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Engineering In Action: Coach Ward’s 5th Grade Math Class

By “Coach” Robin Ward —

OAKHURST — Being a teacher is a lot of work, and it’s rewarding and fun when students are willing to work hard and put forth the effort to do more.

Implementing the Common Core math standards brought about quite a stir, mostly for the drastic change in how we teach math to students, and how students solve problems and explain their problem-solving strategies in writing. Parents were frustrated, teachers were frustrated — and I was, too, until I became really excited.  

I thought, “My fifth grade class at Oakhurst Elementary is going to do big projects!”

Originally, I purchased a few kits called LEGO-dacta, which are engineering kits that need to be put together correctly in order to build simple machines. What a fantastic addition to my instructional program it was, as the students loved it!  

Then, I received a grant from the Oakhurst Sierra Kiwanis Club to purchase supplies for a mosaic project — also a big math project — and a roller coaster kit. While it was small, the kids enjoyed it and their enthusiasm grew from there. Now, fast forward a couple of years and a couple of Kiwanis Mini-Grants later, I was able to purchase a bridge and an amusement ride kit.  

Students work in groups to build the bridges, a roller coaster, a Ferris wheel and a carousel. It is amazing to watch, listen to, and help them with their progress.

What is really important in all of this is that — they learn to fail! Yes, I said “fail.”

Students learn how to make bridges structurally sound, they learn that they need to make sure they follow directions and they learn from each other in making the structures work. We discuss failure a lot, and how learning from failures are what truly helps us succeed.

The students feel sad when they have to take apart a structure to build another one, which demonstrates the pride they take in completing a project. Hopefully in the next couple years, we can achieve our dream of having an amusement park completed and out on display at the next Kiwanis Car Show!

Notes from students:

“I really enjoy the way that Coach Ward teaches. She makes it so easy to understand. The bridges and roller coasters that we work on are so fun, it’s like learning and having fun at once.” Macie Kearney

“Since the beginning of school I thought that this math was very hard, though right now I am actually having fun doing math and my life is way easier.”  Kenshiro Nagata

“When we start,  it always seems complicated but when you get it your mind just “do” it. Sometimes it is easy but not always. The roller coaster brings everyone to work together.” Taylor Bullock

I am so proud of my math class and their successes with this engineering project. Watch out world, OES engineers are coming!

Robin Ward teaches 5th Grade at Oakhurst Elementary School

Math Students Experience Ups And Downs Of Engineering


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