NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

January 31, 2013

Real-life learning at Lowell's Boat Shop

Viewpoint
Jessica Regis

---- — “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.”

With a combination of visits to Lowell’s Boat Shop and guest lectures from boat builder and manager Graham McKay, students have grasped a greater understanding and appreciation for the mathematical skills they have been learning. Ultimately, as students generate real-life data and are provided with hands-on experiences, they are also establishing new skills while forging a deeper connection with their community.

Another student remarked, “Lowell’s Boat Shop is a hidden gem and I never appreciated it before these trips because I had never been there before, and I can’t believe what I have been missing out on. I am very fortunate for being introduced to such an amazing place.”

This class of students was proud to have been the first to take advantage of this generous grant and this innovative program. Their learning extended from math to boating and beyond: “I learned how to row, how to tell rate of rowing and current speed using just distance and time, I learned how to tell if it is low tide or high tide or slack tide, how to tie/untie a boat, how to measure depth, how to use a sextant forward, backward and sideways, how to calculate distance using angles in real life, the applications of trig and what Lowell’s Boat Shop is.” Looking forward, students say, “I am excited for the upcoming classes that get to experience the same thing we did,” and “the next class to do this will love it.”

The vision and dedication that AEFI devotes to the students and teachers of Amesbury is commendable. We are very fortunate to live in a community where such a foundation exists to fund innovative and challenging programs for Amesbury’s students and educators. Thank you, AEFI and your supporters, for allowing our students to gain a true understanding of the math that we learn in school.

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Jessica Regis teaches math at Amesbury High School.