Sherando students to study real-world use of math, science

By Josette Keelor

Teachers at Sherando High School have a plan for answering some age-old questions this year: Why students should know math and science and when they will ever need this knowledge in the real world.

Using a $4,000 grant from the ExxonMobil U.S. Retail Contributions Program and Winchester-based H.N. Funkhouser & Company, educators at the high school have been working on a math/science transition program for ninth graders. The pilot program, which Frederick County Public Schools plans to filter into other county high schools after the 2014-15 school year using any additional grant money, will employ classroom lessons in real-life scenarios.

According to educators Kelly Aiken and Debbie Crawford, who wrote the grant, this is one of several grants ExxonMobil and H.N. Funkhouser have awarded the school system.

They chose ninth graders intentionally, said Crawford. “We want to hook them now because they need to take those math and science courses throughout high school in order to be prepared for college in the workplace,” she said.

High school students need only three years of math and science, but Aiken said she and Crawford hope the program will encourage students to stick with those subjects long after they might otherwise opt out.

“It’s a different style of learning,” Aiken said. “We’re providing them with field experiences to where they’ll get the opportunity to take what they’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to solve a real world problem or scenario.”

The high school’s proximity to Sherando Park and area businesses made it an ideal location for the pilot program, they said. Students will be able to collect data, interact with local businesspeople and apply what they learn back in the classroom, Aiken explained.

“That’s what it’s designed to do,” she said, “so these students can see a possibility of exploring math and science in the future and why they would want to.”

The program, which will meet during class time, also includes English and social studies teachers through an interdisciplinary study, Crawford said.

“They involve writing and presenting, which come from English,” she said. “It’s not just math and science, but math and science is the focus of the grant.”

In the past the school has worked with Blandy Experimental Farm at the State Arboretum of Virginia in Boyce and area businesses Trex, Crowne Beverage and the Bank of Clarke County through its Algebra Functions and Data Analysis course. Because the grant funds were confirmed only last week, Crawford and Aiken said they have not yet set up any specific field experiences with area businesses.

“But part of this is using your backyard for field experience,” Crawford said.

“Frederick County Public School is working very hard to implement problem and project-based learning, and these field experiences are just that,” she said. “Where we are able, we’re beginning that process for all students across all levels. The grant supports us to be able to do this.”

Past projects have included monitoring the health of local water supplies, working with Trex to study the environmental impact of keeping plastic bags out of landfills and recommending production lanes at Crowne Beverage that needed quality control intervention based on data.

Said Crawford, “They were simulating and making recommendations based on real world data, and they were right there in the plant with the employees coaching them on how to do that. It was very cool.”

The students later analyzed the data in class at the school.

“The idea is to get them out into the real world and experience the usefulness of math and science in action in real jobs and in real world problems,” Crawford said.

“Applying what they’ve learned in the classroom is the next step for us in terms of preparing kids for their futures.”

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com