Marion Students Learn Math in a Real World Context

Perhaps the most common question math teachers are asked by students is "When am I ever going to use this?" Grant Wood Area Education Agency answers that question through an innovative approach to teaching math by putting it in a real world context.

Two new classes at Marion High School enrich students' comprehension of mathematics by linking material to real life settings including the algebra needed to run a t-shirt business and the geometry needed in construction.

This program was brought to Eastern Iowa schools by Grant Wood AEA through a series of professional trainings.

Two years after the initial training, three math teachers and five students from Marion High School were interviewed in Grant Wood AEA's podcast to discuss how they were responding to this new teaching philosophy.

Student Liam expresses, "I've been learning better with a combination of traditional math and contextual learning."

Westen, another high school student, attributes the success of this approach to its hands-on nature. He explains how real-world applications, such as calculating costs and profits in a t-shirt business, make math more easier to understand and applicable in practical scenarios.

Currently, Marion High School freshmen and sophomores can enroll in Contextual Learning courses like "Geometry in Construction" and "Amped on Algebra." The former allows students to work with tools uncommon in traditional math classrooms, creating tangible products with wood and metal. Student Efren shares his experience using geometry to craft wooden wall art, emphasizing the importance of accounting for mistakes and errors in the process.

The Contextual Learning classes follow a co-teaching model, with teachers collaborating to provide a comprehensive educational experience. Andrea Hansen, a Marion High School teacher, highlights the benefits of this model, acknowledging the value of a second teacher with specialized knowledge. Hansen notes, "I teach geometry, and I'm co-teaching construction. Guess what I know about construction? Nothing. But my co-teacher does! So the students really get a lot from both teachers."

Notably, students who typically struggle with math are experiencing positive outcomes. Roxanne Paulsen, a Marion teacher, emphasizes the program's success, stating, "I've heard students say they never passed a math class in middle school, and they're passing. They've made it through, they're understanding the math, and I'd say that's our biggest win."


More Information on Contextual Learning from the Iowa Department of Education: