Wildwood 8th graders have launched into a pair of projects this month, one in geometry and the other in environmental science. The discreet but linked projects illuminate the kinds of connections that Wildwood middle school teachers design to enhance their students’ math and science learning.
In Erin Hansen’s 8th grade geometry class this week, students are using their geometric knowledge and reasoning to design a house—using a variety of shapes and geometric elements. The project flows through an obvious mathematical lens: using shapes and elements as a template to construct and argue traditional geometric proofs (remember these?). All expected elements in almost any geometry class.
What I didn’t expect was the other lens through which students would view their work: Urban planning. The home design is for a future world, with limited allowances for space and requirements for energy sustainability. What’s more, students need to be able to describe the reasons and principles behind their design through a TED-type talk given to their classmates.
In conversation with students, 8th graders Matin K. and Sophie K., I realized that indeed this project is connected to Wildwood’s 8th grade environmental science curriculum. Matin shows me a rough draft of his design on the computer app, Google Sketch-up. “Mine’s an apartment building,” he says. Looking at his plans, I notice another building—a tall tower, set within what looks like a street grid. “The tower’s part of my sustainable city project,” he tells me, “in [science teacher] Jane Kaufman’s class.” His tablemate Sophie shows me her plan, which she’s drawn on graph paper. Her home’s footprint features circular and rectangular living spaces—with an energy system powered by the sun. Sophie explains that her model home is also part of the sustainable city project unfolding in teacher Deborah Orlik’s science class.
Curiousity piqued, I head over to Deborah’s room to learn more about that.
“Erin knows that we’ve been doing a sustainable cities project for a couple years,” Deborah Orlik tells me. “This year, she and I made a conscious decision to put math concepts into our science project so that kids could see how they’re used in real life.”
Looking around Deborah’s science classroom, the scene is similar to Erin’s room. I see Deborah’s 8th graders working together in teams of 3 or 4. Some are sitting together, laptops open. Others are standing at whiteboards, drawing and talking—like Asher E. and Lucy O., who are engaged in a debate over which renewable energy source will most efficiently power their city’s public transportation system. Their classmate, Elijah D., chimes in with an idea he developed for his group—hydro-powered turbines placed in the river running through his city.
Like their project in math class, the sustainable city project will require these 8th graders to determine if their design ideas are realistic, which they’ll need to substantiate in a presentation to peers.
“They can dream big,” Deborah iterates, “but their ideas need to be plausible and supported by scientific research and mathematics.”
These two related projects are intentionally designed to allow Wildwood 8th graders to practice key skills for their academic and professional success: Creative and design thinking, research, and mathematical calculation. This kind of cross-disciplinary connection will help not only these Wildwood students in their future endeavors but will also train them in the kind of thinking that will be necessary as they work to solve the real problems that will face the world in our not-too-distant future.
~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning