Engineers Teaching Algebra Promote STEM Education at MKA
Posted 05/28/2013 02:51PM

Engineers Teaching Algebra Promote STEM Education at MKA

When will I ever use algebra? Why do I need to learn this? Every year, math teachers are asked these same questions by a number of their students.  Despite explaining the many ways in which algebra is used by different professionals, algebra is rarely brought to life in the classroom.   However, on Tuesday, May 21, 2013, Mark Love, the founder of Engineers Teaching Algebra, visited with MKA Middle School seventh grade math classes to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education.  In addition to promoting STEM, Love did so much more - he made math come alive.

STEM education is an interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science, technology, engineering, and mathematics in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the global enterprise enabling the development of STEM literacy and with it the ability to compete in the new economy. (Tsupros, 2009)

Nichole Foster-Hinds, Middle School Math Chair, arranged for students to participate in Engineers Teaching Algebra active, hands-on practical approach to algebra in order to foster and strengthen MKA’s curriculum objectives to focus on students' development of mathematical reasoning and problem-solving skills at the same time that it reinforces students' basic computational skills and introduces new mathematical concepts.

As the field trip session began, Love asked students to identify which tool is most useful to an engineer and later explained that it is an eraser. His rationale behind the opening exercise was to inspire students to take risks and to encourage problem-solving. If you don’t succeed at first…try again, and as students began to work through a series of formulas to design accurate, safe and efficient traffic patterns, they were reminded by Love that: “Wrong answers are better than no answers at all.” 

Love, a civil engineer by trade, helped students relate what they knew with what they needed to know. Without using any sophisticated math, Love challenged students to develop a problem-solving plan; he then asked them the fundamental question, “Why did your plan work?” Students did not initially realize that, in using their logic and reasoning skills, they were actually creating their own algorithm for finding the most efficient traffic pattern – they were nascent civil engineers. 

After creating the traffic pattern algorithm and receiving some additional information, students were challenged to a tenth grade puzzle resembling the development of a safe and efficient phasing plan for a signalized intersection, whereby optimal efficiency is between 1400 and 1450 vehicles per hour. For Love, such an intricate task necessitates that students be equipped to go back to hands-on, manual arithmetic because technology, calculators and the like, is not always a reliable tool.

With paper and pencil in hand and erasers rapidly wearing away, a great discovery was made, the Engineers Teaching Algebra in-school field trip proved that: "In a world of technology, information and ideas, math is not a subject, it's a necessary language." - Mark Love, Founder, Engineers Teaching Algebra.

“Now I understand why – I want to be an engineer!” – Julia Sanger

“That was the best activity all year!”  - Ben Stuart

To view photos, click here.