One local middle school math teacher saw his students getting bored with equations on worksheets, so he decided to do something about it.
Jermaine Bowe, who teaches a seventh-grade honors math class at Lake Forest Middle School, turned what could have been a normal field trip into an experience that had students using data to answer real-life questions.
The seventh-grade math students recently completed a unit in which they were learning about percents, things like unit rate and percent of change.
Bowe said he presented the material in class as he normally does. However, “there are only so many worksheets” to relay the material.
“I use those methods as a starter,” he said.
Bowe, who became a teacher after having worked in the banking industry, realized students needed more than just a textbook education. After all, there are practical applications for math outside of school.
He decided to see if he could have students visit a local manufacturing plant to learn about things like how many products can be produced in a certain amount of time. Whirlpool’s local plant fit the bill.
Bowe’s 30 or so students were divided into groups of four. Then, they helped determine what data they would be gathering during their visit.
He said each unit he teaches includes an “essential question” that must be answered while the work is occurring.
The Whirlpool project’s question was this: “What impact has Whirlpool had on the community?”
Students determined they would need to learn more about how the factory was constructed, what environmental impact it had on the area, how many jobs were created, how the company’s sales align with other financial factors like taxes and what the students’ favorite products were from a numerical standpoint.
The class was divided into two groups and sent on guided tours through the facility.
Before they left, Bowe instructed students to use whatever electronic devices they had at their disposal — cellphone, tablet computers or calculators — to gather data while on the tour.
Students gathered information on what was happening everywhere from the factory floor to the corporate offices.
For example, students learned what the production goals for each of the assembly lines were and got to see whether or not workers were meeting the desired quota at that time.
That experience turned out to be a valuable teaching tool, Bowe said, because students were gathering their own data to calculate rather than crunching numbers they found in a textbook.
“I couldn’t get that in a textbook,” Bowe said.
After the tour, the students also got to see a presentation on how the building was constructed while they ate a free pizza lunch the company had provided.
In classes that have taken place since then, the students have been preparing their data for a project based on what they learned at Whirlpool, one designed to answer the question of how the company has impacted the community.
Using the principles of finding a percentage of change or a unit rate, students will be writing papers to reflect on their visits. They will also be working in the same groups of four they had been divided into before to created special presentations on their assigned topics — the ones they determined before their visit to Whirlpool.
The students had been actively working on their projects prior to spring break. After students get back from spring break Monday, they will present their group projects for an audience of parents and school administrators one evening.
Students have the say in how they present to their audience; they can use anything they feel will serve as a good visual aid. Bowe said he is “merely supervising.”
The students themselves said they were impressed by Whirlpool and predicted their calculations would show positive results.
“It was a fun experience,” Victoria Weldon said.
“It was amazing,” her classmate, Payton Southard, added.
Student Bailey Roger said she appreciated that her teacher allowed her and her classmates to do the project based on the visit to Whirlpool because she really preferred it over the alternative — more worksheets.
Weldon said she felt like she “got” things like percentages better when she got the chance to see how the mathematical concept fit into a real-life situation.
Some students declined to comment on their final calculations, but three shared some of their preliminary findings.
Student Grant Holden said he believes Whirlpool has had a positive economic impact on the community because it, like other local plants, has created many jobs for local workers.
“They have impacted us really well,” Holden said. “We have all these big plants that are helping our community.”
Southard said Whirlpool, along with other local companies, has played a part in Cleveland being “one of the top-growing cities in the United States.”
Weldon said Whirlpool being where it is has positively impacted other nearby businesses, citing a nearby restaurant as an example.
Southard added the company has also had a positive impact on the community because of efforts like donating appliances to the local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity.
Bowe said he thought the experience was a valuable one for his students because it allowed them to do math “in real life.” He and his class are preparing to do a similar project related to the Run Now Relay, an event in which local runners are making a long trek to Boston to show support for victims of last year’s Boston Marathon bombing.