By engaging students in a semester-long project on this topic, a teacher could set the tone for exploration beyond the material itself. Using Math Apprentice, students would investigate the use of math in a career or hobby related to their interests and hopefully discover some excitement and inspiration along the way. Completing each of the eight activities would give them some insight into applications of math skills, and reading about math in careers would give students some project choices to consider. If none of these choices were attractive to a student, further exploration could be done with the teacher to find something of interest. In addition, the folks at Math Apprentice aim to add a new career to the site each month, and students may access a drop-down list to vote on the next career to be added. Browsing this list or knowing someone who uses math in their career could provide additional project ideas.

Here is what a student sees when he/she visits the bicycle design company, Wheelworks:

After listening to the introduction, the student clicks on “Go To Activity”:

After solving a problem, the student should then click on “Read About Math Careers” at the bottom of page and choose bicycle designer to read more about the career. (The student may also choose to read about the career before doing the activity.) Each career page gives examples of math concepts used in their discipline:

These are written in such a way to make the topic accessible to students, yet as mentioned previously, they purposefully introduce advanced concepts in order to stretch students’ thinking. Ideas which pique a student’s interest can be identified and explored. For example, a student who chose bicycle designer may be most interested in the role of shapes and angles in bicycle design. This short paragraph from the page above provides much to think about [my comments are inserted in brackets]:

Shapes and Angles

Bicycle frames must be carefully constructed to ensure stability, safety, and strength. **[Primary considerations of design are introduced.]** Frames are often built with a rear triangle and a front quadrilateral**. [Why?]** The angles formed are also very important. Bigger angles are necessary when speed is required. When comfort is more important, the frame is usually built with smaller, acute angles**. [Why?]** Recently, there have been some very innovative frames that break all the conventional rules of bike design**. [Innovative thinking is important, and there are opportunities for creativity.] **

Exploring these ideas could be enough for a student, or it could be a jumping-off point for discovering much more information of interest. Each paragraph of each career page lends itself well to this type of questioning. In addition, students may think of other math-related aspects of a career about which they are curious.

The format of the project can be somewhat flexible; some students may be very excited about creating a digital presentation, while others may not have access to the resources necessary or may prefer to create a stand-up poster. Either way, scaffolding should be provided for creating effective presentations/posters with graphics and explanatory text, and students could present their projects to the class.

The attributes of this use of Math Apprentice are numerous. Students engage their problem-solving skills, higher-order thinking skills, and potentially even venture into the affective domain by responding to and valuing real world examples. They connect math to their own interests and get a taste of the interdisciplinary nature of math. Hopefully, the creative and open-ended aspects of the project would make it enjoyable, and students would certainly benefit from practicing project design. They would also learn from each other by sharing their knowledge, and they would practice their presentation skills.