By: Ms. Divine, Middle School Math Teacher
I love being a teacher at Heilicher. This is my 13th year at this school. For most of these years, I taught a variety of subjects as a fifth-grade general studies teacher, but for the last few years I have been lucky enough to focus on the area that really excites me: middle school math.
In recent years, Heilicher has refocused our curriculum, with a major emphasis on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), and my role is integral to this STEAM focus. Every connection I am able to draw for students between their math classes and real world situations furthers this emphasis. It moves me when I think about each of my students becoming young mathematicians, excited about the possibilities that math brings to their lives.
To develop this excitement, I have focused on innovative projects that tie math into real-world decision making. One of these projects involved designing blueprints and building scale models of cabins at a hypothetical youth camp. Cabins had to meet minimum requirements, and also had to be designed within a tight budget that allowed for limited accessories and design choices. Many Heilicher students participate in summer camp, so they immediately related to the project, which allowed them to really focus on the impact of their budget on the types of accessories (ceiling fans, windows) that they knew were imperative to a great camp experience. To supplement the project, I had a professional architect visit the class to discuss blueprinting, and we were able to take full advantage of the school’s Makerspace to create models of the cabins.
Another project central to our upper school math program involves bridges made of pasta. Students design “bridges” of spaghetti noodles, balancing the noodles on desks, textbooks, or other legs, and need to see how much weight (measured using pennies in a dixie cup) the bridges can carry. As more spaghetti noodles are added, more weight is also added, and the results are presented on a graph, which is then used to make predictions about how much weight various amounts of pasta could hold. Students get to see how adding more durability to the bridge adds increasing strength.
Often times students enter the year thinking aloud, “When am I ever going to use this in my life?” My goal is to create a positive math experience so that students leave the classroom in June not only excited about the endless possibilities that math unlocks for their futures but also looking forward to their future math classes. Heilicher has allowed me, as their math teacher, to open up these possibilities in the students’ minds.