Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Get the Math Makes Algebra Relevant

Math, particularly algebra, can sometimes seem irrelevant to frustrated middle and high school students. It’s hard to see how solving for a variable or graphing a line could ever be useful. They’d much rather flip through a fashion magazine, shoot hoops, or listen to music. Thanks to Get the Math, however, algebra students can see real-life examples of how the math they’re learning is indispensable to those very industries and try their hand at solving the kinds of problems professionals face every day.

Get the Math, funded by WNET, plays host to a series of videos to set up real world math challenges. Algebra students can watch teams of teenagers travel to restaurants, music studios, video game designing companies, gyms, and other interesting workplaces where they meet young, dynamic professionals. After explaining their jobs, the pros present teams with practical challenges they’ll need algebra to solve. For example, fashion designer Chloe Dao wants a shirt to retail for less than $35, but it currently costs more than $40. So she presents the teams with the list of material and production costs, provides the mark-up, and sets them loose to change the design so the shirt will be more affordable. Video game designer Julia Detar of Arkadium challenges the teams to save a spaceship from colliding with an asteroid in a game she’s designing. The asteroid is traveling on a coordinate grid along a linear path. The teams are given only a few points and must figure out the asteroid’s trajectory, then plot a course to guide the spaceship to safety.

The introductory video ends once the problem has been presented, allowing viewers to tackle the problem themselves. The Challenge link provides access to screens that review the information in the problem, and they can enter and check their answers, too.

Once they’ve got it (or once they’re stumped), the final video in the series captures the team working in partner pairs. They discuss how they will solve the problem and critical information appears in captions at the bottom of the screen to make it easier to follow. Once the teams are happy with their answers, they present their solutions to the featured professional for feedback and reflect on the experience. Most of the time, both partner pairs will arrive at different correct solutions, highlighting the important lesson that real world math isn’t black and white. In redesigning the shirt, for example, one team opted to forgo the beading to bring down the cost due to a bad experience she’d had with beaded clothing. The other team chose to replace one type of fabric with a more durable and cheaper variety, hoping to both reduce the price and make the shirt less fragile.

Telling kids they’ll need math one day is nothing new. But hearing that message from a professional in a field of interest can be more powerful than hearing it from a parent or a teacher. We like the sense of empowerment students will feel when they realize that they’re learning the kind of skills that will make them valuable additions to the workplace. We hope to see this promising interactive site expand!

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