Polygons lead to polyhedra. Functions progress from linear to quadratic to exponential. But what's at the summit? What will students do with all this knowledge?

When will we ever have to use this stuff?

Math Apprentice hopes to answer that question. Designed for students in grades 4+, Math Apprentice invites students to play the role of an intern at one of eight businesses that use math. Students are given an overview of the math by an animated, virtual employee. They may then choose to freely explore math concepts or solve a specific problem.

The math in the activities is a mix of grade appropriate concepts and advanced mathematics. I think it's important for students to interact with math beyond the standards. This is often where the real joy of math can be found. Even young students can access difficult concepts if they are presented in a meaningful and engaging way. 

There are eight careers to explore:
  • At the Sweet Treat Cafe, students analyze graphs, scale up recipes, and find the best buy.
  • Students learn about ratios and conversion factors at the Wheel Works Bike Shop.
  • At Game Pro, students use the Pythagorean Theorem to find the distance between the villain and the hero. 
  • Students become computer animators at Trigon Studios. They use sine and cosine function to manipulate characters and props in a movie scene.
  • While interning at Doodles, students use various functions to create works of art.
  • At Space Logic, students match robot speeds to distance vs time graphs and program a space rover to reach its destination.
  • At Builders Inc, students must create room shapes whose dimensions meet the customer's specifications.
  • While working at Adventure Rides, students determine the height of a roller coaster hill that will give the speed that is needed.

Laura Rose has written a comprehensive summary of Math Apprentice for Connexions in which she describes how Math Apprentice can be used in a middle school classroom. She suggests the site could be the cornerstone of a semester long project about math in the real world. It's my hope that students will spend time with Math Apprentice and internalize its underlying message: math is the path to anything you want to be.

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