October 10, 2008

Grant Gives North Allegheny Math Class a High-Tech Spin

By Bethany Hofstetter

Students in North Allegheny High School's math classes soon will do more than just plot data points on paper.

Math teachers Mike Buchert and Joy Manesiotis will apply the concepts students learn in class to hands-on projects through the TI- Navigator system they'll be able to buy with a Toshiba America Foundation grant.

The system wirelessly connects each student's graphing calculator to the classroom computer through a podlike device. Teachers can transmit notes, data, homework problems or quizzes directly to a student, who can then send answers to the teacher.

Two years ago, the teachers borrowed TI-Navigator equipment and piloted a program using the system. Student feedback was so positive that they worked to find a way to bring the system into their classrooms permanently.

Last month, the teachers received $4,310 from Toshiba America Federation -- one of 150 grants given to math and science teachers each year.

Laura Cronin, director of Toshiba America Foundation, said about 10 percent of grant requests are approved, making this a "prestigious honor" for North Allegheny.

"We had several conversations with the teachers, and they are just so high energy," she said. "You got a sense that whatever they were bringing in the classroom would be educational and fun. We were just really impressed with their focus on making this a memorable project, and it gives us confidence they will use it over time and liven the educational process."

Each year the math classes complete an NCAA "March Madness" bracket project, in which the students look up information and apply statistics lessons. The teachers want to do a similar project on a chapter-by-chapter basis using the TI-Navigator system.

Manesiotis said one possible project would include a study of linear regression by calculating the number of rubber bands a Barbie doll would need to bungee jump from predetermined height and not "smack her head off the ground."

After the students did the math, they could go to the stairwell and test their data points. Then they could write up results, graph them and transmit the information to the teacher's computer.

"What we hope to do is take our math curriculum and cross it over to apply it to science and physics problems that the students can participate in and actually see the connection," Buchert said.

The TI-Navigator system will be implemented in the Math 4, Trigonometry and Integrated Math 3 courses at the high school. Buchert and Manesiotis hope to have the TI-Navigator system in the classroom by Thanksgiving.

The goal, Manesiotis said, is for students to remember that math "wasn't that boring class your junior year."

"We'd really like to have more positive interaction," she said. "We'd like them to remember more than the groaning and crunching out problems on paper."

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