“What math class anywhere in the world is doing something so awesome as this?” “I learned more from this math class than I ever had before.” “I was able to understand the problems in class because they were real-life problems and something I could relate to.” These are quotes from Amesbury High School students, which help to answer the question, “When will we ever use this?”
In October 2012, I was the fortunate recipient of the Amesbury Educational Foundation, Inc. (AEFI) $10,000 Jordan M. Shay Memorial Grant, which has enabled Amesbury High School to form a two-year educational partnership with Lowell’s Boat Shop.
Over the course of the first semester of this school year, students in my advanced math class have taken six trips to Lowell’s Boat Shop. Students have had practical, hands-on, real-life application of mathematics at work beyond the classroom. Experiments on the Merrimack River have involved velocity of currents, water depth, boat capacity, tidal variation and rowing speed, with the application of geometry, trigonometry and algebraic functions.
After learning to row, the class learned to use sextants to measure angles, then used trigonometry and the angles measured to calculate distance, their own rowing speed and the river’s current speed. From information gathered from various points along the banks of the Merrimack River, students created an accurate scale map of the area.
Students have also had to learn how to cope with variables such as currents, tides and wind, and have made tremendous strides in teamwork in a completely new environment. As one of my students reflected, “I loved getting to know my classmates better, and working with different people. It felt like we were all a team, and willing to help each other learn. I think being outside and having fun with my peers made learning a much better experience.”