May 24, 2019

Brewer school aims to spark interest in math

BREWER – When talking about math, the eyes of many high school students glaze over, so Brewer High School leaders have decided to try something new and offer a hands-on approach to arithmetic.

The Infinity Program starts at the high school in the fall and is the first of its kind in Maine.

“It’s connecting math to things they’re interested in like cell phones, DVDs … special effects and encrypting messages over the Internet to safely transfer information,” Mike Clark, chairman of the school’s math department and longtime teacher, said Monday. “Fifty to 75 percent of the class will be in the lab.

“We just hope to get the kids more interested in math and those kids interested in engineering,” he added.

The Infinity Project is a national math- and science-based engineering and technology initiative created in 1998 through a partnership between The Institute for Engineering Education at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and Texas Instruments. Soon after, other groups such as the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education jumped on board with the program.

Clark said in the 37 years that he has been teaching, 34 at Brewer, he has noticed that students have lost interest in pursuing math and engineering careers, a trend that is typical across the country.

“Once they get into it, hopefully they’ll see that math can help them out in future years,” Clark said. “There has been a decline in the number of kids taking engineering courses, [and] if it continues, we could be in trouble.”

More students need to be encouraged to pursue engineering in order for the country to remain competitive globally, he said. In the United States, only two out of 100 high school graduates go on to earn engineering degrees in college, compared to Europe, which produces three times as many and Asia, which has almost five times as many.

“The United States faces a critical shortage of engineers in the decades ahead unless we all do our part to make more young students aware of the importance, challenge and excitement of engineering,” the Infinity Project Web site states.

The majority of the Brewer project’s costs, which are minimal, is being paid with a grant from the state, Principal Brad Fox said when announcing the news to the school board in May.

“It’s another way for students to approach math and be excited about it,” he said.

The new course is designed to bring relevance to students by showing them how the math and science they have learned translates into real products, Clark said. Eight students already have signed up for Brewer’s Infinity Program, and no class limit has been set.

“They don’t have to be the best student” to get involved in the class, he said. “As long as they’ve taken algebra II and a lab science, they can take the course.”

The yearlong engineering course will earn the student one credit towards graduation, and the pace of the program will be determined by the makeup of the class, Clark said.

Plans are to start with importing sound and digital images into a computer and manipulating the data, he said.

“They’ll see how it’s used for security, and they’ll be able to see how it can help visually impaired people,” the teacher said. “It’s exciting.”

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