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Project-Based Math Equals Real World Learning

Call it an adventure, but behind the recent superhero bungee jump excursion on Lakota East’s Main Street was a whole lot of math involving linear equations.

Such experiences are the norm for students in Nichole Bruce’s “Math Modeling & Reasoning” class. From bungee jumps to car buying simulations and road trip planning, students are put to the test daily on using mathematical concepts to tackle real world challenges. 

“My students usually aren’t math major bound and work better collaboratively and hands-on,” said Bruce, explaining that the course involves very little lecture and is almost entirely project-based, giving students substantial choice and ownership in the learning process. “Almost every activity is done in small groups. They are expected to be out of their seats, talking and working together.” 

Better known as MMR, the course is offered at both East and West as a substitute for Algebra 2 that counts toward one of the four required math credits. Developed by the Ohio Department of Education, the curriculum covers algebra, in addition to statistics, probability, geometry and quantitative reasoning.  Projects challenge students to collaboratively solve problems, oftentimes by applying multiple concepts they’ve learned.

“It’s discovery-based, meaning they will discover on their own what I would have lectured in a more traditional format,” Bruce explained. “Whatever concepts they’re not picking up on their own, I’m able to give them through more direct instruction. But it’s more individualized because I can work my way around the room and jump in where I’m needed.”

For the superhero project, Bruce’s students spent the days leading up to their final Main Street jump charting the results of shorter jumps with far fewer rubber bands. They identified trends in their data to develop a linear equation and estimate the exact number of rubber bands their superhero would need to safely jump from the balcony. Bruce took slow motion videos to help identify the group whose superhero came closest to the ground without making contact.

Earlier this year, students had to plan a road trip to a destination at least 100 miles away. Budgets were assigned randomly and final plans had to account for transportation, lodging and entertainment costs. Students ultimately presented their travel plans and budgets to their classmates. 

Bruce is also a proponent of inviting outside authorities into her classroom at every chance she gets. During a recent project involving the use of exponential functions, students became defense attorneys. They each inherited a client who was involved in an accident involving different weather conditions and varying skid mark lengths. Students had to determine if their client was speeding and then present and defend their legal argument to a prosecuting attorney who visited their class. 

More recently, Bruce invited two recent Lakota East graduates, Landon Meador and Jack McFarland, who work at a local car dealership to support a unit on purchasing your first car. Students were hypothetically gifted $5,000 from their great aunt, from which point they had to choose one of three scenarios: 1) Use the money as a down payment on a new car; 2) Buy a used car; or 3) Forego buying a  car and invest the money. 

To build upon the information Bruce presented about simple and compound interest, the class’s visitors discussed credit scores, interest rates, the current car shortage and its impact on supply and demand, down payments, warranties and more. To take it a step further, students had to discuss their decision with someone at home before sharing their decision and the logic behind that decision with the rest of the class.

“She makes sure you understand the actual concept instead of just handing you a worksheet,” said junior Ryan Day. “It’s a really good change of pace.” 

For Bruce, she takes pride in hearing her students share that “it’s nice to feel successful and do well in math again.” She also knows that personalized learning has a lot to do with her students’ engagement and overall success.

“They get to make a lot of their own choices, so they care about it more and they’re invested more in what they’re doing,” Bruce said. 

Next up, students will tackle the home buying process. “A lot of this stuff I didn’t know until I was out buying my own car or house,” Bruce said. “It’s important to know and it all involves math.” 
 

  • Real World Learning