Have you ever heard a child say, “When am I ever going to use this in real life?”, while helping them with their math homework? Natalie Burt, 7th grade math teacher at Midway Middle School showe d her students how the math concepts they learn in school can be applied outside of the classroom. Thanks to a grant from the Midway ISD Education Foundation, she was able to take 55 Midway Middle Schoolers to the Cameron Park Zoo to see how zoo staff use mathematical calculations to sustain animal life.
“As a math teacher I have found that students will often not make connections between the world around them and the math we are teaching,” Burt said, “I wanted to bridge that gap. When I discovered that the zoo had an educational program that focused on proportions, which is one of the most important math concepts we teach, I jumped at the opportunity to tie in a profession, and a love of animals with the subject matter that we are teaching.”
While at the zoo, students were able to learn from a dietician, a veterinarian, an orangutan handler, and the event coordinator of the program. They spoke to the students about how math is used in the zoo daily while feeding the animals, giving them medicine and building structures for their habitats.
“If they don’t use math, they would not be able to calculate how much they need for food, how much you have to put salt in the water, how much a beam can hold for an animal to be on it, so they need math a lot,” 7th grade student Katharyn said.
Burt hopes that this experience will inspire her students to make connections between the principles they are learning in the classroom and their own lives. While this field trip only lasted for one day, discussion of the concepts learned at the zoo still continues in her classroom. Burt continues to refer back to these discussions to reinforce the student’s understanding of mathematical concepts.
Burt would like to take future students for years to come on this field trip because she witnessed how beneficial it was to her students’ understanding of proportions, which is a concept that is the foundation of algebra and calculus courses.
“I think the students could see ex
actly where the math they are learning is used in the real world. They no longer think that proportions are just to multiply two fractions across to find the missing number, but understand that this is a process where each of the numbers mean something,” said Burt.
This grant was named in honor of longtime Education Foundation supporter Bush’s Chicken.
“The veterinarian spoke with us about animal care, specifically how animals are measured in pounds, but medications are administered in kilograms and the importance of conversions,” said Burt.
Bush’s provided box lunches for the students to enjoy while on their field trip, which added another special touch to the day.