These Scotia-Glenville Middle School students were trying to be smart shoppers.
All were given $130 in hypothetical money to spend on school supplies. Each of them had three coupons — one for 30 percent off an item, one for 15 percent off and one for $5 off — and they were trying to decide what to “buy” and which coupon to use to maximize their savings. Should they get that desk for $79? Or a computer for $10?
If they had anything left after their pretend purchases, they could buy real items — including sea monkeys or a dartboard that talks trash to you when you make bad shots.
This was all part of a problem posed by GE engineers as part of the school’s weekly after-school program for seventh-graders called “Igniting Minds.”
“I like how it gives us a challenge,” said 12-year-old Kate Hillis. “I don’t feel challenged in my normal classes. I’m actually taking eighth-grade math this year.”
The 10-week program, which is in its third year, meets after school for roughly an hour and fifteen minutes. Randy Jenkins, the district’s academic head for mathematics and science, said GE officials approached the school district with a request to pilot a new math enrichment program it had developed.
Jenkins said this program is teaching valuable skills because the new Common Core curriculum requires students to break down real-world problems such as this into various components in order to solve them using math equations and concepts.
The students tackle a different problem each week. One week, they had to calculate the volume of different-sized containers by filling them with popcorn.
Another week, they had to figure out how many handshakes would take place if all 100 members of the U.S. Senate shook hands with each other member. That one was particularly vexing, according to Jenkins.
“They worked on that for an hour and 15 minutes with no break, and they didn’t care about not having a break,” he said.
Next week, they will be calculating how far a Barbie doll would fall doing a bungee-style jump.
Igniting Minds began in January and will continue through May. Engineers volunteer their own time for the program.
“I love teaching, and I think it’s great to see their reaction. It’s cool when the light bulb goes on,” said GE engineer Ayesha Gonsalves of Schenectady.
GE materials science engineer Chris Dosch of Albany said he likes showing how math has real-world applications because sometimes students say they will never use what they learn in school.
Dosch was showing a quick way to calculate a 15-percent discount.
Rachel Leffler, 12, said she is starting to understand more and more of the problems with practice.
Students who figured out the best combination to save the most money got the first crack at buying their prizes.
Hillis had $33.80 left after buying the hypothetical school supplies.
She said she wants to go into research and development of alternative energy sources, which caused her to form a bond with Gonsalves, who works on turbine blades and batteries.
Ryan Neal, 12, said the problem wasn’t too difficult. “I think it took 10 or 15 minutes,” she said.
Jenkins said the best part is the students have to figure out the problem on their own, with little direct help from the GE engineers.
“They’re not telling them what to do. They’re encouraging them, supporting them. They’re giving clues,” he said.
GE engineer Faisal Ahmad of Niskayuna said the best part is getting the students excited about math again.
That seems to be happening, Jenkins said. As many as 18 students have been participating in the program, which has no course credit.
“They’re just showing up because they want to be here,” Jenkins said.