Meadowridge Voices Blog


Learning Math in the Headmaster's Backyard...
Where Else but Meadowridge?

If you've never heard this next phrase uttered, you're probably not a Math teacher: when will I ever use this in real life?

We all agree that Math is important, but when faced with a problem we can't quite figure out, our immediate reaction is to denounce its rightful place in the world.

When will I ever use this in real life?

Mr. Scott Rinn, IB Coordinator for the MYP and Math Teacher, is well aware of this long-running fallacy; in fact, our Math Department has been working over the past two years to end its reign. The solution is clear, we need to get students using math to solve real problems, but developing these types of activities can prove tricky. Mr. Rinn started small, shaping questions for realness and integrating real-life applications where possible, and set his sights on finding broader, more involved projects. Then, early this fall, an email arrived in his inbox.

Mr. Rinn started small, shaping questions for realness and integrating real-life applications where possible, and set his sights on finding broader, more involved projects. Then, early this fall, an email arrived in his inbox.

We all agree that Math is important, but when faced with a problem we can't quite figure out, our immediate reaction is to denounce its rightful place in the world.

"It was perfect," Mr. Rinn now explains of that very email, whose sender was none other than Ms. Eva Boyd, Mr. Burke's—our Headmaster's—wife. Ms. Boyd's email included a simple query: could Mr. Rinn's Grade 10 Math class subdivide their property?

It seemed like a simple enough request, but if you've ever been to Mr. Burke and Ms. Boyd's home you'll know that the lot isn't the cut-in-two-and-call-it-a-day type of lot. The two-acre property has lots of trees and dips, bushes and a treehouse, the home and a pond, and the lot shape is neither rectangle, nor square, nor anything close to it for that matter.

Ms. Boyd, well aware of her property's distinctive traits, realized it would make the perfect Math project after receiving a surveyor's drawings. It was a realization Mr. Rinn would ultimately share with Ms. Boyd, explaining "when I looked at the drawing, the first thing that jumped out at me was that there was a hundred different ways the kids could solve this problem." Not only could the lot be subdivided in myriad of ways, but students could apply an equal number of mathematical equations and concepts to get there.


After an emphatic "yes!" to Ms. Boyd's request, Mr. Rinn got to work planning the exercise. The groups were tasked with three requirements for the project: the lot had to be split exactly in two, the current home had to fit on one of the lots, and a second driveway must be added to access the second lot. Students could use whichever concepts they saw fit—Equations, Trigonometry, Geometry, and Exponents, to name a few—as well as concepts they had learned leading up to Grade 10 Math. "Students used all types of concepts in differentiated approaches. There was no set instruction for the types of Math they had to use. Which was perfect; all the students' answers were spot on" Mr. Rinn says.

A quick once-over of some of the concepts is sure to trigger flashbacks for anyone who has survived high school math. They are important concepts, but for most they conjure up memories of being stuck at a desk, listening to a lecture for a half-hour, and then being expected to come up with the same answer, using the same approach, as thirty of your peers. This is the exact practice Mr. Rinn is hoping to save students from, "I want students to remember the challenge and satisfaction of using Math to solve a real problem in a way that makes sense to them."

The project began in-class, with students working in groups to design plans based on the surveyor's drawings. Knowing that they would eventually be presenting their ideas to Mr. Burke and Ms. Boyd, students were nervous, but they were also excited, especially when they learned that their plans might actually be put to use. Students went above and beyond the initial criteria, even getting a little competitive. Mr. Rinn was surprised to see students take action on their own accord: groups decided every member would create a plan and then opt for the best one, while others looked at local bylaws, and some of the groups even found the property on Google Earth for a strategic advantage. "The kids were very excited," Mr. Rinn smiles.



After two sessions of in-class planning, the day finally came when the students would visit the property. The excitement from class carried with our students to the property, but their plans, they would soon find out, wouldn't necessary do the same.

Upon dismounting the bus, students finally got a chance to see the property in person. They saw the trees, and the home, and the treehouse and realized that their original plans would have to be altered to keep its unique features. Even the students who thought to use Google Earth realized that the photos were outdated, and didn't account for recent yard work and home improvements. That's when it got interesting.

The groups didn't hesitate; instead, they got straight to work, measuring and re-working their plans. They were using what they learned in class on the fly. The students spent the entire period engaged and determined, and in the end every group came away with their own unique plan; in fact, not a single duplicate plan—in either design or approach—was presented to Mr. Burke and Ms. Boyd.


With the project wrapped up, Mr. Rinn is more motivated than ever by its success. Students were engaged, excited, and—most importantly—using Math. With the word out, and an entire 27-acre campus to explore, the opportunities for further projects are already rolling in: Mr. Scott Spurgeon, Director of Athletics, has approached Mr. Rinn's class to help design the soon-to-be-installed shotput pitch, while Mr. James Willms, Experiential Education Coordinator, is working with the classes to help design our next installment of garden beds.

Mr. Rinn, meanwhile, is resolved "I just want them spending more time solving real problems, not just hearing from me how they could."


Learn more about how our teachers support student inquiry into the maths and sciences but checking out our interview with Mr. Bruin's, our DP Physics teacher.

On Meadowridge Voices: Getting Excited About Math and Physics »

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About Meadowridge

Learning to live well, with others and for others, in a just community.

Junior Kindergarten to Grade 12

International Baccalaureate Continuum World School, PYP, MYP, DP

Located in the West Coast of British Columbia, Canada on 27 acres in Maple Ridge

Challenging academic, inquiry-based curriculum, arts, athletics, experiential education

Founded in 1985 with an original enrolment of 85 students